It’s always hard to see someone leave. There is an immediate void. People can’t be replaced, but someone can take their place. On Starting Over I always find myself thinking things will never be the same after someone graduates and leaves. I never warm up to the new person the first few days … until this time.
Candy wakes up her first morning in the Starting Over house without Denise. Through tears, she admits to missing Denise way more than she ever expected to. Later, as she commiserates with Rachael in the kitchen, they decide Denise will be a hard act to follow. Boy, is this the truth.
Bethany’s insecurities rear as she fears the new girl will be some type of super model. Cassie just hopes the new girl will be nice, but she fears she will be an angry person.
The front door opens, and the newest Starting Over housemate, Vanessa, enters. She admits to being scared and overwhelmed at first, but shakes hands with everyone. Candy’s first thought is, “Oh, another kid!” looking at young Vanessa. Candy puts their age difference aside and shows Vanessa to the room they will share.
Rhonda and Iyanla are both present to lead group and meet Vanessa. The giant plasma screen shows a smiling happy little girl doing gymnastics. Looking at that tape of her young self and remembering makes her happy, as she’s not that person anymore. Vanessa was a gymnast from the time she was five-years-old to eighteen.
The other women watch Vanessa performing as a teenager and notice how flexible she was and begin to wonder with a perfect life such as this, where the problem is. Vanessa worked for about seven hours a day at this, and did homeschooling from the time she was six to high school age. She admits to not having much of a childhood, but says she enjoyed it because of the attention.
Vanessa is asked if she always enjoyed it, and says she did until she was around thirteen, and it became like work to her. She did ask to quit, but it upset her mom. Vanessa became very confused whether it was all for herself or others. Iyanla says this is called OPE, or other people’s expectations.
When she was eighteen it became very difficult for her. She had surgery, and gained a few pounds, so her eating was controlled, despite that it was only about four pounds. They would force her to skip meals to adjust for the weight gain. When that became stressful, it just made Vanessa eat even more. Rhonda asks what her parents did about the eating, and she says her mom enforced what her coaches wanted, because she believed she was supporting Vanessa. Iyanla asks who was there for her, and Vanessa says only herself.
Vanessa made it that hear to Olympic trials, the pinnacle of everything she had worked so many years for. She messed up badly. The vault, normally her best event, was up first, and she did badly. Yet, she still had a sliver of hope. The next event was the balance beam which is normally her second best. She missed her foot on the dismount, and landed on the floor on her back, and calls it a very surreal moment. Vanessa felt embarrassed, then relief, and thinking back now, says maybe she really didn’t want the Olympics that much.
Renee notices that Vanessa is not crying, but instead laughing and finding humor in her own story. Candy suspects, looking at Vanessa giggling and pulling on her lip that she is hiding something.
Vanessa is now twenty-two and trying to get her life together somehow. After the Olympic trials she felt she wasn’t important anymore. She acknowledges she does talk to her parents about her Olympics experience, but they didn’t know her true feelings on it. Feeling closest to her mom while doing gymnastics, her relationship with her now feels fake. Asked her feelings on this, she says not good, prompting Iyanla to tell her that’s not a feeling. She admits then to sadness and loneliness.
After devoting thirteen years to her gymnastics, she believes she would not do it again. Iyanla asks why Vanessa has been beating herself up over the whole thing if she didn’t want it. Vanessa feels she owes her parents, fans and brother. They don’t say that, but she feels she does.
The other person in Vanessa’s life is Michael, her boyfriend of two years. He is her brother’s best friend, and she has known him a long time, but only started dating him after the Olympic trials, admitting he grew on her some. Feeling she owes him something, she cakes care of him financially, about $8000 so far. She has also bought her brother a car and paid for some of his college tuition. She has gotten rid of about $60,000 so far, but was trying to get rid of that money, feeling it’s icky money after earning it through her gymnastics. By the way, icky wasn’t Vanessa’s term for it, but Rhonda’s.
Still noting that Vanessa hasn’t cried yet telling her story, she is asked if she was allowed to cry in the gym. She says no; that is forbidden. Even after she fell on her back at Olympic trials she didn’t cry, just picked herself up and walked off. She admits that’s why she is probably giggling now about it. Iyanla instructs her to pretend she is doing the balance beam and them falling on her back. As she walks off after the pretend fall, Iyanla offers her a big hug and she breaks down crying for the first time. Candy says it’s hard to see someone let go the first time like that, and she is right.
Vanessa watches her self portrait, and saw she drew stuff that she felt tied to in ball and chains on her. The balloons above her head are of things she wants. Her goal will be to develop a new identity. I predict many, many more tears for Vanessa and the rest of us during this process.
