Tag Archives: self-esteem

The Meaning of Big Brothers

15 Jun

The boys. That’s what we called my big brothers growing up. They are eleven months apart, so they’ve essentially been a pair from the beginning.

My brothers have always had each other’s backs. Dave once intercepted Dan’s “warning notice” from middle school and called their shared answering machine to leave him a message in hushed tones: “Dan, go in the closet and check your left boot.” These heroic acts of brotherhood occurred often. (Of course my mom heard the message first and totally appreciated the explicit directions.)

It’s obvious that Dan and Dave have a special bond. But as their little sister, what I appreciate most is the kind of brothers they’ve been to me.

Admittedly, I’m biased. But it seems to me that every little girl ought to be blessed with a big brother. Lucky me—I have two.

When my mom brought me home from the hospital and lay me down in the crib, my oldest brother Dave made his first brotherly sacrifice. Just five years old, he marched into my room and covered me with his Sesame Street blanket, announcing: “I’m a big boy now so I’m gonna give this to baby Lauren so she will be happy.”

My brothers quickly became my heroes. I wanted to be just like them.

At age two, I made my own bold announcement: “I’m ready to be a big girl now!” Then I removed my diaper and attempted to pee standing up. My mother had to explain, much to my dismay, that I couldn’t pee like the boys. Ladies must sit–a fact I still find terribly inconvenient.

When I was eight I attempted to join the football team, but Mom said no and offered cheerleading as an alternative. Standing on the sidelines with pom-poms in hand, I fantasized about being out on the field in a helmet and heavy shoulder pads. I sat on the kitchen counter and watched the boys dip their mouth guards in microwaved hot water, preparing to create a perfect mould. When they weren’t home, I tried on their jerseys and swiped black goop across my cheeks.

Awkward photos, tucked away in boxes at Mom’s house, feature me in hand-me-down neon Umbros and boy-short hair. I hacked worms in half to watch them squirm, climbed sap-coated trees, played on a boys baseball team, sat happily-strapped to the front of charter boat with a fishing pole in hand, and traipsed up and down our driveway in oversized jeans, a boom box on my shoulder blasting Dave’s Naughty by Nature tape.

I tried, despite emerging breasts and a monthly reminder of my womanhood, to be one of the boys. And my brothers, for the most part, let me in on their fun.

Because my dad was president of our town football club, we hosted weigh-in-eve parties at our house. The kids watched team footage and took turns in the sweat box, trying to shed those last pounds. These nights threw a wrench in my tomboy identity. I was pumped about hanging out and watching films, but also unexpectedly delighted by the sight of sweaty, shirtless teenage boys.

Hormones continued to course through my body until one day in the midst of a middle school social studies class, a boy turned to me and said: You really need to wear a bra or something. I should’ve punched him in the nose. Instead, I hid in a bathroom stall and cried.

And it’s in my growth from that insecure twelve year-old tomboy to a confident woman that my brothers have played the most significant role.

This influence began in seventh grade, when a boy from Cherry Hill with a skater cut and a single mom moved to town. I hung around like a limp dish towel while he hooked up with each of my friends until finally, finally he decided to be my boyfriend.

Throwing in a load of laundry one afternoon, my mom found a neatly-folded note in the pocket of my jeans:


Roses are red
Violets are blue
If you f**k me
I’ll f**k you

Love, Brandon

I mean, what was so bad about your twelve year-old daughter receiving such a note from her boyfriend? I, for one, was secretly thrilled. A boy thought I was attractive enough to have sex with. Not that I understood much about sex, but I felt special.

A few days later I watched from an upstairs window, tears streaming dramatically down my face, as Brandon paced the corner across the street from my house.

Oh. My. God. I thought. My parents are so cruel, forcing him to bow down and apologize like this.

To his credit, Brandon did cross that street and say he was sorry. He listened to my mother’s speech about respecting her daughter. I, too, listened from the top of the stairs, and briefly considered throwing myself down them.

It wasn’t until my brothers threatened to “kill that kid” that I finally realized something was wrong. It’s one thing for your parents to disapprove of your badass boyfriend. It’s quite another when the disapproval comes from your big brothers, who happen to be your idols. I pretended to be embarrassed by their threat, but the next day I went to school and told my boyfriend he better not speak to me that way again ‘cause my big brothers would kick his ass.

The boys had their mean moments, too. When I was ten, Dave told me the Laura’s Fudge shop on the boardwalk was named after me because I looked like I ate a lot of fudge. Dan told me that being a Virgo meant I’d be a virgin for the rest of my life. They poked me and pinched me and told me to leave them alone. They held me underwater as my limbs flailed and rubbed my face in the snow. Typical brotherly antics.

