I’m not much of a TV watcher, but when Nathan is away for long stretches of time, sometimes I crave the company of other adult voices. I listen to podcasts after the kids are asleep and I’m working in the kitchen. But sometimes I need something that really let’s me zone out a bit.
Lately I’ve been watching a show called “GLOW” (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling).
I really want to like the show. I’d heard so many great things about it. It’s a nearly all-woman cast. Plus it takes place in the 80’s. This show has “me” written all over it.
Except that I don’t like the protagonist.
She’s just not very likable.
Now I don’t think all female characters have to be “likable.” I was just listening to a podcast about the unlikable female characters of Star Trek and why these characters are so reviled by so many fans (ok, so many male fans).
You can listen to the fantastic podcast if you want to really hear how they dissected this topic, but the very short version is that women who aren’t nice or aren’t conventionally pretty or who are complicated and flawed or can be brusque, mercurial, confrontational, angry, calculating, or logical, are unlikable.
And what’s more, their male counterparts who share the same characteristics are often beloved for these exact qualities.
So after watching the first few episodes of Glow, I dug in a little bit to as myself why I was so bothered by the protagonist, Ruth.
She’s a struggling actress in 1985. She can’t get work. She is whiny and a little desperate. And her clothes are the worst the 80’s had to offer (long denim skirts, high-waisted pants, weirdly color-blocked clothes).
All of that is fairly superficial, though.
She’s an actress, but she doesn’t seem very good. Not just because she can’t seem to get work, but because she has a tendency to overact.
She’s clearly passionate about acting, spending the only money she has on scene study classes to improve her craft, but she’s also completely broke. She begs her parents to wire her more money, “one last time.” And she doesn’t appear to be working any non-acting jobs to support herself (and her thorough bikini waxes).
She’s flawed, which actually I’m ok with. I like protagonists who are imperfect and are complicated and make mistakes. But some of the mistakes she makes seem to come from a complete utter lack of awareness and sensitivity. Another huge mistake feels a little out of character – something thrown in to create more conflict. And it’s an ugly one.
Every time she’s up for an audition or is trying to get a job, she makes choices that are not in her best interest, usually rebelling against the script or instructions just to do what she wants instead, thinking that this will set her apart. It does, but not in the way she hopes for. And yet she repeats herself over and over again with the same result.
She’s also kind of boring. Other than whininess, a lack of self-confidence, and rebellion, Ruth doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. The entire time I find myself wishing it wasn’t her eyes we are watching the story through, but one of the other characters Cherry Bang, a badass black woman who is worlds more interesting, stronger, smarter, and more confident.
I was telling my husband all of this over the phone, describing her “unlikableness” in great detail, when it suddenly dawned on me that I was actually describing myself.
Replace “struggling actress” with “struggling yoga teacher/wellness coach” and Ruth is basically me.
I’m pretty sure he heard the sound of my jaw drop through the phone and was kind enough not to say anything about it.
Or to call me out on what I was doing.
It was a really odd feeling to realize that I was using a fictional character on a TV show to hate on myself.
And even more oddly, so many of the characteristics I value in myself are the ones I dislike Ruth for including my determination, my dedication to my chosen profession, my refusal to follow conventional rules or practices, around my work and my unwillingness to conform any more than I need to.
I see those qualities in her through her actions and decisions and I see her wearing blinders about the reality of her life and not making better choices to unearth herself from the wreckage of her life.
And it stings.
I truly love what I do. I love being a “transformation midwife” and a “motherhood alchemist” and a “movement specialist.”
I love helping moms take better care of themselves and I love teaching healthy movement practices.
I’d also love to get paid for it.
And I don’t want to work another job when I could be spending that time on the one I actually love.
Like Ruth, I am complicated. I have major flaws. I am nowhere near perfect and I don’t want to be.
I don’t want one of those flaws to be self-hatred.
I can see that characteristic in Ruth, too. Self-loathing is easy to spot and maybe it’s what is the most uncomfortable thing about her as a character. She hates the situation she’s in at the start of the series. She hates herself for some of the choices she’s made. And she feels a little hopeless, despite the fact that she keeps plugging a long.
I know those feelings. All of them.
The hopelessness. The internal conflict of the choices made, the results experienced, and the fear that nothing will ever change. The anger that things aren’t working out for her in the way that they seem to be working out for other people not so different from her.
I also don’t want to hate myself for them.
I think it’s really easy to see your flaws highlighted in other people, especially fictional people being portrayed on TV or film. It’s then a natural progression to dislike those people because you can keep it removed from reality. From your reality. It’s another person. It’s not you.
It’s also the mirror experience of hating the person who is everything you’re not. The person who has all of the success and money and good looks and opportunities and visibility and support that you don’t have.
At the end, though, all roads lead back to you and why you’re unhappy.
Or why I’m unhappy.
Why do I hate myself for the things I actually value within myself?
I don’t have easy answers, although I do have quick ones and if you’ve made it this far, here they are:
The things I value aren’t really helping me.
I don’t feel successful and my happiness is tied up with my success.
Self-loathing is something I’ve struggled with for years. Decades, really. Every time I think I’ve turned a corner and truly love myself, something comes up to confront me and show me I haven’t. At least not entirely.
As an advocate for self-care and self-love, I feel like a massive hypocrite because I struggle with both, which is likely why more people don’t choose to work with me.
This week, I am going to spend some time focusing on self-love. I need to start acknowledging what is worth loving about myself, and how I can start to celebrate those qualities instead of resenting them.
I know it’s not that simple, but it’s where I need to start.
And probably where Ruth needs to start, too.
It’s not about suddenly becoming likable.
Likability is about how other people perceive you or me.
It’s about learning how to like and even love, myself.