There’s one pervasive element which affects my mood that I have avoided writing about for a year. This isn’t a depression thing, it’s a living in a society that values appearance over anything of actual worth and importance thing. Yeah, it’s my weight.
And I’ve avoided it, because if talking about how my body gets me down makes me want to roll my eyes as hard as I’m doing right now, imagine how you, reader, must feel. It’s tedious. It’s predictable. It’s shallow? Nobody wants to talk about it and nobody wants to hear about it. But I’ve realised this is exactly why I should probably be breaking it down, on this blog I’ve created for the purpose of uncomfortable levels of honesty.
So – I feel fat. That’s not your cue to jump in and correct me, because you can’t. You can’t tell me what I feel, and you can’t change my mind by dismissing those feelings. You know you can’t, because the same is true when you feel fat and someone tells you that you’re being ridiculous. Which they will. Because they have to. It’s this minefield of a catch-22, in which we’re constantly reassuring each other that we’re no worse a human specimen than we were before those fifteen crème eggs in a week; but the fact we have to insist on this every damn time suggests that, well, actually, we are. Heaven forbid any of us should gain a few pounds, right? Fluctuating in weight is a fact of life for most of us, but please make sure you never once fail to deny this.
I don’t know, maybe some people are talked right out of their body woes by their friends and family berating them for voicing them out loud. Maybe I actually have comparatively high body confidence if I’m able to mention in a conversation that I’ve got heavier without expecting any denials. Maybe I need to just shut up altogether if I’m not looking to be made delusional about this simple truth.
But this is what’s so sucky about feeling fat – the truth is simple; the emotions are anything but. I know that I still average out as slender just as well as I know that slender is an arbitrary standard and nothing to be proud of. I know that if I’ve gained and lost weight before, it can and probably will happen again. And I know that just because I’ve noticed it, doesn’t mean everyone else has. In short, my rational mind is aware that none of this shit matters, and yet my state of mind is taking a sizable hit over this. I would go as far as to call my relationship with my body one of the big influences on my ups and downs.
If the baseline for such neuroses wasn’t so skewed, this might qualify as a cause for concern. As it is, I doubt this comes as any surprise at all. Look at what our perceptions of our appearance can do to a person’s mental health. Anorexia is a killer. Disordered eating passes for just ‘eating’ for legions of us at some time or another. I read an article a few weeks ago that suggested chewing a tablespoon of chia seeds for breakfast on the go. No, really.
I guess it comes back to something I wrote about months ago, about how we value ourselves based on how we think other people value us. Our outward appearance is the first indicator of who we are, after all, even if it’s a poor one in a lot of ways. Granted, we choose factors like our wardrobe and the way we style our hair, and that can say a lot about how we want to be perceived. But it’s the fear of being judged on the other things – like the fact our thighs touch or the blotchiness of our skin; the things we all know full well have no bearing on how interesting, intelligent, witty and kind we are – that’s causing us to lie awake at night regretting crème eggs. This is a travesty. One should never regret a crème egg.
The hilarious and tragic thing is that the older I get, the more remote the idea of thinking a mean thought about somebody else’s body becomes – even if I notice that yes, they have in fact gained weight – so why do I imagine anyone is thinking that way about me? Through no discernible effort, I think I’m maybe getting too wise to be convinced by Instagram or a magazine that there’s one ideal body shape, and that the rest of us are all somewhere on a scale of perfection oriented around it. It’s happening slowly, and periods of low body confidence like this one set me back, but I’m starting to see a distant future in which my mood is free to flourish and wilt only in positive correlation to excessive numbers of crème eggs. By which point I’ll have wrinkles and grey hairs to agonise over instead HA.
This morning I made a list of things I like about myself.
If that sounds as ridiculous to you as it did to me at first, then consider why. Having the people who love you compile such a list, and then reading it, would be a boost like no other. But my first reaction when the idea appeared in my mind out of nowhere – as if the self-confidence fairies had planted it there – was that it was a totally pointless exercise. As if it didn’t even matter what I thought.
