The phrase “Parsonage Pretty Face” is a running joke in my family. It’s the term we throw out when we are describing the act of putting on a good face when you feel like shit. You don The Face as you exclaim “I’m doing AWESOME” when in reality you want to run home, throw your bra across the room and crawl into bed. It shows up when you're at some important event and are irritated by every encounter you have. It gets plastered across your face when you need to avoid involving others after a particularly nasty argument with someone. You use it to shield yourself from an abusive coworker that knows your “shame buttons,” and presses them daily to make you feel small and worthless.
Parsonage Pretty Face is the act of pretending like everything is totally, unquestionably, fine.
I’m a pastor’s kid. And as a pastor’s kid, each house you live in is a house that is owned by the church. I’m not going to go into the politics of church life – all you need to know is that the house that the church owns is called The Parsonage. And my mom was the one at the pulpit, preaching in front of a large audience of churchgoers every Sunday.
As a pastor’s kid, I felt like everyone that attended church was watching me to see how well behaved I was. Because if I misbehaved, well… that was clearly a direct reflection of how good of a parent my mom was (or so my child-logic convinced me). So I tried my best to be a mini-adult, mimicking the grownup behaviors I saw around me. I was polite, well behaved, engaged, and totally, unquestionably fine.
And thus, the Parsonage Pretty Face was born.
The Face is truly a double-edged sword: I’ve survived interviews, awkward encounters, and crappy days by practicing The Face. I’ve made it out of some pretty awful moments because of that skill. At the same time, it’s exhausting. The Face is not meant to be a permanent fixture of one’s personality – it’s a temporary survival tactic. And throughout the years, I’ve found myself slipping into Permanent Parsonage Pretty Face.
I can’t help but see my friends and peers utilizing their own permanent Face. You see it in carefully-crafted Instagram photos, celebratory Facebook posts, or witty Twitter feeds. You see it in meetings where someone gets bulldozed in a presentation, and somehow manages to maintain that plastered smile that says “I’m totally, unquestionably fine.”
So, what impact does The Face have on our generation?
As far as I can tell, it only divides us. The Permanent Face only makes us less human, less connected, and less whole. It makes those around us feel like they’re the crazy ones; that they’re the only ones struggling with life. And that somehow, if we actually admit to our flaws and our emotions, that we’re broken or wrong for doing so.
The Permanent Face is the act of trying desperately to portray ourselves as perfect.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. I’m tired of putting on The Face; I’m tired of spending so much mental energy worrying about what others will think of me if they realize: “HOLY SHIT! ELISSA IS FLAWED!” And I’m tired of prioritizing perfection over authenticity.
I had been together with a wonderful man for three years before I experienced a variety of quarter-life-crises, which resulted in my splitting things off with him. After a year of being apart, we managed to reconnect and chose to give our relationship another chance. When we came to that decision, it was also clear that we needed a “Come to Jesus” moment – a time to put all cards on the table. A time to talk honestly about all the issues we were too scared to explore during the first stage of our relationship.
I decided that I was going to jump into the deep end, and risk complete vulnerability by enlightening him to the fact that I wasn’t actually perfect – that I had secretly hidden all of these major flaws and broken parts of my soul for years. I put it all out in the open: every fear, every insecurity, every shattered piece of my personality. After my dark and difficult monologue, I was expecting his jaw to be on the floor – either that, or for him to run for the door for good. But instead, he looked at me and lovingly smirked, “I already knew all of that.”
Instead, it was my jaw on the floor. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that he “already knew all of that,” and could have loved me not despite my flaws, but with all of my flaws. That conversation completely changed the way we approached our relationship – and I believe, it’s what set the groundwork for our marriage that came two years later.
This is a big reason why empathy embodied was born. We spend so much time practicing The Permanent Parsonage Pretty Face that we have forgotten the fact that we are loved – and worthy of that love – along with our flaws, not despite them. We have lost sight of the notion that authenticity is what will make deeper connections.
empathy embodied is an exploration of human imperfection. It is the act of sharing stories to help us realize that we are not alone in this world. It is a place where we can connect at the most basic and yet most important level: authenticity. It is a home that embraces all kinds of mess – and does so without any judgment.
This is my promise to you, dear reader:
I will strip away my Permanent Parsonage Pretty Face,
so that you can explore what it means to be perfectly imperfect.
I will share my mess, with the hopes that you can find comfort with your own.
So, if you would like:
Participate. Whether that means reading, or responding, or contributing, or questioning.
But however you choose to participate – do so authentically.
Do so unapologetically. Do so with the goal of finding a deeper connection.
This is a messy, confusing, frustrating, terrifying journey – because it’s raw and unknown. But maybe – just maybe – if we can all actively agree to practice radical empathy, we can find the wholeness within ourselves that we’ve been searching for.
P.S. What’s your experience with using The Face? Is it helpful? Hurtful? A strange mix of both?
I would love to read your story below.