Some books take us into a deep exploration of our inner selves. Especially memoirs. The battle between good and evil. Our struggle between virtue and vice. A good memoir can take us deep into the mind of someone else. Give us a glimpse at their internal struggles. They can help us see ourselves, see our own struggles mirrored on the written page. They can help us see a different path.
Seven deadly sins. Seven heavenly virtues. We can list the sins: Lust. Greed. Envy. Gluttony. Pride. Wrath. Sloth. Can anyone list the virtues? It seems virtue just isn’t quite as fun as sin. Virtue takes work, while vice is simply to be human.
I’ve always been fond of wrath. And guilty of envy. But, if I had to choose one that seems to be my achilles heel, I have to admit it’s pride.
As with all deadly sins, pride can be deceiving. If you do something well, should you not be proud? Where does the line cross from acceptable to sinful? Because, make no doubt, there is always a line.
For me, pride is my vice because it boils down to vanity. Vanity gets me every time.
Vanity is superficial. I was raised in a society that values beauty in women above most everything else. Sure, we make strides to encourage empowerment, to strive for education and learning, but let’s face it, we aren’t quite there yet. Almost any magazine geared towards women has photoshopped versions of already stunning women on their covers. They are filled with ads to sell us product to slow aging, help with weight loss, whiten teeth, dye our hair, reduce wrinkles. I mean, do I really need to go on here?
And the articles themselves are more of the same. How to lose ten pounds in thirty days. How to please your man in bed. There is little in there about how to word an email more effectively. Or how to fight in your year end performance to maximize your full raise potential. Or how about an article simply on how to ask for a raise? Or to negotiate your salary? No, those have no place in the multi-billion dollar beauty world. Feminism is more a catch phrase than an ideology.
Even in the business world, women struggle with how to be perceived as authoritative without being a bitch. Or how to be more helpful towards the team versus focused on her own career. Things few men ever consider.
Yet, the industry is only a symptom. And here is where this book struck a chord with me.
Cat Marnell grew up in the beauty world too. She devoted her young life to wanting to be in this world. To write and live and breathe magazines. She worked her way into the glamorous jobs interning for these magazines, and eventually writing for them. And through it all she was highly addicted to prescription pills.
This was a fascinating book. Rather than cover her discomfort at feeling so out of place in a room she worked tirelessly to be in, she dives into the pain head first. The result is spectacular. Marnell doesn’t focus on the glitz and glamour of an exotic life lived, rather she gives us a glimpse of the broken woman underneath.
Which is why I related so much to her. I know what it’s like to feel lost when sitting in a room full of people. To feel out of place in a crowd you fought to be included in. I know what it’s like to watch yourself make decisions you know, you know, are bad. And make them anyway.
I am guilty of superficiality. Yes, I want to look good. I would rather not eat than gain weight. Most often, I choose fashion over comfort. I dye my hair and whiten my teeth. If I could afford it, I would probably partake in plastic surgery. I wear makeup whenever I leave the house. I am jealous of beautiful women, even though I try not to be.
The secret hiding underneath vanity is low self-esteem. And Marnell exposes that hidden facet, bringing it into the sunlight for all to see.
This book takes you on a journey through Cat’s life. And even though she is darkly funny, she eviscerates her life. She cuts raw and deep, exposing her inner demons for all to see. She doesn’t hold back on how drugs gave her focus and then took it away. On how she spiraled completely out of control not once, not even twice but time and time and time again. And how, even then, she always went back.
She sucker punches you with the ugly truth of addiction. The things you allow to be done to you. The things you do to yourself. The things you do to others. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t apologize. She doesn’t excuse.
It takes a bravery I deeply admire to show the world your scars. To lay bare your shame and misery and mistakes. While I have never lived the life she lives, I can imagine making similar mistakes had circumstances been different.
This book is not for the faint of heart. It will make you, at best, uncomfortable; at worst, disgusted.
Addiction is not pretty. Addicts do not make sympathetic characters. They are devious and selfish and woeful creatures. Marnell does not sugar coat this part of herself, even though she could. She seems very aware of the person she was (is). This can make her seem spoiled and ungrateful. She pokes at her own privileged life and doesn’t deny it. To some it may read as cocky or arrogant.
Maybe it’s because I am also a self-sabatouer, a hider behind a hard exterior and a wicked bite. I didn’t read her memoir as cocky or arrogant. I could see the pain she worked so hard to numb. In my own ways, I have done the same for so many years.
There is something else hidden in this book. Marnell finds her voice by simply being her authentic self. Even if that person was a self-destructive drug addict. She spent years hiding her addiction and being ashamed of the person she was. So much so, that the one person she admires most, she won’t reach out to until she is rid of her demons. As of publication, that has not happened.
She doesn’t say it, but perhaps being able to express herself without shame and ridicule allowed her to purge enough of the self-loathing to seek help.
It isn’t just the beauty world where women struggle to create an ironclad facade in fear that we will be ridiculed and rejected. I believe this happens in nearly every industry to some degree. It was fascinating to read how she reacted to that freedom and where it led.
Like Marnell, even though I work to be a more authentic me, it is hard to let go of the safety net. Of the coping mechanisms that kept me safe for so long. We can only try to be better each day, and not beat ourselves up for the mistakes of the past.
I went into this book not sure where it would lead. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It is not entertainment, but rather a reminder that I am not alone. There are other women out there, living their lives the best they can. It is a glimpse into the pain someone else felt. It is an opportunity for self-reflection. And in the end, that’s all any good book truly is.