Those used to be the words at the beginning of writing assignments I gave to my high school students. Compare/contrast the settings of these two short stories; the motivations of these two characters; the way these two different genres approach a particular topic. It’s a great way to organize your thoughts in writing.
It’s a horrible way to view your self and your self worth.
Sometimes it seems harmless enough. When Anna and I go to the beach, there will be at least a few “Am I that white?” questions from my fair child. There will be at least a few “Am I that big?” questions from me.
I’m a skinny girl in a no longer skinny body. That still comes as a shock to me on some days. I was so skinny – painfully skinny – for so long. Then came 30, a divorce, and the stress of juggling parenthood, work, and seminary. My metabolism changed but my eating habits didn’t. Then one day I looked in the mirror and it was like seeing myself for the first time. I didn’t like what I saw. (If you’ve ever watched Drop-Dead Diva, then you get a picture of how I feel most days.) In an effort to reconcile my skinny-girl memories with my not-so-skinny girl reality, I compare. I truly have a hard time seeing myself accurately.
It’s not just my body, of course. I compare my parenting to other parents. I compare my ministry to other pastors. I compare my writing to other writers and bloggers. I compare my strength and stamina at the gym with other gym rats. I compare my house and belongings to other people’s houses and belongings.
I am not fair in my comparisons. It’s not fair to judge my body against my younger self or any other woman’s body. It’s not fair to tell myself that if I was a good parent then my kids would have the same extra-curricular opportunities that other (two parent) kids have. It’s not fair to expect my church’s attendance/missions/programs/budget to measure up to churches that are larger and/or are multi-staffed. I can admire other writers’ work, but I know I’m not supposed to sound like them. I’m supposed to sound like me. I am 46 years old. I should be proud to be at the gym, not criticizing my body for not keeping up with the 20-something-year-old in the cute little bare-midriff outfit two treadmills down. And I know, even though I often allow myself to forget, that while my furniture is second-hand and my house is rented, this is what my kids call home. What more should I want? I am my own worst, most cruel critic. Always.
I’ve written about my struggles with body image and self image several times.The one thing that always strikes me when I write about body image and self image is the number of comments and emails I usually receive. I normally don’t generate a lot of comments on my blog, but obviously these topics touch a nerve for a lot of us.
I am trying to learn my triggers. I am trying to heal old wounds. I am trying to silence the inner critic. I am trying to learn the difference between wanting to improve myself and telling myself that I’m not good enough.
I know that others are walking that same path. Some are further along the path than I am. Others, bless their souls, haven’t made it as far as I have yet. We can learn from each other. We can encourage each other.
I’m curious. What is it that sets off your self doubts? Where do your words of self-criticism come from? Are they words you learned from others or have you set impossibly high expectations for yourself? Is it the media that you are hearing? What things give you strength and encouragement? What lessons have you learned? What struggles do you still have?
I would love to compare/contrast our journeys. If you have a story to tell, please do – in the comments below or by email. I promise to share what I learn from others with you. Thanks!