by Kaleigh Blessard
We can’t always choose when we will get hurt in life. We can’t flip a switch and decide that this will not hurt. It is tempting, at times, to shut ourselves off to the possibility of pain. We shy away from vulnerability.
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, when we open our hearts to the possibility of pain or criticism, we open ourselves to a fuller experience of living.
I majored in theatre in college. It took me nearly an entire semester to actually commit, but after much soul-searching and negotiating with my parents (my father, especially, was staunchly against it), I officially declared my major.
My first audition was for the annual one-act play festival, where student directors held auditions and put on an entirely student-produced series of short plays. I was called back for a pleasantly surprising number—four out of six—and after a full day of callbacks, I was cast along with three other women in “The Most Massive Woman Wins.”
The show was about four women of varying ages and from different walks of life as they wait in the lobby of a liposuction clinic. Over the course of the show, they reflect on all the moments, big and small, that brought them there.
I was surprised and anxious to see my name on the cast list. It was a heavy show, in every sense of the word. The material struck a chord with me; I struggled a lot with my body image throughout high school and my first few years of college, and was at least marginally worried about how talking so intimately about these things in rehearsal would affect me outside of the show. Most concerning, though, was the final scene: when all four characters come together on stage and strip to their underwear. At only 18, I’d only been naked in front of my doctor, and the thought of undressing on stage was downright terrifying.
For one wild, brief moment, I thought about withdrawing. But for one wilder, briefer moment, I thought, “Let’s just see what happens.”
I worked really, really hard on this show with my castmates, director, and stage managers. We were all women, and we spent a lot of time speaking candidly about the issues in the show and our own personal demons and battles.
It was hard for me to be honest back then. I was trapped in a cell of my own design, so concerned with what other people thought of me that sharing my true feelings and experience was almost physically painful. I constantly felt like I was sitting in the corner of a party, knees drawn to my chest and head ducked—a spectator to the action, but never included.
The show required me to expose myself in all sorts of ways: I was physically exposed, wearing only the nude undergarments I had been provided with, but emotionally, too. I had my own “backstory” scene, when I was alone onstage and delivered a monologue. That monologue seemed like a mountain to me, and I had a choice: I could hide, deliver a flat performance, and deal with the consequence of that for the rest of my college theatre career.
Or I could embrace it. I could open up to my fears, and open up to the possibility of pain and embarrassment. I could set myself up for failure by shying away from vulnerability, or I could open myself to the possibility of success by allowing that vulnerability in.
On my way to the theatre for the actual performance, I thought again about withdrawing.
“Most Massive” was an exercise in vulnerability. And I needed it. I was afraid, mind-numbingly afraid, of being vulnerable and exposing myself to an outcome that was out of my control. I had no idea how the show would go, how it would be received, what people would think about it—or me—after it was over.
But it was good. The relief, the power I felt when it was over—it was intoxicating. I felt unstoppable. And for a time, I was.
Nearly six years later, I look back on that show and I can see what I was afraid of. I don’t know that I would be any more comfortable now getting up on stage and undressing, but I like to think I’d beat least be less paralyzed by it.
Vulnerability is acting in spite of the crushing fear and doubt we may feel before taking action.
I am not unique in my fear of pain, and I certainly am not unique in the way that I sought to protect myself. I was afraid to let myself be vulnerable, I was afraid to expose myself to an unknown and potentially painful outcome, and there is evidence of that fear apparent throughout my life. Eventually, I started closing myself off from different experiences. I was shy. I made good grades, but I underachieved in many areas because I was afraid of failure. I did the bare minimum for projects. I didn’t volunteer in class. I did exactly as much as I was comfortable doing. I made excuses for my own shortcomings: not enough time, not enough resources, but the reality was I was afraid.
Living in fear of vulnerability, living within the cell that I built for myself, perhaps it kept me safe. But it did not make me happy. It was not designed for that.
KALEIGH BLESSARD is a copy- and content writer in Atlanta, GA. Since graduating in 2017, Kaleigh has written for a variety of mediums and on an even greater number of topics, from finance marketing to dog blogging. In her spare time, Kaleigh enjoys reading true crime novels, browsing memes, and spending time with her pets.
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