Better Gets You.

May 4, 2012

Friendly Fire

One day I was hanging out with a really good straight male friend of mine.  I happened to mention that I was pretty sure I was going to get a tattoo.  Without missing a beat he grimaced and said, “Oh don’t do that.  I think women without tattoos are so much more attractive.”

I was a little caught off guard by his response.  I can’t remember what I said in that moment.  I think I stammered something like, “Well, I actually wasn’t asking your permission.”  And I’m pretty sure I threw in a light little laugh to let him know that I wasn’t trying to be aggressive by sharing my opinion, despite the fact that he had just shared his opinion without blinking an eye (some old cultured gender habits die hard). Something about his comment was unsettling to me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it so I left it alone.  I have come to better understand why I was bothered by his comment after a few days of reflection, and I think this topic is worth discussing here.

It’s funny that this beloved, sweet friend’s honest (if unsolicited) reaction to my announcement of getting a tattoo was to help me decide what I wanted to do with my own body.  What’s more, his help was to have me think about my body from his white, straight, male perspective.   News flash – I’m a woman in the United States in 2012.  The file in my mind on “What Others Think My Body Should Look Like” is so full that if it were printed out I’d need to rent a U-Haul to drive all of the paper to the dump.

Body Politic

These days I happen to be reading a lot about how our over-developed western culture shapes our thoughts about our bodies, and how we people in the culture play a role in this pressure to conform.  These readings helped me figure out what bugged me about my friend’s comments.  But honestly that is the only reason I figured out what was nagging at me.  A few years ago I wouldn’t have thought anything of it.  Now that I’ve seen these toxic messages all around me I just keep seeing all the more ways we are told that we need to change our bodies in order to better ourselves….  or to be more attractive to others….  or to prove to the world that we can control our body so we must be in control of our life.  These messages come from popular media but it is important to see that they also can come from well meaning people in our personal lives.  This guy meant no harm.  In fact, he probably truly thought he was helping.

Oh, I can hear you now, dear reader, thinking “Oh wow.  Thanks for helping me see that my body doesn’t fit what my culture says it should be.  SOOO insightful of you.”  But wait!  That is just the thing.  I don’t know who you are.  I don’t know what your body looks like. The odds are that you think your body needs to change to be better (maybe a little, maybe a lot).  This is also true of people I know in my personal life.  How can it possibly be that I have friends from so many different walks of life who all carry around this other, “better” image of themselves in their minds?  And what’s worse, they somehow measure self-worth based upon how close they are to this “better” them.    And let’s be clear – “better” is not typically anything about developing new skills, helping others, or being more patient with themselves.  My awesome, compassionate friends STILL carry the idea that “bettering” the self largely has to do with changing the body.  This is complete and utter poppycosh.  I am not laughing when I say this.  I am not happy.  In fact, I am angry!

Here is the extremely brief answer to why this happens:  we are awash in toxic messages that we need to “better” ourselves through changing our bodies. How this toxic culture came to be is a discussion for another time.

Here is what happens:  all of these messages coming into your poor defenseless ears blend with all of your fears and insecurities that tell you that you need to keep working on becoming something different before you are allowed to accept yourself.  And before you know it, there is a little beast known as the “better” you floating around in your head, like a mirage always just at the horizon.  Always visible but out of reach.  Always taunting you to keep trying to working on changing before you can be truly happy.

Freedom is within your reach

Here is the part I want you to remember.  Read this twice.  Write it on your hand in case you forget.  Call everyone over to the computer, for these next few paragraph are for the whole family to enjoy together.

What I want you to understand…  like deep in your bones understand…  is that you have a choice.  You can change this situation.  You can choose to find these toxic messages (sometimes from well meaning friends) and drop them in the waste bin.  If you don’t try to find these messages and discard them then these harmful “better” messages will continue to sneak into your head and control you from between your ears.

Time for Truth.

You are worthy now.    You are enough now.    You deserve love now.      And finally,  you deserve self-care now.

Self-care is not denying your body calories even when it feels hungry.  Self-care is not making sure that everyone around you will approve of how you look or how you act.  Self-care is taking the time to nourish your body and your mind.  Self-care is learning listen to your body and treat it with respect.  Self-care is making sure you always have at least one thing in your life that you are doing just because it gives you pleasure to do it.

And so here is your call to action.  Find that beastly “perfect” other you, hiding away in your mind.  She is probably hanging out somewhere near your Crazy Freak Out Voice*.  Right now they may even be conspiring to tell you that you are the exception to what I wrote above.  Most people are enough now, but YOU aren’t…    until you are “better.”  See her??  Great!  Now grab her by her judgmental arm and toss her out!  She’ll come back, so toss her again.  Learn to find her sneaking into your thoughts, then toss her again.  You may have to spend the next year throwing her out, but it’s worth the work to eventually get rid of her all together.

Truth:

You will never be perfect, because perfect doesn’t exist.  You will never be attractive to everyone, because each person is different from the next in what they find attractive.   You will never finally have everyone’s approval.

True freedom is taking the risk to do what you want to do now.  Today.  In the body you have now.  With the time you have left.  The rewards are finding genuine connection with other lovely beings in your life.  There are people out there who would love to know you.  Today.  As you are right now.  Really.  Perhaps those people even have a few tattoos.

*”Crazy Freak Out Voice” is from the wonderful work of Rachel Simmons and the Girls Leadership Institute.

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