I've been thinking about the subject of pedestals for about a month now, playing around with how to approach the subject and what an interesting title might be. This morning the title landed like a bomb. That was the kick in the pants I needed.
When I literally leapt into writing by answering a Craigslist ad from a NYC fashion magazine, my life changed. I knew nothing about writing for magazines. I knew nothing about fashion - literally nothing at all. I grew up the daughter of a minister and low income. Hand me downs, K-Mart and sewing were my world. In this world, to focus on fashion/beauty was to be frivolous. Life was about service to others and being poor seemed to get you kudos. Yet writing in the fashion world was the door that opened, so I embraced this opportunity with great abandon and no idea what I was doing.
Over time I became aware of a similarity between what I saw growing up and what I was seeing in this new world - the push to put people on pedestals. In the religious environment, it happened all the time. As a minister's daughter I was all too aware of how many times this led to those who became idols falling off the pedestal in a very public and shaming way. Everyone is human, so the fact they made mistakes shouldn't have surprised anyone. But if you'd been put on a pedestal, you were not allowed to be human it seemed.
Because of my background, I was always really uncomfortable if anyone started to talk up my accomplishments too much. I was one person. What I helped create was actually a huge group effort. Don't single me out PLEASE! No one knew better than me that I wasn't perfect. I made and would continue to make tons of mistakes. I have a mouth that's not always connected to my brain and I definitely don't always think before I act. I have strong opinions. From childhood I knew where being on a pedestal would eventually lead and had no desire to go there. It was a doomed path.
The downside was it made it hard for me to accept a compliment - scared me in fact - so I couldn't enjoy my achievements. It was also impossible for me to toot my own horn in a way that would advance my career. The upside was I wouldn't be standing on a pedestal when the public realized I was actually just a flawed human being working hard at something I loved. I could avoid the terrible fall.
Over the last few years, I've taken notice of this in other ways. We see headlines about families outside the classic picture - two dads, two mums, two trans partners. We hear about the first woman to ..., the first African to..., the first Asian to..., the first Aboriginal to..., the first plus size to..., the first bisexual to..., the first trans to..., the first gay couple to..., and more. Part of me understands and wants to celebrate that the picture I'm seeing in the media is changing. But another part of me is just plain sad.
Why? First because I wish these things were so common we didn't need to take notice. Secondly because society tends to take these people and put them on pedestals - and as I've said above, there is rarely a way to stay there without getting knocked around a bit.
I also find those who fall outside the classic societal expectations are pushed to be role models for an entire group. What stupidity! No one is perfect and no two people are the same. Can a single woman represent all women? A man? A classic family? Not a chance. So why would we take a single person or couple and expect them to carry this burden of representing an entire group society has labeled them a part of?
A father was out with his baby without his husband having a coffee when a thoughtless comment made by the waitress struck a nerve. He shared it on Facebook. There were tons of posts from friends about how great a representative he was for his community. My comment was simply - it's not your job. Your job is to be a good father and husband. You do NOT have to represent all gay couples with children. BAM!
We are all unique. We are all becoming. We all do brilliant things worth celebrating. We all make mistakes that embarrass us. We get tired and say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time. We are all doing our best. So let's toss the pedestals and labels out the door. Let's try to really see each person just as they are - accepting both their perfection and their flaws. No one should be placed on a pedestal. It's simply a curse.