Remember those pubescent days of yesteryear when rejection was a rite of passage? When the bully lurked around every corner, and some jerk was always whispering, "You can't sit here," or "Go find another group?" If you don't have gruesome stories about your pre-teen years, tales of true survival, then have you really lived? If you didn't bear the scarlet R of Rejection as a young person, then I fear for how unconditioned you will be to the horrors of adulthood.
When you've been fat, like me, your whole life, you are all too familiar with rejection. Rejection becomes the norm, and acceptance is the exception. "No, we don't want you on our team. You'll make us lose," "No, I don't want to go to the dance with you because you're fat and ugly," or "No, we don't have your size here in this store, but there's a rack in the basement at Old Ladies R' Us that carries some stuff your size." Rejection. Is. Everywhere. Nothing. Is. Easy.
Rejection is never easy, whether it's foreseen and predictable, or whether it's unexpected and shocking, hitting you like a flying-dodgeball-upside-the-head when you're minding your own business, sitting on the bleachers, and "waiting" for gym class, the "best" part of your day.
For approximately 87% of my life (yes, I did the math), I've been told, "No." Sometimes the no has been overt, and other times, well, the negative response has just come in the form of exclusion or dismissal. However the no is disguised, it's still a form of rejection.
As I recall, my introduction to the painful world of exclusion started in 4th grade. I had moved from my little hometown in the northeast section of the United States to a big city in the southern United States, where my dad's job transferred. This happened when I was ten-years-old, not an ideal time to experience a life-changing move (and puberty), but it was part of our reality at the time, and it was what my parents needed to do to help my dad's job survive. It was in this big southern city where I met a cult of girls who called themselves "The Polka Dot Club." They tamed their gloriously long, beautiful hair with huge, fashionable bows, and these hair accessories were, you guessed it, polka dotted. In my pubescent need to fit in, I was whole-heartedly intrigued.
Despite my untamed, frizzy hair, and my obvious portly status, I still thought I should be a part of this group; clearly, I was desperate for a troupe to belong to - 4th grade survival means having a clique to eat lunch with, to gossip with in the hallways, and to pass notes to when the teachers weren't looking. Add the polka dot hair fashion, and I was hooked. I didn't have any hair bows to wear to try and get "in" with the girls, but I did convince my mom (it was a tough sell) to buy me a pair of polka dot socks. One day, the gals were whispering during a group assignment, and I proudly lifted my pant-leg to reveal that I was, in fact, wearing polka dot socks. I pointed to my new socks, showing them to Holly, the Queen B of the group. She just looked at me with utter disapproval and said, "That won't do. Socks don't count. You'll never get in, anyways." After overtly dismissing me, she looked at her comrades and laughed. I went back to my math worksheet, choking back the tears.
I can't even believe that I still love polka dots, since at a young age, they were synonymous with rejection. If anything, Holly and her crew taught me a lesson that I already knew (one that my mom had instilled in my countless time), why try to fit in when you're born to stand out?
The good news is, Holly's hate didn't keep me from trying to participate in school, even though school is often full of (and run by) polka-dot-wearing-Holly types. I tried out for cheerleading (go ahead and laugh), even though I knew I was a longshot. I practiced cartwheels, round-offs, and cheers to the tryout music. As a "sturdy" young woman, if I was picked, I'd be chosen for all the heavy lifting. But at least I'd be chosen, and I'd get to be part of something. Despite all my hard work, I didn't get picked for cheerleading; Holly and her crew ran that clique too. They gave me no real reason for scratching me off the roster, no better-luck-next-time pep talk. Just a bunch of sneers, jeers, and laughter as they announced that I didn't make the team.
Yes, I knew cheerleading was a longshot. I was a fat kid in middle school. Some rejection is expected. For example, I assumed, every day in gym class, that I'd never get picked to be on anyone's team, and the teacher would have to force some group to take me. I've always been picked last. Or not at all. Even though I knew that the students who were picking teams were the skinny, athletic kids who lived for gym class, and that's just embarrassing for them, it didn't feel good to be rejected, even from a group of assholes. And even when I knew it was coming. Whether you're 10, 17, 31, or 43, rejection is a painful pill to swallow. Being left out sucks.
