For the record: I want you to like me.
See, I love think pieces. When I was approached about writing this, I was brought back to all of the times a personal essay had impacted me and how, I believe, vulnerability is one of the purest points of connection we have. Yet, I sit here writing at the moment, wondering how I can be completely transparent with you all about my experiences, while simultaneously not hurting anyone else’s feelings who may or may not be mentioned and whom may or may not also read this.
Yes, it’s true; as a songwriter, I am constantly revealing my life stories, emotions, and experiences with the world through melody and words that come straight from my heart (many of which one could argue are quite obviously about someone specific). In fact, you could even say it’s my job to be vulnerable and honest. But the truth is, this somehow feels different. Music is an experience in and of itself; I may choose a lyric that evokes a feeling rather than divulge all of the painstaking, ordinary details that make up my full picture. I’m left wondering why I’m struggling to reveal my full truth in a monologue format, when vulnerability is high up on my list of values and, in essence, is really what I am drawing upon all of the time. I’m led to think about all of the other times I’ve gone out of my way to make everyone around me feel comfortable, in lieu of my own experience.
Just this week, an older man who runs a local open mic I sometimes attend came in for a hug hello, whispered an inappropriate joke about wanting to bite my ear again (after having done so during another awkward greeting in the past), and instead of calling him out, I just uncomfortably laughed and went on with my night. The truth is that, in the moment, I wasn’t sure how to react and it honestly felt like a waste of energy to say something when I’ve become so accustomed to having my personal space violated or being objectified in some way, shape or form. I like the open mic and it hurt to think I may have to stop attending when I’ve already had to avoid other people, places, classes in the past due to similar unanticipated, and uncomfortable circumstances.
I’m brought back to all of the times my mother was all smiles; giving, kind, and polite in situations when a proper “Fuck off” was warranted; all of the times she’s gone out of her way to let people stay at our house for weeks on end, or endlessly sacrifice her kindness, money, time, and/or energy, even when it was a major inconvenience to her own sanity. Being polite and generous is one thing, which I, of course, am all about; but this sort of consistent agreeableness I’m referring to is beyond nice; it’s a conditioning so deep within my bones I can’t seem to shake. For those of you questioning why it’s so hard to just say no or speak your peace, the truth is, 1) as women (I believe) we’re taught to be nice and polite; to be everything to everyone, 2) we’re often made to believe it’s our fault so we, instead, take on the burden and 3) it gets exhausting.
For every creepy comment I’ve laughed off, I have another example of a circumstance in which I genuinely did call someone out. There’s the friend who said he needed a place to stay for the night and, when I provided my couch, ended up sexually assaulting me; the industry mentor whom I thought was solely interested in my songwriting, but then sent me inappropriate text messages; the friend from acting class who wouldn’t take my many “I have a boyfriend and just want to be friends” at face value and ended up continuing to attempt to convince me to date him by both harassing me and pulling down his pants as an “acting exercise in getting rid of nerves”—all circumstances in which I either went back and forth through letters or sat down and had a conversation with these men about how unacceptable, inappropriate and disturbing these situations were. In some instances, I did actually receive some understanding and apologies after terrifyingly transparent and honest confrontations, which both reinforces the need for more of these conversations on a global level (I don’t suggest everyone confront their rapist or assaulter) and highlights the type of toxic masculinity and rape culture our society reinforces that our men are being raised in to believe this is the way. In one instance, for example, he was reading the book The Game and misconstrued many of its messages into an overarching belief that manipulation or coercion of any form would help him get the girl.
I can go on and on with the examples, dating back to high school when a guy friend wasn’t taking the fact that I didn’t want to date him well and would show up at my house or act out in anger towards me at school, the USC professor who told me that my best quality was that I am attractive, the countless cat calling, the Instagram dick pics that pop up in my direct messages, reading a mass e-mail from my ex-boyfriend’s fraternity comparing different girls and their vaginas to various flavors of pies and proposing a rating system, having to leave grocery stores pretending I’m on the phone to avoid being followed or approached...I could go on and on...my point is that sometimes it’s just easier to smile and walk away. In many of these situations, I left feeling like I wasn’t enough; my friendship, my talent, my kindness were not enough. And in many circumstances I was left confused; “What did I do wrong?” “How did this happen?” “Perhaps I just need to hang out with so and so one more time to see that they didn’t really mean it and that they truly are a good person, truly are my friend.”
