You walk into Relief Society and someone hands you the pinterest-approved announcement for the next weeknight activity: “Pretty Pretty Princess Girls Night Out! Featuring a ‘Modest is Hottest’ Fashion Show!” Or maybe you show up to your freshman year at BYU, interested in wildlife biology, only to learn very quickly that it is not a major or a career that is compatible with motherhood. You go to girls camp, excited about the hiking, but spend most of your time preparing for a very special fireside in which the leaders will tell you what boys really expect of you and how you can conform your life to those expectations of being sweet and modest and spiritual (and pretty). You attend a nationwide institute broadcast by a seventy and his wife where they give advice on marriage to men and women, including the admonition for girls to invest in a full length mirror. As a teenager, you look around your ward for role models, and identify those women with multiple children, and sweet voices, and color coordinated houses, and husbands who were successful enough to support a PTA volunteer wife. You try to stand out in your singles ward, because you want to find a husband, so you skip relief society to stay home and do your hair–but it’s not enough, you need an interesting hobby. Music and crafts and traveling to the country where you served your mission are okay. Herpetology is not. You are taught at a Deseret Book sponsored “Especially for Women” event that lobbying is not ladylike, unless you’re lobbying for families. In Relief Society, you ask why women don’t have the priesthood, and you hear the hushed chuckles as the teacher smiles at you sweetly and knowingly and tells you that women are more spiritual than men, and that men need the Priesthood to catch up to you. You join a book club where you and the other sisters only read young adult novels, just to make sure that you are not exposed to ideas of “the world.” You are praised–unyieldingly praised for your innate sweetness and your spirituality and your defense of your family. When the boys are in scouts working on career day merit badges, you are learning how to support them, how to encourage them to honor their priesthood, how to keep their thoughts pure by covering your body, and then you make them cookies. It is relentless messaging, year after year after year, starting in the year you were born, and never letting up. Your whole life has taught you to do exactly one thing. This:
Life on this pedestal can be complicated. It’s hard to keep your balance in those shoes. It’s hard to make everyone listen to you when your head is so far away from their heads. So you have to yell, but only in a soft, sweet voice–constantly pointing out ways your family could improve. In order to avoid the inevitable neck cramps, you don’t want to look down at the men and the rebellious teenagers and the single women all the time, so you check out Sister Burton’s skirt, which is a little more hottest than modest and perhaps not appropriate. Sister McBride’s skirt is a bit short too, but only because she’s put on some weight. You want to make friends with your non-member neighbors, but they’re so short and out of reach, and it’s hard to keep your balance when you have to bend down to shake hands. As you gaze down on your husband from the pedestal, you start to notice things that are not so pleasant. He’s got a bald spot, and a bit of a paunch, and you suspect that if you could just lean the right way, you could see the image on his computer screen and it would involve nudity.
But there are some things that they never told you about life on the pedestal. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes you get bored. Sometimes you get hemorrhoids. Sometimes your husband doesn’t get paid enough to support your family. Sometimes your kids stick beans up their noses when you don’t have health insurance. Sometimes you find out your nephew is gay. Sometimes you really wish you would have studied wildlife biology because you never really thought elementary education was interesting and now you regret that choice. Sometimes you cry for no reason. Sometimes you wish you could just reconnect with your husband and stop being disappointed in him all the time. Sometimes you want to sell your children to the mailman. Sometimes you just want to read a dirty book. Sometimes a very, very stiff wind picks you up off that pedestal and knocks you right on your spanx-encrusted ass.
Hi there, welcome to my world. It’s nice to see you down here. Don’t cry. We’re actually pretty nice. There’s your husband’s buddy Jimmy who insists on wearing a beard and Levis to church every Sunday. There’s your accountant who goes to Sunstone every year. There’s your Aunt Bubbles who puts vodka in her water bottle, but thinks the world of you. There’s Sister Layton who has skipped the evening session of stake conference for the past eight years to have Halo 3 tournaments with her teenage sons. There’s your non-member neighbors who want to invite you to dinner, but are afraid you’ll be offended if they drink wine. Go ahead and put them at ease. There’s Leona from down the street who hasn’t worn anything but a low-cut mumu in eight years, but has the funniest stories and most infectious laugh. There’s your neighbor Sarah who has a dirty house and weedy garden, but loves her job at the hospital. There’s your husband with his bald spot and paunch and some cheese dip on his chin who would like nothing more than to just watch a basketball game with you. There’s a democrat–go ahead and hug him. He’s lonely in the intermountain west. Maybe you can be friends. You both like wildlife. There’s your niece dressed entirely in tattoos, spandex, and various bits of body jewelry. She writes poetry and hopes you’ll take her seriously. There’s your cheeto-encrusted child with an unfortunate profanity problem. He needs a hug and a washcloth. There’s your daughter who hasn’t been to church in a few years. She loves you and she needs a hug too because she’s not always sure that the feeling is mutual. There’s grumpy Mr. Paxton who smokes on his front porch on Sunday, but makes really nice bird feeders. He has some great stories to tell about the old days when people appreciated the value of a dollar.
We could all help you get back up on that uncomfortable perch, but honestly, what’s the point? You weren’t really enjoying it, were you? Go ahead and relax. Try on some elastic-waisted pants and these flats. Crack open a diet coke. Crack open a bodice-ripping novel. Crack a smile. Stop worrying about being a pretty princess and start enjoying being an emotional, stinky, loving, laughing, flawed but striving human. And enjoy the company of the nuts who surround you. You might find a kindred spirit.