Tag Archives: Empathy

Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens

This is the first post in a series I’ll be writing about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies.

A few days ago I read a Facebook post about an American High School Principal’s comments to an assembly full of Grade 9 and 10 students. She was talking about leggings. Yes, that’s right. Leggings. And it’s not even that leggings were against the school’s dress code (they’re not) but the Principal felt that she needed to educate the girls about who should be wearing them. She said, “I’ve told you this before, I’m going to tell you this now. Unless you wear a size 0 or 2 and you wear something like that, even though you’re not fat, you look fat.”

In the comments to this Facebook post, several women spoke out against this educator’s message and the potential negative impact on the students. Someone commented that this would make girls with eating disorders even more self-conscious. Yes, I thought. That’s true. Her words might further harm those with body image issues (which describes many of us) but the real problem with her comments is the assumption that it’s not okay for girls and women to live in a round body. That it’s not okay for them to be fat.

I’m going to repeat this. The problem is the assumption that it’s not okay for girls and women to live in a round body. That it’s not okay for them to be fat.

So I took a deep breath and wrote this: “The most shocking thing about this remark is that it is not new. People have been talking to girls and women like this forever and we are just now starting to notice and to say, “That’s not right’. Also these kinds of remarks are not just harmful for girls with eating disorders but also to actual fat girls. Like me and so many other gorgeous girls and women like me. ”

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that’s not a typical Monna-move. For many years, I’ve flown under the radar with my views on body positivity. While I feel SO strongly about understanding the ways in which society has shaped our views about weight, beauty, gender and power, it felt safer to have those conversations with students or coaching clients individually or in small groups. The work of helping girls and women untangle years of conditioning and limiting beliefs about themselves has been largely an offline and private endeavour. But there was something about one of the commenters that really got to me.

She shared a screenshot of “bad leggings images” from Google, chastised us for bullying the Principal and celebrated this educator for teaching the girls the right way to dress and behave. I could not believe it. A number of people responded to her comments but she was not to be deterred.

I thought about responding. I thought about asking her why she hated fat girls and women so much. Something had rendered this woman incapable of letting girls and women enjoy the body they’re in and dressing to please themselves.

But I didn’t post. Fortunately my better angels arrived just in time (as they so often do) and I chose to click on this woman’s Facebook page to learn more about her. Although I was not entirely surprised to see other conservative views shared on her page, one very relevant fact caught my attention. She had competed in beauty pageants in the early 1960s and had won a state title. While I’m sure that some young women have had positive experiences in these competitions, there’s not much space for body diversity or rounder bodies. Beauty pageant culture places thinness in the Penthouse right next door to godliness. Beauty pageants perpetuate the idea that it’s a girl’s job to be pretty.

It is not the job of girls and women to be pretty. That’s not our job.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so angry at this woman. I saw her as absolutely shaped by her life experience and by the beliefs of the adults around her as she grew up and developed her own worldview. I felt empathy for her and her situation.

Instead of responding to this woman’s Facebook comments I went to my own Facebook page and wrote:
Lovelies, After reading some particularly toxic + fat-shaming comments regarding what young women should (and should not) wear, I remembered these words from poet nayyirah. waheed.
YOU ARE YOUR OWN STANDARD OF BEAUTY.
I’d love for you to share, in the comments below, a photograph of yourself. A photo in which you are your own standard of beauty. I’ll go first. Monna xo

Do you remember the line, “If you build it, he will come” from the movie Field of Dreams? Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner, hears these words and builds a baseball field on his corn field. Everyone thinks he is crazy but it turns out that he’s not crazy at all. My version of this was, “If you write it, she will show up.” On Sunday, eleven members of my tribe responded to my post by sharing photographs of themselves and claiming their own beauty.

These photographs said:
*I don’t need to feel totally ready in order to show up for myself (because I’ll never feel totally ready)
*I don’t have to look perfect in order to show up (because, of course, there is no perfect)
*I believe in my own inherent worth and that of my Mom and my kids and my friends (and even the inherent worth of the body shamers because it’s our hope that when they know better, they’ll do better)
*I’m not going to feel ashamed of myself or the way I look no matter what other people say and do

I’m so grateful to these women for helping me turn a really frustrating Facebook encounter into a lovely and affirming experience.

What is one way in which you could CELEBRATE your own unique standard of beauty?
 

Advanced Stick Removal for Perfectionists of All Ages

AdvancedStickRemoval

Until recently, I wasn’t aware that I was uptight. Genuinely, I had no idea.

Of course I knew that I was a perfectionist but, you know, what woman isn’t? Many of us wear our perfectionism like a shining badge of honour. In fact, I was so proud of my perfectionism that it was the characteristic I would cite in a job interview when my potential employer asked about my most conspicuous shortcoming. My thinking, of course, was that the interviewer would see me as the hardworking and committed person I am, that they would understand that I was willing to work as diligently and as long and as late and on as many weekends as were required to get the job done perfectly.

Not surprisingly, I almost always got the job.

We all know what a high price we pay for perfectionism. Every single one of us. We’re aware of the crazy glorification of busyness and the constant pull to live in the past (Ack! I wasn’t good enough) or in the future (Oh no! I’ll never be good enough)… any moment that is not right here and now. We’ve experienced the kind of deep-bone burnout that may lead to sadness and bitterness. We understand that we’ve been socialized to strive for perfection but the problem is that we’ve been living this way for so long that it’s almost impossible to believe that we can change… or that we’ll be allowed to.

