The other day, I awoke to a text from my friend that had a sneaky way of fucking my day up. He’d sent a bad photo of me to a group thread — a throwback, sort of, but recent enough to be embarrassing — and he’d presented it without comment, presumably for a laugh. Within seconds, my mind jumped through a bunch of shitty self-esteem hoops. I immediately knew it was my duty to laugh with, so as not to be laughed at.
“Tragic,” I quickly shot off, pretending I hadn’t felt anything but the casual coolness I decided that word conveyed. For a while, I almost convinced myself that was true. I wanted to believe nothing so superficial had the power to nudge me off balance, you know? I’m past that shit! Hours later, I realized my entire day had sucked. That I’d lumbered through it with a subtle undercurrent of despair.
When I finally revisited the text in my mind, I felt so frustrated. Not at the friend who sent it – it wasn’t out of malice — but at all the little factors that made my response feel so familiar. I felt heavy with the realization that he could never truly understand why a text like that could make me feel powerless. It was a dark path to go down from an arguably benign exchange, but on that particular day, for no particular reason, I just felt so tired of playing it cool.
In the weeks since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about that voice in my head. The one that urges me to be amenable. To play it just the right amount of casual. To respond in a way I’ve deemed stable and correct, instead of the way that feels most honest. It’s baked into most of us, the shying away from overly emoting. I don’t know where we learned it, but it seems we’ve all privately agreed it’s kind of lame to appear too anything. Excited, happy, touchy, sensitive, angry, whatever.
In case you need reminding — because evidently I still do from time to time — you can say fuck off to that voice whenever you want to. You don’t have to play it cool. You don’t have to act like the person that said that thing didn’t hurt you. You don’t have to act like you’re confident when you don’t feel like it, or like you’re fine when really you’re boiling over. If someone says something that makes you feel small, you don’t have to pack it in your proverbial lunch box and carry it around in your gut. That doesn’t have to be your responsibility. Your response can be the messy one that makes everyone uncomfortable, even you. Sometimes that might feel better than protecting your reputation. It could be worth it, the freedom of turning off all those filters.
Later that night, I confessed the whole situation to a friend who’d picked up on my gloominess. I told him that I was really tired of the burden of caring about my appearance that day, that sometimes it takes an incredible emotional toll. And in the process of all that honesty, he learned a lot about how it feels to be a woman and I learned a lot simply by voicing something I don’t often say aloud. It was the very opposite of playing it cool and I felt curiously free.
Collage by Emily Zirimis; photos via Getty Images.