Don’t Fixate on Clothing Labels- The weight loss industry makes billions of dollars each year, often through telling us what size we should be and what we must buy in order to get ourselves to that size. In reality, not only do many of these weight loss sales provide incorrect information, they can create brand new insecurities based on the assumption that, if we are not the size they say we should be, something is wrong with us. This leads to a really unhealthy focus on the number on our clothing tags, which is just illogical because each store actually gets to decide how to label their clothing. This is why most of us are one size in one store and a totally different size at another store. Plus, clothing commercials and print ads show people in clothing that has been tailored to that person’s individual body, making us compare ourselves while wearing our off-the-rack clothes to the appearances of models wearing personally tailored attire. As a result, many of us feel awful about our bodies when we try on clothes because the garments can make us feel too short, too tall, too thin, too heavy, too curvy, not curvy enough, etc. My friends are all different ages, shapes, sizes, and skin tones. Every one of us struggles to find the right pair of jeans, which means it must be that jeans themselves aren’t easy to shop for. Once I realized that, I stopped blaming parts of my own body when I try on a pair of poorly fitting jeans! We have to do better at reminding ourselves that the problem is not our bodies, it’s either poorly designed clothing or it is clothing meant for someone else’s natural shape. Blaming the clothes instead of blaming our bodies can help us to better love what we’re workin’ with!
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, who uses the pronouns she/her/hers. Kryss is a leading LGBT expert with 20+ years of experience. She works as a consultant, educator, and corporate trainer, as well as a guest speaker, author, and writer. She has two master’s degrees, two licenses to practice mental healthcare, and she has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands. Kryss is known for her ability to pinpoint areas of growth potential, which often results in improved employee retention, stronger alliances between staff and the employer, and avoiding PR and legal nightmares. Kryss’ workshop/presentation/speaking style is beloved because, though the conversations are serious, she keeps energy up while creating a space that welcomes the experiences and opinions of everyone. Through her work, Kryss leaves corporations, non-profits, schools, and community organizations with a better sense of diversity and inclusion, which results in the ability for individuals to feel safe and wanted. This leads to an increased experience of self-acceptance and self-love. She can be reached via her website: ThisIsKryss.com
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
The issues related to self-love and self-care transcend all classes, races, genders, and socioeconomic statuses. However, I recognized early in life that difficult upbringings and not being accepted in society can create a lifetime of struggles for those without access to the compassion and care needed to undo negative thought processes and the damage of traumatic experiences. With a recognition that the beginning of life is where many self-worth struggles occur, I began there with my education. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at Ohio State in Human Development and Family Sciences. Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and my experiences allowed me to consistently hear about the struggles so many in the LGBT community face(d) due to being rejected by loved ones or forced to remain closeted for decades, thus creating internal chaos and a lack of self-love because they lacked acceptance by those whom they loved. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT issues.
As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of minority groups and how this lack of representation often created a lack of self-acceptance and self-love by those who did not see positive role models in their textbooks. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction.
My work now focuses on the needs of the LGBT community, teaching and training schools and businesses how to become more LGBT inclusive, working as a Teaching Associate at Columbia University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on acknowledging and celebrating the minority populations that have been too long left out.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
I am always taking on new event speaking and corporate training projects, as more and more top organizations realize that they can either join today’s society in accepting and welcoming LGBT people or accept that their business will get left behind while their competitors excel. I love being able to educate by opening minds and opening hearts. I adore my direct consulting work too, where I get to enter a company either in person or virtually and guide the organization on how to make alterations to existing internal documentation, job postings, office spaces, and marketing materials to make them more LGBT inclusive.
I know that this helps people along their path because it allows them to recognize that their gender identity and/or sexual orientation does not make them unworthy of a great career and it should not make them live in fear of losing their job if they come out. (Currently, more than half of the states in the U.S. allow an employer to fire someone for being LGBT and the current administration and the members of the current SCOTUS do not indicate that a federal non-discrimination law is likely to pass in the near future.)
While we can talk all we want about how everyone should love themselves, it is tough to make that happen if we aren’t simultaneously fighting against laws that allow individuals to be discriminated against for who they are!
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?
