A depressed husband in a mid-life crisis. A control freak, unhappy wife. An insecure teenage daughter. A hyper-conservative neighbor, struggling with his sexuality. An introverted wife. An intense, drug dealing son. This can only result in good times for all.
Last night, I watched the movie “American Beauty.” Lester (actor Kevin Spacey) is a middle-aged man who is incredibly depressed. He finds no joy in his job, he has a sexless marriage, and very little connection with his teenage daughter. In the beginning of the movie, he lets other people (his boss, his wife) make decisions for him. As the movie progresses, Lester is inspired by his daughter’s attractive friend to take control of his life. While I don’t agree with the motivation (the possibility of having sex with a young, teenage girl), it’s difficult not to admire the actions Lester takes. He immediately starts lifting weights to improve his physical appearance. He starts standing up for himself with his wife instead of submitting to everything she says. He quits the job that he hates.
To a small extent, I feel like I can relate to Lester. Obviously I don’t have a wife or children and I don’t have any kind of fascination with teenage girls, but I can understand feeling like you’re living your life by other people’s rules. I can understand being unhappy with your job. Some days, I do wish that I could take drastic action the way Lester did. Some days I wish I could just say “I quit this bitch” (Inetta the Moodsetta, radio DJ) and walk out of the office. Unfortunately, it’s just not a feasible option. Instead, I’ve started taking steps toward doing something that I really enjoy–writing. Maybe with small steps, I can gradually get to a place where I’m happy with my life.
Another character to which I felt a connection (briefly) was Lester’s daughter Jane (actress Thora Birch). In the movie, you see that Jane is not satisfied with her body (to be fair, how many teenage girls are?). Her feelings are hurt when her friend tells her that the worst thing in life is to be “ordinary.” She tells her boyfriend, “I don’t like how I look.” She even comments that she’s been saving money for years for a “boob job.”
I’ve been feeling the same way as Jane does since adolescence. I’ve made good progress over the last year or so with my depression and insecurities, but my body image really hasn’t changed much. During my adolescence, when other girls were developing breasts, I remained flat-chested. My “friends” teased me pretty relentlessly. I didn’t help that I had short hair either. I was constantly called a boy. As I grew older, I did my best to fade into the background and become invisible to avoid the taunting. As a teenager, I still had small breasts, but I was thin. My mom would make fun of my “huge ass.” Yes, I have a voluptuous rear, but there is no way a 5’5″ teenager that ways 106 lbs could have a huge ass. Still, it was damaging. After my first 2 years of college, I gained a little weight. My metabolism slowed down and I wasn’t as active. My mom then started telling me that I was fat. I still only weighed around 130 lbs. More damage. Since then, I haven’t received many negative comments about my appearance, but the past still hangs in my mind. I still feel…ashamed…of my body. I’m out of shape and overweight. I’m uncomfortable in “skimpier” clothing; I hate being seen in a swimsuit. I only weight long shorts and I hate wearing short dresses. When someone tells me that I’m pretty or beautiful, my immediate reaction is to disagree. I just can’t see it. I think I’m average at best. I still haven’t figured out how to get over it.