On being seen

I’ve always been on the short side of normal height.  I never had a growth spurt where I was the tall kid for a few months.  As a result, I’ve always seen myself as small.  I used to feel self conscious about the size of my feet and hands.  I got my mother’s long fingers and my great grandmother’s long feet (she was 4’11” and had size 9 feet!).  I was thankful when flare jeans came into fashion because they covered up part of my large shoes.  I find it fascinating, the little things we choose to obsess over.  Here’s the list of things about my body I continue to be bothered by:

  • Unwanted body hair (in all the places from my eyebrows to my toes).
  • Several midline hernias (the result of two abdominal laparotomies and one pregnancy).
  • The appearance of my genitals after giving birth (What’s it supposed to look like?!? And some people get plastic surgery down there—ouch! And no thank you!)
  • My toenails (The little ones grow straight up toward the sky, much to the chagrin of my pedicurist!)
  • Dark spots on my face from sun damage (I am gradually turning into my mother!  Thankfully my mom is a beauty so I’ll try to be as graceful about it as she has been.)
  • Dark lines around my lips that appeared during pregnancy and never really went away.
  • Pore size on and around my nose.
  • Bikini line that gets rash-ie when shaved.  (Can we all just decide that this is normal and nothing to be ashamed of?!? After all, I’m just trying to address the second item on the list.)

And really for all of these things, right!?!  Can we all just decide that these and whatever is on YOUR list is normal?  At this point, I could turn this into a tirade against commerce praying on the insecurities of women to sell everything under the sun, but that’s not where I want to go with this, because I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.  What I CAN change is the insecurity within me.  What I CAN do is decide that it’s ok to be seen and to take up space in the world. 

I am a dedicated student of Brené Brown.  In case you haven’t spoken with me for more than five minutes in the last six months then let me explain Brené.  She is a social work researcher focused on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.  She teaches that shame thrives in secrecy and it cannot tolerate a good dose of empathy.  So the way out of shame is to speak it, to share it with someone who is safe and will express empathy.  I have been aggressively experimenting with this idea for the last several months.  Thankfully I have a sister who also enjoys learning about these things and we’ve brought each other up to speed on how to be the voice of empathy.  We share our shame experiences with each other and, like Brené promises—it evaporates in the presence of empathy! 

***So my first lesson about body shame (or any shame, for that matter) is to speak it.  Find a safe place and speak it.***

As I have given voice to my shame, I have made a space for those thoughts inside me that previously seemed forbidden.  And this has allowed me to come to know myself. There were always parts of me that didn’t meet my own and/or other’s expectations (or what I guessed their expectations to be).  I shoved those parts of me deep down inside myself and tried to ignore them.  Occasionally, when they would pop up, I would feel shame about these things and send them back under the surface. 

When I realized my marriage needed to end, it was the first step in this process of surrender.  It was the first piece of the facade to come down.  That was traumatic and painful, and still is.  But what I’ve realized is that behind that facade was me.  Me—with all my imperfections and weaknesses, but also with intense strength and creative potential.  That wall coming down forced into my view a lot of the imperfections and weaknesses.  I remember saying, “I can’t get fat and be getting divorced.”  I realized that buffering with food was a way I could numb the pain.  The consciousness of this gave me a clearer understanding of it and power over it.  I realized that there was a clear strength in my faith—the knowledge that God loves me and cares about my happiness and desires.  But I also have a lot of uncertainty related to faith and my religion.  I found that the parts that I liked best about myself were the ones that were authentic and real and the parts I despised about myself were related to dishonesty and cowardice.  Most, if not all, of my dishonesty was directed at trying to control others thoughts and feelings about me. 

And then I realized, God created me this way.  All of me.  All of the nuance and complexity.  The contradictions.  And I am loved just as I am.  Glennon Doyle writes,

“It strikes me that it’s always religious people who are most surprised by grace.  Those hoops we become to exhausted from jumping through? We created them.  We forget that our maker made us human, and so it’s okay—maybe exactly right—to be human.   We are ashamed of the design of the one we claim to worship. So we sweep up our mess and hide our doubts, contradictions, anger and fear before showing ourselves to God, which is like putting on a fancy dress and makeup to prepare for an X-ray.” Love Warrior, 2016

It’s okay to be human.  What a concept! I think this is the central struggle for women today.  Throughout history we have been subservient to and then absorbed into the male identity. I’m not going to wait to define and create the meaning and role I want to play in this life.  And I believe the first step toward this is becoming ok with being seen, with taking up space in the world. This means being compassionate with my own imperfections and the imperfections of others.  It also means refusing to play small by fiercely discovering myself and belonging to myself.  To let go of being desired and start focusing on what I desire.  And to show up in the world how I want to, instead of letting it be dictated to me—body hair and all.