I watched a video recently made by a gentleman (Mr. Stephen Clarke is his name) who was challenged to reveal something difficult and personal about himself. My heart burst with admiration at his courage to be vulnerable and step up to this challenge. No one has challenged me to share any dark secret but I do have something I want to share. The reason for sharing this is to shine a light on this secret so it will lose it’s power.
What is my secret??
I often feel uncomfortable in my body and with my physical appearance. I harshly judge my appearance but I also feeling uncomfortable with the size of my frame and build. Let’s face it, one’s skeletal structure is not something we can change. I cannot diet and exercise this away. I cannot surgically change the broadness of my shoulders or my height. I cannot make myself dainty or petite. I realize this might seem like a ridiculous thing to be self conscious about. For our every irrational thought, there is an origin and root cause for it’s existence. This particular mindset problem is no different.
I have a sister who is two years older. She fits the more traditional version of society’s “beauty” standard. My sister is 5’2″ with a petite, thin frame (pictured on the right). For most of my life, I have compared myself to her. I have seen how people react to her and treat her and I see how they react to me. My subconscious has made copious notes of any perceived discrepancies over the years thus creating and cementing a skewed view of myself. (Thank’s brain, you’re a dick.)
This is not the best picture of ME (on the left), but a you can see, my sister and I look quite different from each other. I’ve been asked more than once if we even have the same parents (we do). My sister introduced me to one of her friends and the first thing she said was, “How did that happen?!”. Genetics are a funny lottery. I’m always in awe of siblings who look similar. The fact of the matter is, I took after my dad’s side of the family. My sister took after my mom’s side. Dad is 6’3″ tall and rather imposing. Mom was only 5’3 tall.
I am 5’9″ tall. I have a “sturdy”, medium to large frame. I have always been physically strong, even as a baby. Over the years, I have grown self conscious of my broad shoulders. Before I had kids and had a smaller bust, described myself as looking like a guy with boobs. I did not feel attractive or feminine when I was younger and I still struggle with that now. I have never felt like I fit the traditional definition of “beauty”, ever. The reason being mostly due to my larger frame and build. A friend of mine, with no filter, saw a picture of me standing with my sister. He said I looked like a rugby player next to her. Who knows? I might look like a rugby player! There’s nothing wrong with female rugby players. They definitely kick ass and are awesome. However, if you already feel inferior to those around you and are self conscious about your body, that’s not what you want to hear from anyone.
So how does this skewed view of myself affect me in my everyday life?
When I am feeling down and very self conscious, I notice that I try to take up less space. I hold my arms in close to my sides, stoop a little and roll my shoulders in. I do not stand tall and proud because when this is kicking my ass, I feel enormous beside everyone. I’m not enormous but I feel like I take up so much space in a room. I feel like I am in everyone’s way if people get near me. It affects how I carry myself which in turn influences how I feel about myself in general. I see myself in the mirror and start finding every perceived flaw with my face and body. I start to loathe my stomach and the sight of my nose. I start to shut down and turn inward. I have the strong urge to disappear, to hide and to not go places. When I feel like this, I also want to disappear from social media as well. I start going through my various social media feeds and I delete pictures of myself. I delete any soul baring posts I’ve written. All of this is my natural reflex when I feel insecure and afraid I’ve made myself too vulnerable. I start to fear judgement from others. I fear people can only see the bad in me which I can so clearly see in myself.
I spoke to my therapist some about this issue at my last session. He asked me what would be different in my life if I was physically smaller. How would my life differ if I was physically more similar to those around me? I mentioned how, since I am larger than a lot of women, I feel men do not have that instinct to stand up for me as they might do with a smaller person. (There’s actually science behind a man’s instinct to protect)
There have been times in my life where I wanted someone to stand up for me. There have been several occasions where I have needed defending and no one was there. I’ve been taken advantage of by those who I felt would protect me. Experiencing a betrayals of trust has colored and wrongly reinforced the idea that I don’t matter to those around me. I’m not worth protecting. I’m not precious enough to defend. All of these feelings are so intertwined with how I view myself. On bad days, this garbage in my head is a boulder which flattens me. My negative thoughts can become overwhelming and soul crushing.
A change in perspective is long overdue.
I saw a post from Upworthy’s page on Facebook which shared the artist P!nk’s speech at MTV’s 2017 Music Awards. P!nk saw her time on stage as a chance to tell a story about an interaction with her daughter. P!nk’s daughter told her mamma that she felt like she was the ugliest girl in school and she is only six years old. She described herself as looking like a boy with long hair. Of course hearing this would make any mama’s mind reel. P!nk decided to make a powerpoint presentation, showing her daughter examples of all of the famous artists who live their lives, embracing their uniqueness. She mentioned David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Elton John and many others. Towards the end of her speech, she ended with what she told her daughter. She said, “We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. We help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty”.
I have always loved P!nk for her amazing ability to be exactly who she is, without apology. Her music is powerful and she composes lyrics from the heart. Her song “Perfect” has always makes me cry as it is relatable. I’ve always felt like an outsider amongst my family, my cousins and my peers. Listening to P!nk’s award speech felt like she was talking to me, not just her daughter. While I may not dress to stand out, I don’t feel like I blend in. After listening to her words, it made me start to see more beauty in myself and appreciate my own uniqueness.
It’s been two weeks since my last black cloud of self loathing was here. There are still wisps of that cloud, floating in the distance but it’s starting to dissipate.