Once upon a time, there was a little girl who’s greatest fear in life was being found unacceptable.
Unacceptable was a word her father used to describe certain behaviors: rolling eyes at adults, interrupting people, staying out past curfew, being late for dinner, picking up boys at church, wearing too much makeup, failing classes at school, flirting too brazenly, wearing short skirts, cursing in public, and sitting on a boy’s lap for any reason ever.
The girl wanted very much to be good. She wanted to be acceptable.
She also, however, wanted to wear makeup, flirt wildly, stay out late, and speak her mind on all kinds of issues.
One day during high school, the young woman said to her older classmate, “I like your hair.”
“Thanks! I like yours, too!”
“Thanks. I’m glad you approve.”
Approve. That word hung in the air like bait.
The older student’s face got very serious.
“No one ever has to approve of you but you,” she said. The younger student was surprised by the serious statement. She thought about it for a very long time.
As the young woman grew older, she started to take more risks. She started to speak her mind about things that other people would disagree with. She started to ask tougher questions of the people who were setting standards for her to meet. She flirted when it felt good and ignored anyone who acted like she owed them anything. She did and said a lot of things that her father would have found unacceptable. And gradually, she stopped caring about acceptability.
As an adult, she often met men who thought they knew better than she did, that they could take advantage of her, or that they were in some way superior to her. The woman was not a mind reader, but she could tell what these men were thinking because their words and actions did a piss poor job of hiding their foolishness.
The woman developed a mantra she would repeat to herself when faced with men (or women) who found her unacceptable: You cannot diminish me.
She often pictured the face of that brilliant classmate who gave her the best advice of her life. She grew to understand what it meant to approve of herself. When anyone judged her, she laughed in their faces at the impotence of their opinions.
And as for her father? He turned out to be capable of accepting a lot more than she expected. She imagined that he was probably impressed at the incredible, strong, self-possesed woman she had become. But she never knew for sure. She never bothered asking him whether he approved or not.