I spent 18 years struggling with endometriosis. As is unfortunately very common with this disease, it took more than nine years to be properly diagnosed. I spent a lot of time very very ill. Although I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, spending that much time sick gave me two lovely gifts; first, it gave me a lot of hours of hanging out with myself and learning how to enjoy my own company, second, it taught me that my body’s appearance matters far less to me than its ability to function properly.
For a long time, when I would wake up, before I would open my eyes, I would assess my body to see what hurt and how badly I hurt so that I could decide what medications to take and what plans or chores or socializing I needed to cancel because my body would not allow me to participate.
After years of failed medical interventions and numerous surgeries, I was lucky enough to enter remission. However, the time inside in pain left my muscles weak, plus I had gained weight and my hair had become noticeably thinner. But for the first time in so long, I didn’t hurt all over. That really became a turning point for me with self-acceptance. I stopped seeing my body as a commodity or an appearance that dictated my value, and I started seeing it as a vessel for my spirit and as a machine with an incredible number of working pieces and parts.
These days, just as I have for more than twenty years, before I open my eyes, I assess my body to see what hurt and how badly I hurt. Most days, I discover no pain. Some days, I feel the age in my bones, or a paper cut from yesterday, or my stomach is angry due to something I clearly should not have eaten. But even when there are days with pain, I think about knowing what the pain was caused by and I think about knowing how temporary that pain is. It is a gift to have that knowledge, especially after many years battling an undiagnosed illness, followed by receiving a diagnosis of a disease without a known cause or a known cure.
Now, before I go to sleep, I also like to take a moment to assess my body, this time from a space of gratitude. I thank my toes for the balance they give me to walk. I thank my lungs for taking in the air I need to breathe on my own. I thank my skin for healing when I am injured. I think about all the people living on transplant waiting lists and all the people in places where there are no transplants and I think about all the ways my body works for me. It doesn’t make me unaware of my bad hair days or my inability to wear liquid eyeliner without looking like I lost a fight with a magic marker, but it gives me perspective enough that I can put my hair in a bun, skip the makeup, and still face the day feeling glad to be a part of the world around me.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
I think this is a multifaceted problem. Our fixation with the media, and our inability to be away from it thanks to the smartphones in our pockets, inundates us with images of what we are “supposed to” look like. In addition to recognizing when we do not look like the celebrities popping up throughout social media platforms, we also see what others say about those celebrities. This is a lose/lose situation. If you do not look like a celebrity, society indicates that something is wrong with you. If you do look like a celebrity, it can feel like a personal attack to read the awful comments people make about that celebrity’s appearance.
We also have to recognize that our country doesn’t do a great job at putting all types of people on screens as actors, musicians, sports stars, or media personalities. This can lead a person to believing that something about them is wrong because they do not see anyone in the media who looks like them. This is why it is so important to support the films and television shows with diverse casts and why it is hurtful to our society as a whole every time the media writes a character as a stereotype of a person of a specific minority group.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
(laughs) I grew up in the Midwest, so I’m always down for cheese-related foods, so sure, I’m down to talk cheesiness of any sort!
The best way for me to answer this is to create the start of a sentence and then end it in a few different ways, so here goes! (clears throat) Loving yourself is so important because…
*Every goal you have is undermined when you don’t love yourself.
*It can be difficult to convince others to believe in your abilities when you don’t believe in them.
*It helps to safeguard you against entering or staying in unhealthy/unsafe relationships.
*Somebody who has a similar shape, similar complexion, similar height, etc. is looking to you to help them decide whether they should love themselves.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Typically, people stay in mediocre relationships either because they believe they do not deserve better or because they feel as if they can change their partner, which would better the relationship.
It is tough to find a relationship with someone great if you do not think you are great. I am a big believer that we accept the love we think we deserve. That means that, if you or someone you care about, is in a relationship that is unhealthy or just stuck forever in neutral, it’s time to take a look at why you are still there. Why do you not believe you deserve better?
The whole idea of entering a relationship and then making the partner into the right fit is a concept that dates back to far before high schools were doing productions of “Guys & Dolls.” However, in real life, this never really works. People are people, not projects. If you’re in it because you think they’ll change, check out the history of the relationship. You’re likely to recognize how little the person has changed thus far, which may help you to come to terms with needing to either accept the person as they are or to seek out a better match for you. Plus, if your partner does not want to change, they should not have to choose between who they are and their relationship partner, which also indicates that the pairing is not the right fit.
