May the Fey be with you!: Finally getting to Bossypants by Tina Fey

by Andrea Jackson

January 20, 2014

Tina Fey Bossypants 2011 Book Cover Image via NPR for The Whirling Girlish

Since this past December, I have been trying my best to navigate the unpredictable waters of my post-graduate delirium. I spent my final semester prepping myself for success. You know, building my portfolio, refining my skills using Adobe programs, networking, and reaching out to anyone and everyone that might get me a job in the direction that I want to go.

Around November, I realized things were not panning out quite how I had pictured. In my head, I would have a job before I graduated, would be on an airplane by December 13th (the afternoon following my graduation), and in the office the next day. Yeah, I know. To my surprise, I am not the only one who spent the last few years busting my butt, making connections, and being a rock star. Nope! There’s a few (a crap ton) of us…a crap!

Has not Saturday Night Live caught wind of the incredibly witty and multi-cultural girl chilling in Daytona Beach, Florida, living at mom’s house, and making sure the dog doesn’t reach up on the kitchen counter to eat an entire pack of Gouda cheese again? Did the Upright Citizen’s Brigade somehow not hear about how I made the lady at the cash counter at the drug store CRACK UP?

Granted, I have been pretty lucky. I’m pretty positive about what I’m passionate about and what I want to do. I’ve been interviewing (hallelujah), so I haven’t gone quite off my rocker…yet. But I have been finding myself turning a lot more towards the people in the business that I look up to and admire. It has me thinking, “ What the %@&# did people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig do when they were feeling about as successful as a car with no wheels and they couldn’t just Google ‘ People who weren’t successful until their thirties”? My heart goes out to them.

So on a recent trip to Washington D.C. for, yes, an interview, I wanted to keep my head in the game, so I went to a really awesome bookstore called Kramerbooks & Afterwords located in Dupont Circle, and bought Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants. But didn’t this come out in 2011? Yep! Isn’t it probably lame to write about it since it was so successful three years ago, and thousands of people have written about it since? Probably! Is that going to stop me? Maybe! But we’ll see how far I get.

It took me all of one afternoon, and one morning to get through the thing. I spent an equal amount of time laughing out loud, and also reflecting on similar experiences to Fey’s in which I had tried to suppress. That’s right. I, too, took a job at the YMCA. I spent my final semester of college every morning at the YMCA at 5:30 am to open the pool. Throughout my college career, while, sure, I had some internships and pretty sweet gigs, I had not one, but TWO jobs that required me to wear a fanny pack. One of them required I also wear “aqua sandals” which are really just an even worse name for Chacos or Tevas, and if you don’t know what those are, they are the strappy sandals worn by ‘trustafarians’ in the airport and are usually secured by Velcro straps. I felt pretty cool.

But if Bossypants taught me anything, it’s that there aren’t exceptions in this game. It’s a matter of starting on the bottom, and working my way up. And, also it helps if I can make fun of myself along the way (it eases the pain a little bit).

Since it’ll be a while before this is my typical Tuesday night:

???????????????????

I’ll just take all the advice I can get, and then see where it takes me.

The book only solidified my mentee (without actually contact with the mentor) mentality to empowering women like Fey and Poehler. It’s no secret that Fey appreciates Poehler not only as a friend, but as a white buffalo in comedy—someone doing something special.

She describes a particular situation that best captures what it is that make them so [insert adjective that describes people whom are admired, motivating, and cause the desire to physically attach oneself to the said person(s) of such magnitude and never let go]:

“Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you liked it.”

Enough said.

There are some great pieces about being successful as a producer, and ever cooler tidbits about feminist issues. I’ve excerpted some of my favorite quotes from the book. So if you’re like me and always late to the party, fear not, here are some quotes to make you feel better.

“People are going to try to trick you. To try to make you feel like you are in competition with one another. ‘You’re up for a promotion. If they go with a woman, it’ll be between you and Barbara.’ Don’t be fooled. You’re not in competition with other women. You’re in competition with everyone.”

Ah, excellent. Shattering the idea of women as perpetual victims. When you talk to the ladies at the top of their game in business, it seems they’ll be quick to tell you that it’s not about who you are, it’s about what you do. (Ahem, this sounding similar to previous Whirling Girlish interviews with Grammy nominated record producers Cheryl Pawelski and Cookie Marenco…? Anyone?) Moving on. This next one got me also.

“In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.”

