This Above All.

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So I was watching ‘reality TV’ last night while I elevated my broken ankle. Near the end of the show, one of the characters, who had faced her share of challenges, both physical and mental, and who had stared down her fears, stated simply that she liked herself. She was happy with who she was.

I thought about that statement for a long while. She didn’t say it with bluster or defiance. She didn’t say it as a challenge or an excuse. It was a matter-of-fact declaration, and no explanation or details were necessary. I admire that.

So much of the time, we are surrounded by reasons we shouldn’t or can’t like ourselves or why we don’t measure up. We’ve been socially trained to fall in line and go along, to walk the well-trodden path. We are conditioned to desire some fictional ideal. We suppress or redirect or dismiss a lot of our feelings and opinions and instincts, and that is normal to us. But (thankfully) there are always those who step out of line and out of the box, who unashamedly announce their independence. Confident and seemingly fearless, they don’t waste precious time worrying about what other people think of them or the social mores they might trample. They don’t strive to be like someone else. They just live.

Wouldn’t that be nice? I covet that confidence. I wish I had it. I wish everyone had it. It takes courage and deliberate effort to be your own ‘authentic self’ (a term I’ve seen a lot in recent years). I think we get used to filtering our own voice through so many layers of expectations that we sometimes forget what it sounds like. We forget that we are just as important and relevant as every other person out there. Period. No more, no less. We forget that the media, in all their different forms, make choices for us and influence our behavior so relentlessly that we begin to accept that behavior as our own, even when it isn’t. We allow ourselves to be labeled and defined even when those labels and definitions don’t fit. We let other people decide who we are, what we do, and how we feel. It’s like 7th grade, forever: the Cool Kids decide who the Uncool Kids are. Why is that?

Down deep, these independent souls know exactly who they are. Not who they’d like to be, who they think they should be, who they were expected to be, or who someone else wants them to be — who they really are. And they are satisfied with that.

Sure, there is probably always room to improve – to learn something new, to work on a bad habit, to develop discipline. But these improvements come from a genuine place, not a desire to fit a role or external expectation. That’s the difference between them and the rest of this self-help society. When we let the external decide the internal, we don’t grow, and we don’t learn who we are. It is only when the internal decides the external that we mature and develop.

We can all be authentic and true to ourselves, and we should, but it’s easier for some folks than it is for the rest of us. I struggle with this a lot and find myself going along to get along in many situations. Why?  I’m not entirely sure. I wish I knew. I’m better at listening to my inner self and my heart than I was when I was younger, and maybe that’s all part of growing up and living, but I still find myself wishing I had the courage to step out of line once in a while.

Are you allowing someone or something else to define you? Are you bearing the burden of expectations from family or friends or society? Do you feel as if you are playing a role, not actually living your life?

Or are you satisfied with the person you are, even if you think you could improve? Are you listening to your fundamental values and inner voice?

Life is short. I believe we are all given the gift of life with some purpose, and it is our responsibility to find out what that purpose is and pursue it. In order to do that, we have to listen to what is inside us, not the clamor outside. What is reflected back at us from the fun house mirror of society and the world is merely a shallow distortion of who we are and who we can be.

You are not less than, and you are not more than. You are enough. You can be content with your strengths and weaknesses, your motives, your beliefs, and your traits. You are imperfect and unique. You can be a work in progress, and there is no shame in that. If you are working on yourself – physically, emotionally, spiritually, or behaviorally – you have a goal and a direction. You get to decide what you truly value and what inspires you. You get to decide what you will discard and what you will allow.

I’m rambling now.  But that simple, televised proclamation of acceptance and satisfaction really resonated with me. It may be easier to follow the path others have set you on, but you and I both know it is more satisfying and soul-sustaining to choose your steps with the confidence of knowing that this is the right thing for you.

Discover yourself.

This above all:
To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 — Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3

Skirting the Issues.

The things we hate about ourselves aren’t more real than things we like about ourselves.
– Ellen Goodman

To accept ourselves as we are means to value our imperfections as much as our perfections.
– Sandra Bierig

 

So I wore a skirt to work today. 

