The Courage To Be You

When I started to practice law there was a criminal lawyer who stood out. While the rest came dressed in "uniform" (suit, shirt, and tie), he would show up for jury trials dressed in blue jeans! And because he was clearly being himself, he won the jury over. They trusted him. Although you may not even realize it, other people know when you're not being true to yourself.

Who's that wearing the Emperor's Clothes?

When my twins Alex and Alexis were little, I spent money I didn't have. I'd load them up with Christmas presents to prove I loved them. Where did I get the idea that a buying frenzy was proof of my love?

From the retailers and advertisers who bombard us with guilt, especially around the Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukah holidays. What good mother wouldn't stand in line for six hours to buy a Sony Playstation or Cabbage Patch doll?

The belief that presents made me a good mother was a belief not all that different from the self-delusion of a kind in the folk story, "The Emperor's New Clothes,' where a gullible ruler was conned into believing that invisible "magical threads" would help him gain respect from the people in his kingdom.

There were two swindlers who pretended to be weavers in this Hans Christian Anderson tale. They told the emperor they made the finest cloth imaginable. Not only were the colors and patterns beautiful, they said, but the garment upon completion was enchanted.

Anyone who couldn't see its splendor was unfit for office and unpardonably stupid.

The emperor, being low on self-esteem, thought a new outfit would improve his stature and help him weed out unfit assistants. He paid the tailors a handsome sum to start stitching. The con men set up two looms and pretended to work vigorously. The emperor was anxious to assess progress, but nervous he might be judged stupid if he couldn't see all that was there. So he sent his ministers to bring back a full report.

The ministers couldn't see anything either, but the fear of being thought stupid or unfit for office had them go back to the emperor and rave about the beautiful garment. Soon the whole town fell prey to the ruse. They talked of nothing but the wonderful cloth. The kingdom planned a big parade to celebrate the new threads.

Along the great procession, the totally nude emperor pretended to be clothed in regal garments and everyone pretended to approve - except for one honest and unspoiled child who yelled "But he has nothing on at all!" The crowd hushed the child. The embarrassed emperor, however, was compelled to continue the charade, parading down the street in nothing at all, while his ministers followed behind, carrying the train that didn't exist.

Repeatedly I've worn the Emperor's illusionary clothes. I've taken on other's beliefs and acted as if they were true when I knew better in my gut. In my early twenties, I shrunk to an incredible 85 pounds, hung on a 5'6 frame. If I gained a pound I would write in my weekly weigh-in chart something like, "Lose it, Pig." Even as I was obsessing about being obese, my boss told me I'd have to run around in the shower just to get wet.

In my thirties I was a pencil-thin workaholic. My twins said, "Mama, you're a Barbie doll." And I was. Right down to the teased blond hair, tight-fitting clothes, and high heeled pumps - what today I refer to as instruments of torture.

What was behind my self-destructive quest to look good in the eyes of society? The author Sark, in "Prosperity Pie - How to Relax About Money and Everything Else," says the biggest problem we have is that we think we aren't enough. If we had more of this and less of that, then and only then would we be enough.

She suggests going on a hunt for our own inner treasures - wear a tutu, eat fruit naked, cavort in the grass, drink lemonade, walk barefoot, climb tall trees, listen to spiritual songs, communicate with angels. "Be an emotional pioneer who takes tender, exquisite care of your very own soul," Sark says. "The more that each of us tends our own soul, the more the world will prosper."

Each time I read a new spiritual book I let go of more of the illusionary masks and veils that keep me from connecting directly with my family and my world. Louise Hay, in her book, "Empowering Women," says she wants to see a campaign started. Every time women see an advertisement in a magazine or on television that tries to make people feel inferior, she recommends responding proactively.

Instead of saying, "If only my hips were as small as the model's," Hay suggests we write to the advertiser and say, "How dare you try to exploit me! I will never buy your product again." None of us have to be duped by the emperor's weavers.

My friend Gerri Magee, advertising director of the PhenomeNEWS, changed the course of family dinners forever by insisting on a place at the table for holiday meals. The older women in her fiancé's family stood noshing in the kitchen while the men sat comfortably in the dining room. The women insisted that it just "wasn't done" for women to join the men at the dinner table.

When the men refused to give her a place, Gerri sat on her boyfriend's lap, eating calmly. From then on, men and women in the family shared holiday meals together, enjoying each other's warmth and conversation.

Why not start today, by being willing to love yourself as you are and accept those around you? When you can face the dark thoughts that you will be rejected, humiliated or shunned for being yourself, you will be flooded by the light of your own magnificence - your true self shining outward. And you won't need any phony emperor's new clothes to impress.

Affirmation: I am beautiful and everybody loves me, just the way I am. I rejoice in my uniqueness.

Mindy L. Hitchcock