Life is not one-size-fits-all. We each go through different challenges with different mindsets in different bodies. Our experiences form our frame of reference. There are doors that some of us walk through and some don’t. Some exit and some stay. There is talk of the road less traveled, and it is often the road that leads to the most growth. But not always. We choose our roadways and doorways, though it sometimes feels like they choose us.
I am the mother of a daughter, and I have spend most of my career working with teenage girls. This doesn’t make me an expert on young women; it has simply granted me the privilege and opportunity to observe. Most of us recognize that too often females enter into negative self-talk, particularly about our bodies. And many women never leave that conversation.
Our culture of objectification is harmful to our self-esteem and vision of our true selves. The ideal of beauty isn’t even the same for different groups of women; it is subjective to their cultural and personal preferences. And yet we as women cling to whatever definition of beauty we hold and turn ourselves inside-out in the effort to achieve it.
I read something recently about our bodies being instruments, not ornaments. How profound! Our bodies are the vessels for what we bring to the world, and they are the physical means for us to do the work we were born to do. They were never meant to define us. Our ideas about ourselves and our bodies need to be self-directed, not dictated by an insecure and voyeuristic society.
I have spent years being thin, at times even overly thin. And I have spent the last ten years being overweight. Strangely, I feel better in my body now than I did then. I knew that I had a nice shape when I had a nice shape. But I didn’t know my own self-worth. My shape may not currently be exemplary, but I know how to value myself now. I wish that I had recognized all of this when my daughter was little. I wish that I had role modeled this better and thereby done a better job of shaping her own self-perception. People would say, “She’s so cute!” And she was cute; she was also funny and smart and serious and silly and curious and loving. We are so much more than what meets the eye. Each of us brings such a huge serving of worthiness to the table. Why don’t we focus on that instead of picking apart our looks and our lives? I used to make lists of books that I wanted to share with my daughter, intending that the authors would guide her through their words and wisdom. But we learn from what we see, which means she learned a lot from watching me and from being in the world she knew. She grew up in the age of MySpace, which was quickly followed by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat…
Social media is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to our self-esteem. One of the pitfalls is when we compare ourselves to others through our social media platforms. These comparisons aren’t even based on reality, but we still look to see how we measure up. We’re continually looking at ourselves through the lens of other people. We create personas of ourselves for social media and then compare ourselves to others who are doing the same thing. False perceptions, distorted body images, finding fault in ourselves and others. One of the positive aspects of today’s technology is the way that we can connect with one another – even during a pandemic! And I think that we have learned to focus less on outer beauty during COVID-19. Our faces were masked, and we learned a lot about ourselves and others and what we most value. We got more real. We became more present..
Back to body issues. My body has been struggling lately, one illness after another. Maybe this is what it has taken for me to be more appreciative of it. I value my body more now than ever before, largely because I am experiencing chronic pain. My body is my vessel, and I am learning to treat it as such. I feed it actual food now, not processed chemicals. I have stopped saying mean things to myself when I look in the mirror. Each and every one of us has some beautiful feature that we can focus on when we look into the mirror. I remember that Oprah once said that she thinks about how nice her eyebrows are when she isn’t feeling attractive. I like my eyes.
The bottom line is that what other people think of our appearance isn’t all that important. What’s most important is what we think and say to ourselves. It’s important that we take care of our bodies. It is important that we are kind and work hard and stay true to our values. These traits are beautiful. Our beauty shines through when we treat ourselves and others with care. We can fit through any door that we select. To do so, we must believe that we are beautiful, worthy, and can handle whatever is on the other side. Because we are and we can.