Here’s the good news. Like everything else, the idea that we must be perfect in our various life roles is just a thought. A construct. Since it’s a thought that is not at all good for us, we can choose to:
1. NOT believe that thought
and
2. Develop a new thought in its place

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offered some advice to graduates of Wellesley during her commencement speech in 2015:
“Hire more women where there are few. But remember that a woman you hire doesn’t have to be exceptionally good. Like a majority of the men who get hired, she just needs to be good enough.”

What gorgeous, audacious words: “She just needs to be good enough.”

  • My apartment needs only to be tidy enough. It does not need to look perfect in order to invite friends over.
  • My facebook posts are fine the way they are. Editing is not required. I don’t need to be a professional photographer or a Pulitzer Prize winning writer to share happy bits of my life with my friends.
  • My wardrobe is fine the way it is. I don’t need the clothing options of a socialite, a news anchor or a supermodel.
  • The gifts that I give do not need to be perfectly wrapped. My kind heart is more than enough.

You get the idea. Of course, just-good-enoughness doesn’t stop us from striving for success in the parts of our lives that are really important to us… but they can’t all be REALLY IMPORTANT. What if we stopped living our lives as though every single thing we do is an Olympic event in which we are competing for a gold medal?

Just-good-enoughness is one of those concepts that a person may have to encounter many, many times before the idea is finally cleared for landing on our particular emotional airstrip. We must be patient with ourselves as this idea circles the skies above the tiny airport in our brains… but we must also instruct our ground crew to be ready and alert, prepared to talk the just-good-enoughness down out of the skies.

We must be ready to set ourselves free.

You’ve been wondering about the stick, haven’t you? I don’t need to get too graphic for you to know where that stick has been wedged.

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about my own perfectionism and its shadow side. All things cast a shadow and I’ve begun to understand, with some help from a few wise people, that it’s not possible to be a perfectionist only with oneself. No perfectionist is an island and I have had some VERY HIGH standards for other people. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that I am absolutely convinced that white should never be worn after Labour Day. (Look, this is not my particular brand of crazy but I have many beloved friends who hold this belief.) So if this is a “rule” for me, not only will my own fashion-whimsy be restricted by this belief, but my friends are in danger of being held to the same (constructed and, I would argue, ridiculous) standard.

And if I push myself without stopping to consider my physical or emotional health, if I resist setting healthy boundaries with the difficult folks in my life, if I don’t routinely provide myself with time to play and reflect and dream, I may not be as compassionate with others as I truly want to be. I might just be too damned busy judging them. Keeping score.

My perfectionism (and yours) makes us way too focussed on outcomes rather than the process and the tricky bit here is that our days are spent, primarily, in the process part ~ the doing (of laundry) and the making (of lunches). We live smack-dab in the middle of the divine messiness of life.

When you are talking with a friend about a mutual friend’s need for a touch-up to her roots, you are not “sharing a concern”. You are not worried about her hair. Her hair is not sick, it’s just grey. And that’s not a character flaw on your friend’s part. Her grey roots are not a crime against humanity. In fact, a bit of grey does not even register as being inconsiderate towards others. So the thing you’ve got yourself into is a steaming pile of judgment and gossip. And although you may be tempted to say, “What’s the big deal? We’re just passing time… having a chat about our friend,” we all know that gossip is harmful. Somewhere, deep in our royal blood and bones, we’ve known this since childhood. Gossip is the cosmic equivalent of junk mail or spam. It’s the comments section of almost every online publication. It comes from a place of wanting more power and that impulse never fosters connection.

Another big reason you are gossiping/passing judgment on your friend’s roots is that you were raised to believe a woman should NEVER let her roots show. You’re being held prisoner by that thought, by that limiting belief, and you’ve locked your friend inside that tiny cell with you.

Maybe, like me, you are discovering that this is not a good way to live. Maybe, as you’ve grown older and witnessed the genuine suffering of your friends and family members, you are struck by how very much we all have in common and how the thing we need most is love.

Okay. Here we go…

Directions for Advanced Stick Removal for Perfectionists of All Ages

  1. Acknowledge that you are a perfectionist.
  2. Immediately cut yourself some slack. You’re in good company… and shame never made anything better.
  3. Start gently examining what you believe. Are you holding old beliefs about how to live, and who and how to love, and what success means ~ ideas taught to you by well-intentioned parents, grandparents and teachers? Are you holding onto values that no longer resonate with you… that are not guided by compassion and empathy?
  4. Now begin letting those things go ~ for yourself and for others. It will take some time and some practice. Keep breathing.
  5. Bonus: Ask yourself the question, “How do I want to feel?” Good. Now move in that direction.
  6. That stick is going to drop right out. I promise.

Cheers,
xo

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The world always wants to cheer us up

pink

The world always wants to cheer us up.

“I’m a little sad,”
I say.
“I’ll be in Bangkok for my birthday
and I won’t get to celebrate
with Damien.”

What I don’t say
is that he always knows
exactly what to do
or say
or not say
no matter how I’m feeling
about the bigness of the number that I’m turning.

Here’s what my friends say,
“But your friends
in Bangkok
are throwing you a party.”

“You can celebrate with him
when you get back.”

They mean:
Cheer up.

Me. I’m a blessing-counter.
I’m counting them right now:
1. Five lovely friends
in Bangkok
to celebrate
the anniversary of me
with chocolate cake.
2. Others kind friends
who want to cheer me up.

But sadness is okay.
It’s just a feeling.

Our inability
to tolerate
to sit with
sadness
the sadness of others
and also our own
is a kind of disability.

We must stop sweeping sadness under the rug.

Where will all that sadness go
if no one listens?

Will sadness start showing up
with its bodyguard
Anger?

This is how teenagers feel
almost all the time.

Just listen.