Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Weight and Self-Image, Part 2

There's a lot of fantastic stuff in the comments in the last post. I'd like to continue thinking out loud in an actual post rather than writing vast blocks of text in the comments. I tried to be succinct, but I got carried away, so, here we go.

During a writing course, one of the things the instructors hammered home is the idea that most writers can't hear positive things about their work. Even when they do hear it, they often dismiss praise. I was taught in the class to write any praise I receive down and study that part of my writing *more* than the negative. The aim is to reproduce success rather than try to eliminate failure.

I try to extend this to the rest of my life, too. I try to hear praise like Rory gives, and see myself how he sees me. That way I keep fighting to 'stay in shape' or to work on physical goals that have some other payoff than a number, like to be able to run a certain distance, achieve balance in a yoga position or be able to stand on my hands. I think that's healthier than 'get in shape,' which doesn't work from a premise that I'm okay where I'm at too. I also try to avoid aiming for a certain number of pounds (up or down, thank you Regolith for reminding me that some people think they're too thin), or to 'look good in a bikini' – I have to repeat over and over that Rory likes the way I look in a bikini right now, rather than listen to the self-revulsion of the thought of myself in a bikini (or LBD, or whatever.) And if he didn't like the way I looked in a bikini, why in the world would I strive to try to look good in one? As if that would make him love me more ....

I'm sure he'd be pleased if I had the flexibility of a gymnast and less excess in certain areas, but he's not unhappy with where I'm at right this second, either. I don't have to do a damned thing if I don't want to, and that places the things I do in the arena of my choice for my own purposes, rather than trying to satisfy some idea of what I think he might want me to look like instead of the way I look right now. My DH has the power to make me feel overweight, underweight, ugly, old ... and he has more power in my mind than society. He's not just my friend and lover and husband, but an ally in my mind when I battle self-image monsters.

If I remember to listen to his loving words, hear them, and believe them.

If he wasn't an ally, well, why would I listen to him? But that's a whole 'nother post about relationships.

It's still there, of course, the self-talk that emphasizes the negative. And it's tricky. Working from this paradigm seems to say, be happy with yourself the way you are, The End, and that's not a concept anyone will buy, for sensible reasons. We don't want to lose our drive to constantly learn, improve, to grow. If we're satisfied with the way everything is, from the state of the housekeeping to the mechanical soundness of our vehicles, what's going to motivate us to get off the couch?

But that's not what being happy with yourself actually does. Time moves on. We can be happy with the mechanical soundness of a vehicle, but it's going to need an oil change in X number of miles, and tires need to be rotated or replaced entirely, and inevitably there will be a crack in the windshield bad enough that a new windshield will be required, etc. I can love my car as it is, but I still need to take care of it.

I love my car, therefore I take care of it. If I'm okay (see, I can't even say if I love myself–ugh) with myself, that doesn't mean I stop doing all the things I always do. Nor does it mean I'll lose all motivation to try new things, or to get better. I will paint that old pick up truck, not because I don't love it the way it is (and I really do! Scratches and all!) but because I do love it. I want to play with it. I want to express my love for my truck by turning it into an art project, and of course I want to maintain it too so that it runs as long as possible. Would I fuss with the truck if I didn't love it? Of course not. I would let it languish or ignore it.

So if I didn't love myself, would I be motivated to take good care of myself? Would I only take care of myself because I'm supposed to, or because there's a tiny hope that if I take care of myself maybe in some distant future I'll be lovable? That's working from a place of pain and despair. That's less motivation, not more. And some people, because they don't love themselves, let themselves die or even speed their deaths.

Self-love also seems to mean vanity, arrogance, hubris, and other nasty things that we can safely agree are bad. I love Steve Barnes' approach, though I have to say this is my read on it and may not be his actual words or thoughts. We've known each other a few years, so what he's written and taught are tangled up with my own thoughts. Anyway, one of the lessons I've learned from Steve on this subject strips away all the bullshit, negative, backward-thinking societally-reinforced garbage we allow to rot in our minds.

Most people want to nurture children, love their friends, etc. If you saw yourself as a child, would you want to protect that child? If your friend was in pain, would you want to comfort your friend? If your favorite cousin needed help to survive, would you give it? So, assuming you say yes to these things, and assuming you consider this a positive aspect of yourself, can you see your self as your own child, your own friend, your own favorite cousin who you love? Sometimes I picture myself as a little girl and give her a big hug and tell her I haven't forgotten her, and that I love her. That's easier for me and reaches deeper than looking in the mirror. In the mirror, the whole world seems to see my flaws along with me through my own eyes. But when I picture my child self, the little blond, fragile, creative, loving, sensitive, horse-adoring, kitten-nurturing non-stop reader who loved playing by the water and building miniature architectural wonders with child-made ponds and rivers, I adore her with all my being and if the world wanted to hurt her I would destroy the world to save her.

Is it a trick of the mind? I don't think so. Looking back, there are things that hurt so bad and I wish I could go back and tell her that she's loved. So I do. I go back and hold her and tell her it's all right, I'm there for her. I'm her friend and ally, her mother and sister, her dragon if need be to fight her monsters and turn them into bits of charcoal. I don't want her to be so sheltered that she never grows up and never becomes strong, but by the blessed world she deserves to know she's loved and that she's not alone!

It's harder, maybe too hard, to extend these feelings to my grown self. I don't know if there's value in trying, when there's so much power in embracing the child within and honoring her. It's hard to see myself as Rory sees me, but I don't know if there's value in that either, when there's so much strength and joy in not just hearing the words, but accepting his love.

So that's where I'm at. By hearing and accepting praise, we let ourselves be loved, and can love ourselves. If we love ourselves, we're more likely to take care of ourselves, nurture ourselves, and grow. We can't always be stronger, or wiser, or more beautiful. Disease, age, genetics and all kinds of other stuff stand in the way. But the only thing that stands in the way of accepting love, loving ourselves and taking the best care of ourselves that we can is ourselves. I see nothing to be gained with self-loathing, and everything to be gained by being a friend to myself and help myself achieve my goals.

Maybe someday it'll be easier to do that. Even now, after all I've written and knowing it's true, it's hard to accept that liking myself isn't narcissistic horror. And maybe that's a check-and-balance within ourselves, to keep from become self-centered monsters that don't give a crud about anyone or anything else. But negativity and self-doubt should be just that, a thing to help keep balance, not the only thing in our minds. Ever.

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