This is significant because honestly, I can’t remember the last time I did that.  I have worked in an office environment for many years, but my go-to office wear has always been jeans and a sweater.  My rule of thumb was concealment: the baggier something was, the more I could hide beneath it.  Plus, if I gained weight, the clothes would still fit – up to a point, of course.  I stayed away from anything that was form-fitting.  Nothing fit properly, anyway. 

But now that I am losing weight, my body shape is changing, and I’m starting to look differently at myself.  I want to change the dowdy self-image I’ve had and replace it with a more stylish, confident version of myself.  I want my inside to match my outside.  So I’ve been trying to be more open to colors and styles I would never have chosen for myself in the past.  I imagine my sister Missy perched on my shoulder, encouraging me.  She always had a good eye for what would look good on me and was behind many of the most-complimented outfits I’ve ever worn.  I know she would have loved to help dress me now.

Shopping has always been uncomfortable, almost torturous, for me, but it’s a necessary evil.  I’m digging around in thrift stores and wearing friends’ hand-me-downs while my body shrinks.  I have shopped so long in the plus-size racks that I automatically go there; it isn’t until I’ve pushed a few hangers around that I realize I’m in the wrong spot.  But these smaller sizes throw me for a loop – I am convinced they won’t fit. 

Case in point: my friend just gave me some clothes; among them was a pair of jeans two sizes smaller than what I’d been wearing.  A few days later, she asked if I’d tried them on.  I admitted I hadn’t, because I wasn’t down to that size yet.  She assured me that yes, they’d fit — plus, they were stretchy.  So I agreed to try them on.  That night, I held the jeans in front of me.  The waist looked impossibly small and the legs looked way too narrow for my thighs.  They would never fit

Here goes nothing. 

As you may have guessed, they fit.  Perfectly.  I could not believe it!  I showed Mr. Stuck, and he told me they looked great and fit me well.  How can that be?  There is such a disconnect between what my brain sees and what is reality.  I can see that I have a long way to go before my thinking reflects the real me. 

Because I know that my brain still sees me at my largest and most unattractive, I must consciously battle against that perception.  I have to challenge myself.  What does this have to do with wearing a skirt today?  Plenty.  I rarely wear skirts because 1) I hate pantyhose, and 2) I hate my legs.  But I told myself that when I’m at the thrift store, if I see something I think is attractive, I will consider it, even if I’m sure it’s still too small for me…even if it’s a skirt or a dress.  (My favorite thing about thrift stores is buying six items for what one would cost in a normal department store.)  I now have a handful of skirts and dresses I’m willing to try.  Not all at once, though.  I’m still a tomboy at heart.

Baby steps.

But for all my good intent, it still took some mental persuasion to talk myself into wearing a skirt to work.  The mental negativity started: So much for fading into the background.  Who are you trying to impress?  A skirt?  You?  With those legs?  At least you’re behind a desk all day.  I told Mr. Stuck that I was thinking about wearing a skirt to work, and he was all for it.  It’s a long skirt, so I didn’t have to worry about my legs showing or about wearing pantyhose (yay!); but it also doesn’t have pockets (boo!).   That was nearly a deal breaker – I normally carry a wallet, not a purse.  I’d have to carry a purse if I wanted to wear a skirt.  Sigh.  Okay.  I dug out an old purse, dusted it off, and put my wallet and keys inside.  No excuses left.

This morning I pulled on the casual, navy skirt and light blue sweater.  I turned and looked at myself sideways in the mirror.  The skirt really accentuated my slimmer figure.  This time, instead of automatically voicing the negative, I chose to admire how I looked. 

Wow. Look how far I’ve come.

I put a smile on my face, squared my shoulders, grabbed my purse and walked out the door.

 

 

photo credit Orin Zebest

BeYouTiful.

Be-You-Tiful!       

I saw that on a sign in a store I was visiting for the first time, a craft store. 

I thought about buying the little sign to put near my bathroom mirror, but decided it was too expensive. Instead, I decided to write about it. 

Growing up with a house full of sisters, I witnessed a lot of primping in the name of beauty.  Even though we were all taught about ‘beauty on the inside’ – every unwanted task ‘built character,’ according to Mother – I think, like most girls, we all strove for outward beauty, too, to some point.  As the youngest, I wanted to emulate my older sisters, but I never liked dresses or pantyhose, and I was no good at the hair and makeup routine.  In spite of my sister Missy’s best efforts, I was still a tomboy at heart and was most comfortable bare-faced, wearing jeans and a ponytail. Missy would fix my hair and do my makeup for special occasions, but if left to my own devices, I would scrub it all off and tie my hair back. 