Middle school rejection, even though it was painful and depressing at the time, made me a resilient, compassionate person. And it prepared me for more upcoming discomfort, as I tried to navigate the dating world, college, getting a "big girl" job, etc. Rejection and I were no strangers; unfortunately, we were familiar friends.
In high school, I finally got up the courage to ask out one guy; he said no. Did I mention I asked him to my prom? My mom had to find my junior and senior prom dates for me. Talk about feeling like a loser - when your mom is cooler than you, and men can't say no to her. And then there's the first blind date I went on - the young "man" finished the date by telling me to pay for my milkshake and then reminding me that I was "no Cindy Crawford." Because I clearly go around portraying myself as a plus-size supermodel, as most fat, insecure teenage girls do.
Long story short - rejection lives inside my gut.
Prior to my adult years, it was people who rejected me, people like Holly. And if I didn't make the team or get to participate in an activity, it was a righteous ringleader like Holly who was behind it. But I kept trying to make friends, to carve my own path, to participate in clubs, to make the grade in school - because, deep down, I knew that social rejection was detrimental to my feelings, but it wasn't really about me. It was about them and their own issues. And we can only control ourselves, our own actions, and how we react to things. (Thank God for therapy.)
As an adult, I still experience some social rejection, but I care less about that. I'm mature enough to realize that sometimes Holly never grows up; she just gets older and good Lord willing, she grows facial hair. Bitches like that still lack emotional intelligence or maturity. Even Holly can't have it all. (But she sure can pretend her life is perfect, thanks to social media.)
The rejection I experience now is less social and more experiential. Spoiler alert: It still hurts. Badly. Good news: I bounce back. Repeatedly.
As a stand-up comic, I'm used to some people not laughing at my jokes. I can even deal with a heckler in the crowd. I'm obviously confident enough to stand on a stage and think people should pay money to hear what I have to say, and I'm so confident about how hilarious I am that I quit my full-time teaching job to take to the stage. However, even self-assured people hate to be told they aren't good enough.
I recently submitted a video audition for participation in a women's comedy festival. I anxiously waited weeks to see if I made the cut. I have never thrown my hat in the ring for something like this, but I know as a comic, that it's important to continue to put yourself out there, especially in circles and cities where you don't know anyone… yet. When I received the form letter stating, "Dear Comic, We regret to inform you that…," my stomach sank, and I was back in middle school. The rejection felt the same. Was Holly behind this too? Am I still not Cindy Crawford? Damn it.
Actually, it felt more personal, because adult Lisa really cares about her comedic craft; she isn't just trying to fit in a middle school clique or to participate in an after-school event. THIS IS MY LIFE. THIS IS WHO I AM. And these judges, who watched a 5-minute clip, decided I wasn't good enough for their comedy showcase. It's hard when you believe you're the funniest person in the room (comedians need that type of confidence), but yet, you get rejected by people who judge and know comedy and who are supposed experts in the business.
Life isn't fair, and the entertainment business is even less fair. There is no explanation for why I didn't make the cut. The judges didn't offer a critique for how I could improve for next time. They just said no. A very subjective no.
But they did offer me a discount for next year's festival application fee. Salt in the wound. Insult to injury. Through my drama and my tears, I'm thinking, "Maybe there won't be a next year. Maybe I'll just give up now. Maybe I'm really not that funny, after all." Middle school Lisa would go cry in her room, put on loud, angsty music, and write about how she hates the world and people just don't get her. Adult Lisa does the same things. But her sadness is short-lived. #growth
I know that I just need a day or two to get over that hurt, to forget about the people who said no to me, and to remember that failing means that I'm trying. And at this moment in my life, I'm attempting something so scary that most people can't fathom even trying it.
Rejection comes with the territory. And rejection will sting for a little while, but you know what lasts forever - regret. I've lived with rejection for over four decades. It's possible to survive it. I'm living proof.
Regret, on the other hand, I'd venture to say that might kill me. And I've come too far for that.
As the fat kid from middle school who survived,
as the plus-size woman who takes up her rightful place in a skinny woman's world,
and as a short-haired feminist bucking all things patriarchal - I am no stranger to rejection; rejection and I are old friends.
But regret, on the other hand, that's one bitch even I won't let on my team.