I’m sure this comes as no surprise. At this point we’ve all heard story after story of women coming forward with their experiences (insert: Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Ryan Adams, Brett Kavanaugh, the list goes on). I don’t claim to have the answers as to how we’ve gotten here and why. But I think it’s easy to see how, as women, our self-worth plummets; how we come to place that worth in our appearance, how we work tirelessly to prove ourselves on our talents and merits, and how when men are our bosses (hello, C-level positions disparity + wage gap), we become wary of even sharing these kinds of experiences with those around us because we don’t want to shoot our chances of success in the foot on top of everything else. So we do it all. We want to look perfect, perform well, and to not rock the boat while doing so.
I remember being a little girl and my mother staring in the mirror, asking me if she looked fat. My mother is and was absolutely beautiful; tan, thin, tall and modelesque. In that moment, I remember beginning to deduce that if my mother, who, like I said, is totally stunning, was worried about her weight, then I must really be concerned. I saw the way women in the media were sexualized, the way girls at my middle school were sporting short skirts and push up bras and the way guys would speak about it (rating them on scales from 1-10 and shouting jokes like “Woman - make me a sandwich!”), the way extended family members would comment on the way my boobs were growing, and, the truth is, I wanted nothing to do with it. Growing up and going through puberty that is...if it meant that that was what I was growing into. I was hoping I could hold onto a childhood of singing and skateboarding and playing with my pets, or running around in the park for just a moment longer. Not long after, I recall looking in the mirror and sobbing, picking apart my fat and deciding that I had to wear a giant over-sized skater sweatshirt to hide. It’s worth noting that I was in middle school and 72 lbs at the time, but when I looked in the mirror, I sincerely saw the opposite. I know that sounds unbelievable. Now, with some healthy distance and perspective, even I, can hardly understand it. But I can earnestly tell you that what I saw in the mirror was nothing like the photos I look back on now.
From seventh grade through my first year of high school, I wore some form of XL skater sweatshirt every day because it felt safe; from the criticism, the comments, the comparisons, the over-sexualization. Of course, that only came with its own judgments and whispers (“She’s so thin...I wonder why she wears those sweatshirts...She must be anorexic...”) and moments of begging from my grandmother to “please dress more like [the] young lady” that I was. I hit tenth grade and decided I had enough of what I now refer to as my “skater phase”...because let’s be real it was actually incredibly limiting, perpetuated issues of self-esteem and insecurity, and couldn’t last forever...so I took a deep breath, removed my Volcom hoodie, Etnies, and trucker hat, and traded them for makeup, charm bracelets, and Juicy Couture (the popular choice at that time). That came with its own slew of critiques - this time from the girls. “Who does she think she is? Why is her bag so big? She’s wearing too much makeup.” In my attempt to find my confidence and fit into this new world of embracing and accepting the fact that I was, in fact, a young woman, I was somehow entered into the very playing field I had evaded, which did, in some ways, feel like a competition I didn’t sign up for. Thinking on it, I’m not entirely sure why girls feel the need to tear down other girls, but I would venture to guess it’s both a false belief, perpetuated by society, that there’s limited space at the top and simply another manifestation of insecurity, this kind pointed outwards.
So, there I was, a teenager, unsure of where I totally fit in. I connected with unique aspects of various groups of people at my high school, each bringing out a different part of my personality from the tomboy, skater girl, to the girly girl in pink and bangles and everything in between. When I threw my 17th birthday party, it was thus, understandably, a large and eclectic bunch, and friends insisted that I was “too nice” and “too bubbly” for my own good - essentially that I should have been more selective about who I invited. This all to say that when you’re too this or too that, just barely falling short of some expectation or standard, it leaves little room to just BE.
