How to Quit Faking It

No, not that. (Well, not just that.) Writer Jane Pratt on how she started telling the truth--to herself and everyone else.
by Glamour

Fairchild ArchivFairchild ArchivAll throughout my childhood, I lied about who I was. In first grade I knocked on the door of my mom's painting studio to tell her I'd scored a home run in kickball. I sucked at kickball, but I was looking for attention so I kept inventing fake home runs. I was five but already starting to understand that my mom's "Great job, Janey!" didn't make up for my sneaking feeling that this kickball-champion girl was the praiseworthy one, not me.

In second grade I told my classmates, all churchgoing, that my family attended the First Presbyterian Baptist Church of Christ. In reality we were agnostic artists who sat on our lawn at my mom's thirtieth birthday party while a band called the Weeds played wearing nothing but gold spray paint. (I did not appreciate the coolness of my actual life.) Of course the lie just reinforced my growing sense that I wasn't acceptable the way I was.

When I started prep school at Phillips Academy Andover, I had a full scholarship. Although my family had gone on food stamps, I told my dorm mates we had a house in Malibu--because I wanted to fit in with these kids who had second and third houses in places called things like Malibu. I didn't get that it made no sense to have a weekend house in Malibu when you lived in North Carolina. I never said I was a good liar.

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By the time I was lying about my sex life (fake age of virginity loss: 14; actual age: 17--which meant that instead of thinking about enjoying sex, I was thinking about not having the first guy I had sex with know that he was my first), I understood that hiding who you are just equals a lot of misery and discomfort, physically and psychically.

Letting go of the lies
Still, it wasn't until I launched Sassy magazine, a couple of years out of college, that I started telling the truth and got to experience the catharsis that comes from minimizing the divide between who you say you are and who you really are. In my first editor's note, I admitted I had no idea what editor-in-chief meant. I also started a column called It Happened to Me; the idea was to have girls write about something they wouldn't usually talk about, like having had an abortion or growing up with an alcoholic father. Readers sent letters and stopped me on the street to tell me that these things had happened to them too, and that saying so felt liberating. Even today I get thousands of It Happened to Me submissions to my website, xoJane-topics like "I Told My Boyfriend I Was Born a Boy" and "I Was Sexually Abused by a Doctor."

Despite championing all this truth telling, it's not as though I'm perfectly evolved. I've made countless personal confessions, big and small-from taking drugs to going years without sex-but I admit that it's still tempting sometimes to bullsh-t my way through certain situations.

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In major truth mode
More and more I've come to realize that the healthiest thing you can do is tell the truth in real time. Women are often encouraged to discuss their issues only after those issues are tied up in a neat little nugget of easily digestible advice. It takes more courage, I believe, to acknowledge a mistake while you are making it, a triumph as you are achieving it. When I was in the hospital after miscarrying a twin boy and girl at five months' gestation and heard that the New York Post would be writing about it, I was horrified. I wanted no one to know until I had processed the experience myself. Then I had the thought that I could help others by writing about it before I had it all worked out. So I shared my diaries with the readers of Jane, the magazine I was editing at the time: "I had to go through labor to deliver them, in the room adjacent to where I had delivered my daughter a couple of years before. I know some of you…know how unfathomably painful it is," I wrote. "Someone at the hospital just asked me if I wanted to hold the babies, have a funeral to bury them, or let the hospital 'dispose' of them. This is all really hard to write about." After that, other women-parents and almost parents-reached out to me to share their stories. A friend even called to tell me she had miscarried 20 years earlier but had never told anyone about it until that moment.

When you talk about what you're going through while it's raw, you open the door for others to do the same-while dissipating any shame that you might feel. The beauty of technology now is that we can document these things as they happen, so there is never a beginning, middle, and end to our stories. They, like life, are ongoing. They, like us, are works in progress.

Back to that first gig I lucked into two years out of college: When I met with the president of the company that launched Sassy before I got the job, I wore exactly what I felt most comfortable wearing: my old, beat-up men's Polish Navy shoes, a thrift-store top with a little stain on it that didn't bother me, and a polka-dot skirt that my grandma had bought me. I went in with the attitude that if this were the right fit, they would want me the way I was. When the executive asked what causes I supported, I said I'd been giving money to the National Abortion Rights Action League. I didn't worry that she might not agree with my politics. I didn't worry if she thought my shoes weren't appropriate. I felt like myself.

And that's a feeling I want everyone to know.

Jane Pratt is the fonder and editor of the website xoJane.

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