Ask any woman about the concept of self-acceptance, and she’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. It is a topic that is covered by every talk show host, every woman’s magazine and blog site. We have been told to reject negative self-talk, use positive affirmations on a daily basis, and avoid comparing ourselves to anyone else.
The rally cry of “Women unite and accept your individual beauty" resonates with every woman I know. But no matter how many of these suggestions I try, it remains a constant battle. I try to use the suggestions to combat the constant images that promote an ideal that is unattainable. The ageless, beautiful woman, with full, shining hair, straight white teeth, unwrinkled and unblemished skin, and a lithe, toned physiques which is fears no fashion, be it a bathing suit or skinny jeans.
The battle begins every morning. I wake up and have a stern chat with myself about avoiding the bathroom scale because I know that this number has the power to affect my entire day. I successfully avoid the scale and then run face first in to the mine field that is my closet. It’s clearly divided into two sections; “skinny” day clothes and all the other stuff. If I’m feeling optimistic and try on pants that fall firmly into the “skinny” category, I know I’m risking failure if they’re a little too tight.
Both getting weighed and getting dressed carry the same power to press play on the tape in my head that loops with negativity. This tape began when I was pregnant and I lost control of my body for the first time in my life. I was 20 years old.
Up until that time, I paid very little attention to weight. I enjoyed food and didn’t think twice about plowing through a plate of gravy covered French Fries. I know my weight went up and down but it was not something that copnsumed me. I was fully involved in life and all the daily experiences and drama that went with just living at that age.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter, and realized that the 45lbs I had gained during the pregnancy were not going to magically disappear, that the tape started gathering small internal messages to play in my mind. I felt trapped in a “fat suit”. As if the real me was wrapped within a costume that I should be able to unzip and emerge from at will.
From that moment on, the battle has raged. Emotional trauma will shut down the messages for a period of time and fill my immediate focus on just getting through the next breath. Losing my sister. Divorce. Both events were so all encompassing that it wasn’t until several months later, I realized the tape had been shut off. But as the pain receded and I started to pay attention to life around me, it began to murmur once again.
Even with the 18lbs lost between those two events, when the tape began to play again, it was to point out that perhaps I should consider another 5 lbs. And when I got sick and my weight hit 96 lbs, I realized the tape was never going to shut up. It was never going to be enough.
I needed to just acknowledge and understand that self-acceptance wasn’t a state of being that you achieve. It wasn’t a race where you crossed the finish line and were able to collapse in relief of having made it through the race. For me, self-acceptance is about the small things that I do daily to acknowledge the battle. It’s the fight with the scale. It’s the debate about whether to do botox. It’s the purposeful taking care of myself in a way that makes me feel good. Whether that’s a bubble bath or eating the last cookie simply because it’s calling my name. And before I take that bite, I tell the tape to be quiet because regardless of what it says, I’m going to eat the cookie.
As I approach 50, I hold onto the belief that someday I will wake up and no longer care if my hair is Victoria Secret worthy, or what number the scale might flash that morning. I will no longer care if the wrinkles that show when I smile, stick around after I’m done smiling. I will no longer pay attention to the fact that all of my skin seems to be doing a slow inch-by-inch crawl towards the floor.
There is a line from a poem I love titled “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. This line has become my mantra. It has become the sword I use to subdue the monster. “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple….”
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
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