The happiest relationships I see occur when each person is clear in who they are, what they need, and what they want out of a partnership and the people come together with ongoing mutual love, respect, and willingness to work together on their relationship every single day. We just have to keep in mind that, in addition to looking for those traits in someone else, we must be clear enough in ourselves to be ready to offer those traits to someone else too!
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times, self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
I do a lot of self-reflection. In fact, I have journaled almost every day for almost 25 years! Sometimes, I think I learn more from the process of unpacking my thoughts and feelings than I learn from myself in the moment I am making decisions. When it comes to holding myself accountable, a long time ago, I came up with one statement by which I measure all my actions. While I’m no Iyanla, creating one central statement provides me with a place through where I can consistently check in with myself and ascertain whether I am succeeding or failing at the standard I hold myself to. My statement is this: “I want to be more secure in supporting the parts of me that want to be healed than supporting the parts of me that fear change so much that they prefer to remain broken.” I have found that this benchmark makes it easy for me to figure out whether I am making choices that reflect where I want to go in my life, and which indicate that I am I need to rethink something because the choice I am about to make (or the choices I’m in the middle of making) are not right for my goals and my future.
I think tough questions are that way too; they’re moments of opportunity a person has to ensure that they are letting themselves be successful. Here are a few other statements that I have created for loved ones over the years that I have provided some guidance until they felt strong enough to create their own central statement:
*Is the decision I am making based on my belief of who I am becoming or is the decision simply reaffirming who I used to be?
*Would I be proud to tell the person I most admire about the ways I have been behaving lately?
*Is the choice I am making the right choice or is it the easy one… and can I think of a choice option that is both right for me and as easy as possible for me?
*If I was sitting in a movie theatre watching this scene in a movie about my life, how would I react to each of the options available to me right now?
So many don’t really know how to be alone or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Being alone is tough when you aren’t sure who you are or when you dislike yourself; who wants to hang out with a mystery person or someone awful?! I think the “trick” to enjoying being alone is to start with the things you love to do that others may not enjoy doing with you or that you may not feel confident about doing in front of other people. Maybe this is singing along to karaoke tracks while driving somewhere or watching a trashy tv show you’d never admit you like, maybe it’s reading a book cover to cover in one sitting or taking time to pamper your body with nice lotions or foot scrubs. I think we too often have this idea of “all or nothing,” rather than to consider that maybe beginning to enjoy being alone can start happening just by committing to spend 10 minutes each day doing something you love. The more enjoyment that begins to grow during that time, the easier it becomes to extend the solo time experience.
The ability to enjoy your own company is vital both because it means you’ll always be in good company and because valuing yourself makes it easier to not let folks into your life who do not value you.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
It’s made me better at choosing who to invest in and who to let go. That’s because, as soon as I began to enjoy my own company, I began to recognize the things I am good at, the things I enjoy, and the traits that make me a valuable member of society. After reaching that point, I no longer wanted to just let any ‘ole person in; I wanted to surround myself with other people who recognized their own awesomeness. This led me to making stronger commitments and bonds with my closest friends, it caused me to reach out to friends I loved but hadn’t made enough time for, and it made me reevaluate the people who did not treat me as a priority. As a result, the good relationships became better, the better relationships became amazing, and the people who did not support my self-understanding stopped getting my time and my energy.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
As individuals, we have to undo what society has imparted into our minds about what makes a person important or valuable or special or worthy. Instead of seeing our differences as correctable things we must fix if we ever want to be good enough, we have to work to recognize how those differences make us uniquely amazing.
