I got on the elevator with a beautiful young woman who was sobbing and shaking. I asked her what was wrong and she told me, “I have ugly feet.”
I was confused by her comment. As my genetic wiring requires, I had checked her out as soon as I saw her and I noted that she was quite attractive. To be fair, my initial scan had not gone all the way to her feet, so I refocused my energies and, indeed, her feet looked normal.
I hadn’t really thought about what made feet beautiful or ugly, but I didn’t see any noses growing out of them or any extra toes.
Turns out, though, that she was a model and had just been rejected for an advertising gig with Dr. Scholl’s. Maybe the artistic director or the client thought her middle toe was too long or her big toe was too flat or something. Maybe her toenails wouldn’t be believable in the dramatic arc of the story. It all seemed trivial to me, but it was clearly devastating to her.
So I switched from voyeur to dad mode and tried to comfort her as much as you can on an elevator ride. I assured her that it was just one setback, that she would get other jobs, that any criticism was just one jerk’s opinion, and, of course, that her feet weren’t so monstrously grotesque that nobody would ever love her. JK on the last one, since I’ve (finally) learned not to apply humor in emotional moments.
The thing that struck me the most, and has continued to hang with me, is the way one flaw, real or imagined, could affect a person so much. In a business where your livelihood depends on your physical appearance, it’s understandable that a rejection can feel very personal. But I’ve seen the same thing with all kinds of people over the years, incredibly susceptible to criticism of one seemingly small facet.
Achilles had his heel, but it seems that all of us have something, some abnormally sensitive and vulnerable spot that overcomes all our other strengths. For some of us, it’s a body image thing and for others it’s tied up with a family history or an educational status or an epic fail in high school. Every so often, impostor syndrome makes us vulnerable as well.
Perversely, we make ourselves victims when we offer ourselves up to be judged by THEM. We base our self-esteem on THEIR assessment and we accept whatever THEY say as the truth. Our friend the foot model had to put herself at the mercy of other people in order to make a living, but most of us are driven solely by…what?
Maybe it’s part of the human condition to subvert our self-image in the interest of others’ judgments. Maybe we have an intrinsic need to be miserable about something. Maybe we’re all masochists at heart. Whatever the deep psychological source of our malady, Bob Newhart was right.
You may all carry on with your lives now. So glad I could help.
BTW, if you promise not to send us any pictures of your feet, you are permitted to click here to subscribe.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.