Jemimah Jane

An Extraordinary Woman Confronts Inadequacy

In Inferno, Dantë discusses nine circles of hell - lust, greed, violence, etc. But I propose there is a more insidious tenth circle: insecurity and inadequacy. It’s a hell constructed over a lifetime, an emotional prison from which release or pardon seems impossible.

We’ve all felt it. Women, especially. But publicly admitting to feelings of inadequacy would make us weak or unlikable.

This February, New York Times best-selling author Jane Green penned an article about insecurity. In it, she exits an elevator into a sea of toned, wealthy, Birkin-bagged women in New York City. She writes, “Everything about these women intimidated me. One look from them and I felt, instantly, the way I have felt all my life: inadequate.”

For perspective, Jane Green is lauded as a “global leader in commercial women’s fiction.” She’s written 21 novels including 18 NYT bestsellers. She’s sold over 10 million books, translated into 31 languages. (I’m not even aware of 31 languages.) A graduate of the International Culinary Institute in NYC, a fabulous interior designer, mother of 6 kids, and - the list goes on but I’m stopping now.

How is it possible for such an accomplished woman to feel intimidation or inadequacy?

“We all carry this secret shame that we’re not good enough,” she explains, “We armor up” with clothes, dyed hair, cars - whatever we think will make people believe our narrative.

Growing up, Jane felt overshadowed by her younger brother. “I didn’t feel celebrated or loved when I was a child, I was invisible.” While her brother attended boarding school, her parents often spent time at their second home in the south of France, leaving Jane with a caregiver or all alone when she was as young as 14. “The culture in my family was one of shame and blame and, with my brother away, I was the target… it was very clear to me that I wasn’t the daughter my parents wanted.” she admits.

At the same time, Jane was savvy enough to take advantage of her independence, “Ours was the party house,” she says. Though she never felt comfortable among her party-minded peers, as her upbringing taught her she was an outsider.

Though it may not sound like a difficult childhood - she didn’t grow up in South LA selling used syringes to buy dinner - it doesn’t matter. None of us did, either, and we still have self-doubt. Our emotional triggers are formed not by our experiences so much as our reactions to them.

There are many good reasons to feel inadequate (writing about a woman famous for her writing among them) and these emotions manifest themselves in different ways. For Jane, feelings of inadequacy motivated her to succeed and become one of the most beloved contemporary authors in America.

Yet achievement is ephemeral and inadequacy is a tenacious b@stard.

When writing, Jane pulls from personal experiences. In her second book, Jemima J, which established Jane as the “Queen of Chick Lit,” an overweight, unhappy Jemima transforms herself into what she believes the world wants to see. Jane, too, deprecates her youthful weight. “I’d be a size 8 or 10 and I’d look in the mirror and see a size 22. I was also 5’9 and towered above everyone. As a little girl all the adults would say, ‘You’re enormous!’ They meant tall, but that’s not what I heard…”

Well into her thirties and throughout her first marriage she filled her closet with the appropriate costumes for her role, “I wore Chanel suits, had designer handbags. I felt like I was playing hard to be the perfect trophy wife.”

Then came the crumbling of her first marriage, a bout of lyme disease and malignant melanoma (she is now, thankfully, in remission).“Life whacks you over the head when you’re in your 40’s and you realize life is not as charmed as [you] thought.”

Then there’s the 11th circle of hell… well, not an entire circle but a a fire pit or two: being a parent at elementary school parties. Standing among crowds of unknown people conjured Jane’s feelings of self-doubt. She retreated to corners and fidgeted with her phone to mask her discomfort.

Even the enviable success of her books wasn’t fulfilling. “I told myself, if I had a bestseller then I’d be happy. Then if I’m top 10, then if I’m number 1. But none of it did [make me happy]. If you look for happiness outside of yourself,” she states, “you’ll keep moving the goal post.”

Then Jane celebrated her 50th birthday. Whether age softened the sting of childhood wounds or gifted her wisdom, for Jane, “Everything changed. …I realized I could continue living a life that didn’t feel authentic… or I could figure out who I really am, start dressing the way I want to rather than to fit in.”

She dyed her carefully blonded locks bubble-gum pink. It was a lark, but the eclecticism of her reflection, she realized, was her true self. She consigned her designer apparel and jewelry, the ones purchased to ward off insecurity which only reinforced her misguided attempts to fit in. Her hours scrolling through amazon.com yielded python-print cotton pants and cocoon cardigans colored to complement her pink hair.

“I realized only recently that happiness comes in the form of peace.” Should peace prove elusive Jane says, “I focus on three things for which I’m grateful, on things that are good in my life.” Among them are 6 children, a beloved husband, true friends, and a herd of cats and dogs.

At this point during our talk, Jane glances down at her curly-furred clogs and laughs, “I don’t think anyone in Westport aspires to look like me today!”

Realistically, though, I think most of us do.

Editor’s note: Jane is currently writing her first biography, working title #Liberated. We at Westport Lifestyle can’t wait to read it.


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