Soft Girls

While having dinner with a typically outdoorsy Colorado friend the other night, she mentioned that her co-workers don’t climb or ski or cycle on weekends. They bake, she said. And watch the occasional game on TV. And bake.

“You know,” she said. “They’re soft girls.”

I did know. I used to be a prolific judge of soft girls. When I worked with a bunch of guys at an outdoor gear shop in St. Louis, there was a soft girl who worked for the buyers. She was marrying a well-known local mountain biker (much to my amazement), and she liked to look at bride magazines and talk about weddings and flowers and other soft things. I inadvertently ended up eating lunch in the break room at the same time as the soft girl most days, and I’ll never forget the day she went on and on about some intricately-iced cookies in a Martha Stewart magazine.

“I could stay home and bake pretty cookies all day,” she gushed in her whiny voice.

I held back from tossing my not-so pretty cookies. I did not like this particular soft girl, nor did I understand her pretty-cookie lifestyle. I vowed to never become a soft girl.

This vow turned into a virtual wedding vow. I started dating my husband right around that time, and pretty cookies became our little joke. Do you want to go mountain biking? No, I want to stay home and bake pretty cookies all day. Try to climb my first 5.11, or try to bake pretty cookies? A tough choice indeed. If I climb, my forearms will be too pumped to knead pretty cookie dough later.

I was so disgusted with the soft girl and her pretty cookies and her hopeless exercise-free wedding diet (“I don’t want my arms to get all muscular,” she whined with a grimace. No danger of that happening, I thought.) that I vowed only to make gnarly, misshapen cookies for my husband. With fat-free, whole-grain ingredients. And not very often.

So there, soft girl. I will break up your pretty cookies with my muscular arms. I will mix them into my granola. And I will never be a soft girl like you.

But sometimes, life throws you cookies, and you have to make them pretty. Or at least edible.

I went to grad school, and I figured out that the best (if not only) way for me to survive grad school was to become a better student of Buddhism. Unfortunately, compassion and equanimity are central principles in Buddhist thought.

Compassion is one thing. Poor soft girls, look how mushy they are. But equanimity? I had to come to grips with being the equal of a soft girl?

Am I the same as that dreaded mushy girl and her stupid pretty cookies?

This proves a point I’ve made many times to friends who’ve heard about the happy, smiling Dalai Lama: Buddhism is much easier to stomach in theory than in reality.

In the meantime, while trying to cope with my soft-girl sameness, my cookie suchness, my four-pack (never had all six) disappeared under a layer of lattes, coffee-house scones and late-night reading and writing. My back ached. I slept little and exercised even less.

I got soft.

There’s no better (or harder) way to learn equanimity than to become that which you despise. Granted, I didn’t become a completely soft girl, just softer. I’ve still never baked a pretty cookie. I’d rather gush over an ugly vegan cookie I didn’t bake.

I might have this all wrong, but I think the point of equanimity is to understand that our personalities are like our favorite cookies. We ice them in pretty, perfect ways to cover their flaws. Or we add whole oats and raisins to make them gnarly so they seem tougher.

But all cookies are good. My favorites are kitchen sink cookies — throw in everything but the kitchen sink. They’re misshapen and lumpy, and they’re best slightly undercooked.


2 thoughts on “Soft Girls

  1. Jenn: I really enjoyed this post. I’ve found in life that just when I think I’ve achieved some level of superiority, my lack of it hits me smack in the face! Through my teens (still doing sit ups when 7 months pregnant), 20s, 30s, and 40s, I worked out regularly and DID have a six pack, even though I was not particularly athletic and I didn’t have much sports endurance. It was all gym work. I was perhaps too proud that I was staying in shape. Then I hit the 50s–and I couldn’t burn fat to save my soul. I worked harder, but my skin tone began to slip and has continued to so so. I’m a soft woman now, have some arthritis and can’t keep the pace when walking with those I used to easily OUTpace. It is so humbling–I’m forced now to exercise my intellectual muscles and HOPE TO GOD they, too, don’t go soft! ha – Rosemary Carstens,

  2. It’s so easy to judge others when we’re young, isn’t it? No one is smarter than a 20-something, except maybe a teenager. And then we get some experience and we get older and start learning to really empathize — and then come the Karma Chickens, coming home to roost, and we really get how much we really don’t know and never have. Very humbling. I love this post because I can see where it’s going, and I’m nodding my head, “Uh-huh, yep,” and here comes the soft self, not pretty cookie soft but wiser soft, humbled soft, humble pie soft. Yep. Maybe the pretty cookie woman looks back on those days through a glaze of her own humblling experiences. And like Rosemary, as we grow older, we come to a physical softness that forces us to use what we have as we appreciate and let go of what he had. I have always been a soft woman, and I once forced myself into a cookie mother role. I am grateful to have lived long enough to move on to something that suited me better, but I swear that there were cookie mothers back then who really did find satisfaction in the role, and that needs to be ok, too. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Jenn.

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