I am a healthy size 48, with big strong baker’s arms that can hold and hug. Although there will always be a part of me that struggles with the fact that I am not built according to the ruling norm in society, I am growing increasingly comfortable with my packaging.
I try and exercise and keep a healthy mind in a healthy body, despite the daily onslaught of media messages telling me there’s something seriously wrong with me. As clinical psychologist Dr. Sari Fine Shepphird comments in her Encyclopaedia Britannica blog, “FAT has become the most terrifying three-letter word in our language”. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate being overweight as being better than whatever we call slim. But we have lost sight of the other ingredients that make up our self esteem, such as kindness, intelligence, or spirituality.
The external or the internal
So yes, I try and love myself as I am, yet I can’t help noticing how appearances change the way people look at you. Big people are the strongest people I know, because we have a daily battle not to internalise the judgement and the condemnation of a ‘concerned’ society. It’s a daily task to remember to value myself according to who I am, not how I look.
Out on a quick food round with my unwashed hair in a bun and no make-up I look both old and fat. Yes, I look like someone who has let herself go. But really, did I need to dress up to go to the local supermarket for a pint of milk? I was actually not even aware of being totally unadorned until I see the ‘concerned’ look in a neighbour’s face when we bump trollies; “everything okay with you?”
Later, out on a brisk stroll wearing snazzy training clothes and a confident stride, (still hair in a bun and no make-up), I look like a middle aged, rather overweight person who is ‘trying to do better’. Cheers all round…..
And later that night, dressed up for a special dinner with my lovely other half, hair now washed and (inexpertly) blow-dried … I brush up well, and look like a voluptuous young crone, radiating warmth, with warm sparkling eyes as she engages the other in conversation.
Seen through other people’s eyes, these are three very different versions of me. All right, and all wrong.
From the inside out, in all three cases, I am the same person, the proud mother, the caring therapist, a good friend, a not too nagging wife, and the sometimes insecure bunny. Someone who can put her thoughts into writing, almost understand an article on the Higgs-Bosun and all labels aside, tries to stay close to her centre, her true self, living out the teaching of self-forgetfulness, harmlessness and right speech.
If body shape was not the norm?
Imagine a world where the beauty norm was based on how much kindness you radiate, and magazines were filled with articles about the kindest, rather than the skinniest people on earth. Where governments issued missives on how the lack of kindness is becoming a worrying epidemic that leads to increased stress, despair and unhappiness. And better still, where the media feature programs with titles such as ‘the biggest miser’.
Problem is, a world like that can become just as distorted. Whenever the intrinsic value of a human being is measured by kindness rather than the space suit they happen to inhabit, we stop seeing people in their totality. Kindness, just like a perfect size 12, is also a superficial and arbitrary measurement. Just as ‘intelligence’ would be, or ‘cultured-ness’, or any other ‘ness’ you might think of. We are a perfect blend of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. These are the four pillars of the ‘temple of self’. When one pillar is feeling shaky the other three can support. Happy people are people that feel they love and respect themselves in their strengths and weaknesses in each of these four sectors of being.
A message to young men and women
It’s not what you are, fat, thin, clever, kind, fair or foul that determines your value. It is who you are. It is how you decide to live out those unique qualities that make you, you! Stop building your self esteem on the way you look, and find additional, not alternative sources of strength. We are a unique mixture of experience, temperament, intelligence, and yes, body shape. Enjoy who you are, and let no one tell that your version of ‘being’ has any less validity that someone else.
So go off and do the food shopping looking your worst self, as an exercise in experiencing the fact that you are still exactly the same on the inside!!!