Puerile. That would be the best word to describe the radio show I sometimes listen to in the a.m. Most mornings I’m very grown-up with my NPR and my unsweetened oatmeal but occasionally a girl needs some good Hollywood gossip – complete with a quiz where they tazer the person on the butt if they get the answer wrong – to go with her Cap’n Crunch. (You know what’s really awesome? Cap’n Crunch cooked in with Rice Krispie treats. Mmm… craving.) In addition to a self-deprecating lead male D.J. and a psychic who says things like, “I see an aura around you… There’s going to be change coming in your life! You feel that warm feeling spreading down you? That means I’m right!” (What – change? In life?! No way. And I love how he describes psychic vibes in the same terms the rest of us use to discuss peeing our pants. Anyhow.), they also have a female co-host, Lena, who is spunky, funny, and adorable – albeit with a few cringeworthy girly-isms.
I blame the latter trait for her announcement the other morning, in typical girly fashion: “I need to lose weight! I’m going on South Beach.” One of the premises of the whole morning show is how freaking hot this chick is so I went and looked her up. This is her hosting the New Kids on the Block at a recent Mall of America event:
What. A. Cow. Right? Ahem. If she needs to lose weight then somebody alert Cindy Crawford that she’d better join the Jenny Craig team. At first I thought she was just pulling the lame-but-oft-used pretty girl trick of whining about your weight to garner compliments but apparently she is serious as she and her co-hosts have been going on and on about how great she looks now that she’s dropping pounds. Finally, after days of this, one of them asked, “So how much weight are you going to lose?”
Her reply? “Until people tell me I’m too skinny and they’re worried about me.”
The guy agreed with her, “Oh yeah, that’s how you know when you’re finally looking good – when people start pulling that ‘I’m so worried about you’ line.” Then he summed up the popular opinion of the day, saying something along the lines of, “Normal sucks. Normal isn’t gorgeous. You have to be super thin to look good.” And the anorexic in me was screaming, “I knew it!!”
My husband will tell you that I’m notorious for missing when people are joking but I’m pretty sure these two were serious. Mostly because they are not the first people to say this. Normal is so last season – and it isn’t just weight. Nobody wants to be described as “average” or “ordinary” or, heaven help you, “just fine.” People would rather be anything but normal, no matter how awful the alternative – a fact that Tila Tequila has banked her entire career on.
But what is so wrong about normal? From a weight standpoint, normal is the best place to be. It is the very heavy and, oh yes, the very skinny who have the highest mortality rates. Unlike in fashion, if you are interested in good health, then there is such a thing as too skinny. From a life standpoint, while we laud the exceptional, normal has a lot to recommend it.
Recently I came across a story about Paige Epler, a thirteen-year-old at George Mason University who has the distinction of being the youngest person to earn a high school diploma. I am not impugning Ms. Epler’s achievement but I do worry about a girl who not only graduates high school at 13 but speed-reads a book in 15 minutes, plays the violin so expertly that she was featured at a luncheon for President Obama, designed and implemented a shark exhibit for the Smithsonian and in all her free time plays “everything from Little League and soccer to karate and flag football, in which she is ‘a really good quarterback.'”
Not knowing Paige at all, I can’t speak to her mental health or how she’s handling all of her success but if history is any guide, the world is not kind to grown-up child prodigies. What can you hope to accomplish at 30 when you set that kind of precedent at 13? As I discovered myself on a much smaller scale, no matter what you do, inevitably people will accuse you of not living up to your potential. Already there are people pointing out that while Epler may be the youngest person to graduate high school she is not the youngest to start college. See? Who does she think she is being all proud of graduating at 13 when March Tian Boedihardjo started University at 9 and Alia Sabur graduated from college at 14?
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be encouraged to maximize all their talents. Achievement is good but it’s not everything. Rather, I’d like to see society encouraging people to be happy, to be healthy, to be kind to others. It took me a long time to notice because they are not often acclaimed but the happiest people I know are not those who are the skinniest or the smartest or the highest-paid or even the most talked about. But they are the wisest. Unfortunately normal doesn’t sell magazines or up radio show ratings.
What makes you happiest? Anyone else cringe a little when people insist their child will read before Kindergarten or their 5-year-old will practice soccer for ten hours a day? How do you draw the line between “becoming your best self” (thank you Oprah) and just making yourself crazy?