I am too much. I am not enough.
I want to scream. These eight small words somehow have the power and potency to completely consume, cause immobilizing self-doubt, and keep us silent, small, and playing it safe.
No matter where you fall on the continuum, their harm doesn’t escape you. You see that, right?
Here’s the thing: we’ve been indoctrinated into these realities and ways of being/believing (at least in part) through the stories we’ve heard, internalized, and adopted – whether we’ve meant to or not. Stick with me.
Eve: She is responsible for the downfall of perfection, of man, of all of creation. Her curiosity and disobedience got her, Adam, and eventually the entire human race into trouble. Message: Clearly woman, because you assert your own will and desire you cause more trouble than any of us can comprehend. You listen to a snake, for goodness sake. You respond to something of beauty rather than keeping yourself in a place of denial and restraint. You open Pandora’s Box. And it’s you we have to blame for the hell we find ourselves in vs. the heaven we once knew. You are too much.
Hagar: Ostensibly taking too many liberties with her mistress, Sarai (the wife of the patriarch) she is banished to the desert with her young son. Message: Clearly woman, you are paying the price for thinking too highly of yourself, for wrestling with figures of leadership that are out of your league, for claiming rights that are unreasonable given your position. This is what happens when you don’t stay in your place, honor those above you, and keep the peace. You are too much.
I could go on and on.
No matter what Biblical story I tell, the message is the same. “You are too much.”
Did I mention that I want to scream?
How about these?
Snow White: Pure, beautiful, and totally incapable of rescuing herself. Her value and worth is determined by selflessly caring for 7 little men and in being beautiful, of course. And when she is poisoned by the witch (a strong, powerful woman who must be evil), the only thing that can salvage her plight is the kiss of the prince. Message: Clearly woman, your beauty is really all that will save you. You were silly enough to eat the poisoned apple (no reference to Eve there…). And now that you have, just sleep. You don’t need to be awake. The kiss of a prince will save you. You cannot do any of this on your own. You are not enough.
Cinderella: A misunderstood waif who is relegated to the care of more powerful women (who must be “wicked”). Her deepest desire is to go to the Ball in the hopes that the prince will rescue her from her miserable life. Indeed, when she’s not herself she is chosen and celebrated by the prince. And later, when he seeks her out and places the glass slipper on her foot, she transforms back into the princess and lives happily ever after. Message: Clearly woman, you cannot expect to get ahead when you look or live as yourself. You need to be bejeweled, adorned, and gorgeous for the prince to even recognize you in the first place. What’s more, your life will remain miserable and hard until that same prince rescues you (with a little help from a Fairy Godmother). You can do none of this on your own. You are not enough.
I could go on and on.
No matter what Disney-princess story I tell, the message is the same. “You are not enough.”
Did I mention that I want to scream?
(I’m aware that these four stories (and so many more) have been told in far different ways. I am deeply grateful for good work that’s been done in broader contexts, including mythic archetypes, providing a multitude of helpful and healing interpretations. ‘Just wanting to make my point. So…back to it.)
You see the problem here, right? Regardless of where the stories come from – a particular faith tradition or Disney – they are ingrained into our psyche. They inform and influence how we are perceived. And even more to the point, they inform and influence how we perceive and experience ourselves. We cannot escape them if we try.
That does not mean that we cannot reimagine, rewrite, and retell them. We must!
Let’s tell the truth: we’re looking for an easy answer, a rescue, a happy ending. And in the meantime, we’re absent to the story we could be writing, telling, living. A story that is not plagued by an evil/wicked villain who is too much, or a heroine who is not enough. We’re absent to our own lives as long as we allow our stories to be told in ways that promulgate these lies. We’re absent to our own lives as long as we wait for anything or anyone other than ourselves.
These stories matter, make no mistake. This is why I’m SO committed to the reimagining, rewriting, retelling process! My particular bent is the Biblical ones. I know them the best. They’ve influenced me the most profoundly. They’ve shaped my worldview, my understanding of gender, my sense of self. (Admittedly, the Disney Princesses get a close if not quick-to-overtake secondary status given how many of the books/movies I’ve owned as the mother to two daughters. I’m not proud of this, I’m just saying…) These stories matter because my story – and yours – is influenced by them, whether we mean for such to happen or not.
Women will starve in silence until new stories are created which confer on them the power of naming themselves. ~ Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar)
New stories. A reimagining of old ones. A renaming of who is heroine and who is villain. A taking back of self.
Eve as the holder of desire that is good, beautiful, and full of wisdom.
Hagar as the first women to whom the Divine actually showed up – seen, known, acknowledged, and worthy.
Snow White – awake, aware, and befriending the old crone within.
Cinderella – beautiful and rich in her own right with no need for magical spells or uncomfortable shoes.
“You are too much” and “You are not enough” are stories that are WAY too small. We’re destined to live one far bigger, far better, far bolder.
Let’s get off the continuum that keeps us silent, small, and playing it safe. Let’s be loud, large, and risky!
Hardly too much. More than enough.
That’s a WAY better story. One worth telling. One worth living.
P.S. While you’re telling and living that story, eat apples boldly, talk to snakes, talk back to those with power, see and name God, wake up, and wear fabulous (even comfortable) shoes whether a Ball or prince is anywhere in sight.