Confessions of a (not so) Lovely Girl
How my inner critic stole Christmas
If you’d rather listen than read, you can find this post here on my podcast, Sound Insight.
When I was in my late twenties, I sat in my sister-in-law’s kitchen and listened politely as she extolled the virtues of her friend next door. This woman had all the attributes associated with a 1950’s female ideal – impeccable social graces, an effortless mastery of the domestic arts, and a sophisticated sense of fashion. At one point, my brother cocked his wrist in an exaggerated feminine gesture, touched his chest and gushed, “Yes, she’s a Lovely Girl.”
Lovely Girl was a term our mother used for the kind of lady who won the approval of the United Church Women. My mother had hoped, in vain, that I might one day become a Lovely Girl. As much as I laughed and rolled my eyes at my brother’s conjuring of that term, it stirred in me an inexplicable and embarrassing longing to be that woman. And completely outside my conscious awareness, it unleashed an inner autocrat that had been lying dormant in my amygdala since childhood.
I call her Lovely Girl, or LG for short.
LG is the most exacting of inner critics, the high priestess of decorum and a slave driving tyrant in a 1950’s vintage shirt waist dress and pearls. Like a bad seed, her influence over me grew and spread until by my mid-thirties, she gained control over my brain’s executive functions. She ruled from inside my head with expectations of perfection I could never achieve. The problem is, I am totally inept at all things Lovely Girlish.
It’s not that I didn’t try. At LG’s insistence, I sampled many Lovely Girl extra-curricular activities. Even though I was barely holding it together with the demands of a full-time job and two small children, I joined a so called “stitch and bitch” group. These are where Lovely Girls gather and chat as they effortlessly create impeccable nature scenes with cross stitch. I mostly just stabbed myself with the needles and drew blood.
Once, LG persuaded me to participate in a Christmas cookie exchange, that she promised would be a “time saver.” Here’s the premise. You bake several dozen cookies from your favorite Christmas cookie recipe. You bring your stash to a Lovely Girl-hosted party where seven or eight other Lovely Girls bring their favorite Christmas cookies. Then you exchange them, so each walks away with seven or eight dozen assorted (and lovely) Christmas cookies. Brilliant right?
There were several flaws in LG’s logic. First, the assumption that I actually had a favorite Christmas cookie recipe or that I could bake. The second was that I entertained enough to make use of eight-dozen different varieties of Christmas cookies. Given it took me eight tries and several emotional meltdowns before I could produce an LG-worthy offering for this event, no time was saved.
LG’s attempts to train me in the ways of the Lovely Girl were akin to putting a Sumo wrestler through finishing school.
How LG Sucks the Joy out of Christmas
It took years, a little therapy, and some personal development workshops for a more reasonable and self-compassionate inner voice to emerge and restore some sanity to my life. And while LG was eventually dethroned, she was never completely exiled. She still reasserts herself with disturbing regularity, especially during the Christmas season.
LG adores Christmas. It’s her time to shine.
Unfortunately for LG, I can never quite pull off the vision.
Here are the subtle signs that she has infiltrated my pre-frontal cortex.
- I begin anxiously scrolling through Pinterest. I hate Pinterest. It’s an app devoted to everything that intimidates me. LG LOVES Pinterest. She sees it as a kind of “Lovely Girl for Dummies” and she figures even I can pull off a semblance of Lovely Girl with a few well selected pins.
- There is the sudden appearance of things on the grocery list like icing sugar, food colouring and sprinkles.
- There’s finding myself in a kind of manic stupor in a craft supply store as LG hands over my credit card for $100 worth of gift-making supplies.
- There are incidents like the time LG had my grandchildren and me covered in green icing and marshmallows, fashioning a tiny arboretum of Christmas trees out of inverted ice cream cones. (Courtesy of Pinterest)
LG’s 2022 Plan of Attack
A few weeks ago, LG stumbled on a set of pre-printed 5X7 sticky notes called “Today’s Plan of Attack.” The pages of these instruments of obsessive list-making had three sections: “Most Critical,” “Would be Nice,” and “Not a Chance.” LG begged me to buy them. She promised they’d make my life so much easier.
But moments after removing the packaging, she scratched out the “Would be Nice” and “Not a Chance” headers because in LG’s world EVERYTHING IS MOST CRITICAL!
Then she got to work. There were her holiday standards like buy Christmas turkey, begin “make ahead” Christmas dinner side dishes, write individual and customized notes in all 60 Christmas cards. Then she added things like:
- Find dehydrated marshmallows for the hot chocolate mix to go inside the DIY Christmas tree ornaments.
- Pick up Christmas hand towels for the guest bathroom and find Christmas throw pillows for the spare bedroom.
- Search for “cheap and easy-to-make” gift ideas for 40 of your casual acquaintances.
- Find recipes for appetizers that are gluten-free, vegan, and keto.
- Buy matching Christmas pyjamas for your whole family for Christmas morning pictures.
LG calculated that if I reduced the number of times I went to the bathroom, stopped showering, and asked my husband to order takeout, it might all be doable. In that moment, a text arrived from a bona fide Lovely Girl in my life. She had invited me to a “ladies Christmas luncheon” that weekend and LG had responded with the obligatory, “What can I bring?” question. The text said, “Some Christmas baking would be [wait for it] LOVELY!”
This is what you call, “a triggering event.”
While I began to hyperventilate, LG peered into the freezer and muttered under her breath that this was the very reason why I should never have abandoned the Christmas cookie exchange. “A real Lovely Girl would have a stash of Christmas baking already in here for just such an occasion,” she scolded.
With my phone in one hand and 15 easy-to-bake Christmas recipes from Pinterest in the other, I realized that LG was in total control. She was strutting around inside my head like a Navy Seal Trainer during “Hell Week.”
My reaction was like a slow-building volcanic eruption.
While LG continued the desperate and futile search through my cupboards and freezer, another more sinister figure arose in my consciousness. This shadowy character stopped the search, picked up the Plan of Attack notepad and relabeled the “Not a Chance” section to “Are you F***ing Kidding Me?” Under it, the figure wrote, “Bake F***ing Christmas cookies.” My kitchen became something reminiscent of a scene out of The Exorcist as I began spewing obscenities and throwing LG’s collection of Christmas spatulas across the room. My startled husband ducked for cover.
A Negotiated Cease-fire
This is usually the point in our annual pre-Christmas derangement that I drag her by her perfectly quaffed hair out of command central, throw her into solitary confinement, open wine and drink it right out of the bottle. And I have to admit, that was my first instinct this year as well.
But instead, I stopped, took a breath, and had something akin to an aha moment.
Another voice in my head said, “You know, she’s never going away. Instead of throwing her into the brig, why don’t you call a truce and see if you can negotiate a lasting peace?”
So, since Saturday, shortly after I put her in handcuffs and picked up cookies for the luncheon at my local bakery, LG and I agreed to a temporary cease-fire.
Under duress, she agreed not to add any new tasks to the Most Critical list. I told her I wasn’t buying matching Christmas PJs for my adult sons. But I did agree to stop spewing four-letter words at her. She agreed to stop comparing me to other LG’s. I responded that I was not, nor would I ever be a Lovely Girl.
At that point, she said in a tone that sounded eerily similar to Aunt Lydia in Handmaid’s Tale, “It’s okay dear, we’ll try again next year.”
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Well done my friend :)!
LG is in fine form … in almost every woman I know at this time of year! I like the idea of drinking wine right out of the bottle! Thanks for this post; I need to know I’m not the only one struggling to shut up that “lovely” inner critic telling me I’m not doing enough to make the holidays happen!
Thankyou dear friend and fellow sufferer.