A solid tidbit of information that I think could and might have saved many a persons’ career. Especially in workplaces chalk full of creative individuals, producing a big piece can’t be done alone. It’s a crucial thing to remember. You might have the right ideas, but without the crew and your team to achieve it, you’ll never see your ideas come to fruitation. Or so “they” say, but what do I know? Don’t answer that. Let’s continue.

“You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm.”

Another gem. Yadda, yadda, creativity rules, but success means being a good manager. If you can’t stand the animals, you can’t run the zoo. Yeah. I’m hoping that as I grow older, I will be able to develop analogies that actually make sense, you know, on a whim and whatnot. Humor me ‘til then?

Here’s one for all my fellow post-graduate lost souls:

“…don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions. Go “Over! Under! Through!” and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

You said it, sister! I just have to stop waking up in the morning confused as to why there isn’t a voicemail for me from Lorne Michaels asking why I wasn’t at the meeting this morning. It’ll take a while before I become (if ever), the boss. Until then, I’m going to just try to learn from people who are best at what they do, no matter what they do. The rest will fall into place. Totally. No worries. Right?…Right?!?! Moving forth.

If you are like me, and interested in a lot of things, and find yourself trapped under a blanket of lead in the morning (or maybe that’s just crippling anxiety), because you are worried you aren’t going to make the right choice, Mother Fey advises this:

“When people say, “You really, really must” do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.” When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.”

Well that’s a relief. So when the car guy told me that I really must fix my transmission, he was just trying to pull a fast one on me. Phew! (I don’t have a car anymore by the way). But that’s beside the point! We’ve got to go with our guts, lost souls! My parents still tell me that, generally, if I have to ask, the answer is probably no.

*Flashback to 16-year-old me*

“So mom, are you sure I can’t go spend the night with all of my friends in that open space in the woods where I’m sure to be arrested and miss taking the SATs and fall into a pit of fire tamed only by the hands of my misfit peers…?”

I’m picking up what you’re putting down, Mother Fey and Mother Mom. Nicely put. But while we’re at it, I’d like to add that while a lot of the information in the book reflects Fey’s past experiences in show business, a lot of what she says can apply to all realms of life.

For example, Fey reminds us of something that is pretty important. She reminds us to continually try our best but…

“You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go.”

Dammit, Fey! This is an emotional time. But, fine! Have it your way! I’ll let it go. Feelin’ like a winner.

And the life lessons do not end there! As a job seeking 23-year-old (who is really competent and hirable, by the way!), the last thing I need to worry about is my body image. My body is healthy aka my body is fine.

That last thing any young woman human being needs when trying to better themselves, and work hard to get a job they want a deserve, is to worry about that soft spot under their shirts. Trial and error has shown me that a lot of the time, nope! That’s not fat…it’s my SKIN. And that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. I hope.

She even hits the nail on the head with this:

“I wouldn’t even trade the acne scar on my right cheek, because that reoccurring zit spent more time with me in the college than any boy ever did.”

Okay, so I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time with boys (cat’s outta the bag!), but I got you, Mama Fey. In the last few years if there is anything I have realized, it’s that I’ve got to take more time to be my own best friend. Sure, I might have some imperfections, but at the end of the day, they are part of who I am. If I don’t learn to embrace it, I’m in for a sad, sad journey, my friends. Because there is no one, and I do mean no one, that I am going to spend more time with in my life than whom? You got it. Myself. That’s right acne scars! Take that! I should also probably add that if an effective acne scar reducing cream emerges, I will buy it, apply it, and not feel bad about it. Sue me. No, don’t. Wait until I get a job and can afford a lawyer first. Why’s it got to be like that? Alrighty! Let us continue.

In effort to lead her daughter, Alice, away from subscribing to certain stereotypes of what is “beautiful” and what is not, Fey has devised a most brilliant plan. Behold:

“When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the word “blond” to “yellow”, because I don’t want her to think that blond hair is somehow better.”

Hell yes. I can now reassess and release myself of the residual angst from my childhood when I was shafted to the role of “Teresa” and my blond neighborhood pal got to be “Barbie”. Take that, Barbie! Teresa was hotter anyways. Yellow, shmellow.

When it comes to self-image, it’s a simple message, but an important one:

“We should leave people alone about their weight.”

Period.

And when it comes down to it, the most important Rule of Beauty (as so eloquently defined in the holy scripture that is Bossypants ) is as follows:

12) The Most Important Rule of Beauty- If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important Rule of Beauty. ‘Who cares?’”

