At Glamour’s 2018 Women of the Year Summit, Pamela Adlon, star and creator of FX’s Better Things, opened up about the art of self-acceptance. Her full speech, below.
Hi. I’m Pamela, and I have a show on FX called Better Things. One of the reasons I wanted to make a show for myself—besides wanting to have a show and making work for myself, which are both unbelievable gifts—is that I had never seen someone like me represented on television. Like…a kind of person like me. Not a pretty shiny piece of candy. Not a character out of a Kerouac novel. Just somebody like me. And my friends. The way we are. We’re a little worn in and slightly damaged.
I have always lived my life in an observational way. Make no mistake, I’m fully engaged in everything I do. I just have a tendency to stand back and look at my life with a separate lens—like an inside outsider. I’m observing. When I was younger, I used to take things very personally. I would let any kind of perceived adversity affect me in a negative way. As a kid and a teenager. As a student, school was tough for me. Jesus. I hated school. I didn’t know how to make it work for myself. As a young adult, as an actor, I tried to look a certain way—I thought about changing my name (and changing other things about myself). I worked my ass off when they would let me or when I wasn’t being fired for some of those things I just mentioned (not cute enough…no tits…).
I stopped comparing myself with others—and relaxed.
And then boom. As a mom. I would see—no, I would actually look—for the disapproving eyes or clucks of people who looked at me like, “What is that?” I was always trying to measure up as a mom. To other moms—the “robot moms,” I call them. It’s so crazy because, in my life, I was always the youngest. Which frustrated me to no end. I was the youngest and I looked so young! I couldn’t get into the clubs….And then all of a sudden, I was the oldest. I am the oldest right now. I think I’m oldest. I lied about my age to myself for so long that when I turned 50, I really didn’t know it. Until the Internet told me. (Thanks for that, by the way.)
Then something happened, which was really something quite amazing. I stopped comparing myself with others—and relaxed. Knowing that I was doing my best, as a person, as a mom, as a professional, as someone still trying to learn and educate myself. I gained muscles I never knew I could have. Never knew were in me. And when that happened, everything changed. In one word: confidence. I know that sounds like a cliche.
Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t have fear. Fear is something I never had as a younger person—well, except ultimate death. Otherwise, I was completely fearless. I was an “I don’t give a fuck” kind of no-fear person. But later…life happens. And stakes get high. And your dad dies. And babies get born. And you think, You know what? I’m not so much anymore into heights…or skiing…or roller coasters…or relationships.
So, boom, after years of being marginalized, well, marginalizing myself. Fired. Insecure. Being involved with a string of spectacular narcissists. Getting my body waxed.Why did I do that? Losing. Being bullied. Compartmentalized. Manipulated. Did I say fired? I found myself in a place where I had no choice but to make hard decisions. And I started to gain confidence.
It has come to my attention that people feel good and thrive when the person in charge has the ability to make decisions. And the bravery of that made the fear and paranoia go away.
Do you need a body man in life? Yes. Maybe…that would be nice. But, you really don’t. You can find that in your friends and your family and your trusted coworkers. (I mean, the ones you trust—not the ones who suck.) You ‘gotta Keep passionate and stay focused. If it feels like hard work, keep going. You’re on the right track.
When my daughters had a problem at school or in life. I taught them to advocate for themselves. Other than that, I don’t have a limit for my daughters. Except Nazi porn. That’s my one line. Also, they know they need to make their own paper. Make their own futures. Pave their own way. They want to. They’re driven to do it. I say yes to my kids. I say yes to their friends. And it’s the best, because they all want to be home. At our house. I used to fantasize about getting away from my kids and having time on my own. Now that they are all almost grown, I just look for any opportunity I can to be with them and make myself available to them.
All of us have some huge childhood burden bag of shit that we carry around. So…OK. Good. You can acknowledge it and you don’t have to be defined by it or where you came from. Or what happened to you. That shapes you, but you’re in charge of who you are. It’s called damage control. If you sit in a dark box and wait for the phone to ring, you’re waiting for your future to come to you. It doesn’t work that way anymore. You have to look for windows of opportunity and understand they are precious. And few and far between.
Get out of your comfort zone and you will grow and get stronger. The journey is the reward.
Feeling like nobody is gonna care about your story—that held me back for a while. And then I finally started to write it all down. And all of the things that plagued me my whole life got woven into my show. And I thought, ‘Well, this is my story, and people can watch and say, “I wanna see how she does it. I want to see her color and hear her sound.”
Fear and doubt will break you. If you bear down and get the hard work down you neck, it’s gonna pay off. Every single path will lead you to the place you were meant to be and, hopefully, want to be.
My dad used to say, “Shake the cocktail.” He meant it as it applied to his writing. It applies to everything. Even if it feels too hard to get out, make a shift. Change feet, shake the cocktail—it’s always worth it. Get out of your comfort zone and you will grow and get stronger. The journey is the reward. And don’t ever think that once you’ve made it, you can rest on your laurels.
There are no laurels.
My name is Pamela. I have my period, I’m going through menopause, and I have a beard. And I approve this message.
Find out more about Glamour‘s 2018 Women of the Year here.