*In defense of the friends above, part of the inclination to invite every person was also in an effort to not leave anyone out, hurt anyone’s feelings and be the good people-pleaser that I am. That aspect of self coming from the conditioning I detail above. You see, this web is a bit more complicated than I think we always know how to acknowledge.
I’ve since settled into a comfortable zone in which most days you’ll find me in yoga pants, little makeup, and large, cozy sweaters, yet others I’ll throw on a dress, heels, and curl my hair. My personal style and personality traits are across the spectrum, and I’ve come to both accept and embrace that; one of my friends calls me a rainbow child because you can’t quite categorize me and I’ve come to like that about myself. I’ve realized that vulnerability and the strength found within it is something I value, and sometimes does involve stepping outside of your comfort zone, sharing what’s not on your highlight reel, and speaking up. When you try to be everything to everyone, project perfection, and are afraid to offend anyone, I’ve noticed that you oftentimes are also simultaneously not deeply connecting with anyone either.
The truth is, this is just a recount of my experience. I’m not striving to leave you with any sort of A-ha! takeaway because, like I said earlier, it is an intricate web of moments that led me to where I am currently, our culture to where it is at in the present moment, and I’m sure you will have either your own experiences in relation to or, to the contrary of the ones I’ve just shared here. For me, it were these moments, and seeing both friends and myself undervaluing ourselves, jumping through hoops time and time again for people who didn’t deserve our kindness (hello people-pleaser, we meet again) that encouraged some of the songs on my debut album. I feel deeply inspired to connect with young women, share my experiences, any wisdom I may have received from living through said experiences, and to empower both men and women alike to change the dialogue. From my eyes, it all starts with continuing the conversation.
I feel comfortable enough with myself at this moment in my life to let you in, and honestly, it was both strong, generous, brave, loving women, and some vulnerable, kind-hearted, trustworthy, encouraging men who helped get me here. To the boy in high school who swam with me to the bottom of a swimming pool, mascara running down my face, just to tell me I was beautiful without makeup on, thank you; to my Dad for always showing up, listening to me stress for hours, helping me find my way, and for transparently sharing your own experiences, both good and bad, thank you; to my brother for lying with me on the floor while I cried and told me everything was going to be alright, thank you; to my boyfriend for being such a stand up guy, going out of his way to support me, loving me so truthfully and tenderly, and for always keeping his word, thank you. To all of the countless number of women (including my mother) who have built me up, encouraged my strength, reminded me of my worth, and assured me I was enough, thank you.
I hope that sooner than later we can throw away the toxic standards we place on both men and women and embrace everyone as individuals. Done are the days of “Man up!” “Stop acting like a girl,” and,“Boys will be boys…” perpetuating a take what’s yours culture, the idea that men can’t express their emotions without it being seen as weakness, and that imply that women are inherently weak, fragile, and sensitive. Done are the days of calling girls “bossy” or “bitchy” for having an opinion and “uptight” when they stand by their boundaries. I’m prepared to speak and sing my way to a world with less shaming, more open conversations, and the expression of utmost love and respect both towards ourselves and others.
I hope you’ll join me!
About Kara Connolly
Kara Connolly has it all: charisma, a commanding stage presence, an emotive voice, and that rare gift for writing songs that are simultaneously heartfelt, sincere and undeniably infectious upon first listen. Given her ability to connect with an audience, it’s no surprise that Kara sold-out the iconic Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, the very venue that Katy Perry and Sara Bareilles got their start, before ever having released a single song. And now with her first full-length album out in the world, Kara Connolly is beginning to reach an audience as universal as her songs themselves.
Kara’s supporters (or "Karakeets" as they have so proudly claimed their fandom) adore her and connect with how honest and engaging she is. Her debut music video for first single, "Life in Rear View", has garnered over 210K views thus far and the song and its video both received high praise in a variety of popular publications such as Popdust and PopMatters. Connolly’s LP (out today) of the same name, a unique, genre-bending blend of percussive pop, folk, and country, takes you on a journey from breakdown to breakthrough. What begins with heartbreak, ends in triumph as Kara reminds us, through personal experience, the importance of friendship, vulnerability, acknowledging our own self-worth, and never settling for less than the love and respect we deserve.