One afternoon, when I was in the 7th grade, it became so warm by the time we all went out for recess that my group of friends made a huge pile of our unneeded down coats out on the field. When it was almost time to go in, one of the boys put on several of the coats, until he was a massive puffball, and then wriggled mine over top and announced, “Now I know how it feels to be Rachel!”. I confess, I don’t remember his name, but I remember the comment, and probably always will. This occasion certainly wasn’t the beginning of my insecurities, and far from the last cutting and humiliating comment I would receive in my lifetime. Honestly, they continue to accumulate to this day. But this isn’t a pity party, this is the story of how I learned to chuck them in the corner like so many coats and move on with my life.
Nearly everyone has at least one pain point when it comes to their appearance.
For me it’s always been mostly about my weight – for someone else it might be their nose or their skin or their age… anything really. I’ve even heard of women who are fixated on their thick ankles. Considering how socially acceptable it is to comment on every aspect of a woman’s appearance, it’s really not all that surprising though, is it? If you’ve had the experience of someone making that one comment that cuts so deep it makes you feel like you might throw up or pass out, you know why someone might spend a good deal of their waking hours trying to figure out how to avoid that ever happening again.
My friends, I know how scary it is, but worrying about that one thing is a waste of your precious, precious life. I’m not saying that to make you feel guilty on top of feeling bad about this aspect of your appearance – that would be highly counterproductive. I’m saying it because I really hope that you will see how important it is to get okay with yourself – your physical self. If you only love the you that’s a brain in a jar, you’re missing a massive piece of the puzzle. Did you know that doing certain poses for just a couple of minutes has a major effect on your brain chemistry? I’ve certainly been guilty of seeing my body as a thing that transports my brain to the mall, but that’s just not the truth of the relationship. Not accepting your body is, in fact, the same as not accepting yourself, period.
But how can you, really, if you don’t already? It’s not like you can just talk yourself into loving your body just because you think you’re supposed to, otherwise, you’d have done it already. I spent a long time stuck in this mind loop. I wanted to be okay with myself but I couldn’t let go of the mindset that somehow I was going to get another body, and then I’d like me. And then I felt bad for still wanting to look like something else. Which brings me to my first major breakthrough.
Stop thinking you’ll be happy when…
You know this story, and it’s certainly not limited to your appearance. I’ll be happy when I lose 15 pounds. I’ll be happy when I get the promotion. I’ll be happy when I can afford a bigger house. And it’s not just happiness that gets postponed. I’ll start auditioning again when I get back in shape. I’ll start dating when I can afford that boob job. Everything’s on hold for that one thing to happen, and then after that, we’re sure it’s going to be all puppies and unicorns dancing on rainbows. We play out the vignettes of our perfect future lives in our minds like a perpetual rom-com ending on steroids; we walk down the street and turn heads, dive into pools of money, and tearfully accept our award. Meanwhile, the present moment, should we deign to come back to it for a moment, seems pretty hopeless compared to the seductive yet highly improbable vision of the future in our minds.
The most irrational part of the “I’ll X When Y” mindset isn’t even the brain crack. It’s the underlying implication that the future can only be good by virtue of the present being inherently flawed. You may have deduced, however, that the present moment is always the one you are in, and therein lies the rub – when never arrives. The ONLY time at which you have the capacity to be happy, or indeed, to do anything, is right this very minute.
I only know one way off this ride, and it’s gratitude. If you want to stop waiting for that kitchen renovation to be happy, try being grateful you have a kitchen. A little bit of perspective goes a long way here, so let me tell you how I got some.
Write a love letter to your body
I haaaaate stuff like this. No one could possibly have wanted to do this less than me, or thought they were above it more. I feel SUPER weird even telling you I did it. But I have to say, the transformative power has been amazing. You may be sitting there thinking that you have nothing positive to say about your body, or at very least that this is going to be a very short letter. I might have said the same thing, but once I got started, I ended up handwriting 15 pages until I felt like my hand was going to fall off.
