Letting Go of "Charlie Girl"
Last week, I had a fun time giving you guys a peak into the chaos that is my day-to-day life. On any given day, I feel everything from joy and comfort (visiting family and catching up on life), to serious frustration (forgetting diapers at home) to loneliness or boredom (going to the doctor at times feels like a social outing). These are the moments that fill up a day and make up a life. We all want to approach these feelings and activities in a way that bridges our everyday challenges to a life of purpose and fulfillment. Sometimes that wonderful trip over the bridge is effortless and flower-filled, while other times that same bridge has an obnoxious troll on it asking us questions and making us jump hurdles to prevent us from progress.
Trying to stay thoughtful and honest about those hurdles – the ones we all experience but sometimes never talk about – is the tall mission of the “Think” section of Lipstick & Brisket. We’ll talk about the various opportunities and challenges that we all confront and contemplate, as well as our bigger-picture goals – anything from trying to define our hopes and dreams to discussing our morals and beliefs. These ideas will of course change and develop throughout our lives, but they will also help to give us direction, establish boundaries, and bring a sense of community and meaning to the things that can often feel monotonous and difficult in daily life.
As a religious Jewish woman, I definitely have a prescribed framework for how I think about and live my life. But there is a lot of gray area, much I have to decide on my own, and a lot of room for discussion. L & B is the space I wanted to create to talk about more complicated topics with those who want to talk about them too – anything from honestly discussing the difficult work/life balance women face, to addressing the apparent tensions between religious and progressive communities that both make the headlines and hit a personal nerve for many, to thinking about issues surrounding social media and privacy. For today, I wanted to start out with some food-for-thought to get us in the zone for those future conversations we’ll be having together.
As I mentioned before, our day-to-day schedules are influenced by those life philosophies we believe in, even if it doesn’t always seem obvious. The responsibilities and the expectations we give and set for ourselves are directly linked to our beliefs about what it means to live an accomplished life, and, more specifically, what we believe it means to be an accomplished woman. How do we express ourselves in our lives, at our workplaces, in our relationships and in our homes without succumbing to crippling definitions of success? This is not just a personal question, but a social one. What does it mean on a communal level if we each individually define fulfillment as a quest for the unattainable? For perfection?
I wanted to leave you all to think about this question with a thought and a quote from my favorite book Wonder Women, written by the dean of Barnard, Deborah Spar. In the book (which I highly recommend), Spar both uncovers and confesses herself what women really want and what society (and even at times our loved ones) tells us – that we can “have it all”. We can be everything: Perfectly patient mothers, successful careerists, wonderfully loving and supportive wives, and constantly available community members. If we try hard enough, we can do this all effortlessly, with a put-together home and beautiful shoes to top it off. Spar discusses how this ambitious image was epitomized so well by the “Charlie girl” perfume commercial of the 70s. The Charlie girl was a woman who seemed like she was flying through everything in life with a pearly-white smile – similar to the Super Woman character of my first blog post. But finally, Spar comes to a conclusion she never imagined possible…
“Charlie was dead. Even worse, we realized at last that Charlie had never lived—that there was never a woman—a real woman, at least—who balanced her life and her loves and her job and her children with the panache that women of my generation believed would come naturally…In the end, of course, the myth of Charlie was just that: one silly commercial, capturing a particularly far-flung fantasy. It wasn’t true, and never was. But it left an indelible mark nevertheless on millions of women and girls, convincing us, seducing us with a dream of feminine perfection. We really thought we could have it all, and when reality proved otherwise we blamed—not the media, as it turned out…We blamed ourselves.”
By striving to do everything extremely well, we end up stretching ourselves so thin that we can hardly derive any joy from our experiences and feel like we've failed. The good news is that it’s not too late to let go of the “Charlie girl” dream, and to think about what we actually want to achieve in real life – and that’s where we’ll pick up next time.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.