I recently came across a post being shared on Facebook. The blog post, written by a former competitive ice dancer, was titled Yes, My Thighs Touch (And I am Absolutely Fine). That post really struck a cord with me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
The world of competitive skating places a lot of importance on personal appearance and weight as being major factors in how well you will succeed, so it is not surprising to me to read that blogger Jamie Silverstein has recovered from an eating disorder. I grew up in a household with someone who had anorexia. I know intimately what that is like, what havoc it wreaks not only on your body, but also on everyone around you, too.
What struck me was how healthy and reasonable Silverstein’s attitude was toward her body now. That is something I still struggle with myself, even though I was not the one with the anorexia. I don’t often post pictures of myself on the internet. A) I think that’s asking for unwanted commentary and B) I only have about four pictures of myself that I do not utterly loathe. In fact, one of the few things that can make my boyfriend angry with me is if I go through the photos on the camera after one of our trips and delete all the ones of me. “Those are my memories,” he said once, when I had deleted every picture I was in.
I see his point. That doesn’t change the fact that I have always believed myself to be an unattractive person and inherently unphotogenic. So I am posting this picture here taken of me in my twenties to prove a point. At the time this photo was taken, I was convinced I was the ugliest girl on the planet.
I’m posting this picture because, while I could never lay claim to Super Model status, I obviously was not a troglodyte either. But you could not convince me of that. I’d grown up my entire life hearing how plain I was. How I would need to work extra hard to make friends because I wasn’t attractive. How I would need to be tough and independent because I couldn’t count on some man coming along to take care of me. I wore glasses and braces, therefore, I was ‘doubly handicapped.’ I was as ‘homely as a mud fence’; something I’d never seen but it sounded dirty and disgusting. And I once overheard a neighbor comment to my grandmother how beautiful my sister was, but that I ‘grew on you after a while.’ Like I was mold, or something.
I’m sure the messages I received were not intended to be hurtful. I suspect my mother simply wished for me to be a strong individual and to aspire to be more than an extension of a husband. In many ways, I’m glad I learned this lesson. I do *not* let my self-worth depend on the presence of a man in my life. I studied hard in school, got a professional degree, and work in a challenging career. I have a wonderful relationship with a man that I love that is based on mutual respect. I don’t expect him to ‘rescue’ me. We take turns taking care of each other.
But I do not think I am an attractive person. I’d reached a sort of resigned peace with my personal appearance until the last couple of years, when health issues began to erode my trust in my body. This has also been compounded by the fact that I am getting older. In fact, if there was such a thing as Aging Anorexia, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had it. Every fine wrinkle, every new ache or pain, each tiny suggestion that I am not as young as I used to be is magnified in my eyes. I can go from “Damn, my knee is bothering me a bit,” to “I’ll have to give up horseback riding” to “I’m going to lose my independence” in a matter of minutes. I know it’s not rational. That’s the insidious thing about these wild misconceptions we hold over ourselves–even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the belief, we persist in holding on to it. When I was younger, I wasn’t pretty enough, smart enough, talented enough. Now that I’m older, I am not successful enough. I’m packing twenty extra pounds I don’t know how to get rid of, and I would give anything to look like the younger me again–the one I thought was so ugly. And my irrational fear of losing my independence? Well, my independent self was the only thing I was taught to rely on.
So this post by Jamie Silverstein really resonated with me. Because here she is saying, “You know what? I’m not perfect–and I don’t have to be. What I am is pretty darn good as it is.” What she is, by the way, is not defined by her body or her appearance. It is who she is as a person.
I do see the value of such self-acceptance, much as I see the BF’s point about not deleting pictures of his trip simply because I don’t like them. But up until Silverstein’s post, I couldn’t really buy into the self-acceptance thing because it has always felt like an excuse: a reason to toss up your hands and stop trying to be better than you are.
It wasn’t until I read this post that somehow a little light bulb clicked on and I realized that if you truly accept yourself for who and what you are, you’re going to try to take better care of yourself. You do this because you care about your body and what you put into it and no, Goldfish crackers and a can of Sprite doesn’t qualify as a decent breakfast by anyone’s standards over the age of twelve.
You know what else I got out of this post? It’s the little goals that count. You know why? Because there are more of them in our lives than the big ones. You might never win an Oscar, or have your book turned into a movie, or be awarded a Nobel Prize. But every day is filled with little goals hard-met and won, and for some reason, because we live in this mindset of Mega-Success or Go Home, we discount the little things as not being meaningful. Not being worth mentioning
Because the problem with only celebrating the Big Goals, of only valuing the Big Goals, is that we use them as an excuse not to attempt anything. If I can’t lose twenty pounds in two weeks, then attempting to get healthier by making better food choices and getting more sleep and making time to exercise, well, that’s just pointless, isn’t it?
If my next release isn’t the breakout novel that puts me on the top of the bestseller list on Amazon, then why bother writing? If the horse has to be retired from competition before we ever made it to a Three Day Event, then why bother riding her anymore?
The truth of the matter is that most of us will never be bestselling authors with Hollywood banging at our door begging to turn our story into a movie. We’re not going to the Olympics. We’re not going to be Super Model thin or Super Model pretty and we’re not going to be ridiculously wealthy.
But I wrote and published a novel within the last six months–and I really don’t know many people who can say that. The Boys of Summer is my first independently published novel. Yes, I made mistakes, but I am damn proud of that work and it is getting some fine reviews. I might not have ever made it to a 3-day with my mare, but I have participated in a riding clinic taught by an Olympic coach with her. And tonight, I climbed the ridge behind the house with the dog trotting alongside. The sun was setting behind me, and the pale ghost of the moon was rising in front of me, and there was row upon row of mountains in varying shades of purple and blue all around as far as the eye could see. I felt as though I was looking at a photograph of the ocean, and the mountains were waves caught on film. That made me one of the richest people on the planet.
You know what else celebrating the small successes does for you? It keeps you here in the moment. It anchors you to the present. It’s what makes you feel accomplished when you crank out 1500 words at the end of a brutally exhausting day–and count that as an achievement instead of berating yourself for not having written more. It’s recognizing that the most important thing you could be doing right now is acknowledging the dog that just placed his head in your lap to be petted. There is no room for regret or fear for the future when you are living in the moment. Animals do it all the time. The walk that the dog is on right now is the best walk ever. I want to learn how to hold such moments in my heart for longer than a few seconds.
Denying ourselves the value of the small successes sets us up to be disappointed again and again. Because it’s like saying that unless you can climb the sheer cliff face without using any finger or toeholds, without pausing on a ledge to catch your breath, that you’re not really a mountain climber at all. We’re lying to ourselves when we discount the small successes. We’re telling ourselves that the Photoshopped image of success is the real one and that if we were without imperfections, we could have that life too.
The best part about celebrating the small successes is that they are different for each of us. Everyone of us has the potential for a small success. Maybe you went for that walk after dinner when you are normally too tired to get off the couch. Or you finished that home improvement project you’ve been working on for weeks. Maybe you walked away from that doughnut. Maybe you ate the doughnut. It could be the thoughtful gift you mailed off to a friend who’s been down, or you said no to that drink, or you decided to see a counselor, or your gif is being reblogged on tumblr, or you called your mother, or you’re just having a Good Hair Day.
Because I could spend the rest of my life mourning what I am not. I’ve already wasted a lot of time doing that. To continue to so so will only prevent me from being what I can be.