I’m always amazed at how my life has turned out. At different stages of my life, I have looked around and gone, “Huh. Who’da thunk?” I’ve never been a planner–I’ve never had a 5-year plan, or long-term goals. It’s just not in my DNA. I’ve always just sort of gone with things. I’ve always known I’d have a good job and lead a fairly respectable life, but that was the extent of it. I remember in elementary school, all the girls would doodle in their notebooks–they’d draw wedding dresses and wedding rings, and combine their first names with the last names of boys they had crushes on. I would sit there watching them, not comprehending what on earth they were doing. Career Day in school would give me anxiety. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
I never had dreams of getting married, or having kids, or being a CEO, or living in a single family home with or without a fence. I never had dreams of retiring on a beach somewhere. It wasn’t because I was lazy or not driven. In fact I worked very hard in school and did very well with an advanced degree, and am quite accomplished professionally. I just didn’t have these deep, passionate desires to be a teacher, or own my own business, or run a household. There were moments in time that I thought I’d like to be a pediatrician, or journalist, or live in New York City, but that was about it.
Looking back, I realize there has been one burning desire that was consistent through most of my life. All I ever wanted to be was Skinny and Pretty. In college, my diet consisted primarily of “beverages” and these wonderful breaded potato wedges (You had me at Sassy Sauce, Sal’s Birdland) when I scrounged up enough quarters to tip the delivery guy. Oh, and cigarettes. Two packs of Marlboro Reds a day truly does suppress your appetite. And your ability to breathe. But damnit I was Skinny. Smoking so much, probably not Pretty; but Skinny, yes.
Skinny and Pretty. What the fuck kind of goals are those? Ones that I thought would mean I would be loved and desired and accepted and deemed worthy. Because apparently I didn’t think I was worthy or accepted until I was Skinny or Pretty enough. When it comes down to it, my burning desire was just to be Loved. That’s all I ever wanted in life.
It’s been a long, slow journey through the years of hating and despising my body, of being too hard on it, wishing it was something else. In turn, being too hard and unkind to myself, wishing I was essentially someone else.
I’ve come to understand there is nothing wrong with my body. It’s not as tight and toned and shaped quite like society or my date would like it to be. But it’s mine, and it is me, and I’m fabulous. And I am finally comfortable in my own skin, metaphorically and literally, except when I’ve binged on Christmas cookies–then I’m a bit uncomfortable. But even then, I love myself and my body, and know firmly I am worthy of love.
How did I get here? Partly out of necessity after I pushed and punished my body to the point of painful injuries, and I was forced to literally stop and cry Uncle. Through the years I’ve also learned to live more mindfully, and in doing so I’ve been kinder to the world, to strangers, to loved ones. Kindness begets kindness, and in turn I started to treat myself with kindness too. And in coming full circle, realized I must be kind to myself to truly be kind to others. Kindness also begets living gently. Living gently and kindly leads naturally to loving others and oneself, wanting what’s best for others and oneself, and acting on those desires for betterment.
Skinny and Pretty doesn’t make the world a better place. Those goals aren’t worthy in anyone’s world. Being kind, being gentle, doing good–those make the world a better place. Those are my long term goals. And I love those goals. And I love my thick, strong body. There shouldn’t be less of me in the world. Not to sound conceited, but there should be more of me. Screw Skinny. And I tell my daughter all the time, Pretty is as Pretty does.
So I’ve stopped thinking mean, critical thoughts about my belly and my butt and my hair and my nose. I’ve stopped frantically squeezing in daily workouts even when it meant working out at 11pm. I’ve stopped trying to make parts of me somebody I am not. When I look at my reflection now, I sigh lovingly at what I see, and just say, “Yes.” When I work out now, it’s to feel good and strong; and when my body is too tired or hurt to work out, I say, “OK, another day.” It is not to be Skinny or Pretty. Or Loved.
Sure, I still have moments of thinking critical thoughts about how I look. But I stop those thoughts by thinking about my children. I’ve realized I cradle and embrace my children with loving-kindness. Why wouldn’t I do the same for myself? If I don’t, they will never learn to wholeheartedly embrace themselves with loving-kindness. I want them to know they are loved unconditionally, and they deserve self-kindness and love.
And you know what? I actually feel lighter now that I’m not carrying this burden of impossible expectations and anxiety of reaching those goals and aching longing to be loved. And because I love myself, and am kind to myself, and am kind to others, I actually feel more loved. We are as Loved as we are Loving. So I guess I’m accomplishing my goals after all.