Last week, I started a new plan/initiative/pact with my friend The Stumpy Giraffe to support each other in taking better care of ourselves. Not long after the new year started, I got a message from her, a panicked sounding message about how she felt about her body, a desperate reaching out for someone to listen or relate or tell her to quit buying into that bullshit she’d been listening to–probably a bit of all three. At the time, I was also not in a very good place (post on that to come), and I proposed that we work together, using each other as support to set and work toward health goals that would make us feel better about ourselves.
She told me she really wanted to fit into a certain sized pair of jeans. I suggested instead that, “it should be more of a focus on feeling good about yourself no matter what size you are. Let the size thing be secondary to feeling healthy and liking yourself.”
And then my dearest friend said something that broke my heart:
“I just have no idea what it would take to like myself.”
It just about made me cry that my charming, funny, smart, caring, crafty, BEAUTIFUL friend not only didn’t like herself, but had no idea how to even start to do that.
I know depression. There was a time in my not too distant past that I felt like it was hopeless to want things for myself. That I must being doing something wrong or all the things wrong to deserve the feelings I had. I thought, who the hell am I to have opinions, to be here doing this job, teaching this class, participating in this conversation, taking up this space, this time, this person’s attention? I made myself very, very small. But through it all, there was one tiny thread holding me together–the belief that there was something somewhere in me that was worth preserving. No matter how much I hated the things I had let myself become–passive, obedient, timid, scared–I knew there was still something there to like.
This feeling is foreign to me.
Friend, this morning, I read a blog post you wrote several months ago which laid your feelings out quite clearly. I wish I had been following it more closely. I’ve been away, and I haven’t noticed the pain you’ve been suffering. I haven’t been there to hold your hand or tell you jokes or just listen to you bitch and yell about how unfair it all is while you try to work through it. I should have been there, and I am so sorry that I wasn’t.
Friend, I can’t even imagine how you are feeling right now, how you’ve been feeling, what it is to not see beauty in yourself. To be honest, I have a hard time even grasping the concept because I see so much beauty in you.
Let’s set your body aside for a moment because you are not your body, it is merely a part of who you are. Friend, you radiate love and compassion and generosity. I have never met someone (aside, perhaps, from my own mother) who cares about the people in her life quite the way you do. You do little things every day to let those people know they are cherished, from art projects with your kids, to checking in on your mom when she is sick, to goofing around with your husband in the kitchen while you make dinner, to sending your overseas friend a screen shot from your phone of an inside joke you share.
AND you do big things, huge, life changing things, for your people when you can. You stay home to take better care of and pay more attention to your kids. You live in your mother’s house to help her financially and to make sure she isn’t alone. You unflinchingly and unhesitatingly gave me a place not only to live, but a place in which I was welcomed as part of the family when I needed somewhere to go and people to care for me.
You are funny. Maybe not in a way that everyone gets, but in a way that draws on your personal experiences with people, finding humor in your shared experiences. Friend, the laugher you have brought me (and other members of my family throughout the years) is beyond value.
Friend, you are a smart, critical thinker. You pay close attention to the world around you. You love deeply, you live wisely, you give of yourself without worry or pause.
And Friend, all of that is housed in a body that rocks. You are physically beautiful. You have stretch marks and acne and more fat on your body than you’d like and hair that you’re never quite satisfied with, but we all have that. Friend, I wish you could have been with me at the public bath; I wish you had seen the dozens of women I did who are flawed in various ways as you are, as I am, as everyone we know is, all hanging out in their bodies and nothing else, unashamed.
Friend, I wish you could see you the way I see you, the way your husband sees you, the way random people on the street see you. We do not see the flaws, we see the person. We see a woman, sometimes happy, sometimes tired, sometimes enraged, sometimes baffled; we see her smile, laugh, cry, and we do not think: that fat woman with the acne and the bad hair cut is crying. We think, that woman looks sad. I hope she will be okay.
Friend, I hope you find the strength to be kind to yourself. Whatever you may think or feel, you deserve kindness. I wish for you that one day you will look in the mirror and realize that you like what you see, that a whole person is looking back at you–she isn’t perfect, but she’s perfectly likable, lovable even. It’s time she got the love from you she deserves. In the meantime, she does have my love–maybe it will grown and develop with her. Maybe it will bring her into the light.