At the time I cried and tattled to my parents. Once I phoned Mom at work to tell her David had called me a bad word, one I couldn’t say out loud. “Spell it,” my mom said. “B. i. c. h.” I heard muffled laughter–why wasn’t she wasn’t taking this more seriously?

But now? Now I’m a tough girl. Not in a worm-killing, tomboy kind of way, but in a speak-my-mind, don’t-take-crap-from-people kind of way. I have my brothers to thank for that.

The boys support my endeavors, my adventures, and my passions. Whenever I get a new job, they are two of the first to congratulate me. They take me to Phillies games, befriend the guys I date, and these days, they even pay my tabs. We aren’t just siblings, we are friends.

Dan lives in New Jersey, Dave lives in Florida, and I live halfway in-between. But having big brothers means knowing that, even from 600 miles away, there are two people willing to kick some ass for me. A long time ago I stopped wishing to be a boy. But I still want to be just like my brothers, who are two of the finest people I know.


Dear Portia, An Open Letter on Unbearable Lightness

7 Dec

In a recent post, I mentioned Portia de Rossi’s new book Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. After reading the memoir in approximately two days, I knew I wanted to share it with Cheekie readers, but I wasn’t sure how.

An absolute page-turner, the book offers an experience that cannot be described in any kind of summary or review. de Rossi’s honesty about her eating disorders made me cringe, tear up, become nauseous, and ultimately gain a respect for her that I’ve developed for few people I don’t personally know. Every woman who has ever struggled with body issues or lack of self-esteem (which, I would dare say, is every woman) ought to read this book.

In lieu of a book review, Cheekie turned to Jerzy Jung, a New Jersey-based singer/songwriter who often writes about the issues discussed in Portia’s book, for her response to Unbearable Lightness. We hope Jerzy’s public letter to Portia will help generate a conversation about this important memoir, or at least encourage you to get a copy for yourself and a friend.

What shames us, what we most fear to tell, does not set us apart from others; it binds us together if only we can take the risk to speak it. – Starhawk

Dear Portia,

Thank you.

I read your book, and then I read it again. The second time I underlined all the passages that moved me. My copy is now covered in ink.

I think the first element of Unbearable Lightness that moved me was your honesty. I agree with your thought that “There is a great deal of shame surrounding an eating disorder, with its abnormal practices and bizarre rituals,” so I really appreciate you sharing so many details that may have embarrassed you. I think there are many women who can see themselves in your stories of doing laps in a public parking lot or jumping up and down in front of your family at a Christmas meal, desperate to work off calories. Those women probably also have an internal drill sergeant like the one you spoke of, and know what it’s like when that voice, the one that often sounds too cruel to be their own, tells them what a fat failure they are. 

I want to thank you for describing the pressure you put on yourself to look “perfect,” the way your weight determined your mood each day, the belief that “‘healthy’ was a euphemism for ‘fat.'” I was frustrated to hear that the majority of the questions you were asked during your first time on the red carpet were about your favorite makeup and how you stayed in shape, and I’m glad you chose to bring attention to the fact that “most women’s sense of self-esteem still largely rests on what they look like and how much they weigh despite their other accomplishments.” It was easy to understand, then, how your eating disorder took over your life so violently, especially when you felt like you didn’t fit in when it came to looks or your sexuality. 

I can deeply relate to your statement that “No one can be any one thing all the time,” that we lose ourselves when we try to fit any extreme, inflexible molds. Your story is proof that it didn’t work for you, and I think we need to hear from more who have suffered while trying. Thank you for being honest about that struggle, and also about how living in an in-between space full of pasta dinners, honest relationships, and appreciation of nature can be a wonderful choice. 

Your book made me want to say something, to do something. That’s what I am most thankful for. I am another one of those women who has hurt myself to be thin, who has said things about myself that would utterly enrage me if they were said about my sister or my best friend. And I am happy to be living a healthy life now, but it’s been a hard road.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know that it’s not silence. Your book helped me feel I wasn’t alone, that I am not the only woman wondering if there’s a better way to live besides constant dieting and self-abuse. In turn, I hope this blog helps other women to find your book and begin asking their own questions, having their own discussions, and sharing their own ideas about what it means to be “exceptional and special.” 

Then maybe we’ll begin to realize that the real weight we need to lose belongs to the drill sergeant. And that we never need to fight such a big voice alone.

Jerzy Jung is a singer/songwriter from New Jersey. Most of her music is about love, fear, and body image. She loves reading, cookies, and boots. Check her out on myspace, youtube, and facebook.

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