Lesson for 2022: Tune Out the Noise

By Sarah E. Murphy

I stopped caring last year.

Not about life, or living. To the contrary.

I was reminded far too many times how fragile and fleeting this journey is. 

I stopped putting my priorities on the back burner in order to please. I stopped denying my dreams by thinking I’m not deserving. I stopped carrying the weight of worry – what other people think, or making the decisions that are best for me, or not being available at all times, and then obsessing that I’ve let someone down. 

I started listening to the inspiring voice in my head instead of the incessantly shaming critic.

Turning fifty was part of it. Rather than dreading that milestone, as I’m apparently supposed to, I welcomed it, embracing it with open arms.

Although our patriarchal, misogynistic society wants me to believe I’m officially ancient and irrelevant now, I’ve chosen to rebel by believing in my worth. I’ve always been a non-conformist. 

I have the nerve to think this is the best stage of my life, that I have important contributions to make, and that I’m just beginning to come into my power. 

Like so many women, self-judgement began in middle school. My opinion of myself became based solely on physical flaws I didn’t realize I had in elementary school, which were identified to me by boys. By fifth grade, I started hating any qualities that made me unique, particularly my pale skin and freckles. 

This was the 1980s, long before social media. The objectification of girls and women, and the emphasis on our appearance, is firmly embedded in our culture, emboldened today in a way that is unlike anything I had to endure in my youth. It has also been emboldened by religion and politics, which go hand in hand in America, despite our purported Separation of Church and State. 

On Instagram, we are flooded with videos about how to look younger, thinner, more voluptuous, more like celebrities who no longer resemble themselves from excessive plastic surgery. How to contour your nose to make it look smaller. How to make your lips look bigger and your legs longer. How to go gray “gracefully.”

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, sharing nude photos and video has become the primary barometer for female empowerment, with trending hashtags, such as #TittyTuesday. Unsurprisingly, the loudest voices of approval are from men, whose agenda is obvious. Cheering on females, some of whom are young enough to be their daughters or granddaughters. So predictable, so tedious.

I don’t have the time or emotional wherewithal for other platforms like TikTok, another forum that perpetuates this phenomenon.

I don’t take issue with what consenting adults choose to do with images of themselves, but I deeply resent the narrative this dangerous trend has created – that females who don’t post our bodies online are prudish, sexually repressed, ashamed of ourselves, and envious of those who do. It’s like something out of an After School Special, giving me flashbacks to high school, when I experienced more peer pressure from the fact I wasn’t sexually active than any exposure to alcohol or drugs. 

Empowerment to me is independence. It’s traveling around a foreign country, all by myself, without knowing a soul. It’s calling out the crimes of sex abuse in the Catholic Church with my writing, and fighting for reproductive justice by sharing my own abortion trauma, even when I feel like no one is paying attention. It’s being kind to myself in a world that benefits from women hating ourselves. But none of that is sexy to the masses.

Trying to promote my work on Twitter became a depressing exercise in futility. Needless to say, those of us who have been paying attention weren’t surprised when Roe was overturned. This culture contributed to it.

Today I took down the wall calendar of Italy that my husband Chris gave me for Christmas 2021. 

The last month of 2022 features the Rialto Bridge, one of the most iconic landmarks in Venice. From the time I was a little girl, even before middle school, when I started basing my worth on external measures, I knew one day I would visit the floating city I fell in love with the moment I saw it in a storybook. 

My childhood dream came true in 2022. After two years of Covid canceled trips, I found myself on my third solo trip to Italy, and my first time on an airplane since 2019. Chris gave me the calendar as motivation to make it a reality. 

I’ll never forget arriving in Venice from Lucca – the October sun shimmering on the Grand Canal, blinding me with surreal beauty. I couldn’t help thinking how happy my dad would be for me, and I started talking aloud to him, laughing at the reality I had actually made it, while crying tears of joy. 

Heading away from the crowd, I got on a water bus to check into my B&B, a loft in the 15th century palazzo of two artists. After a quick shower, I threw on a sundress and my Pumas and went out to explore my temporary neighborhood, exhilarated by the promise of not knowing or caring where I was headed. There wasn’t a soul in sight. Without the heavy burden of my suitcase, I felt completely free. 

I spent New Year’s Eve partaking in one of my favorite traditions, curled up on the couch watching The Twilight Zone. The older I get, and the more I commit myself to a life of creativity, the more I’m amazed by the talent and prescience of Rod Serling. “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” based on “The Beautiful People” by Charles Beaumont, is set in the year 2000, a dystopian future in which everyone undergoes body and mind-altering surgery to become “beautiful.”

“Given the chance, what young girl wouldn’t happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one?” Serling asks in the introduction.

Eighteen-year-old Marilyn chooses not to undergo “the Transformation,” much to her mother’s dismay. She is confined to a hospital room against her will when her “radical” beliefs are uncovered, but in the end, she succumbs to the procedure. “I look just like you!” Marilyn gleefully exclaims to her best friend after looking in the mirror, for she has also lost the ability to think for herself. 

I couldn’t have picked a more fitting episode for a metaphor.

As I begin 2023, I’m strengthening my resolve to value myself and recognize my worth. After forty years of feeling inadequate, I’m comfortable in my own skin, and I’m proud of everything that makes me me. I’m no longer judging myself by society’s measures.

After decades of listening, I’ve tuned out the noise and turned up my own volume.  

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