In “Women Don’t Owe You Pretty” by Florence Given, she writes:
“You are not in love with your idols – they are just mirroring the greatness that already exists within you.”
I found this fascinating. I am consumed with why we become fascinated with the things that fascinate us. My 8-year old is constantly asking me why I like things and the things he questions are usually things he does not like. He wants to understand the allure. I have always responded with something like, “Well, why do you like video games?” He will say that he “just does.” That has been my consensus on the things that I love as well. But there is deeper meaning. I have been conditioned by my experiences to be drawn to one thing over another. “Women Don’t Owe You Pretty” has inspired me to explore from where my impassioned likes originated.
I am a big believer in Schema Theory. I highly recommend the book “Emotional Alchemy” by Tara Bennett-Goleman to learn more. According to Bennett-Goleman, schemas drive overreaction in difficult situations. These overreactions were at one point useful in childhood but are no longer appropriate. There are 10 different schemas:
It is possible to have some experiences stem from all ten schemas, but there are usually 3-4 schemas that play a recurring role in our life. I made a list of some of my idols and examined which schemas sparked my attraction to them.
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN & EXCLUSION
My son questions my love (obsession) with Alexander McQueen the most. It’s a thing in our house that when a kid declares that they wish they had something i.e. a cookie, the latest toy, a Disney vacation, etc that I will respond with “I wish I had an Alexander McQueen clutch.” I have said this so much that when my son daydreams about winning the lottery or coming upon a genie in a bottle, he consistently states that he wants to procure an Alexander McQueen clutch for his mama. This tiny purse that would be put to use a number of times less than the number of fingers I have retails for about $3,500. There are a variety available but the one I covet is a hard rectangle case bedazzled in jewels and thorns. It’s probably black. Maybe there’s red or white or an ash color. The handle is actually brass knuckles with jeweled skulls adorning the top. All of the metal parts are gold.
Why do I obsess over this item? Lee McQueen, the man, is my idol, not the brand. I continue to follow the fashion house under the creative direction of Sarah Burton and while I believe she is doing a more than sufficient job of upholding the brand’s reputation, something is missing. Lee would often give statements to the media that he wanted to make people uncomfortable. He wanted to shock audiences but he also wanted to make beautiful clothes. He was known in the industry as a master tailor. Sarah Burton has upheld the McQueen reputation of superior tailoring but has lost the “something” that was there when Lee was alive. (Lee died in 2010.) There is no uncomfortableness in the Sarah Burton era of McQueen. Yes, there’s a lot of black and skulls but it’s much more fashion and less performance art.
Exclusion Schema usually stems from abuse or mistreatment in early life. This can be emotional, physical, or sexual. Those with an Exclusion Schema develop the belief that they will never belong. They often believe that if someone behaves in an accepting fashion, it’s because they have ulterior motives.
Lee McQueen was loved for many reasons but one of them was because he was perceived to be authentically himself and that was someone unlike anyone else. His “otherness” was celebrated. I have never felt like I belonged. Even in the blips of life where I had a consistent group of friends, I never quite felt like I was fully accepted (enter ulterior motives). Observing an artist who was doing what he wanted to do without the consideration of what others thought and it being SO not the norm gave me hope (gives me hope) that I am not defective. It encourages me to believe that my own “otherness” won’t be exploited and that it is a beautiful gift.
FRIDA KAHLO & DEPRIVATION
There are some interests that become massly associated with you without your influence. My husband is often associated with baseball even though since the birth of our children he rarely catches a televised game, has gone several Major League Baseball seasons without attending one in person, and gone multiple years without ever picking up a bat. I have known him for over two decades and I also associated him with baseball for many years. He took the time to explain the game to me, spiriting me to take an interest as well. It makes sense why people assume a great gift for him would be baseball themed.
My baseball is Frida Kahlo. I can expect Frida themed gifts without fail. I graciously accept them all. My mugs and shirts and bags and posters and candles and earrings are all put to use regularly. Frida is far from my favorite artist, however. (That title belongs to Caravaggio.) I think her work is vastly marketed and available and therefore people have been able to easily attach her to me. But if Frida is not my favorite artist, then why am I drawn to her?
Frida created her most popular pieces of work in the mid 1930s and 40s. I think most of the general public associates her with her self portraits (maybe one of the first selfie artists, you could say) and her beautiful dresses and floral hair adornments. Her paintings also explored family and death and war. Her tumultuous marriage to artist Diego Rivera was extremely influential in how Frida expressed herself as a woman. Frida defied the traditional meaning of femininity and what it meant to be a woman in her time. She often wore suits instead of dresses. She refused to commit to beauty standards such as removing her body hair. She dated women as well as men. She spoke out against her husband. She took up space even when she was constantly told she would need her husband in order to amount to anything. She did not shy away from sexuality. She was emotional without apology. She was unapologetically herself.
