January 1, 2014

My New Year's Resolution: Acceptance

My resolutions for 2014 are simple. There's just the one, and it's acceptance of self.

Goodness, that sounds self-involved and pompous, but let me explain.

Like most of the women in my family, I'm a perfectionist and a control freak. It seems to be inborn. And, while those traits can have some positive points, by and large, they're destructive. They can and often do lead to self-destructive behavior. When you're a parent, there's nothing you do that affects just you. There's the crux of my resolution. I need to learn to accept certain things about myself not only for my sake, but for my daughters.

Growing up, I didn't give a thought to how I looked until puberty. Before then, I looked almost exactly like Boo Bear with a thicker build, darker and longer hair, and soda bottle lens glasses from the age of eight on.

Here's Boo at 7. She's the one in purple.
See? This is me at 6.

When puberty arrived, it did so unevenly, as growth spurts can do. My torso grew to its adult size a full four years before my height even started to catch up. I didn't know this back then though. What I knew is when Mom and I went shopping for school clothes, I had to get the pants with elastic in the waist. Adults started encouraging me to go outside and play some more, even when I'd been outside for an hour or two already, and I started overhearing comments from adults and other kids alike regarding how heavy I'd gotten.

There were a few comparisons between my ten to thirteen-year-old self and various members of the bovine genus.

All this percolated in my young mind. I went on my first diet at thirteen, just after Mom and Granny D taught me to cook. I went from there to desperately trying to look more like the pretty girls at church and school. I spent the next nineteen years alternately fighting with hair that couldn't decide if it was flat and lifeless or super frizzy, a horrible complexion, pasty skin that never tans even a little, and weight or throwing up my hands.

Lately I've heard the girls utter phrases like, "I'm trying to look like I am pretty," or, "Sister said I wasn't pretty."

How sad and troubling are those statements? Here are these beautiful girls already worrying about their appearance. What has caused them to do so?

Ever since the girls were born, I've tried to keep my words from betraying that less than great self-image. Hubby has mentioned I fail more often than not, and here's the proof of it from my daughters' mouths!

I'm never going to meet any definition of conventional beauty. My features are a little too "masculine." My hair's just a bit too wild, and past acne breakouts left permanent scars. As a newborn and a little girl, I was downright scrawny, knobby knees, bug eyes, and all, but I've never been in the ballpark of "delicate." Even at my smallest, I was still just a tad more heavily built than Hubby. 

Hubby and I on our wedding day in April 2005.
From the broad shoulders to the barrel chest and thick legs, it's in my bones. No  matter how in shape or out of it I am, I'm always going to be a "big" woman. As for my current obese state, health issues that started in high school and quadrupled in severity during pregnancy certainly didn't help as pounds started to pack on, but neither did my self-image.

It's only been in the last two years that I discovered fighting to "control" my hair and breakouts were at the root of their problems. I spent nineteen years believing wholeheartedly that my hair and skin were incredibly oily when they were actually dry. Once I realized this and started working with my body instead of against it, those issues started to resolve.

Does this mean I'm suddenly content with my appearance? No. I cringe when looking in the mirror, but that's my problem. I am the one who has to deal with the mean girl in my head. Boo and Sneak shouldn't have to hear the bile spewing from the shrew's "mouth." 

I don't realize when this happens, so the only way to ensure these slips don't poison the girls' psyche is to learn to accept who I am, wild hair, size, accent, and all.

Yes, part of this is going to involve eating well and exercising. The difference is in the motivation. When you hate yourself, diet and exercise are all about control and self-punishment. They become a form of self-flagellation.

"That pair of jeans is too tight. You don't deserve to eat this week."

"You dared eat an ice cream cone at that birthday party. Go run til you puke."

Sound familiar?

When you accept your body, the focus of eating healthfully and exercising is feeling well and insuring good health.