My second reaction, as shocking as it is, was that it’s somehow kind of icky or classless to feed my own ego like that. Crazy, right? Why do I feel like I’m meant to put myself down? Is it just my own insecurity? Is it something about being a woman? Is it that we’re all trying to straddle an impossible line when it comes to what we appear to think of ourselves? We’re supposed to know how to take a compliment, but be suitably flattered, and somehow appear both confident and humble at the same time. It all means that ego gets a bad rep. It’s become synonymous with how you are branded if you fall too far over the line. But that’s bullshit. As long as you don’t let your ego impact the way you judge or treat others, and as long as it doesn’t make you blind to your privileges and your flaws, then I say feed it up.
Because if Beyoncé has taught me anything (and you know she has) it’s that the one person who should be championing me is me. My opinion of myself is what matters most, and yet I give it so little thought. Worse, even: I actually shy away from scrutinising it. I’m not sure if I’ve just been trained into snobbery about the idea, or if I’m also scared of what I’ll learn. As it stands, the latter could be true. I’m still suffering something like acute writer’s block, and my harshest critic is not being very kind about it (that’s me by the way). It’s got me wondering if I’m ever fair on myself, or if I even know how to be.
I said in a previous post that when I’m feeling like me, my self-esteem is pretty healthy, but I want to revoke my position. Because I think maybe we’re not always the best judges of our own self-esteem. Unfortunately, there are a lot of exterior forces that thrive on bringing yours down – the beauty industry; Instagram; anything within thirty feet of a Vogue magazine; every clickbait article entitled ‘10 habits of [the type of person you’re not]’; other victims of their own insecurities – so many in fact that we let this milieu of judgement and arbitrary ideals dictate to us our own value, without even really noticing that it happens. Whether or not you think you’re beautiful shouldn’t depend on how you compare to Gigi Hadid, but it probably does. Whether or not you think you’re interesting shouldn’t be influenced by that stupid thing you said three months ago and can’t stop thinking about, but it might. Which is why it’s important to stop and recognise how little it all means, and why the only thing that matters – the only thing that can actually make you happy – is that you like yourself.
And do you? Do you even know? When I tried to answer this question for myself, I kind of came up short. I mean, I think I have a pretty good grasp of my strengths and shortcomings, but that’s not an answer. I know what makes me proud of myself, but I’m not sure that’s an answer either. And I don’t get the impression I’m hard to be around, but that one’s totally beside the point, because I’m not interested in seeing myself the way others see me. I just want my own opinion, unadulterated by anyone else’s. So, I wrote a list.
I came up with six things. I don’t really know what to make of that number – is it very many? Not enough? – but the process was uncomfortably illuminating. I couldn’t help editing myself; I omitted various traits and qualities for being unattractive, or unimportant, or only sometimes true. I found myself pillaging my memory for evidence of my good qualities, mainly in the form of praise. I really struggled to separate my honest evaluation from how I think others perceive me, and it’s kind of blown my mind. I’ve always thought of myself as introspective, and I’m pretty chill about whether people like me, so why can’t I judge myself without them? Can anyone? How easy it must be to get lost in making others like us so we can like ourselves. It’s made me realise how much harder I have to work to be happy with myself; to notice the unkind thoughts and the unfair standards, and to steel myself against influences that make me want to change for the wrong reasons.
So I think you should write your own list. A real, physical, ink and paper list, so you can see for yourself what you really think – or catch a glimpse of it at least. It might not be pretty. Maybe you’ve never really questioned what your self-esteem is doing to you, and this exercise will be a head-trip. Maybe you agonise over what others thinks, but will find you can rattle off fifty things you like about yourself. And maybe you’ll start recognising some things you don’t like – but I think that’s okay. You are flawed and incomplete, and if you can take the good with the bad without tearing yourself down, you’re probably better equipped to deal with everyone else’s opinions too.
I don’t know what to do with my list now I have it. My first instinct is always to turn everything into a competition with myself – how many more things can I add? What can I work on that I don’t like? – but that’s not what this was about. All I want right now is to find the guts to own the things I don’t want to change about myself, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I want to like myself even when I can’t change, when I can’t write, and not in spite of all my flaws, but because of them.
As a final note on the subject, if you can’t seem to boost your own opinion of yourself, then at least breathe easier about everyone else’s, with one of my all-time favourite quotes, from David Foster Wallace:
“– you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”