If you have legs that walk you down the street, eyes that see the sunset, a nose that smells the air after it rains, or arms that hold your loved ones, you have more than enough to be grateful to your body for, today. If function is all you can be thankful for right now, fine. I bet you have more in you. Maybe you have the softest hair, elegant feet, or the cutest little beauty mark on your left hip. I promise you, if you write it down, you will be one baby step closer to getting over that one thing. With so much to be grateful for, right this very minute, there just isn’t as much room for negative preoccupation anymore. It may be that you are in such a mode of judgement that this process will be nearly impossible for you.
I’m not pointing a finger… society tells women it’s okay to refer to both ourselves and the girl behind the checkout counter as “fat asses” and so on. That kind of hyper critical behavior is the default – it requires a concerted effort to do and be otherwise. Sometimes, what we need to make such a shift is to take the whole thing one step away from ourselves and get a little distance. Meaning…
If you want to stop judging yourself, learn to stop judging others first
We do it as easily as breathing, abuse the fact of the privacy of our thoughts. We focus on all the wrong things about a person, her big nose or thick legs, and forget to see the person as a whole, or as a person at all. There’s often an implication of inherent responsibility for the offending feature, which is varying shades of ridiculous, when you really think about it. If the environment is somehow competitive, such as at a night club or a gym, the atmosphere between women of sizing each other up to find every flaw can make the air almost ripple with tension and anxiety.
Winter-personality that I am, my perfecting eye makes me excellent at finding fault in virtually anything. It’s part of what makes me so good at what I do, but I have a responsibility to wield that gift with discretion and compassion. Any energy I expended criticizing the wrong thing was at best wasted and at worst highly destructive. So here’s what I want you to do. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative about someone else’s appearance, forgive them, and then come up with a positive counterpoint, all within the safe confines of your mind. Force yourself to find something beautiful about each person you meet. Stretch your idea of beauty, learn to appreciate different faces and bodies as you would different landscapes in nature.
Adopting this practice will most certainly effect your relationships with others, but perhaps most importantly, it will effect your relationship with yourself. One day, you will wake up and look at yourself through these new compassionate eyes you have molded by all that practice on everyone else. And suddenly, the things you judged about yourself, and most especially that one thing, will fail to have the significance they once did. You just won’t be able to raise the frenzy of anxiety you once did, because you’ve learned how to truly see beauty – not just the absence of flaws.
Loving yourself isn’t about never feeling insecure, just like courage isn’t about never being afraid. I have learned from my brilliant teacher Christine Scaman that at some point, one must either “do it scared or don’t do it”. The thing about doing it scared is, each time you do, it gets a little less scary, even if the fear will never go away entirely. In the same way, each time you face down insecurity with love and acceptance, you get a little less insecure.
Being fully engaged in your life
I was asked to write the story of my personal journey as it pertains to style, as a sequel of sorts to the one I wrote about my color journey, and someday I may. I would honestly say that most of the work on my style journey was done here, with my quest to love and accept the one and only body I will ever have in this life, and what I learned along the way.
If you come to your Personal Image Analysis having put in this kind of work ahead of time, it will just feel like confirmation of what you already know. Even if (maybe especially if), you never have an image consultation, you need to bring love and acceptance of yourself, and most especially your body, into the dressing room with you in order to make rational choices about what enhances you.
I would go so far as to say you need it to make fully rational choices about your life. I know beautiful women who can’t see themselves that way. Who stay in disastrous relationships, petrified they’ll never find another one. Who postpone starting their dream business, because they can’t imagine putting up their own picture on their website, or how they’d be a role model for anyone.
You owe it to yourself to make peace with the body you have.
You owe it to yourself to do everything you can to step over whatever hurdles stand between you and being fully engaged in your life.
This ain’t no dress rehearsal, honey.