Besides — Mother didn’t have pierced ears, and she didn’t wear makeup save for a touch of lipstick on special occasions.  Was my mother beautiful?  Oh, yes.  She had lovely skin, thick, wavy hair, and shapely legs.  She had a twinkle in her blue eyes and a warm smile accented with her trademark gap. 

My sisters eschewed elaborate makeup and lengthy hair rituals.  It was just not important to them (or to me).  My sisters who did use makeup and did spend time with curlers and Aqua-Net looked lovely but never overly ‘done.’  Less is more, Mother would say.  And it didn’t matter what else you wore, as long as you were wearing a smile.  My sisters all wore lovely smiles, with clear eyes and kind words.  My sisters are all beautiful, makeup or no.

I think that helped me feel confident in my choices.  I could throw on some blusher and lip gloss when I had to, but I wasn’t about to get up at 5 a.m. and spend the next two hours putting on my face and wielding a curling iron. 

In the awkward years of adolescence, I tried to find myself in the magazines and department stores.  I borrowed my sister’s clothes to try to look more stylish and more like her.  I tried to talk my mom into buying me a pair of Sperry Topsiders, the loafers I saw in Seventeen magazine.  I was convinced that if I had those, I could surely pull off that Phoebe Cates back-to-school look.  No go.  At various times I tried to update my look to the Farrah Fawcett feathered ‘do, the poodle perm and the Dorothy Hamill wedge cut.  Um, no.  None of them worked for me.  I figured I was doomed to be utterly plain and style-free.

In my twenties, with a little more confidence, I dressed up a little more and wore makeup more often, under my sister’s tutelage, of course.  Mostly it was because Missy wouldn’t go out with me unless I did.  It was a fun time, and I always marveled at how she could look so put together, even in a pair of jeans.  It never rubbed off on me, though – she was Missy, and I was not.  I couldn’t borrow someone else’s look.  I had to find my own.

Let’s be clear – I don’t consider myself beautiful.  As far as looks go, I think I’m pretty solidly in the middle between ‘Eek!’ and ‘Wowza!’  I never had much of a figure; I’m built more like a tree trunk than an hourglass.  I’m content to hide my legs and cankles under jeans most of the time.  My butt is flat, which led me to live in nothing but Levi’s 501 jeans for a while.  They fit me better than girls’ jeans ever did.  I don’t have an eye for fashion, so I stick with what I know, which is jeans and sweatshirts.  As Mother would say, “All my taste is in my mouth.”

My best feature is probably my eyes, but they’ve been behind glasses since I was 7.  (Of course, that is what all fat chicks get complimented on, anyway.)  I like my hair, too. It has always been thick and full (less so now as I age), but it does have a mind of its own.  A wave here, a cowlick there, and it was just too stubborn to do what I wanted it to.  So short hair or ponytails have been my go-to styles. 

I have rarely worn makeup.  I rationalized that if you didn’t like my face the way God made it, you didn’t have to look at me.  (I still feel that way.)   I married a man who has never been crazy about makeup on women.  ‘What are they trying to hide?’ he says.  He says makeup is best when you can’t see it.  So if I don’t wear it, he can’t see it – perfect, eh?  And he still thinks I’m beautiful. Confession: I recently replaced the 20-something year old makeup in my bag with a few new, fresh items.  I don’t need much, but a touch of lip tint is nice. 

So – honestly – I love the BeYouTiful sentiment. 

I came to terms with my face a long time ago.  (Still working on the body part.)  I am no beauty queen, but I am me, and I can still be a strong, beautiful me.  I want to smile with confidence, hold my head up, and look the world in the eye.  I want to wear bold colors and stand up straight instead of shrinking back and trying to hide.  I want to stop holding back and hesitating.  I want to speak my mind.  I want to love my life and who I am and where I’m going.

And I want you to do the same.  BeYOUTiful.

 

 

 photo credit: GabrielaP93