(NOT) WHAT SHE SAID
I have done a lot of work in recent years not just to learn new things, but also to actively unlearn a lot of harmful societal messaging. My thoughts around my own body, productivity, ableism, racism, gender, relationships, capitalism and mental health (to name a few) have dramatically changed and I am so proud of myself for challenging what I once took to be the “truth.” By doing the work to modify my perception of things, I have recently been able to move through the world with far more self-compassion and a whole lot less judgment--both of other people and myself. While this is exciting and liberating, there are very few people in my personal life who now approach things the way that I do. And sometimes it can be hard to heal and grow when the people around you aren’t on the same journey.
For example, I try my best to no longer talk about my body in a disparaging way. I also try not to think about food as healthy or unhealthy or assign any moral value around food choice. This is completely antithetical to the society in which I was raised. So it makes sense that a lot of people around me still view certain foods as “bad” and any fat on one’s body as something that should be avoided at all costs. On the one hand, hearing people continue to talk this way is upsetting and makes me want to challenge what they are saying as they say it. For example, I recently spoke to someone who implied that her lack of makeup and her visible acne meant she couldn’t possibly be camera ready. I felt myself bristle at this because it bumps up against my belief that we don’t need to look a certain way to appear in public or on camera. But then I took a deep breath and remembered all the influences that have led her to think this way. We live in a looks-obsessed culture, and I can’t be disappointed with other people for having fallen into the trap of equating (certain) looks with value. Especially when I am still guilty of thinking the same things. The only difference is that I am in a place in my life where I have the energy and desire to challenge those thoughts. It’s not as if I was born enlightened and never spent hundreds of dollars on Jenny Craig (as recently as 2019).
I also find myself getting frustrated when the people around me are unnecessarily hard on themselves. I’ve had to push down a desire to shake them while screaming, “Be nicer to yourself!” Those moments are an important reminder that 1) it’s never helpful to yell at people to be kinder to themselves and 2) I can’t force people to change. Even if it’s obvious that the way someone is viewing something isn’t serving them, it’s not my responsibility to make them see that. I can be open about the way I view the world and explain my reasoning for why I now approach life the way that I do. I can model how to have a good relationship with yourself through my own behavior. But I can’t force other people down the path that I have found for myself. And I can’t get mad at them for not wanting the same things for themselves that I have decided to prioritize.
It’s also been helpful to remind myself that the information and community we are exposed to shapes us in bigger ways than we realize. I recently sat through a family dinner and realized that my views about Covid are vastly different from some of my family members (they think we just need to learn to live with it, while I think we should still be cautious and do whatever we can to stop the spread). Is this variance of opinion due to our different personalities and values? Maybe a little. But I mostly credit it to the fact that the media we are consuming about the virus is at odds with each other. I follow a lot of disability activists on Twitter who are hyper-aware of the potential long-term effects of even a modest case of Covid, while they are following more mainstream sources that often focus on the impact not returning to life as normal will have on children’s mental health and development. As I sat at the table, I could sense that the way I viewed this massive thing was vastly different than the way they viewed it. But by being able to understand why that difference existed helped me not get riled up and angry. I also released myself from the responsibility of having to change their minds, which was a huge relief.
I’ll admit that it is often frustrating and disappointing that so many important people in my life don’t think about things the same way I do. It would definitely be easier to never hear the people I love tear themselves down or critique their physical appearance. It would feel far more comfortable to be aligned on all aspects of life with the people that populate mine. But the good news is that I can handle thinking differently than the people around me. I can hear someone say something I would never say to myself or others and not instantly fall back into my old way of thinking. I am far enough down my new path to not risk turning around if I get briefly knocked off course. And I am excited to continue to discover other areas of my life where there is still work to be done and distortions to be dismantled and ultimately thrown away. I have no idea how I will view things five years from now, but I know that, for me, I am heading in the right direction--even if sometimes I have to light my own way.