As a society, we have to demand more inclusion in the media, in the messages, and in the priorities of our nation and our people. We must support organizations, media productions, and corporations that celebrate diversity. The more we are shown deep multi-faceted characters portrayed by people of color, by LGBT people, by people with accents, by deaf people, by curvy women, by those who identify outside of the gender binary, and by so many in other minority groups who are talented and worthy of the spotlight, the more we will reinforce the message that each person belongs and each person is wanted in our society. This is also why we have to speak up and speak out when stereotypes are portrayed, because each of these undermines the self-worth of so many and we all deserve better.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
- Embrace Your Weirdness– As kids, many of us live in fear of a classmate thinking we’re weird, so we hide the things we think might get us noticed for being different. My love of tie dye and my deep undying love of the Golden Girls television show were things I once tried to hide, and which others often told me that it was time to outgrow. I tried, but not wearing tie dye as often as possible made me way less happy than wearing more tie dye more often! In addition, though I’ve seen all 180 episodes of the Golden Girls enough to be able to recite every line in every episode, I never get sick of watching! Once I realized that, I started doing what made me happiest and those who love me learned to love those aspects about me. These days, the gifts friends send are often tie dye AND they get a kick out of visiting me because my guest room is Golden Girls themed (including the autographed photos they sent me when I wrote them fan letters as a kid)! Now I surround myself with what makes me happy and I have people in my life who get me and who celebrate my weirdness!
- Don’t Fixate on Clothing Labels- The weight loss industry makes billions of dollars each year, often through telling us what size we should be and what we must buy in order to get ourselves to that size. In reality, not only do many of these weight loss sales provide incorrect information, they can create brand new insecurities based on the assumption that, if we are not the size they say we should be, something is wrong with us. This leads to a really unhealthy focus on the number on our clothing tags, which is just illogical because each store actually gets to decide how to label their clothing. This is why most of us are one size in one store and a totally different size at another store. Plus, clothing commercials and print ads show people in clothing that has been tailored to that person’s individual body, making us compare ourselves while wearing our off-the-rack clothes to the appearances of models wearing personally tailored attire. As a result, many of us feel awful about our bodies when we try on clothes because the garments can make us feel too short, too tall, too thin, too heavy, too curvy, not curvy enough, etc. My friends are all different ages, shapes, sizes, and skin tones. Every one of us struggles to find the right pair of jeans, which means it must be that jeans themselves aren’t easy to shop for. Once I realized that, I stopped blaming parts of my own body when I try on a pair of poorly fitting jeans! We have to do better at reminding ourselves that the problem is not our bodies, it’s either poorly designed clothing or it is clothing meant for someone else’s natural shape. Blaming the clothes instead of blaming our bodies can help us to better love what we’re workin’ with!
- Let Music Guide You- It can be easy to dismiss our own feelings, especially if the feelings aren’t positive. Rather than letting yourself feel alone with these pent-up emotions, create a playlist of songs that fit your mood. This allows you to feel your feelings by yourself, yet you’re surrounded by others who are expressing the very same feelings within their songs. This always allows me to find a balance between validating my feelings while also giving me perspective that I am not the only person who has ever felt these emotions, which is especially helpful during times of frustration or sadness! I’ve found that, once I process my emotions, it is easier to let them go, which prevents me from wallowing or turning a singular situation into a long-term reason to berate or question myself.
- Trade Talents- While no one is amazing at everything, everyone is good at something! Rather than spending your energy fighting an uphill battle trying to be great at every task or trying to master every talent, join forces with your friends and help each other out. I used to try to emulate my friends’ talents because it made me feel like lesser when they were better at something than I was. In the end, I was left frustrated and they were left wondering why I didn’t just ask them for help. Sometimes the reverse happened too, leaving me feeling left out of an opportunity to have made something easier on them because it was something I did well. It meant nobody won. Now, I outsource without hesitation. I feel grateful when I get to tackle something I enjoy, which also makes their lives easier, and I see asking for their help as a way to accomplish a task without struggling solo or feeling lesser in the ways I’m not as skilled in that specific ability!
