Finding My Voice

June 29, 2017

 

"If you are not in the arena and getting your ass kicked,

I am not interested in your feedback."

- Brene Brown

 

I did it. I finally friggin’ did it. I got brave enough to start responding to the thousands of comments underneath In My Chair, my TEDxRVAwomen talk on YouTube. I decided to start returning, one by one, each of the messages in bottles that had been flung out into the rough seas of the comments section, each one hoping for someone to find it, read it, and connect with it.

 

Now I know what you must be thinking. I thought the same thing.

 

Why the hell wouldn’t I do that? Why would I even hesitate to respond to YouTube comments? Why would responding to supportive comments ever require any degree of courage?

 

I know, I feel you. After all, almost every one of the commenters are kindhearted women, earnestly thanking me for speaking up and sharing my story. They, too, struggle with impossible 21st Century beauty standards. They just want to let me know that what I had to say moved them in some way.

 

When IN MY CHAIR was first posted, I thought about responding to every single one of the beautiful souls that took the time to watch and share their observations. But somehow I just couldn’t respond.

 

For a few reasons.

 

The first reason was completely lame: Most TED speakers don't do it. So, I thought: “Well, I guess I shouldn't respond. Wouldn't be professional.”

 

I already had a bit of an inferiority complex about being on the TED stage, since I don’t fit neatly into a Technology, Engineering or Design category. I’m also not a rich entrepreneur, scientist, or a famous person. It is a daunting arena to step into.

 

The second reason is, I had only seen one or two TED speakers who did reply. Aaaannd the exchanges didn't seem to go well. I didn't have to scroll down too far before witnessing the trolls swarm; Filling the comments section with criticisms from the speaker’s appearance to the content being boring or uninspiring... and the speaker’s thoughtful responses to their critics were suddenly devoured by bloodthirsty, resentful souls who reside so far away from ‘the arena' they weren't even in the parking lot to tailgate. It was an ugly sight.

 

As I scrolled down the page, I usually discovered, to my dismay, that eventually the dignified speaker quietly disappeared from the exchange entirely.

 

“Ugh,” I thought. “Ugly stuff. I just can't handle all the negativity.”

 

“DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS.”

 

And boy, on other platforms, did I have trolls.

 

When my talk was put on the Upworthy.com Facebook page and started to go viral, many of the comments were tough to read ... some were verbatim transcripts of my innermost fears of what people would say about me.

 

‘She needs a nose job.”

“All of this is Bullshit.”

“She is an actress who is just trying to promote herself.”

“This is just another one of those pseudo-science fluff talks ruining the integrity of TED.”

‘Shill’

“Old.”

 

However, the third and most resonant reason for not responding right away was very simple:

 

I felt like a fraud.

 

One of the interesting things about speaking up in public is people think you are an expert. I don't think anyone thinks they are an expert the first time they are thrust into the public eye. It takes time to develop the confidence. You have to “fake it till you make it.” I managed to step confidently into the TED arena, and I did the best I could to project confidence and personal power.

 

Suddenly, in the YouTube comments section under my talk, people were calling me a ‘Beauty Guru” and thanking me profusely, saying things like “I WILL NEVER apologize for who I am ever again!!" ...Which of course made my heart sing, while, at the same time I was still contemplating getting a nose job and lip injections every hour on the hour.

 

I also had to battle the lingering voice in my head asking, “Who do you think you are, anyway? Something special?”

 

I was born and raised in Scranton, PA, where "Quit showing off" and "don't get a big head' were phrases I heard so often they wove their way into my DNA.

 

If I’m really honest with myself, (and I think this may actually be the real reason) I was afraid to be regarded as an internationally-renowned "attention-whore."

 

Then I suddenly found myself in a ringing moment of clarity about that line of thinking.

 

“What complete utter horse shit,” I thought.

 

“Why do I care? What the hell am I afraid of?”

 

Once you've heard your fears given a verbatim voice, received enough rejection, and you suddenly realize you are still alive and doing fun, creative projects, and your family and friends still love you and you’re still making a living taking risks and doing what you love, you find an amazing thing happens:

 

The critics lose their power.

 

Suddenly, as if right on cue... DONALD TRUMP’s despicable tweet storm this morning. He attacked MSNBC “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski for her looks because she pointed out the fake photoshopped TIME magazine covers adorning the walls of several Trump properties. He accused her of bleeding from plastic surgery and dismissed her as just another needy, attention-starved woman.

 

Trump’s verbal barbs are the very distillation of all of my insecurities and the ammunition he uses is very familiar to me. I worry about the same things he attacks with.

 

‘She needs a nose job.”

“All of this is Bullshit.”

“She is an actress who is just trying to promote herself.”

“This is just another one of those pseudo-science fluff talks ruining the integrity of TED.”

"Shill"

“Old.”

 

He uses the troll playbook to exert control and dominance, because he figures he can pick on Women-- easy targets who have been dissuaded their entire lives from pushing back or causing any kind of disturbance. And we let him.

 

This is a hell of a time for women and minorities. After Trump was elected women from all over the world reached out to me and asked, 'what can we women do?"

 

In the past, I have felt afraid to speak up because I know my looks or age, or weight, or intelligence will be attacked. I have felt I am not quite informed enough to speak with authority or debate. I have been conditioned to be polite, to not disagree, not talk politics around the table.

 

The thing is, those who are making the most noise right now are not highly educated nor experts on topics, they are rich men who are experts in getting richer. I DO read voraciously, I am curious, and try to stay informed and engaged in current events. I can hold my own on the lightening round of 'Wait Wait Don't Tell Me' yet I still think I don't know enough to really speak up about the issues...

 

NO MORE. Speak up! If you are an open compassionate person, are exhausted from the misogyny you have faced in your life, and have common sense ideas about how to make the world a better place- SPEAK UP!

 

We NEED TO HEAR your ideas. And more importantly, if things are to ever change, we need to hear one another and stand up for one another.

 

So, armed with this new understanding, I finally decided: “These commenters are my kind of people, and I want to thank each one of them openly and fearlessly.” I have made a vow. I will keep reaching out. I will keep connecting with you. I will share my struggle and I will hear yours. I can never thank each and every one enough for listening to my story, my struggle, but I will try... I have tried my best to write back to all the People who have directly written to me, messaged me, emailed me or tweeted ( To those of you I missed, I am sorry, Please write to me again!) And if you know someone I missed, give her a hug for me, tell her I love her.

 

New post coming soon about my IN MY CHAIR tour! Stay tuned!

 

 

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