Be Your Own Woman

Think you left peer pressure behind in high school? Uh-uh. It's the same force that makes you feel squirmy to conform to whatever your social circle is doing or thinking. How to keep your friends and still be yourself.
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Fashion Faux Pas

We all have one article of clothing in our closet that speaks to us, and this is what it says: What the hell were you thinking? For me, this item is something called a shrug. It's hot pink and made of rabbit fur. Here is how I came to own it: I walked into a party, and nearly every female in the room was wearing one. It was like the road company of Little Bunny FuFu. True, these women were all about 6 feet tall and size 2, but I was not dissuaded: If I wore one, surely I would radiate the same winsome quality!

Approximately one month later, rabbit-fur shrugs had vanished from the face of the earth -- just as I was ready to don the one I had just bought for $300. I would like to tell you that this incident occurred during my copycat teenage years. But no -- I was 40. Winsome I was not.

I mention this mortifying episode because fashion is merely the most benign of the myriad ways we are swayed by the tastes and opinions of others. I do not hate myself (much) because of the shrug. I do, however, wallow in self-loathing whenever my desire not to make waves stops me from confronting others who are being offensive or ignorant.

Recently, for example, I told a group of friends over lunch about another friend who had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. "Didn't she smoke like two packs a day?" retorted my friend Janine. "Face it, she had it coming." Heads nodded all around, and another friend suggested that it's the same with overweight people who have strokes: You reap what you sow.

I wanted to scream, Hey, you smug morons, my mother was fat and had a stroke; no one "deserves" a stroke or cancer. But then I stopped myself. I mean, I'm not pro-smoking or pro-fat, am I? So I said nothing. Later, I thought of the famous line from Les Miserables: "If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned!"

Continued on page 2:  All Grown Up


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