Candy and Iyanla move into a one-on-one, and Iyanla warns her not to try and take care of her new roommate. Candy admits to being tempted. Moving on, Iyanla asks if Candy feels her body is tabu, and she does indeed believe it is. She is not comfortable in it because of her weight issues, and has even thought of cosmetic surgery before, saying it would bring her peace. Iyanla asks if it would bring her peace or acceptance. Candy just feels it would be liberating, saying it has kept her from marrying her boyfriend, as she doesn’t want to be a big woman in a wedding dress. Asked what if it doesn’t happen, Candy believes it will. It hasn’t, Iyanla says. Youch.
Iyanla shows Candy a picture and asks what she sees. She sees a big person, and Iyanla explains she is the great goddess and sacred mother and asks if Candy thinks this big woman wants surgery. She tells Candy the Sacred Mother hold the secrets of life inside her; that is why she is big. Iyanla gets even tougher, and says if Candy wanted it, she’d have it. Candy thinks she just didn’t work hard enough, and admits she would feel shame if she died tomorrow. Iyanla is sending candy to a women’s artist colony today to have her portrait done and encourages Candy to do it in the nude, saying every woman feels uncomfortable with that idea.
Rachael shows her memory book she made for her biological dad to Iyanla. It shows how she grew up and the things she liked. She is going to write a letter to introduce it. Iyanla tells her to do this right now. Her intention with this is to learn who she is today, and not to blame or attack. She wants to hear his side of the story. Rachael has even called his phone and heard his voice on his voice mail, she admits to Iyanla. She believes he sounded happy. Iyanla urges her to tell him in her letter about the phone call, to start everything off on the right foot with the truth.
Renee’s father finally calls her. He tells her he called the night before, but there was no answer. She explains there was a graduation and they were outside. He tells her it is wonderful t hear her voice. She says she has been in the house for eight weeks now and is feeling good. He tells her his is very proud of her working on things. She begins to break down and says it has just bene real hard. She says it cook a lot of courage and is ready to talk to him again.
Renee’s dad says he is really proud of her achievements. This is the best case scenario Renee had given Iyanla yesterday, for him to say he was proud of her her achievements. He goes on to say it’s great to share her emotions and that she has the courage to take that step and work on mending and healing. He goes on to say his heart and arms are open to her and asks when they can get together. He talks of Renee’s brother getting married in Hawaii and says it would be great to see her there, feeling so many years have gone by and it’s important to him to reconnect to her. Renee’s father wants her to be happy and would like to be part of her life. He says he says a prayer for her every day, and last night he finally found the answer to his prayer with her phone call. Ending the call, he says he loves her and is proud of her.
Getting off the phone, Renee tells her gathered roommates that he has been waiting all these years for her. She feels like the luckiest girl in the world (conjuring images of PeeWee Herman in my mind that I can’t erase) and noted he didn’t say one negative word.
Vanessa works out in the gymnastics gym while Rhonda watches. Vanessa says this is like home to her, and she misses the smell, the blue color and the comfort. Rhonda asks why she wouldn’t do it again since it’s so comforting. She is told it is because here there is no competition, no pressure for perfection. She wants success in her life; she wants to leave a mark. Success to her means finishing something. They work out her steps, the first of which will be to face failure. She will then release others’ expectations, redefine success, accept body reality and become a risk taker. Rhonda tells her she is very much a human, and not a machine or robot. Vanessa cries for the second time today.
Candy arrives at the artist’s studio, surrounded by women with blank easels, waiting for their subject. She admits to being up to try anything, but nude isn’t one of them. It’s suggested maybe she drop the robe off shoulder some and she says it smacks of the doctor’s office. The women ask for a little less robe, and she drops it some, just enough to show a little cleavage, or “boobage” as she called it the day before on Denise.
Iyanla is there when the portraits are done, and Iyanla shows her the first portrait. Iyanla asks what’s going through her mind, and Candy she looks like the Goddess – round and voluptuous. The second portrait has a pained face, and Candy thinks that’s the inside out her, sad. The third portrait, Candy is shocked as it’s so beautiful. She knows her mind is made up in this one; she really is okay. The artists tell Candy she can keep these portraits and she cries.
Iyanla goes back to the house where she is greeted by Renee, who shares the news that her father called back. Iyanla literally jumps up and down in excitement for her. Renee moves on to calling her mom to tell her of the phone call. Her mom only grills her on the call and says she told her so. Renee jumps on her and says she’s not supposed to say that. Next, Renee’s mom asks if she still has to come and asks if they’re going to feed her while she’s there.
Something tells me while Renee has felt her barrier this whole time was her relationship with her dad, that it was really her relationship with her mom that has been holding her back. We haven’t heard enough of Vanessa’s relationship with her parents yet, but there has to be some deep-rooted things there for her to feel sopushed by her parents, especially her mother, during her whole childhood. As a parent myself, I know how hard it is not to pressure children too much, when all we really want is the best for them. Yet we have to remember to allow the children to know that is all we want for them, just the best. Assuredly, that is all Renee and Vanessa’s parents wanted out of them. They just didn’t go about it the right way. Yet again, none of us do. I am making a mental note not to ride my kids as hard tomorrow.
I welcome all questions and comments at LauraBelle@realityshack.com