Beauty is something I think about it a lot, though not nearly as much as I used to, and not in the same way. As a child, preteen, and teenager, I saw beauty as power, currency, and acceptance. I had a hard time fitting in and I got teased a lot, but I noticed that the pretty girls didn’t get made fun of. Boys didn’t laugh at them or gross out when they found out those girls had crushes on them. Nobody called them names.
Summertime was my favorite time of year as long as I was in my own backyard or the canal behind my house, or maybe camping in the woods with my family. Those were my safe zones. I liked swimming, but the pool was a thing to endure. I had fun swimming and playing in the water, but I couldn’t help but notice the other girls with tans and bodies as tight as vacuum seal bags. I wanted their skinny legs and wardrobes so badly because I had hips and thighs in the fifth grade and couldn’t put an outfit together to save my life (still can’t). I’d go swimming with my cousins and wear shorts and a tee shirt over my swimming suit while they ran around in their tankinis and didn’t get sunburned. How come I didn’t turn out like them? Why wasn’t I a cute dancer with skinny legs that turn gold in the sun rather than my own brand of blistering pink?
I felt awkward and unattractive because I thought that’s how others saw me. That assumption stuck with me for a long time, even after I’d found my place in the high school drama club and made friends who loved me for who I was, and even in my freshman year of college when I’d somehow shrunk down to 135 pounds on my 5’8″ bod and had boys asking me out every week. I didn’t even feel beautiful when I started dating Sam and he told me I was beautiful. I hadn’t learned to love myself yet.
Last summer, Sam and I went to a local water park, and though I’d long since given up the shorts and tee shirts over my tankini, for the first time I didn’t feel one bit awkward or self-conscious. I was well above my body’s comfortable weight at the time and it was early June, so my toothpaste-white legs hadn’t seem much daylight yet, but I had my favorite coral toenail polish on and a turquoise tankini that looked a lot like the one my cousin once wore to the same water park almost a decade ago. I’d had a string of emotional breakthroughs that had lifted the depression I’d struggled with for years (and still do on occasion) and I’d reconnected with my creativity after a long dry spell. Though I’d been flailing around with intuitive eating for awhile, I’d finally learned to listen to my body and was starting to lose a little weight.
Because of these things, I had learned that I was beautiful even if I am shaped like a bowling pin and wear cargo shorts and tee shirts all the time. I finally knew who I was recognized my own type of beauty; that quirky, refuses-to-grow-up awkwardness and creativity that makes me who I am.
Oh, this is who I’m supposed to be. This is how life is supposed to be.
The temperature of the poolwater was absolutely perfect that evening, and I remember swimming underwater and coming up to the surface and noticing the gorgeous mountain by the waterpark. It was like seeing a mountain for the first time. I just treaded water for a few minutes and looked at the mountain and realized that the awkwardness and dull ache of not being good enough was completely gone. I felt so whole.
I was almost 23 years old and I finally realized that beauty wasn’t another planet. It wasn’t a party I’d never been invited to. It was just something I’d never recognized because I’d always expected it to be something else that I could feel by cracking the fashion code or whittling down my thighs. I never realized that it had nothing to do with rules or absolutes. I’d been free to feel it all along.
Everyone has a right to feel beautiful.
Skydiving? Freestyle rock climbing? Saving a baby from a burning building?
Joining the military to defend our country? Quitting a stable job to stay at home with your kids?
Giving unrealistic expectations and social norms the middle finger and living your own life?
Bravery comes in different forms, but sometimes the scariest things in this world have nothing to do with physical danger.
Instead of fighting dragons, we might be standing up for ourselves and what we believe in, choosing to love ourselves the way we are, or deciding to live according to our own values despite society’s relentless messages that we are not good enough, that we always have to change, buy something, or do something to make us worthwhile.
I used to think I was a ‘fraidy cat because I’m afraid of doing anything that involves being towed behind a speedboat, or because I’ve crossed skydiving off my Handprint List, or because I dated some guys or had friends who were really bad for me because I didn’t think I could get anything better.
I feared rejection, failure and most of all, hurting other people’s feelings and being a “bad person”. Over the last few months though, I’ve learned that sometimes, you have to be willing to disappoint someone, or get rejected, or even piss someone off. Sometimes you have to just accept that some people will think badly of you, that you’re a wingnut or too outspoken or even selfish. While you don’t want everyone to think of you this way, do the right thing.
Leave. Or stay.
Do it. Or don’t.
Make a decision. Change your mind. Even if someone disapproves. You know what’s right. Do it.
Say no. Take time to think about it.
Listen to your body.
Wear the damn swimsuit.
