From the ages of 13 to 53, I absolutely equated my entire value as a human, my self-worth, to how thin and in shape I was. To be lean and tiny meant I was worth something; of value. This skewed value system began much earlier than 13 with familial conditioning. My mother was always on a diet and the comments in my family about fat people were less than desirable. To be fat was worse than being broke or dead. I gained a significant amount of weight after about 9 months of sobriety and try as I might, it didn’t come off. In desperation, I read diet books, and did my best to run and starve off the extra pounds. In one of the books I read, I was introduced to the novel idea that dieting and over-exercising was a messed-up way to keep women feeling bad about themselves, so that they would buy diet plans, books, programs and gym memberships. Although I loved this concept, I couldn’t truly grasp it; my belief in “thin is better,” and “it’s my value as a person,” was too deeply ingrained.
Fast forward about three years. The training I received as a Restorative Yoga Teacher and Coach, brilliantly taught me how to be in my body and appreciate it for all it allows me to do, no matter what shape or size. I stopped dieting, began to connect with the Body Positive people, podcasts and message. I gradually have let go of instantly comparing my body size and shape to all the people I meet or see. Friends can be friends and I can be more present as I’m not constantly thinking about my size as a value measurement. Steadily, the claws of this twisted belief system are being pried open! This transformation, in the face of ever more media and the latest and greatest diet plan practically being shoved in my face, is taking place as my strength to see the monster for what it is, grows.
But a funny thing happened journeying through this transformation from shame to self-love. While the body-image monster sleeps, I find myself questioning my value as a human showing up in a whole new area of my life; writing, marketing and promotion.
I used to hate marketing. I was convinced I was terrible at it! I was encouraged to keep at it; that just like in sobriety, after some time, I might actually like it, and that has turned out to be true. I mostly have fun writing posts; creating programs; learning what works; what resonates for people; and being exposed to all kinds of things I never knew.
I get to connect with loads of new people from all over the country; and that’s so cool, except for the part, that I’m reading posts, newsletters and marketing from other people in my field and comparing. I’ve begun to question my own voice and wonder what I am doing “wrong,” or what they are doing that is so great and gets them so much attention and business. And, I don’t even know how much business they have! It’s all made up in my head by this value creature waiting for a moment of weakness to make me question my validity as a human.
What the heck does the quality of my writing, or your writing or marketing or what anyone puts on their social media, or advertisement have to do with self-worth? How does it make any of us more or less of a human? It just doesn’t have a thing to do with it. He or she may be a better writer or marketer or athlete or whatever, but it has not one thing to do with the value of a life.
These comparisons, whether it be in body beauty or excellent skills in business, chip away at our hearts. They erode well-being and confidence. Self-doubt creeps in and can be devastating, if one doesn’t have a well-established practice of self-nourishment (such as, grounding and boundary work, journaling, yoga, nature journeys, self-esteem work, sobriety and therapy) and a solid support system. For the person that acts out in a binge-purge pattern, a cycle of over-eating, over-drinking or binge-watching TV, may occur. Maybe they read and compare for hours, trying to make sense of how to please everyone and end up collapsing into depression. A person with anorexic tendencies, may restrict again, falling into the trap of perfectionism.
The common emotion that strings these behaviors together, is our friend, fear. You may think, “friend? Fear isn’t my friend. I’m afraid of feeling fear.” Yet, what if you embrace your fear and acknowledge that the controlling and creation of a faulty value system was your fear trying to keep you safe? What if you thank your fear and ask, “What is my fear and these uncomfortable thoughts and behaviors trying to teach me? What do I need to do now?”
When one has done and continues to do their work, the foundation (also, known as self-nourishment practices) becomes the lantern out of the forest. The a-ha, usually with the help of a trusted supporter, appears more quickly than before. The “power of pause” (POP) brings great insight. Goodness, that’s what I am doing now? Instead of distracting myself from my growth and presence in the world with food and comparisons of body shape and size, I’m now bogging down with comparisons of social media posts and business success. Oh, no, I see you, shape shifting monster! This is not what we are doing today.
Today, I will reclaim my voice and my value from the void of useless comparisons. Today, I will shine my light ever brighter so the exact right people that need my special brand of support and talent can find me. When they do find me, with my value intact, they will learn to reclaim their self-worth and unique voice. However small that unique voice is in the beginning, it shouts, “you’ve done it before”. And it is still there now! As you reclaim this voice, so your foundation becomes just a bit more solid.
Progress, not perfection. The shift from what our culture values to what you value, is not easy. We are exposed to more advertising that tells us, you are “not good enough, so buy this product that will make you worthy,” than ever before. It’s a grinding machine, stealing our inner truth, and then selling it back to us, telling us it will solve the emptiness that comparison has created.
Where is emptiness, and low self-worth showing up to ask you to question your value as a person? Are you even aware of the number of images of “ideal” body or “successful” person you are exposed to on a daily basis? How often do you feel bad about yourself during the day because of the soulless glare of neon materialism? What do you turn to, to numb the pain?
Gently, invite the power of pause, as often as possible. Question your thoughts. Limit social media and exposure to advertising that makes you feel bad. Engage and make friends with others that are committed to seeing your value as a sentient being, rather than what size you are, or how great your latest social media post was. Write a letter to your body, or your identity as a writer or nurse or whatever calling you find yourself in, thanking yourself for all that you are able to experience just because, YOU. ARE. YOU.