Hubby, the girls, and I all went gluten free last October after testing positive for gluten sensitivity. This meant a huge change in how we all felt. For Hubby and the girls, those changes were immediate and positive. My reaction was a bit different. I'm one of those people whose bodies attempt to break gluten down and only manage to change the molecule into what's called glutomorphine. So, the first full week off wheat, barley, and spelt meant intense withdrawal symptoms, and far from loosing weight as you see touted in magazines, mine exploded
However, once I got through those first few weeks, the gain slowed and finally stopped, and most of the pain I'd been plagued with for years evaporated.

Back in November, I started treatment for a sluggish thyroid. So far, I've been reveling in having normal cold tolerance again after years of freezing if the temperature falls below 74 degrees. The brain fog that settled over me eight years ago finally lifted. I feel wide awake, alert, and energetic again for the first time in almost a decade! In turn, this also means I've been having fewer days when I stutter, garble speech, invert numbers, and have to try six times to spell simple words. There's been no sign of a change on the scale, but that's okay because I feel my age again!

You might have noticed an increase in videos and photos with me in them here or on Instagram. Those are a form of aversion therapy I started once I decided to begin advertising Contented Comfort on the radio. First, I was just trying to get over grimacing anytime I heard a recording of my voice. As a child who was recommended for dyslexia testing because of annunciation symptoms, I've been concerned with how I say things since teachers first mentioned I pronounced things strangely in kindergarten. While I love hearing a Southern drawl, there's something about the pitch of my voice and the out and out twang that thickens when I'm upset or tired that shreds my nerves.

When the red flags in the girls' behavior and speech started, and realization of its cause slapped me in the face, I expanded the "therapy" to include everything else.

Taken a couple of weeks back for the December Photo a Day Challenge.
I look at photos like this and try to see the person in them the way others see her. That sentence sounds weird considering I'm talking about a "selfie," but I have to divorce myself from the image to do this. I have to look at this image like it's a character sketch.

How would I describe this person?

Believe it or not, appearance is the least important thing about describing a character. Personality, temperament, their actions, how they relate to those around them, the way they think, and their mannerisms are what is important. Physical descriptors are thrown in almost as afterthoughts even though the author may have a very specific image of them in their mind.

People are the same way. Although appearance may be the first thing we notice about someone, it's the soul inside that ultimately makes the biggest impact on our image of them. 

Doctor Who's Amy Pond captured it almost perfectly in "The Girl Who Waited" when she said: "You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful and five minutes later they're as dull as a brick? Then there's other people, when you meet them, you think, 'Not bad. They're okay.' And then you get to know them, and their face just sort of becomes them, like their personality's written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful."

So instead of focusing on the unruly curls, bad skin, square jaw, puffy everything, belly, double chin, boxy frame, massive forehead, and wide, smashed looking nose, I try to connect the image with the way others would describe me.

This woman is a wife and mother. She's an entrepreneur who is passionate about her business. She's creative and goofy and sarcastic. She studies other languages with her children and husband, so they'll have a chance to practice those skills and spend days immersed in them to gain fluency. She's a klutz and a bit flaky at times, but she's also works hard and has set times to devote to her daughters, no matter what's going on that week.

It's going to be a long process. When you've spent literal decades zeroing in on the things you don't like about yourself, that habit won't be broken in a day. I started immediately upon realizing what I'd unintentionally been doing to Boo Bear and Sneak, and I've no idea when I will be able to catch a glimpse of a photo or the mirror without being filled with embarrassed disappointment.

I'm posting this and a similar video today because I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. Although I hope and pray the girls will never experience self-loathing, I wrote this and filmed the video for their benefit. They're too young to hear what I am saying now. They would internalize every word because, at five and seven, they believe anything that applies to Mama and Daddy applies to them. But a day is coming sooner than I like to think about when they'll be teenagers. I'm recording these messages for the benefit of the teens they will grow into should the need arise for them to hear it.

Just because you might not be "conventionally" pretty or handsome doesn't mean you're ugly. Just because you may be different doesn't mean you're not enough.

Some of the most inventive or innovative people I know have been written off  as lazy, stupid, or just "good ol' boys," and that fact sickens me. Where would the world be if everyone who heard those phrases took them to heart?

When we look at someone, we don't just see their face and frame. We see their soul shining in everything they are. Why shouldn't we give ourselves the same consideration?

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