by Patti Ashley, PhD. LPC
Renee Zellweger’s Academy Award-winning performance as Judy Garland in the film Judy eloquently portrayed the hopelessness hidden beneath the studied appearance of a seemingly bright and happy woman, a movie star who by all rights should have “had it all”. In her acceptance speech, Zellweger attributed the award to Garland, who “lives among the heroes who unite and define us”.
A hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Based on that definition, it might not seem as if Garland was a hero. However, her suffering does unite us in a collective hope of overcoming the pain she was incapable of healing in her lifetime. Garland’s pain derived from the unrealistic expectations she was constantly forced to try and live up to. So many of us suffer that same pressure- either from the media, social media, family, friends, or even ourselves. Isn’t it time we learned to overcome that pain by embracing and loving our authentic selves?
Zellweger was a perfect fit for the role of Judy Garland, as both she and Garland convey vulnerability and sensitivity–personally and professionally. Zellweger lost quite a bit of weight to play the role of Garland. Yet, in Zellweger’s earlier Bridgett Jones movies she played an average sized woman who was sometimes fat-shamed because she didn’t live up to the body-image standard seen in the media. Bridgett portrayed the experience of many women wishing to be media-sized perfect. Still, in each of these roles, Zellweger’s characters came to accept themselves as they were, which is a great story for all of us who try to live up to the media’s expectations for body weight. I myself have spent the majority of my life attempting to lose that 20 pounds. Even when I manage to lose it, it always seems to find its way back. As a child, my nickname was Fatty Patty. Much of my life has been driven by the expectation of being thin, an expectation that I can never to live up to.
As a child, Judy Garland’s mother insisted she take medications for both energy and sleep, beginning as early as age 10. Later in Judy’s career, movie executives continued to encourage her to take uppers and downers to maintain her intense schedule and her body weight. In her attempt to be what everyone else wanted her to be, she suffered behind the scenes with postpartum depression, nervous breakdowns, failed marriages, career disappointments, and dependence on prescription medications. In 1969, after a long history of depression, alcoholism, and 20 attempted suicides, the legendary Judy Garland died from an accidental overdose at 47 years of age.
I remember watching The Wizard of Oz as a child and being mesmerized by Judy Garland’s performance as Dorothy. The song Somewhere Over the Rainbow played over and over in my head and created some sort of ideal of a better world out there. The fear of The Wicked Witch also stayed with me, as did the indelible memory of the little girl struggling to find a sense of home after having her little dog, Toto, taken away from her by the mean woman in town, who in Dorothy’s visit to Oz becomes the ‘wicked witch’.
I think we can learn so much from the metaphors in The Wizard of Oz and the true-to-life experiences of Judy Garland- the fears, the hopes, and the dreams that eventually lead us back to home. If a bucket of water is all it takes to kill the evil witch, I wonder what it might take to melt our need to be what everyone else wants us to be? Is it being vulnerable and facing our emotional self with full surrender and certainty? Is the bucket of water our authentic self? As we find the courage to face the evil forces trying to dictate our lives for their own gain, possibly we can melt them, so that they no longer have power over us.
What is this place that lies somewhere over the rainbow? Is it one that is free from the expectations to be something other than our authentic self? Is it a world that doesn’t judge others based on color or sexual orientations? Is it a world where love rules? Is it a place where dreams really do come true?
The unrealistic expectations portrayed in the media certainly can contribute to high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide in children and adults. Wishing for that somewhere over the rainbow that is ultimately out of reach and unattainable leads to a hopelessness that can feel unbearable. What then can we do to kill the ‘wicked witch’ that torments us relentlessly with unrealistic expectations of perfection and success? Ah, yes- the bucket of water- the cool, soothing elixir of our true emotional self set free and given permission to be all of who we are without judgment, shame, guilt or self-doubt.
That is what kills the wicked witch- our pure emotional self. When we set it free, we can fly over the rainbow, and discover that our dreams really do come true, regardless of whether or not anyone else approves. Dorothy discovers from Glenda, the good witch, that the place she was trying to find was in her all along. When we realize that our authentic truth is what we are seeking, we begin to melt away the fears that developed in order to be loved by others. We begin to remember that we were born lovable. From that place of self-compassion, we find the courage to be kind to ourselves, and what’s more, we can bring that kindness back into the world.
There is no place like home.