September 21, 2012

There is an excerpt from Bossypants, Tina Fey’s brilliant memoir, that has stuck with me since I read the book two years ago. It’s an anecdote featuring one of my favorite people I don’t know, Amy Poehler. Paraphrased, it goes something like this:

Amy (we’re close enough to use first names, don’t worry about it) was palling around with Jimmy (Fallon, to be clear), and she made some joke or another. Jimmy said something like “Ah, that wasn’t cute!” To which Amy replied: “I don’t fucking care if you LIKE it!”

As soon as I read this, I put the book down and took a deep breath in. Isn’t that something? The whole point! Amy Poehler, a hilarious human being, does not make jokes because she hopes people will like them, or because she thinks they are the appropriate jokes to make. She makes jokes because SHE wants to make them — because it’s FUNNY to her. And that’s the whole deal, right there.

Not long after I finished Tina’s masterpiece, I was wandering through Jamaica Plain on a Saturday afternoon and found myself at an estate sale. Truth be told, I was third-wheeling it on a walk with my best friend and her boyfriend, and I was feeling like: Great. This is probably how my life is going to play out, just me and other couples browsing through dead people’s mediocre stuff. I walked off on my own, to generously allow my dates a minute or two without me, and my walk led me to a big box full of old, framed photographs. After a minute of leafing through them, I came across a picture that made me stop, stare at it for a while, and completely change my attitude. Here it is:


Look at her! This lady does not care if we like it. This lady is standing on a couch with a saxophone. She is being exactly what she wants to be, and it’s not for anyone else. Of course the photograph is open to interpretation, but in my mind this lady is not posing for the benefit of the photographer; no, the photographer has caught her at a genuine moment of self-expression.I bought the picture and went home right away to hang it in my room. Every day as I get ready, I look at it and try to remember what kind of woman I want to be.The woman I want to be is passionately involved in the life she’s creating. She is crass when she wants to be and says what she’s thinking, and she’s funny because that’s just who she is. She is just HERSELF, in the body she was born with, in the clothes she wants to wear, and sometimes she stands on furniture, if she wants to. She moves through the world knowing who she is and what she has to offer and feeling good about both.

Of course, the woman I am has not quite hit these ideals. Most days, I feel weird about my body and wish I’d chosen a different outfit, and I spend a lot of time doing that thing where I’m walking toward someone and we both go right, and then left, and then right — you know? It’s shocking how often that happens to me (like, it happened at least once every day this week). Still, with each passing year I can see myself getting closer to the woman in the picture. I can feel myself acknowledging my strengths, and knowing my own worth in a way that I can carry around with me and hold onto even when I make big mistakes. And regardless of anything else I’ve managed to achieve in my 20s thus far, that feels like significant and meaningful progress.

There’s not much out there in the world that tells us that it’s okay to be boldly smart and funny without also reminding us to buy the right face cream or suggesting we lose weight. Amy and Tina remind me, though, that it’s okay — important, even — to be who you are without apologizing for it. Baddass-Saxaphone-Lady-On-Couch reminds me, too. So I wanted to reiterate it here, for me and for everyone (ladies and men). At the end of the day, it really only matters if YOU like it.

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