Image is everything–or is it?

You guys may or may not have seen this TED talk by Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell. I though it was worth sharing today, on this day in which we celebrate all things Romantic because Valentine’s Day is all about the image, isn’t it?

 

For me, the part that had the most impact here was the conversation she had with the beautiful woman in the elevator–who on being complimented, immediately began detailing her flaws.

I can tell you most women I know do not know how to handle a compliment, and that many of us automatically take refuge in a deprecatory stance if we are presented with one. That’s a whole other topic of conversation for another day. What impressed me about this story was that even the most beautiful of people can only see their own flaws–they come with their own set of insecurities. It doesn’t matter that to us that Facebook friend seems like the most successful author/actress/mother/CEO or whatever. To her, she is conscious of her too-wide nose or the fact that her son is struggling in school or that try as she might, there is no way she is going to fit into that size 2 dress by her class reunion. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never worn a size two unless it was part of a double digit size number–the fact that *she* can’t fit into the size two anymore means she’s fat, ugly, old, and worthless.

The take home message for me from this TED Talk is that everyone is insecure. No one every reaches a point where they sigh with relief and say, “That’s it. I’m perfect and I’m safe now. I have not only achieved everything I desire, but no one can take it away from me, either.”

This message can be especially hard to assimilate when the very industry that Cameron Russell works in spends a lot of time telling us if we just adopt certain images, we will be perfect. We will achieve our life goals and dreams. From about two days after New Year’s until today, the television stations have been blanketing us with advertising to this effect: to make us feel bad about ourselves and to ensure that retail therapy is the way we try to make ourselves feel better. Alone? Man, how depressing! Don’t be sad, though–join the millions who have found true love on Match Up in Harmony Little Fishes dot com! Ladies, if you don’t get a diamond *something* from that high end jewelery store that is so exclusive there is one in every shopping mall, then my dears, he doesn’t really love you.

Don’t get me wrong. I love getting dressed up for a special night out. I enjoy getting flowers (though I have to put them somewhere where the cats won’t eat them). I will never turn down fine chocolate. I like being acknowledged on Valentine’s Day. But it’s what happens every day that’s more important to me. It’s like the difference between someone saying “I love you” one day a year and someone showing me that I’m loved every single day.

I recently had a conversation with some readers/fellow authors and we talked about the ‘money shot’ of romance stories–the Grand Declaration. I seldom have my characters declare their undying love for each other. Most of my characters have been burned before. Anyone can say the words: living them is another matter. Apparently some readers feel cheated because of this lack of declaration. Well, I get that. It’s part of the formula. It’s the payoff for the reader–to know that the two characters survived the tumultuous situation I threw them in and came out on the other end bonded to each other. But if it doesn’t fit the characters, I’m not going to make them say it. I’d rather spend half the story showing how the two lovers changed for the better and for each other than to slap an “I love you” like a Band-Aid on their trials and ‘make it all better.’ Sometimes to me, the declaration is nothing more than a diamond commercial. A flashy statement meant to do all the work for you.

I’m currently reading a book called Big Butts, Fat Thighs, And Other Secrets to Success: Empowering Women to be Real in Business and in Life by Laura Black. I admit, I wasn’t all that impressed at first. It seemed to me to be a case of someone advising women to bond with other women in positions of power by confessing your personal weakness for Twinkies. It felt contradictory to what I feel is a big problem for me–like the woman in the elevator, I am always the first to belittle myself or make light of a compliment. I’m already the woman who bonds easily with others over my weaknesses–give me five minutes and I will roll over and show you my soft underbelly. It is my first reaction in most situations–to appear as non-threatening as possible. How can that possibly be a business tactic? Who could possibly respect a tubby little spaniel rolled over on her back, furiously wagging herĀ  nubbin of a tail in hopes that no one bites her?

I think the real answer lies in the fact that every person has his or her ‘big butt’. Something about themselves that they are unhappy about, uncomfortable with, that they use as an excuse to hold themselves back. Some of the most talented writers I know will never get published because they lack the self-belief to send a story in for submission. Or because they hold to the idea that only a traditional publishing company can convey the title of ‘real writer’ on them. I have six or seven titles to my name, and yet I don’t consider myself a ‘real’ writer in the sense of someone who is burning up the ranks on Amazon. Another writer, a best seller on Amazon, considers himself a failure because no one is beating down his door begging for the movie rights to his novels–and so on.

The only one holding you back is you. If you get nothing else out of this post, remember that. My first major story, Unspeakable Words, was sent in to Dreamspinner on a whim. Never in a million years did I think they’d accept it–I’d heard all the rumors of rejection notices and so forth. Not only did Dreamspinner accept the story, but it went on to remain on their best seller list for over a month. Why haven’t I written the intended sequels? Because I let one lukewarm review shut me down. It didn’t matter that fans were emailing me telling me how much they loved the story and asking me when the sequel would be out. I let that one lukewarm review send me ducking for cover and the sequel is languishing on the hard drive. The characters deserve better than that. The readers deserve better than that. And one day, I do plan to write the sequels, I swear.

I just finished watching a hilarious video on Cracked.com about why Romantic Comedies are Secretly Bad for You. I think they made some really good points. Love–true sustainable love–is hard work. Meeting someone and falling in love–that’s the easy part. Funny that we as romance writers focus on the origins and leave out the hard part–the day to day making it work with conflicting schedules and exes and keeping things fresh and interesting when you know someone a little too well.

What Rom Coms can’t show us is the deep satisfaction that comes from sleeping beside someone you know that well, the way your body conforms to theirs, the way breathing slows and becomes one. The way you know their idiosyncrasies and the fact that they amuse instead of irritate you. Yeah, Rom Coms are diamond commercials too.

Well, keep your diamonds. Keep your Facebook success. Keep your supermodel looks, and your night being wined and dined out on the town. Give me your silly texts, the curled next to one another to watch the favorite television show, the full body hug that makes something deep inside you sigh and say, “I’m home” every single time.

Valentine’s Day is just a single day. Love is all year long.