My motto when I question myself about how to feel about my looks. Also my motto when I seem to have a wedgie in public, and I’m not in the position to correct it immediately, so I have to tell myself that I, as well as others, don’t care (as to preserve some of my dignity). Wedgie, smedgie.

Ah, yes. Then we move on to discuss the ever so relevant and present topic of Photoshop editing to celebrities and models in the media. On this, I have some opinions. Since you really care about my background (hah!), as a media and communications student, I paid top dollar in college to master the artistry of Adobe Creative Suite. Photoshop is a friend. A dear friend. And if used correctly, she is a wonderful tool used to lift the spirits of people such as myself who do not photograph well. I am not fishing for compliments. I am one of those people that just looks better in person than in pictures. It’s fine! I mean, whatever…moving on. This isn’t about me!

Anyway, there is always a mess of scrutiny and controversy about objectifying women and altering their bodies to fit the mold of what the media assumes the public wants to see. It’s easy to paint of a picture of the media and publishers’ use of Photoshop as a ploy to convince young girls that they should strive to become the people on the covers of the magazines they see when they are checking out at the grocery store. Uhh, something tells me it’s not actually the case. Per usual, I’ll just let you see what the master has to say about it herself:

“Unlike breast implants, which can mess up your health, digital retouching is relatively harmless. As long as we all know it’s fake, it’s no more dangerous to society than a radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. Photoshop is just like makeup. When it’s done well it looks great, and when it’s overdone you look like a crazy asshole. Unfortunately most people don’t do it well. I find the fancier the magazine, the worse the Photoshop.”

Poetry. And it gets better! Fey mentions her favorite experience shooting for a magazine (as of 2011, remember, ‘late to the party’, blah, blah, blah) was with the rad feminist magazine, and favorite at The Whirling Girlish, Bust magazine.

Tina Fey Bust Magazine Cover Photoshoot Photoshop Feminist Women 2004 via Bust for The Whirling Girlish

“Some people say it’s a feminist issue. I agree, because the best Photoshop job I ever got was for a feminist magazine called Bust in 2004. It was a low budget shoot in the back of their downtown office. There was no free coffee bar or wind machine, just a bunch of intelligent women with a sense of humor.”

Can I get a high five? Nope! But I’ll compensate by feeding you a few more lines.

She speaks the truth, and here you have it:

“Feminists do the best Photoshop because they leave the meat on your bones.”

Why, thank you! I did have some schooling. Okay, moment of self-importance fading fast, so let’s keep going.

By the end of the book, I had successfully learned new jokes and phrases to steal and use as my own, burned calories, and regained the motivation to write a piece for something that I really love, and that is The Whirling Girlish. Since Tina Fey rules, she knew we’d be bummed when we got to the end, so she added some reading club questions to give us something to mull over.

Here’s an example:

“3) In Chapter 4, Tina realizes that she has been guilty of holding her gay friends to a double standard—enjoying their company but still expecting them to stay in the “half-closet.” Have you ever had a moment like this? In a related question, do you think young pop stars today experience too much pressure to pretend to be lesbian with Madonna?”

This is one that I really would be interested to get some response on. I won’t address it in detail, because it is a question that deserves a thoughtful answer. How refreshing to read about someone coming to terms with truly accepting one’s sexuality? Not to mention, how refreshing it is to see more and more people less shy to talk about a part of life no more natural than Tina Fey’s stress-induced jawline acne, or the odd birthmark on my leg. Being gay doesn’t have to be a big, bad, dark thing! You don’t have to stay in the half-closet for anyone. But if it’s what you dig, then hey, you’ve got to do you. That’s what Bossypants means to me.

This is the most accurate review of Bossypants I came across. Sure, it wasn’t hard to find because it was printed in the first few pages of the book. But if you will read further, you will learn that the “Who cares?” mantra applies in situations like such.

“It offers a valuable insight into navigating gender politics. Fey’s strategy for dealing with everything from entrenched discrimination to garden-variety chauvinism is to write a joke, a better joke than the other people in the room….Fey has a complex, spirited, intelligent kind of funniness, which has the effect of laying bare some of the more insidious, unspoken, ridiculous assumptions behind out standard pieties and official narratives….If the feminist movement has work left to do, surely it could use a little more Tina Fey.” – Katie Roiphe, Slate “Double X”

There you have it, readers! Move forth and may the Fey be with you!

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