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the good girl {self-portrait challenge}

liz lamoreux

the good girl jr year

After I read Michelle’s post last week, I began listen to the whisper inside my head that said, “let’s not spend time with all those imperfections.” I have spent the last two months encouraging myself and others to spend time looking in the mirror to embrace the “imperfections.” And it feels not-so-healthy to spend time dwelling on “Look, the tissues with lotion I have been using for my cold have invited two nice little pimples to live on the end of my nose. All ready for Halloween kids.” and other such fun thoughts.

So I am tweaking this challenge a bit and continuing what I started earlier this year when SPC gave us the challenge of “all of me.” I am embracing the imperfections that make me who I am. Last week I started with envy: Admitting I feel envy and owning that I think envy is part of being human.

This week, I admit to you that I am…simply…the good girl.

This is a picture of me from high school*. As some of you know, I went to boarding school. We had uniforms and nametags and a leadership system where the girls were prefects (yes, like Harry Potter). I was a good girl in high school. I never got in trouble. Nope. Not once. This isn’t to say I was perfect, but the few times I “broke the rules,” I did not get caught. When I went back to work at this boarding school I didn’t tell my students that their counselor had been “one of those” girls who never received an infraction. (If only my dorm mother had noticed my “I spent the night with Kenny Rogers” kilt pin or the non-reg green henley I used to wear under my blue oxford. Scandalous I know.) Most of my friends were “good girls” too so it was pretty easy to avoid breaking the rules.

I remember a friend saying to me, “when you are 25 I imagine you pulling up in my driveway on the back of a Harley with some older man your parents would not so much approve of.” Well, at 25 I did pull up…but in Honda Civic…with an older man…who is a teacher, a science teacher. Still the good girl.

I don’t want to list all the things that make me the good girl because, well, you might think I haven’t lived much. I appreciated Neil’s post yesterday (that included a longer version of this meme). And I admit that I wouldn’t be checking many of those boxes. Nope.

In college, I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment reading SARK’s piece about how “the good girlfriend must die” in Succulent Wild Woman. It resonated deeply with me. She says, “The ‘good girlfriend’ always knows what to bring to a potluck…doesn’t say fuck…looks sexy, but doesn’t live in her body…makes sure things are pleasant…always has effortless and pleasing orgasms.” Society’s image of the perfect woman who does it all and does it with a smile on her face letting you step right on her because you don’t see her at all.

Is this being the good girl?

I have wrestled with this idea throughout my adult life. I can be very in touch with the anxiety that surfaces about bringing the right/buying the right/wearing the right/having the right “thing.” I can be quite the stress-queen if I spend too much time looking at catalogs or watching HGTV. Do I HAVE to have THAT to be accepted?

I push back against the idea that dinner should be waiting for my husband when he gets home and I should be in charge of making all plans and so on. This became especially true when I started working from home but wasn’t yet working full time. I was here. Why wasn’t I keeping the house clean/making dinner/going to the grocery store/paying the bills on time? My husband never said he had this expectation, but my fear was big enough to start making assumptions about my “new” role. I had to realize that sometimes I push back to an extent that I forget we simply do these things for one another because we love one another.

I am bringing up two different ideas, but I think they are intimately connected. When we are younger our parents want us to be good girls. “Please be a good girl,” they tell us as we walk into a nice store, sit down in a nice restaurant, get ready to visit the relatives. Be a good girl. And that was easy for me. I will be good, quiet, behave, sit where told, smile, listen quietly while the adults talk, not swear, keep my skirt down, and on and on. And as we get older, we start to realize society also has expectations for how we can be the good girlfriend/woman/wife/mother/professional and on and on.

Somewhere along the way, you realize that there are many shades to being the good girl. And one day you realize, you are really always the good girl. Even when you say “fuck,” or forget to keep your skirt down, or get really drunk, or inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings, or bring attention to yourself, or make a lot of mistakes, and so on.

I want to propose a new way of looking at this. A new understanding of what being “a good girl” means. I recognize that the term “good girl” may not resonate with everyone. However, I think it is a phrase we all know; especially when we hear the voice of a parent say, “Be a good girl.” Imagine if our parents had said, “Be your best self.” What would this mean?

To be your best self is to do the best you can each day and honor that sometimes the best you can do isn’t what you hoped to do but the best you can do all the same.
To be your best self is to listen to the voice inside you.
To be your best self is to push yourself to be more than you ever thought you could be.
To be your best self is to speak your mind and shares your feelings while being aware of others.
To be your best self is to invite yourself to let go of the expectations of others to realize that you alone must own your journey.
To be your best self is to make a lot of mistakes, and even wallow in the bad choices for a bit, but eventually try to identify the lessons and then go about learning from them.
To be your best self is to admit you are not perfect and then to set out on an adventure of acceptance.

To be your best self…

I ask you: What would you add to this list? What does this mean to you?

(*yes, i am leaning against a statue of an indian. statues like this are everywhere on my boarding school's campus.)


updated in 2011: Self-Portrait Challenge (SPC) was a website that encouraged people to take and share self-portraits. I am sad to report that it no longer has an active website, so I have removed links that appeared in the posts connected to my participation in this project.