When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I wanted to be a boy. Was it a subconscious perception that boys and men have it better? Maybe. But mostly it was because I was a tomboy and I really wanted to pee standing up. I even tried to do this for a while, but hovering over the toilet, backwards, in a squat like position, didn’t quite cut it. I don’t know how old I was when I stopped wishing I was a boy, but by 4th grade I was firmly grounded and happy in my girl body. I remember walking down my elementary hallway in my favorite outfit – navy corduroy pants, a maroon velour v-neck top, and a pair of brown hush-puppies that, for my age, had more of a “heel” than I had ever had (really more of a chunk sole), and thinking that I was pretty hot stuff. I never wished to be a boy again – but I did eventually wish I had a different girl body. I think it was somewhere between 5th and 6th grade when girls started to develop – other girls. I didn’t develop, really, until I was a sophomore in high school. I am not kidding about this. Those were some long years between 6th and 10th grade. My mother and my sister (both late bloomers themselves) gave me hundreds of encouraging words that summarized into two main points: 1) boys don’t really matter anyway – it’s our girlfriends that are and continue to be most important, and 2) all of these girls who are developing early will, later, envy ME for being so slender (I was very “skinny”) and that about the time I develop, they will start having to worry about their weight. Both were true. Nonetheless, the obsession with my body started then. It’s a story so repetitive and dull that I hate to admit that I still struggle with it – and that I’m actually writing about it. I had never articulated the madness that I felt that body-image stuff was, so by the time I hit college and I learned about women’s studies courses, where there was an entire department dedicated to celebrating femininity, I felt I had truly found a voice that had been lying dormant inside of me for my entire life. And I officially became a feminist. Well, I had always been one, but I now had a word, no matter how wrought it was with controversy, to define it. Why do us women spend our lives comparing ourselves to each other in body and in mind – starting at 11 or 12 (and I hear it starts earlier these days), me wanting to be like my developing friends – later them wanting to be like their late-blooming friend? Now sometimes I wonder – why wasn’t the message just this: Love yourself. Always. Maybe they did say it, and I couldn’t hear them. Maybe they didn’t love themselves enough to pass it down to me. I am finally figuring it out for myself. Love me.
If only it were so simple.
How I have deviated from anything but self-love, this is what I want to know. I grew up in an extremely loving and supportive environment. I found it amazing and inspirational when I learned while at a Buddhist retreat, that this notion of self-loathing or I cringe to say it, self-hate, which sounds particularly brutal, has been a concept that Eastern Spiritual Leaders have had a hard time understanding because there is no word for it, no thought about it – it doesn’t exist as a concept for them – that we, as humans, would have anything but love for ourselves. I was moved to tears when I learned this.
It has actually been quite a journey in self-discovery for me to even realize that I have not been loving myself. That many of my accomplishments and drive in life came from trying to prove myself to be enough. Good enough. Smart enough. Quirky enough. You name it, it seems I’ve tried to prove it. And it’s all good – these things – I’ve had an extraordinary life. But the dawning understanding I have had over the past few years has been that people who love themselves accomplish – and they accomplish way more – and with joy – not with a lusty grueling manner about proving oneself to oneself (whom, by the way, is never satisfied), but with grace and love and…..pure fun.
Now I have to admit something that is very difficult for me to do. And this is that I think my husband is one of these people. My husband is about as spiritual as my desk lamp, so this is why it’s hard for me to admit. I like to think that being on a “spiritual path” is a good thing for everyone and anyone. But my husband proves this theory wrong – he is an extremely happy individual who lives life very simply – he does what he enjoys, he enjoys what he does and though I am SURE he has never give this question one thought, I am also sure that if he thought about it for a second, he would say that he, indeed, loves himself. I am realizing that this might make for interesting dinner conversation tonight. But seriously, it’s a point of contention in our marriage sometimes –the way he takes care of all of his needs before anyone else’s. And then I realize that this is what I am working on – striving to do – because this is the only way to give to other people – when you are first taken care of. But as a mother and a wife, with so many other needs thrown at us on a daily basis, this can be extremely challenging to achieve.
So, perhaps, I should delve into what self-love means to me. It means loving oneself, fully, wholly, every part, even the crazy, imperfect parts that make us up because they do that – they make us who we are and different and the same as every other crazy and imperfect human on this planet. Not all beings are struggling with self-love. But I am. Where I am with self-love right now is that it’s in the front of my consciousness – I am “working” on it. It is like learning to play an instrument – some days I think I’ve got it down, I feel the music, I don’t just play it. And then other days I am clumsy and forgetful and nothing comes out right.
I have a group of girlfriends from business school and we have been keeping in touch with each other over the past year or so with a round of e-mail updates. While I was writing my own update one night, I was in the middle of feeling particularly inspired and into the idea of loving myself. So I wrote to them all about how much I was focusing on that and how much I loved them and through the reflection of having such amazing women in my life I could see myself and I loved me too! And then the next day I back pedaled and sent them all a message saying I hoped my e-mail wasn’t too strong and that it didn’t sound egotistical, etc. Hardly loving myself.
And this is the crux of where I struggle – I have trouble distinguishing loving myself and loving my ego, who loves “me” very much, or, really, fools me into thinking so. I can sometimes tell the difference between my ego, who tells me I am going to be invited to Oprah and Ellen as soon as the millions of people that have not yet read my blog, finally read my blog, and my true self, who writes because I love it, because it fulfills me, and because I simply have a lot to say. But other times, it’s not so easy.
