Growing up, I was frequently told I was talented. And it was true that when I took lessons — piano, voice, acting, tennis, ice skating, dancing, skiing, gymnastics, and many more, I frequently heard “I’m sure you’ve done this before!” and “How many lessons have you already taken?” and “Wow you’re a natural!” I felt special being the best, and I enjoyed the attention, but eventually the other students passed me by because they actually worked at their skills. They would say to me “You could be a star if you’d put in the work.” I couldn’t. I lacked confidence.
Do you believe in parallel universes? It’s a fanciful idea that is as romantic and appealing as any fairytale. The idea is that anytime there is a fork in the road and two or more things might happen, they do. The universe is re-created in every detail except that in one, the little girl who has the natural ability fervently pursues her lessons and rises to stardom through a combination of talent and grit, and in the other, she doesn’t. Yes, that one was me. I lacked confidence.
Everywhere I went people noticed me. When I was three, Marilyn Monroe gave me a kiss on the cheek in Wil Wrights Ice Cream Parlour in Beverly Hills and told me how beautiful I was. Maurice Chevalier stopped me on the street several years later, took my hand and said, “To kiss the hand of such a beauty is a privilege.”
Somewhere in another universe there is a lovely woman, now of a certain age, who accepted her beauty as a gift. It is no more vanity for a beautiful woman to become a model than it is for a tall man to become a basketball player. It’s simply a matter of being honest with yourself about your gifts and then making choices that put them to good use. Little Danna, the adorable little cherub who was noticed by movie stars passing by, did exactly that, but no, that Danna wasn’t me. I lacked confidence.
The stress of living up to my natural abilities was overwhelming for me. The pressure to maintain my looks was an enormous burden. I was complimented on my appearance and my talents by my father. These two things were my only assets he ever praised and accepted me for. I got bad grades. I acted out in the classroom. The boxes on the right side of my report card were filled with check marks — “Doesn’t get down to work on time.” “Talks in class.” “Disturbs her fellow classmates.”…