Modern times offer different obstacles than the 1940s. Social Media offers a constant reminder of what could be and perhaps what you “should” be. The influence is almost impossible to avoid. While existing unapologetically as yourself is still very difficult, I can’t imagine the sheer determination and sense of self it took to do it in the 1930s and 40s, especially as a woman. The expectations laid upon women are still very much intact. A woman who expresses her innate vulnerability is “hysterical” and unfit for roles traditionally reserved for men, be that in the home or outside of it. There is also criticism from the feminist side. When a woman places her partner on a pedestal and believes to need them to be their complete self (like Frida with Diego) she is considered an embarrassment to the cause. Frida lived a life of heartache but she didn’t do it barefoot in the kitchen. She followed her calling alongside loving to death.
The Deprivation Schema can stem from a lack of nurturing and undivided attention of caretakers in childhood. Those tied to a Deprivation Schema often have a deep belief that they will never be understood and that the needs of others will always exceed their own. Deprivation Schema can lead to refusing to voice personal needs but expecting others to meet them; leading to resentment in relationships. They often try to parent everyone around them and experience big disappointment when even a small action of “neglect” is experienced.
I crave to be a Frida type woman; the woman who is not afraid to feel her feelings, displays her true self to the world, follows her calls to passion, all while loving ferociously. Frida is my reminder that I am allowed to meet the needs of my husband and children by loving them hard without condition and it doesn’t set back the rights of women. She also is a reminder to not give in to my Deprivation Schema because loving and sharing my life with those I love is a choice. I can choose to love them with a fervent love and also not lose the sense of myself in the process.
KIESE LAYMON & FAILURE
I have been a prolific reader since I developed the ability to read. My access to books lay in school and the local library where my mother happily took me weekly. This was the 1990’s and there wasn’t a focus on diversifying any type of reading. My parents weren’t readers so I wasn’t introduced to authors that way either. Thus, the writers I was exposed to were almost entirely white… and male. In my teen years, I would find LGBTQ+ writers. I didn’t find Black writers until my 30’s. Yep, it took a LONG time.
It’s no accident that it took so long for Black writers to enter my rotation. There simply wasn’t access. The New York Times published an article in 2020 about the pay discrepancy between white and Black writers from publishing companies. It also speaks about the low number of Black authors in the industry. To make a living as a writer is a hustle. When it comes to personal essay, memoir, and even fiction writing, it is also very mentally demanding. If your white counterpart is getting paid six figures in an advance and you, as a Black writer, are barely scratching the surface of five – consistently – it creates a giant barrier to entry. The success of many Black writers is a grassroots effort, not a corporate one.
I stumbled upon Black Bookstagram in late 2019, a community of Black readers reading Black writers. This was where I kept seeing the name “Kiese Laymon.” Writers in discussions and spectators in the comments were losing their minds over how he was the “best modern American writer.” I took them up on the challenge and picked up his memoir, “Heavy.” Although I am Black on my father’s side, I grew up in a very biracial experience. I spent time with my Black cousins, Aunties, and Uncles when I was way little but lost touch as I grew older. I didn’t experience my first very overt act of racism against my Blackness until I was in high school. I would learn much later that a lot of my experience as a developing woman would be typical of a “Black” woman.
“Heavy” is most definitely about growing up as a Black adolescent and man in the American South. But it also is about existing as you are without having to follow whatever expectations are laid out for you by those in power. My identity has forever tricked me. I can’t take off my biraciality. My hair and face scream “Not white!” but also “Not Black!”. Those who share my experience pop up now and again in the media (see Meghan Markle) but everything has felt out of bounds. When it was time to think about college, even though I was privileged enough to attend an Arts High School and major in creative writing, I didn’t think I could write professionally. What I had to say had no value, I thought.
Kiese laid out his soul in “Heavy.” He was more vulnerable than any writer I have read before or since. I want to be that honest and ignite honesty in those who read my story. I want to see the value in my experience and share it with those who may feel isolated. I have wanted this for as long as my memory remembers but until I read Kiese Laymon, I didn’t think it was possible.
The Failure Schema is a belief that no matter what you do, you will fail. It can stem from over criticism in youth from parents, siblings, peers, persons in power, etc. Those with a Failure Schema often experience intense imposter syndrome and constantly compare their journey to anyone they can. It is also very common for them to create a self fulfilling prophecy by sabotaging themselves when it seems like success is just on the horizon in fear of the inevitable failure.
My Failure Schema is alive and well. When I read Kiese or interact with him online (because he is so generous with his time), I am reminded that people rooting against me don’t define me. He reminds me that sometimes I will have to start over from the beginning. He has taught me to be humble and say “Thank you” when someone compliments my work. He has given me permission to see value in my story and my abilities. His story makes me believe I’m not a failure in mine.
I highly encourage you to pick up Emotional Alchemy to learn what schemas may have shaped your behaviors and emotions. It also gives great direction on how to utilize the knowledge of your schemas for resolving recurring difficulties you meet in life. I have put together a quick overview of each schema here for reference. Feel free to start there to examine why you are drawn to the idols in your life.
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