More Than a Sex Symbol
Introducing...drum roll please...
Kathleen Turner! I was barely old enough to beg my parents to watch 'Romancing The Stone' when I was about 9. Ms.Turner was literally the first woman I recognized, even at my young age, as sexy, possibly before I really knew what sexy meant. Her voice, those legs, her ability to be daring, confident, and innocent all at once, were the only clues I needed to realize she was all woman. And what a woman! But what happened to her?
It wasn't until a few months ago I realized how much I had in common with her. In person, people unanimously describe her as quick witted, humorous, stubborn, reflects upon life constantly, stands up for her rights, and if that's not enough things we have in common; we both have Rheumatoid Arthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. Right about the time that everybody, dedicated fans included, noticed she disappeared from the big screen, is when she was at the climax of pain from the onset of RA. Her daughter was 5 and my daughter was 2 when I found out I had RA. This means we went from our mid-thirties to feeling 80 almost overnight.
Prior to this news about her RA, I only thought of her as a sex symbol; young, beautiful, active (performed all her own stunts in movies). She hid her illness from the public eye for 9 years even under severe public and tabloid scrutiny. She was afraid she would never get an acting job again. The pain led her to exessive drinking, but ironically the drinking habit kept her working; small roles, tv appearances, and some broadway. She exaplained, it's easier to get hired in Hollywood if you're a lush rather than if you have an illness most people don't understand.
The medication she was taking for RA was destroying her body and brain in other ways; gaining a lot of weight, face bloating, raging attitude, memory and hair loss, and exhaustion. Sounds all too familiar for me; I've been graciously dealing with this for over a year.
A bit arrogant in her youth/prime (I can totally empathize) is how she describes her pre-Rheumatoid Arthritis days. Like her, I put a lot of my self-worth into how my body could perform and do whatever I wanted it to. In fact, I would say all my self-worth was wrapped up into this narrow description of myself. Like Kathleen, I knew I was smart, funny, and loving, but it's hard to be any of those when dealing with this illness.
This story has a happy ending though. Kathleen Turner got her sexy back! About 8 years ago, Kathleen Turner played Ms. Robinson (duh! of course she did) in the Broadway hit production of "The Graduate". She was forced to portray sexy, especially with a daring 20 second scene of her in the buff, completely nude. Since then, she has learned valuable lessons, who she is, and most of all sexy is a lot more than what's on the outside.
Sexy Life Lessons
Before I had RA, I enjoyed hearing about peoples' stories of overcoming tough obstacles in life, even physical disabilities. Back then I was 100% able inside and out, and I still took away priceless lessons on the human spirit. Now that I'm in that position, with an obstacle that defeats many, I have no doubt I can triumph over the challenges that lay ahead of me.
Kathleen Turner is a huge inspiration. Eventually, an RA patient will come across at least one doctor who will tell you negative statements like you'll never walk again, you'll be in a wheelchair, you're disabled, you have no future, etc. To overcome an illness (she is currently in remission) and the negativity from the outside world, is a test to who she really is; sexy. She is not just the sex symbol we knew her as. It took almost as much convincing that to herself than everyone else.
After reading her biography; 'Send Yourself Roses', I appreciated her candor most. I've heard stories where the person thought all good thoughts, but Kathleen was very intimate with her process to overcome. It wasn't all sunshine and fairy tales, but her approach to life now is nothing short of amazing. Let me share some lessons I'm currently learning and Kathleen Turner has already learned.
- Be confident in that what makes you different and tally up your strengths- being appreciated only as a sex symbol made Kathleen re-evaluate who she really was. Since reading her book, I've learned this is a woman who is extremely intelligent and dedicated to her craft of acting. She found something she loves and has her own life- this is what makes her attractive. She has always had her voice, the voice that sets her apart from all the other actresses. The confidence she exudes is brilliant; she simply knows who she is and doesn't scrutinize herself anymore. It's what I call, fake it til' you make it. For me, this has worked in the way that all (yes, all) men I have dated, I met them wearing little or no make-up, in my waitress uniform (not flattering) or in sweats. I never (yes, never) got a guy dressed up. Why? Because I had to shine by being ME. I couldn't rely on looks and it always made the real me come out.
- It's OK to need others and ask for help- Asking for help was hard for me with RA because I didn't know if I could give back. I hated needing anybody because part of my self-worth and sexiness was being an independent woman. Kathleen Turner expresses this in her book, but the way she dealt with it was also how I did. "I will not accept this" and "what can I do to change this", is what you have to say. Asking for help is necessary for some of us- I still do it every day. But I will not live in despair about needing help. It's a part of life. You think the physical part of RA is the worst? No! The mental is much more and you learn to strengthen the mental and even be thankful you have people who will help you, you begin to value yourself again and this shines outward.
- Weakness and strength in parenthood- Most parents view themselves as the all powerful parent- they think this is how their child should see them. When Kathleen got RA, her daughter was 5 and witnessed a lot of her mother's weaknesses, at times having to feed her and open or squeeze containers. Kathleen thought of this as a new low, but later realized showing her natural vulnerable human side is what made her and her daughter closer. Also, when a child can witness a parent overcome and get along in spite of a weakness, think of how valuable that lesson is.
- Constantly examining yourself- Turner naturally does this, but acting really enforced this habit of examining herself and a character she was taking on. The first lesson of acting is it's the study of behavior. You can relate to others better if you examine yourself, the choices you make, your thoughts, how you act in situations. The same goes for acting; the character must be interpreted and portrayed in a way that people will relate to them. That is the essence of good acting and a good life in general.
- In every loss is a reward- even if you are young and haven't experienced a lot of losses, there are losses that come eventually and naturally when you age; hearing loss, a need for glasses, not being as physical, a little more tired, divorce, death of loved ones, etc. With these losses comes strength in friendships, self, forgiveness, knowledge, and hopefully wisdom. Wisdom is sexy and we can go forward in spite of losses.
One last quote from Kathleen turner, "You learn a lot from pain. Too bad you can't learn as much from being happy. Having RA has changed my notions of beauty. My looks were just a given, my sense of self was earned. My mother always said 'Don't pat yourself on the back for something you didn't earn."
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