The particular area that I struggle with this is in the area of body image. We place a LOT of value and self-worth on how we look. No judgment – we just do. When out with shopping with a friend recently in San Francisco, a friend BTW, who seems to have this self-love thing down, she picked up a dress and held it up and said, “this would look great on you.”
“uhhh, no.” I replied, “I am very thin, but that one would show off my many strange ‘bumps’ that have appeared on my body’.
“What, you mean the bumps that you should wear with pride because you have had two children and you still look fabulous?”
“Yes – those. The ones that I thought I would embrace in that way, but as it turns out, I don’t.”
She laughed and put the dress back, knowing I wasn’t going to be convinced in that moment, and this is where I am at on the journey.
Even though I will not wear just any clingy dress, I am pleased with my body and all we have accomplished together. But I do catch myself, every once in a while, standing in front of my full length mirror, pulling back my upper thighs, pulling up my butt to it’s “original” position, and sucking in my stomach? Why oh WHY do I stand in front of this mirror trying to make myself into a super model? I am not, never was, or was ever even trying to be a super model! It’s like being angry at myself for not having the same skills as a doctor. I never went to med-school. I am not a doctor. I don’t get mad at myself for not knowing how to diagnose my child’s illnesses or knowing how to insert a heart stint. So why do I – and I KNOW that I am not alone here – continue to expect my body – expect me – to be something that it is not and I am not.
Media. I am sorry, Media. You get blamed for a lot. And it’s not all your fault – it’s what our little human brains do with your images that is really the root of the problem. Our tiny human brains, or more accurately, the tiny part we use, along with media, have so narrowly defined beauty, and beyond that, the perfect body, the perfect man, the perfect woman, the perfect parent, the perfect whatever – that we have backed ourselves into a corner. I remember, so vividly, while living in the dorms at University, thumbing through a Victoria’s Secret catalog with some girlfriends. We weren’t really looking at the products – we were college students and most of us did not have the money to buy much from the catalog. But we were marveling at the beauty of the models and their perfect, albeit airbrushed, bodies. When I finally closed the catalog, I was sad. I was sad because I did not look like that – and I was sad that I was sad. I was sad that all of us wore the same idiotic glasses that gave us the inability to look at such a catalog without comparing ourselves, and demeaning ourselves for not being them. None of us actually wanted to be a super model, but I can assure you that we all of us wanted to look like one. I wish I had the clarity and voice then to say what I am saying now. LOVE YOURSELF! Dammit – we are all SO BEAUTIFUL! Love yourself, and the world loves with you! Or something like that.
Is it media creating the standards? Or is the media just an outlet for our egos that are always fighting what is, and looking for what could be? And then a serious misinterpretation of what media is – it is pretend!! Sure, the people are real – there are some people in the world who are more beautiful than others, and every society has their own interpretation of beauty and who fits it, but then to think that we are ALL supposed to be that? Media is supposed to be entertainment, except for the news, which is not supposed to be entertainment, but which is now, but this is a topic for another time. So if Media is supposed to be entertainment, then I think we can agree it’s pretend. And if it’s pretend, it would be insane to be trying to be like it. It’s like we, as a society, started a game called media entertainment. Then, at some point, we forgot that it’s a game. We now think this is real life and these images and the attainment of them bring happiness. Because the people in the images look happy. Collective insanity is still insanity. And it makes it really hard to love oneself.
I also don’t want this to be just a ‘love your body’ message. It’s symbolic – loving the package that I come in. Loving all of me. I can’t help feeling my baby girl (now 1 1/2) is more susceptible and I am even more sensitive to the images in our world. Part of me wants to hide them from my children – to create the reality that I would like to be, instead of what is, for them. But I know that this isn’t the way – to become a mom of censorship and denial. This is totally not my style. So I have to think long and hard about how I create a healthy relationship between media and my children. How to drive the message home about loving themselves. And that this is the key for bringing happiness and love – The media images may make this more difficult, but they are just that – images – and it is my job to help my children learn how to translate images and see them for what they are – not to see them for what they may or may not be in comparison.
As a mother of two perfect children, I sit here wanting nothing more than for them to simply love themselves. I somehow have the clarity to see that if they do that, then everything else will fall into place. If they love themselves, then no matter where they go, they will have love and will find more love. I can see that for them….and so I can’t help but seeing it for me too. And this is how this has become such a focus for me – loving all of me. This seems a tall order from someone who still catches myself, in a few off-seconds, wishing myself into a super model. But I love my body. I really do. And I love me. Really. I have had the confidence to succeed in several jobs, move cities numerous times, go to one of the best MBA programs in the world, etc. etc. etc. and sometimes I feel like the whole time, I was faking it. That at any moment I would be found out that I really was not as smart or as competent as I as pretending. What I am getting is that sometimes I think that I am not where I am in life right now because of what I have actually done, but because in each of those things I had to believe in myself. Or at least pretend to believe in myself, which I think was the first step in actually believing in myself. So these days, I am working on not faking it. On embracing all of me, imperfections included. And in this exercise I know that my children will get it too.
Having children is really helping me and showing me the way to do this. Being in touch with this intense love that I have for these two beings, that are reflections of me, by the way, I can apply this love to me. My children may not be “perfect”, but they are perfect. I am not a “perfect” mother and my children are not “perfect” – I am not as consistent as I need to be in my discipline and my son acts out, often in public places, and I totally lose my cool….and it is all perfect. And they are so perfect. So incredibly perfect. So I am slowly getting this for myself too. It’s an exercise, like everything else in life. Stopping the language that demeans me and using loving language towards myself. Stopping the super-model comparison and loving my healthy body. The exercise list goes on, but I think you get the picture. And through these exercises I know that my children will get it too.
I guess it really is that simple.