I think one of our deepest fears is the disapproval of others, but this fear is rooted in the deepest fear of all: That without the approval of our peers, we are nothing. We are only worthwhile if everyone else things we are.
This is the biggest lie we tell ourselves. Deep in our hearts, in our very souls, we know who we are, what we were sent here to do and what is right for us. We might forget this sometimes, but we know our own worth. Living authentically means eliminating the sway of “What will everyone else think?” and accepting our own worth and uniqueness.
Accepting our worth takes courage. Living our purpose takes courage. We can never accomplish these things we feel we need to look, act, or be a certain way.
Be brave. Be yourself.
This post is part of Self-Discovery Word-by-Word. This month’s host is Dr. Dana Udall-Weiner at The Body and the Brood. The word for June 2011 is “Bravery”.
Here’s something I truly believe:
As human beings, it is our duty to share our gifts with the world.
Yet a lot of us don’t. Why is that?
- Sometimes we don’t recognize our inherent gifts and talents
- In an effort to be humble and to avoid rocking the boat, we deny our talents.
- We feel that others don’t want what we have to offer.
- We fear that what we have to offer isn’t valuable.
- We feel that we aren’t valuable.
- Know what your gifts are. What do you like to do? What do others tell you you’re good at? What did you enjoy as a child? Do whatever you need to do to find our what you’re good at.
- Develop those gifts. Practice, read books, take classes, do whatever it takes to get good at those gifts and feel confident sharing them.
- Trust your gifts. You have them for a reason. They’re meant to help you and others. Allow them to do that.
- Stop being shy about it. Cockiness is one thing, but being aware of your talents and refusing to feel sheepish is one of the most powerful ways to share. Take opportunities to share. Make opportunities. If someone asks you if you’re good at (insert amazing gift here) say “Yes!”.
- Find your purpose and how your gifts play into that. I feel silly sticking this in a little bullet-point, but your purpose is the mother ship of all your gifts. Your talents support your purpose. Do some work, find out what you want to do and what you’re meant to do, then figure out how your talents can accomplish that. Need help getting started? Try this exercise by Steve Pavlina. It’ll at least get you thinking.
- Know that you and your gifts are valuable. Nothing kills a sense of purpose like low-self esteem. Do some work, realize how valuable you are to the world just by being yourself. And being yourself doesn’t mean feeling like a loser and doing nothing, though we all do that sometimes. Being yourself means striving, evolving and living as your best self, which is what this blog is all about.
- Find others who want what you have to offer. When you’ve discovered your gifts, do a little marketing research. Where can you apply yourself? Can you help a worthy cause? Should you start a business? Think now. Research.
Can you believe it’s almost May? Weee, where has the year gone. I hope that wherever you are, the weather is as beautiful as it is here in Orem, Utah. After I publish this post, I think I’ll take myself on a picnic.
Handprint Soul is about becoming our best selves, whether this means peeling away the layers of insecurity, expectations, and anxiety that cover up our true selves or adding on to what you already have, trying on different hats to discover parts of yourself you never knew existed. Today’s topic falls into the idea of peeling.
Who were you as a child? Were you the same person you are today, or someone completely different? How did you spend your time? How did you feel about yourself? What did you want to be when you grew up?
I believe that as children, we’re completely ourselves and as we grow we’re shaped by our environment. We learn the expectations of society; how we should look and act, what should interest us, how the world “works” and how we need to change to be accepted. By middle school, most of us are shadows of the children we once were. By adulthood, we usually forget what it felt like to be a child at all.
So, who were you as a child?
I think about my childhood a lot. My mother is an avid photographer and scrapbooker so I’m fortunate enough to have my entire life documented through photos, journaling and every school project from preschool to high school graduation. A lot of the stories and ideas I come up with these days were planted in my childhood and germinated throughout my teenage years. When I recall my childhood, I remember that I spent my time either indoors making art, writing stories, reading, listening to music or outdoors playing with animals, riding my bike, climbing trees, and walking around making up stories. I only felt insecure around other kids. I was unapologetically goofy and wildly creative. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but at the time I don’t think I needed a lot. I wanted to be a writer and an artist when I grew up. I wanted to travel the world.
Who am I today?
After years of trying to squish myself into someone else’s mold, learn what the world expected of me and trying “be a grown-up”, I find that I’m starting to come full circle. When I’m not doing “grown-up stuff” like a day job and cleaning, I spend my time either inside reading, writing, making art or outside running, walking, playing with animals and just appreciating the outdoors. I spend time with my husband. I need more social interaction than I did as a child, but that’s good. I’m unapologetically goofy and wildly creative. I don’t let anyone make me feel insecure. I want to be a professional writer and artist. I want to travel the world.
