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This pic came from last year’s Halloween party. I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since. When I dug it up last month, I was horrified all over again at the story behind those batwing eyelashes and badass blue-black wig. Staring at the cosmetic puncture wounds and oozing blood I’d drawn on my own neck, I cringed. I gasped. How do you do, my name is Kriste, and I am a Victim.
That I’d casually drafted myself into that role without so much as an afterthought was chilling, because the realization went way beyond spooky dressup and made me think about some of the other ways I’d probably been playing that role in real life without realizing it. Probably a lot, I reckoned. Suddenly, the light table of my life had flicked on in my mind’s eye and a parade of my Victim slides fanned out into sharp focus for review. Oh crap, I thought, I’m good at this. It was my illuminating nah-ah moment, and I didn’t like it one bit. And that’s the main reason why it took me so long to get to this post: it’s not pretty, honey!
So, a story. Victims love stories. At last year’s Halloween party, a friend who’d never seen me in makeup and fake hair complimented my look—raved, actually—and told me how incredible I looked, just like Naomi Campbell, he said. He stared at me for a long time and even told in the days that followed that I should consider fake hair for real because it made me look so hot.
I wasn’t about to venture into the minefield of what beauty and beautiful hair was or how narrowly-perceived his idea of it was/is at a Halloween party of all places. So, I let it go. I didn’t bother launching into the fact that even Naomi Campbell has a team of paid professionals to help her look like she does and that, if I look like her in makeup, then maybe she looks like me out of it. Not out of it as in inebriated, but out of makeup, I mean.
Instead of calling him on his remark, I went one better and quietly decided to begin the process of de-friending him after he’d returned me safely home at the end of the evening. The next morning I called my girlfriend Bailey and rolled the story out for her in chapter and verse, leaving no detail untold in the case against my ignorant friend and the culture at large that incubated and spawned such beliefs. For forty-five minutes I railed on about the impossible standards of beauty that get piped in through the mainstream and how society suffers as a result and discourages any true expression of and the stifling global oppression that emerges as a result.
I bemoaned the unnecessary, expensive burdens placed on women who couldn’t see past the lies long enough to recognize their inherent beauty and to value the tresses they’d been blessed with from birth. I’m all for hair and nails and makeup as accessories and fashion options, I told her, but it’s the message that expensive additions like these should be the norm that pisses me off. Bailey listened while I called for women everywhere to come out from beneath the cumbersome burdens of weaves, extensions and wigs and, thusly, out from the pockets of the booming grooming industry.
I was angry that people seemed to be under the illusion that beauty and esteem were simply a matter of money and an over-the-counter transaction. Just a few dollars down for full, pixie, partial, single track, silky, waved and braided allure. What’s worse, I told my friend, was that my other friend, Kevin, had absolutely no idea how clueless he was about The Issues and that his ignorance only fueled the oppressor’s grasp around women’s minds and wallets everywhere and, and, and…
Will you calm down, Kriste? Bailey interrupted. That man was just paying you a compliment. I see that as him recognizing your beauty. You need to be grateful because I saw that picture and I think you look terrible, if you want the truth.
I didn’t want the truth. Not that one anyway.
Despite her attempts to diffuse the clarity and venom of my diatribe, I decided she didn’t get it because her natural hair was more like Naomi’s fake hair, so she could only go so far into the struggle and appreciation of my Victimization. In search of a more hospitable reception of my plight—someone with hair more like my own—I called my sister and rolled out the story in chapter and verse for her too. To my surprise, she cut me off about twelve minutes in with, We never expected you to be normal. I wasn’t sure how to take that, but I knew it was grounds for offense and on to my short list she went.
By the day’s end, I’d amassed a growing list of poorly-informed friends who were up for demotion in my book. It was a sweeping task, thinning out my A-list, but it had to be done. I was saddened to know that nobody in the world understood me, that I was alone in my indignation and Victimization and alienation, and it sucked.
And that, people, is but one way to play a prize-worthy Victim.
When you play the Victim—and you don’t have to be all that good at it like I was—one of the perks is that you get to hold your line in the sand and stack the offenses around you like a fortress. And when you get a good pile going, you can stand on it and thump your chest in righteous indignation that let’s the world know how great and deep is your suffering. Using a fake accent may go a long way here, too. In no time your makeshift soapbox fortress will bear you up like a proud conquistador, your heels dug firmly in, defying all comers to challenge your position. It’s a brilliant scheme, indeed.
Victims on soapboaxes know no one understands them. That’s part of the art of building cases and fortresses: you get to do it to your own specifications. Victims count on no one caring about their cause because they—people who choose to stay stuck in their version of The Facts instead of building bridges to real understanding and corrective action—they’re all too eager to condescend just enough to school ignorant masses and soon-to-be-defriended friends on The Issues.
Did I mention that it’s lonely at the top of that heap?
There are a great many ways to be good at playing the Victim. I’ve listed but a few from my own experience, and I point this out because it’s not always easy to recognize when we’re wrapped up acting out our parts. And even though this kind of unpleasantness can be hard to spot in ourselves, it’s even harder to embrace. Yes, embrace, I said. For the hardheaded among you, I say embrace because what else is there? You’ve got yourself backed into a corner, high on your horse and too proud to take your medicine the easy way, and that’s why where here, now isn’t it? So, pull your face back together, own your stuff, break down the walls, walk among the people again and, in so doing, be prepared to be relieved of your role because that’s what happens when you/we finally drop the act.
Make no mistake: the Victim is clever, and just like Uncle Sam, she wants you, preciousss! She wants to whisper sweet nothings in your ear and enlist you in the legion of doom unbeknownst to you. She wants to draw you out to sea with her intoxicating siren song, filling your head with half truths as she dashes you on the rocks, tramplea your faith, and drags what’s left into her lair away from all reason and clarity. As my friend Jaime says, she wants to break you down to your last compound and kick. your. ass. But sometimes that’s the only way to make it back to ourselves, huh?
Now, I’m not saying The Issues are bogus, because I really do believe narrow standards of beauty and creativity and individualism are serious problems. I also know that using Issues as weapons rather than making room for real solutions and dialogue can be dangerous, not to mention isolating. If the capital C Cause winds up pulling you out of your center and into the lair, you’d better look alive, ’cause you’re being played. You might think you’re running the show, but you’re in the role, you have assumed the position, and you’re going down.
The American author and founder of The Empowerment Dynamic—more widely known as TED—well his name is David Emerald Wolmendorf and he had this to say about Victims. It hit so close to the bone, you’d have thought I said it here first. He says, Victims may be defensive, submissive, over-accommodating to others, passive-aggressive in conflict, dependent on others for self-worth, overly sensitive, even manipulative. They’re often angry, resentful, and envious, feeling unworthy or ashamed about their circumstances. Have you ever felt or acted this way?
Before you launch into a response, even if it’s a defensive one, it’s worth taking a moment to consider. Look back over the last times you played the Victim. Were you convincing? Did you get stuck in it and need a little help dropping the act? And were you the wiser for it in the end? I sure hope so. Another thing I discovered from my Victim stints is that it prepares me for another role to which I feel I’m much better suited. It’s the Phoenix. To make this role convincing, you’ve got to be resilient, hopeful and open, knowing that you’ll get knocked down again sometime because that’s just part of the deal. No two ways about it, you’ve got to bring your passion to this role; you’ve got to be on fire. I invite you to try it. Bring your best costume, do yourself up, and most important: look alive, honey. And, no, you may not borrow my wig.
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