Last week I wrote a post exploring the complicated relationship I've had with the beach and how it has been affected by negative body image. I talked about the bad habit I have of comparing my body to other women around me, of the struggle I've had with being in my swimsuit and relaxing when I'm swimming or sunbathing or just chasing my kids around the pool. I confessed that I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to let go of the negative thoughts that haunt me about my appearance. It was a tough post to write, and even harder to publish. But I felt relieved when I did.
Then I received a comment that stopped me cold:
Sigh, your going to hate me for saying this. But it's within your power to just stop. You go enough you'll forget the fears. You'll notice most people just don't care. They are so self absorbed you are but a passing glimpse. Why do you give something that is so irrelevant such power?I have an advanced degree in over-thinking. It's from the University In My Head, which I know is not an accredited institution of higher learning but feels valid nonetheless. The fine art of deconstructing and over-analyzing and ruminating has been the most difficult habit for me to break. Especially when it comes to my body. Is it simple being me? No. Do I create my own stress? Definitely. Do I deserve a gentle, comforting pat on the back for confessing this tragic and completely dysfunctional machination of my brain? Of course not.
A week passed with me sitting with the comment, letting it marinate and fester in my head in the way I tend to do when something bothers me. Just who did this commenter think they were, anyway? What right did she have to judge how I felt? Where was she coming from? WHAT THE HELL WAS I GOING TO DO NOW MY BRAIN IS KILLING ME AAARRRGHH. But in the end, I concluded the following:
The commenter was right.
Well, no kidding.
We are all responsible for our moods. We might face a situation, person or emotion that is offensive, insulting, overwhelmingly negative or completely dysfunctional. But it is up to us as to how we're going to respond to it. We can choose to let these things stake claim in our lives, controlling our moods and reactions, but ultimately it is our responsibility as to how we're going to let them affect us. It is our choice. After all,
We are in charge of our emotions.
We are the only ones who can control how we see ourselves.
And it is up to us to take control of our perceptions.
My inner voice generally isn't very kind. It says things like "Maybe you should have worked out today instead of eating those pretzel M&M's, fatty" and "You really screwed up that meeting/blog post/relationship, you moron." I compare and judge myself far worse than anyone else does. But by giving that inner voice control over my mood, what I wear or what activities I participate in, I'm granting myself permission to be my own worst perpetrator. I'm sabotaging any chance I have at seeing my place in the world in a positive way. And I'm holding myself back from having a perfectly lovely, enjoyable life. Or just a relaxing day at the pool.
How often do we put our needs on the back burner? How often do we talk ourselves out of the human right to be happy? How often do we allow negative self-talk to sabotage our moods, our days, our relationships? What would it take for us to just stop?
So that's what I'm doing. I'm stopping.
Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they're supposed to help you discover who you are." - Bernice Johnson Reagon
The other day I went to the pool. I wore a tankini. I splashed with my kids, and relaxed on a lounge chair, and rubbed coconut suntan lotion into my skin, and drank in the smell of chlorine that is so distinctively summer. I didn't obsesses about my thighs. I didn't sneak furtive glances at the women around me. I was just me, a woman on the cusp of her 38th birthday spending an early summer evening at the pool.
And it was great.
What would it take for you to just stop? Do you think a cataclysmic change in thinking is as simple as making the decision to do just that?