I had a productive afternoon today. I hung pictures in my closet (weird? maybe, but my closet is a beautiful sanctuary and gift from my husband so giving it some photo personality seemed apt). I hung pictures in our bedroom. After living in this house for nearly 11 months, we now have only TWO framed pictures that remain un-hung. And, they’re not even “our” pictures – they are old-school train ads we bought for son’s bedroom. I can tell you – it feels good to check these things off the seemingly endless list of minor and major home-improvement projects.
I think I was so productive because I had a lot to think about. Our Fun-Fabulous-Fierce meeting this morning was intense. It was our 4th meeting and I continue to be amazed by our lady-crew. Lauren Flores, a licensed Marriage-Family Therapist, local Mt Diablo Mothers’ Club mom and incredible woman was our guest speaker. Her theme was disordered eating, but she framed her discussion in terms of the mind-body connection. She started off by having each of us color a simple drawing of a human body. Red crayon for areas you hate about your body and green crayon for the areas you love. You could hear a murmur throughout the group, “I don’t even need a green crayon!”
We spent some time discussing our coloring (one woman actually colored her whole picture green – awesome, right?). Lauren talked about cognitive therapy. She explained how events trigger thoughts, which trigger feelings. She further explained how most of us (us = adult human beings) are so good at processing from event to feeling that we don’t even notice the thought part. Her examples were all benign enough but the message was clear…most of us have a lot of negative thoughts about ourselves. Of course, I’m glossing over much of her brilliant presentation but the point is that in my case, Lauren is absolutely right. I’d venture to guess that 75-80% of my myriad thoughts are negative messages about myself, how other people must be thinking about me or about how parts of my body don’t look right.
Our brave ladies broke themselves down. They shared intimate and scary things about how they feel about themselves, their own bodies and about how frightened they are to impart these same thought-processes and types of feelings onto their children.
I believe disordered eating of one description or another applies universally to first world citizens (maybe all?). Regardless of gender, age or other status, I believe shame, guilt and fear are part of our universal experience. We all know the stats on obesity, the marketing prowess of the weight-loss “industry” and we’ve all seen the TV movies about anorexic teenage girls. What I think we’re missing is the honesty with one another about how we each feel about ourselves. It’s not exactly cocktail party talk to share how ashamed you are of how many pieces of office birthday cake you ate when no one was looking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a conversation worth having with someone you trust.
I’ll start by sharing my experience.
My earliest memory of hating my body was when I was about 6 years old. I was a competitive swimmer. I had morning and evening swim practices. I remember walking out of the locker room in my Speedo and sucking in my belly to walk across the pool deck to the workout room. SIX YEARS OLD. I LOVED swimming because I knew I was working out so hard that I could eat as much as I wanted.
When I was 8 and in the third grade, I broke my wrist on the playground at school. The cast meant I couldn’t swim for a while. Once it came off, I wasn’t interested in swimming anymore. By summer, it was apparent I had gained weight. My brother even pointed out that I had “fat little arms.” I knew I would need to do something but I didn’t know how or what.
I hated myself. I hated my body. I’d had 2 school friends who consistently left me out of our threesome. It was well-established in my mind that I wasn’t good enough to have close friends. I couldn’t trust those 2 girls to be my friends. I couldn’t trust myself to keep my body thin. I ate because food tasted good. Food tastes so much better than feeling unloved…especially when the most important source of love, self-love, was missing.
In adolescence, my disordered eating progressed in every direction I could imagine. I spent time not eating at all. I spent a LOT of time bingeing and purging. I’m still ashamed now to say that I got caught shortly before my graduation from high school. My parents and older sister (who was at that time visiting home from college), noticed that the towels in my bathroom had spots of vomit on them. I had gotten so comfortable with my routine of bingeing, purging and washing my own laundry that I was completely dumbfounded when I got “caught.”
I’m older now, in fact I’m nearly middle-aged. As an adolescent, I assumed I’d have it all figured out by this point in my life. In fact, I have 2 small children, including a little girl. I don’t want to poison her self image by exposing her to my own messed up one. Her sweet little body is so beautiful. I know that it’s so unfair to ME to talk to myself so harshly while sending so much love, tenderness and compassion toward her, my son and everyone else I love. I never seem to extend much compassion to myself.
I haven’t thrown up in years but I clearly haven’t figured it all out either. I would love to weigh less, have bigger boobs, a smaller waist, a stronger body and better posture. My nose is too big and my knuckles are too wrinkly. In fact, my face is too wrinkly too…I’m probably too wrinkly all over.
Lauren showed us a quote this morning that really stuck with me. “If you spoke to friends the way you speak to yourself, you wouldn’t have any friends at all.”
I don’t have any real answers – I wish I did. Hanging pictures, weeding the garden and cleaning dishes sometimes help me process all of this. Sometimes a great run outside in the fresh air helps me find some perspective. Sometimes those activities just make me feel insignificant and monotonous. Today hanging pictures made me feel amazing and awesome, which is how I want to feel. I am amazing and so are you. Somewhere under all that negativity, I know that and I hope you do too.
Let’s love ourselves a little more and worry a lot less. I’m pretty certain that loving ourselves is the key to being the most awesome version of ourselves we can be.
What do you think?