Last week I had the pleasure of hosting some friends over for coffee. I always love these times of natural conversation, easy laughter, and the nonjudgmental consumption of baked goods. Sweatpants were mandatory.
In the light-hearted conversation while preparing our coffees, the topic of clingy clothes came up and I made the mistake of mentioning how I am uncomfortable with my stomach. I use the word "mistake" because as soon as I said it, I knew what the reaction would be: every eye in my kitchen would roll, including my husband. And they did. Clearly this was not the first time I have tried to voice the dislike I have of my body and consequently received this reaction. I'd be willing to bet if you know me, your eyes are rolling as well.
I understand that reality is I'm thin. I am considered lean or trim... whatever adjective you want to use. I am aware that I have a more petite body type. But I am not physically fit and there is a difference between thin and fit. I go through spurts when I'm able to do P90X and love it. But that isn't happening now and underneath my clothes, my body likes to remind me of the six darling children I've grown in utero.
But people don't see the "flaws" that I see about myself. Because I wear clothes that hide the parts I don't like, choose outfits that flatter the parts with which I'm more comfortable, or I break out my spanx (yep, I said it) as in the picture to the left. People decide I shouldn't complain because they see the "presentable" Liria. It's a superficial assumption, but I myself have made presumptions similar to this about people as well.
Over the years, I've tried to be sensitive to other's feelings and not voice my vulnerable thoughts. But the past few weeks have been filled with new information about body shaming as I continue to work through more things in my past. As it turns out, my life has been filled with all types of body shaming which is why I can be the size I am and still see so many "wrong" pieces.
I was 11 when my male school principal told me that because my skirt didn't completely cover my knees, I was a stumbling block for the boys.
I was 13 the first time my mother told me I should put on make up because my face "needed some color."
I was 16 when my uncle told me that no face is perfectly symmetrical and I had to stay completely still until he found my flaw.
I was 18 when an elder at the Christian beach camp where I worked told me I needed to wear a tee shirt over my bathing suit because the boys "were uncomfortable" with my one-piece.
I was 27 and one week postpartum when a relative told me with a slight smile on her face that I'd never have my pre-pregnancy body back while another family member poked at my tender stomach.
These are just a few of the hundreds of times I was told my body was not enough. Or too much. I have a history, as most people do, that has brought me to the current place of this great insecurity I hold
. As a general rule, though, I try to keep my insecurities to myself mainly because I'm not viewed as the person whose allowed to voice those about my physical appearance. And I would imagine I'm not alone in this.
When I took a moment to think about this latest situation with my friends, it was easy to see they weren't at all trying to minimize my insecurities or vulnerability. Quite the opposite. They were trying make me feel better by telling me I was being silly.
I thought of all the times I'd done this exact thing to others. The time I told my writer friend who was over-critiquing her own article that she was ridiculous and the writing was brilliant. The time my aunt apologized for the "mess" in her kitchen as I laughed and looked around what appeared to me like a spotless room. Or the moments my hyper-intelligent husband expressed his uncertainty about an exam and I brushed off his uncertainty with an Are-You-For-Real? look.
We constantly do this to one another as an attempt to encourage our loved ones. I think it's because inside we recognize our own short-comings and feel them with magnitude. The person in front of us almost becomes unjustified when placed next to our own self-criticisms.
What's really happening when we brush off someone's vulnerability in this way is we become one more person
essentially teaching them they can't have those insecurities. Not teaching them that they shouldn't but that they can't. It chips away a little bit of safety from that relationship and looses a particle of authenticity.
We are also prioritizing our own insecurities over our friend's or family member's when we do this. We think ours is more justified or reasonable. This mentality steals the dignity of others. It diminishes their personhood by making our "thing" a bigger deal than theirs'.
And when we do this we are essentially telling that person their thoughts and/or emotions are not important to us. They are exposing a piece of their innermost being, a piece of their soul to us and we laugh it away. I have laughed them away.
This is not ok. Not ever.
When I voice to someone I love and trust those little secrets I have in my head I don't want them to respond with that look of "You're ridiculous." I want them to tell me that's normal. Or tell me they have the same insecurity. Or tell me that we always judge ourselves harder than others do.
Tell me anything that doesn't make me feel worse for opening my mouth. Tell me what you'd want to hear.
And I need to do the same.
Because internally comparing our insecurities doesn't stop them from existing. It doesn't stop them from being real to us. It doesn't change the fact that we are still vulnerable in those areas. And if we finally are able to overcome that one insecurity, there will be another one waiting to take it's place.
We all have our weak spots that we protect and keep tucked away, so if someone is willing to reveal one of those things to you, it means you're valuable to them. It means they are looking for one more way to deepen your relationship by connecting further. It means they are entrusting this particular thought and feeling in your care.
My body is an insecurity to me. People may see that as absurd, but it doesn't change it from being true. I can mentally walk through all the reasons why I shouldn't have those thoughts about myself, and sometimes I have had progress. But the majority of the time, they are just there because of my history.
We don't always know the full story behind a person's weak spots, but we don't need to to see they have them and those spots should be emotionally validated. It's just another way we wrap our arms around others and tell them we care, whether that's literal or figurative. We need to make sure we treasure the gifts they give us in these moments.