Essentially, I’m the same person, and I feel silly for wasting all that time trying to change myself, but I guess that’s how we learn that our essence doesn’t need to change. Learning, growing and evolving makes us better people, but we don’t want to change who we really are.
If you have photos or journals from your childhood, spend some time with them. If you have access to children, spend time with them too. By remembering who you were as a child, you’ll remember who you are. Do whatever you need to do to be that person. Set boundaries. Work on your self-esteem and insecurities. Take care of yourself.
Best wishes on your journey to being your best self.
“Learning to do back flips is so scary! Like when you can’t see the ground yet and you’re just up in the air…”
Most of my cousins are athletes. Runners, dancers, gymnasts, quarterbacks, you get the idea. I’m not. PE is a distant memory I’m still trying to erase and my nickname in grade school was “Slowpoke.” Didn’t bother me too much, I knew it was true.
I overhead two of my gymnast cousins talking about learning backflips, and these are the kind of kids whose bodies just seem to move effortlessly to their command.
“Not me.” I said. “If I’m going to do crazy things with my body, it’ll be on a yoga mat. Not flying through the air.” Then I realized, most of my life I never thought of doing anything with my body. I was just a brain riding around in my body, the idea of actually doing something with it, connecting to it in a way that comes so naturally to my cousins, was radical.
I thought about it for awhile. I used to be a couch potato but now I run (run/walk actually), do yoga, hike, and actually know how to feel my body; to live in it instead of just using it as a container for my brain. I’d learned to see it in a realistic way, but connecting to it was something else entirely. My body is actually a part of me. It’s not all me, it’s not my essence, but it’s part of me.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many of us only really feel our bodies when they’re uncomfortable, like if we have a stomach aches or if we pulled a muscle. How often do we think to feel it when it’s just being? Or when it feels good? Learn what it feels like to be sated, slightly tired, or a little hungry. Know what your body feels when it needs exercise, or a certain food, or sunshine.
Try “body meditation”, just by sitting quietly and consciously occupying part of your body. Pay attention to your stomach, your legs, or your shoulders and really feel what’s going on there. Tune in a few times a day to get an idea of what’s going on in your body.
I’ve found that learning to occupy our bodies is a huge step towards a healthier body image as well as intuitive eating. How will we learn the subtleties of gentle hunger and fullness or nutritional needs if we can’t listen to our bodies? How will we love them if we practically forget they’re there?
How do you connect to your body?
Becoming isn’t so much about adding as it is subtracting, peeling back and shedding layers of garbage that muffle, obscure and suppress. Old, destructive mindsets. Emotional issues and scars. Insecurities. Becoming means removing the excess until we find the essence of what’s underneath, ourselves and nothing else.
Then, we nurture what’s there until it grows and sprouts into something real and alive, a thriving force that takes in life and translates experiences into creative output. Living and breathing passion and purpose. Uninhibited by fears, doubts, and insecurities. Complete, evolving, authentic and glowing.
I expect a lot of myself. If you don’t believe me, read my handprint list. I’ve always had big dreams, big ambitions and lofty goals that haven’t faded with maturity. Writing, traveling, making art, having a family, doing great things, being great things.
The problem is, having high expectations for myself means I tend to bite off more than I can chew. Sometimes I actually chew it and end up stressed and frazzled into oblivion, but the times that I can’t chew it I feel like a loser, a failure and that I don’t measure up to that ideal I’ve created for myself. I spend a lot of time writing down goals, planning my steps to get there, falling short and rebuking myself. I used to do this a lot with dieting, but now it’s money, my writing career, my fitness goals.
Have I set the bar too high? I have to remind myself, I’m only human and I’ve done a lot with my 22 years and I have another (hopefully) fifty at least ahead of me. No point in burning myself out now. I made the handprint list not as a list of dreams, but of goals. I look at it sometimes and think “How will I do it all?” but I forget that it’s a list to last my whole life, not the next five years. Even if I don’t complete them all, it doesn’t mean my life is wasted. Even if I don’t get to travel or if I never make it as a writer, I’m still McKella and that’s ok. If I never publish a book, get the hang of intuitive eating, sell a piece of art, or if I use the word “I” in a paragraph over twenty times (sorry) I’m still ok. The value of life isn’t measured by stamps on a passport or titles on a shelf, but by the way you lived and what you stood for. The best you can do is the best you can do. Come to terms with it so you don’t spend half your time stressing out about it.
Do you have high expectations for yourself or do you cut yourself some slack?
I’ve come to put dieting in the same category as smoking: an unhealthy habit that can ruin your health and screw up your life, drain your wallet and poison your soul.