- When You Don’t Know What to Do, Volunteer- Sometimes the best way to love yourself is by giving of yourself. Think about the talents and skills you possess and the hobbies you enjoy and then find a way to share those with others. This lets you spend time doing something you love, it allows you to find joy in reconnecting with the part of you that excels at that skill, and it lets you know that you are making the world better via your abilities. So many of my favorite memories have happened while preparing an annual free Thanksgiving dinner a small group of us put on each year for a community. (2019 will be my 23rd year!) When I think back to any of those past 22 Thanksgivings, I have no memories of what size clothing I wore or how much money was in my bank account at the time, but the sense of purpose that comes from caring for others and helping them to feel heard, seen, and important is immense. It truly makes me feel connected with myself and it highlights how kindness allows us all to build connections with the world we all share.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
I love books about empowerment as a secondary goal because they feel far less “preachy” to me. Two of my favorite authors are Jazz Jennings and Gail Vaz-Oxlade; both are women who are what I call “epic-level badasses,” not because their books are them are telling me what I must do to become great, but because they are telling me their stories of discovering and harnessing their own power via self-acceptance. This inspires me to reexamine my own story to find new things to love about my journey and this helps me to consider what I could add to my life now that will even further enhance my sense of self.
I am also a huge believer in seeking out the stories of those who are very different from me. I do this because it helps me to gain perspective outside my own life experience and because it consistently cements the wonderful balance of us all being so much the same while also recognizing the ways in which our differences create magic within us and around us. One of my greatest life experiences was bearing witness to a one-man show in NYC a few years ago called “Mama Rose.” The show was written and performed by an actor/artist named Richard E. Waits, a Black man who is slightly older than I am and who grew up in a different area of the country than I did. In the show, Waits told the story of himself and of his mother, splitting scenes between the two and allowing the audience to leave feeling as if they’d spent the evening with both. On the surface, I had little in common with Richard or his Mama Rose. But the stories resonated with me, not because I’d been to the same locations but because I had felt the same emotions in my own life experiences. After 30+ years of seeking out experiences to interact with those different from me, this particular experience was just the very best summary of exactly how much sameness we all share, not in our appearances or our journeys but in the feelings that run deep into the marrow of our bones. One of the lines from the show is, “we are a product of our people.” This statement always helps me to better understand those whose views and values differ from mine, those who argue my belief in equality, and those who can seem so impossible for me to find common ground with.
As for looking for resources regarding relationships, I am a big believer in the lessons found within many of the reality shows on television. My 600 lb. Life takes viewers inside the minds and lives of people who struggle with food addictions or who use food to self-soothe from trauma. This allows viewers to gain insight into the experiences of people who are so often dismissed or assumed to just be too lazy to eat healthy. I Am Jazz is based on a transgender teen, but most of the episodes focus on her relationships with her family, the struggles of dating, and on her creating her own future as an adult. Watching this shows just how similar life experiences are for teenagers and young adults throughout the country as they grow into adulthood. The Profit focuses on a businessman who helps to save and improve failing businesses. It’s like watching a master class in communication, navigating how to make changes without uprooting the company culture and how to be professionally assertive while also being respectful. These types of shows feel much easier sometimes than making time to read a book or remembering to pop on a podcast before hitting the road, all while being snapshots into the lives of others in whom most of us can see so much of ourselves.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
(laughs) well I’m not sure if what I am doing is a movement exactly, but I’ve spent the past 20+ years (and will spend my entire life, if necessary) working to educate corporations, companies, non-profits, schools, and community leaders how to become more LGBT inclusive. I’ve long said that my goal is to work myself out of a career and I truly do think there will be federal laws, protections, and changes that support LGBT people that will occur during my lifetime. In the meantime, I will continue to do all I can to motivate and inspire people to become interested in opening their hearts and their minds to talk with me or attend one of my workshops!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
I am a big collector of quotes and lyrics because, as a self-professed “word nerd,” I always adore when someone can craft a sentence that brilliantly captures an emotion, which makes this question super tough for me. (long pause) I’m going to go with the quote that was on my business cards for a really long time, “We will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Martin Luther King, Jr. I love that this focuses on mindfulness about how we treat people. After 30+ years speaking up for what I believe(d) is right, I often get asked how a person can become an activist. That question always brings me back to this quote because the best place to begin advocating for others is to do so within your own circle. Look at the people you love and the ways that they struggle and start to work on what could be done to lessen or end that struggle. This either reveals more struggles to focus on or it will introduce you to others with different struggles to work to remedy. The more you work, the more you learn and that leads to being able to teach others. We’ve been talking about self-love and self-acceptance; I can’t think of a better way to underscore both than to support the love and acceptance of others.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!