The “tyranny of cheerfulness”

Pink Ribbons, Inc. movie poster. My husband and I watched Pink Ribbons, Inc. tonight and one of the women said something that jolted me a bit.

Barbara Ehrenreich, an author, is speaking about pressure within the breast cancer community for those getting treatment to put on a brave face and be positive. She called it the “horrible tyranny of cheerfulness.” In that one statement Ehrenreich flipped what I have been telling myself on its head.

Since January 22, when I sustained diastasis symphysis pubis during the natural birth of my son, I have told myself that if I lost my positive attitude I would lose. That the pain would overtake me and I would start to give up, get weak and stop trying to be my best. Eventually, I was afraid, I would forget what I once could do and settle for what I had.

But Ehrenreich suggested in that one sentence that the culture, which creates that expectation for individuals going through major medial events and treatments, denies them the ability to feel what they need to feel, act as they truly want to act and live the way they want to. It made me really think. Had my need to put on a brave face for my family, my friends and myself actually denied me agency? Did I wait so long for an x-ray because I was being the “nice girl,” compliant with what the “experts” had told me? Should I have been screaming at the top of my lungs?

The idea of the “horrible tyranny of cheerfulness” won’t soon leave my mind. I will think of it the next time I wish I could throw a full-on tantrum but instead hold my tongue and soldier on.

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