Dieting keeps you from moving forward with self-acceptance, mindful eating, and loving yourself. Dieting perpetuates the idea that you are not good enough the way you are and that you need to change to be acceptable to yourself or anyone else, and that an outside force is the answer, and that food is the enemy. Hatred, sadness, fear, hopelessness, all stem from dieting.
Letting go of this mindset is like removing a tick. Difficult, often painful, and hard to get it all out on the first try. It may be gone on the surface, but look a little deeper because the head might have popped off and is trying to stick around to keep you infected. Ok, kind of a weird analogy, but the first thing I could think of.
How do we stop? First things first, get all the outward reminders out of your environment:
- Get rid of the scale, the measuring tape, the diet books and any “thinspiration” you have laying around.
- Go on a media fast if you need to, away from movies and magazines that make you feel inadequate.
- Get rid of any clothing that doesn’t fit or flatter. No more “goal” pants or next summer’s pink bikini. It’s a poisonous awful demon.
- Clean out the cupboard and get rid of any diet foods. Dump the slim fast down the drain. Flush the diet pills, teas, meal replacement crap, etc.
- Next, wash your brain out with soap. Refuse to engage in any conversational body bashing or diet talk. Change the subject or leave.
Listen to your thoughts and train yourself to catch the fat talk. Every time you have a bad thought about yourself, change it to a positive one. Practice. Instead of “I look like Humpty Dumpty” try “My curves are rocking this little black dress today.” At least find something you like, like “My eyes are so blue” or “I’m having a good hair day.” It takes practice, but if I can do it, I promise you can too. If I can learn to love my thighs, so can you.
Don’t let yourself plan any more diets! No more calorie counting! Stop looking at nutrition labels for awhile if you can’t stay away from the calorie counts (ingredients may be a good idea though) . Eventually, the automatic calculator in your brain that looks at an apple and says “80 calories” will shut up it you tell it to. I promise.
Ok, I know I’ve written a bunch of posts about food and body image lately, but that’s what’s been on my mind.
For many years, when life wasn’t going the way I wanted, whenever I was sad or stressed, my first impulse was to grab a pen and paper and maybe whatever diet book I was reading at the time and plot my next attack plan. This many calories with this much exercise should result in this many pounds lost in this much time. A simple math equation that made everything in my life seem so much better, because look how close I was to being rid of my problems! It was all on paper, and math doesn’t lie, right?
I was addicted to starting over, and addicted to the quick fix dieting promise, and I was haunted by the illusion of the perfect life that comes with thinness.
I’ve been fighting this very strong urge lately. My brain has been working like a calculator again and I find myself longing for my skinny days when life was so much simpler. I only had me to take care of; school, friends, fun, a job and a couple of bills. Yes, life was simpler then, but I have to live in the present instead of wishing for the past. Life will probably never be simple again, and I have to learn to thrive with what I have now. I’m not a single college sophomore living at home anymore; I’m a married, graduated live-in nanny trying to figure out her life, no padding of next semester or my parent’s house. Just me and what I can do now.
This is harder than it sounds. I have to ban myself from calorie counting at any time, but sometimes when my hair is about to turn gray, I whip out my calculator and start crunching numbers, then I stop myself and think, “how will losing fifteen pounds solve all my problems? All this crap will still be here, I’ll just be a little smaller. Big whoop. Also, I think I’ve become completely incapable of dieting. I no longer have the “willpower” to eat 700 calories a day or resist a cookie when I really want one. This is a good thing. It’s progress. Even though I’d love to lose 15 pounds because I felt much better at that way, I love myself the way I am and I know weight loss won’t make life go back to the way it was. That math equation isn’t magic. All I can do is press forward with my intuitive eating, move with joy, and nurture myself so I can be stronger.
And that’s ok.
Of course, it’s not like I’d never looked in a mirror before. In fact, I’ve probably done more than my fair share of that, sitting in front of the mirror scrutinizing every bulge and dimple and zit <insert woeful body flaw here>. But finally, one day stopped in front of the mirror and really saw my body for what it was. I don’t believe I am my body. I’m not a body with a soul inside, but a soul with a body and I finally realized how the two are connected. In that imperfect image of myself, I didn’t see a couple skin blemishes or full thighs, the soft stomach or wide hips. I saw everything I’d been going through reflected in the mirror. I saw the anxiety and stress I’d been carrying around, the lack of rest and the harsh judgment I’d been inflicting on myself.
This body is a manifestation of my life. If I have dark circles under my eyes, it’s because I neglected to get enough sleep. If I’m carrying extra weight, it’s because I didn’t listen to what my body wanted. My poor body is completely at my mercy, a dear friend whom I’ve neglected. It’s my job to take care of it the way it’s taken care of me.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?