Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dining on vanity and supping on contempt: part 2 of the bonfire of the vanities

Welcome aboard the Love Boat, I'm your cruise director, Julie.

The wonderful Jen sent some folks my way over the weekend (hello...thanks for taking the time to click over!), or, rather, she sent some folks over to my vanity post.

That post and the ensuing discussion hasn't left my mind one bit. In fact, truth be told, it's sort of haunted me, but in a good way, not a poltergeist way. The better simile would be that it's been like a four year old following a way-too-busy-with-other-chores me around, pestering me for attention, when I haven't got any just now.

Then I had trouble sleeping again last night (my own fault...Patience was at a sleepover, and Persistence slept like a rock for over twelve hours).

But my mind troubled itself right into insomnia. The thoughts I'd been pushing away finally found a quiet moment to come to the forefront and nothing would dissuade them. They would have their day---or night.

In the interest of moving myself forward, I will pull these thoughts one by one out of my head and put them here, in the blog, where maybe they will find a new home to haunt.

Let's start with the ongoing vanity issue, which isn't really about vanity at all, but is, rather, about how physical appearance, concern thereof, and self-love co-exist in harmony. (Thank you Chani and Mary for directing the conversation to this solid point.)

Let's be honest: those things don't often harmoniously co-exist, do they?

There is a serious image problem in the US/North America/possibly entire Western world. Although this ought to change, I see three problems:

1. training those who set images before us that we don't want or need perfection,
2. training ourselves that there is no one standard of beauty, we don't need to see perfection, and that which is before us is generally not actual, and
3. training our eyes, minds and hearts to be at ease with our inner and outer self---including any action we take or don't take to alter that self

I believe these are serious roadblocks to an easier road to positive self-image, and are partly responsible for the resulting backlash against physical improvement, including but not limited to the movement to "love yourself just as you are."

We might as well throw ourselves into sap for better preservation. I don't actually completely believe in that idea.

I want to ask you: are you always one person, just the same, look the same, sound the same, think the same?

I'm not, which might make me freakish and weird to some, or could be a real, thank you Jesus moment to others.

My idea of what is good for me now---what I expect, what I need---is pretty different now than 10 years ago, whether you meant what I needed to feel harmonious in body, mind and spirit, how I expected to look, how I wanted to feel, or even the mundane such as what interested and entertained me or what I did to “get ready” in the morning. I’ve changed.

I think change---in ourselves, in others---can make us uncomfortable. "Don't change who you are," we might plead. "You're great just as you are, don't need to change a thing," we might reassure. "Love yourself as you are!" we might advise.

I truly believe that there is a strong message that we ought to love ourselves as we are, and if we strive for improvement, then it means, just a little bit at least, that we don't really love ourselves as we are, but need ourselves to be some other way, to love. And in that case, it means we cannot love less than perfection in either ourselves, or in others.

What a terrifying and horrifying concept.

Even more terrifying is the flip side to that: until we make the necessary improvements, we are unlovable.

Wow.

I want to weep just from the writing of that.

I imagine it would be singing to the choir if I warbled, slightly off-key, "Don't go changing, to try and please me...I said I love you, and that's forever, And this I promise from the heart, mm-mm, I couldn't love you any better, I love you just the way you are."@

I think we can agree, at least on the surface, that each of us is lovable in some way, just as we are, at any one or another point in our lives. But the heart...has your heart ever wondered about being lovable?

I think the entreaty to love yourself as you are usually comes from a good place. I think it usually means: you are special, you are lovable---please believe that---just as I find you today.

But as with any good thought or intention, it can become corrupted. It can begin to mean, that our self ought to be fixed, a constant. That we need never change…only to learn to love that static self, who we are.

That’s not all wrong. But I also don’t think it’s all right.

I think it means asking this one question, “Who and what I am just now…is this okay?”

If the answer is, “Yes,” then be “an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken.”* In this case, I think no matter what, you are beautiful.

If the answer is no, then usually, we want to change. So does that mean we lack adequate self-love?

When we engage in self-alteration, self-improvement...is that really striving to change who and what we are?

What if it's not attempting to alter the foundation of self, but is actually adding layers, polishing corners, catching up to the changes life brings to us?

You know, sort of like parenting. I constantly confess how mommying (for me) is a game of catch-up. I laugh at myself trying to do this week what worked last week, how long it takes me to grasp that a change has come, and we are in a new stage and phase and must do things a bit differently. It's often subtle shifts, and it requires a great deal of focus.

Sometimes parenting is a good self-learning tool. Who am I kidding---it frequently is.

Consider potty-training. We can have a really great week with loads of success, and then, something sets Persistence back, then she progresses, then reverts. It’s the back-and-forth process a lot of learning entails. The uplifting part of it is that once we learn, we achieve.

But even once we are potty-trained, we have to put mind and attention to it every now and again, or we have an accident. Back-track. Still, that’s okay. An accident can be a necessary reminder to pay attention, listen to your body better.

That’s a great idea: remember to listen. Let’s tattoo that on my forearm, the left one, by the watch, so I can see it frequently.

After I entered my mid-30s, I found I had to change an awful lot of what I did for myself. I realized I'd been a pretty lucky person, skating through life with relative physical ease. In fact, not too long ago I wrote about feeling caught in a sort of second adolescence as my body changed so radically from youthful to what it is now as I step towards getting older.

One of the biggest changes is the amount of slack I have between "doing the healthy and good thing" and "goofing off with unhealthy."

I'm no Lorelei Gilmore (and I doubt even Lauren Graham is, either): there is no unlimited junk and fast food without any repercussions. I can no longer cram my face with as much as I like. Likewise, the day where I could maintain my girlish figure while slacking off on exercise, and so forth, is done.

Keeping up the feeling good, looking good, being healthy requires actual effort now. I think I'd be too embarrassed to tell you just how much. I'll tease you with the Benefiber tea. Yes, I make a large pitcher of tea spiked heavily with Benefiber to drink during the week and trust me, that's needed.

It took me a little while to comprehend that I can't keep abusing my body with this much stress, that much eating, that little exercise, and my body err required additional assistance doing what it once did with the greatest of ease. The old gray mare ain't what she used to be.

And that's okay. Mostly. It largely means I must catch up and grasp that I'm in a different phase now. During the time I spent figuring this out, I got a bit overweight, out of shape and unhealthy. I finally comprehended---as I watched my body spiral further and further into unhealthy---that I had to make some alterations. One day, I got to a point where I understood, and also answered "no" to my question of being okay with it and "yes" to my question of was I ready to do something about it.

I wanted to change---do better by myself so I could do better in my life---and was ready and willing. So, I began.

Doing so wasn't a case of lack of self-love a la

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:*


I do what I do because I love myself, not because I need to change in order to love myself, or believe myself lovable...although, on some little level somewhere, I’ll admit I have identified things that I believe are lovable, and I will always strive to maintain those. When those bits shake, falter, or fall off the map, I’ll work to get them back.

And that's where I am, or rather, was. I've sort of plateaued, which means, I guess, that I have to sit back and ponder a bit more about what it is that I need to do to meet my goals, or decide if my goal needs to change. At the end of the day, I admit, it's a lot of navel-gazing, but it's not real vanity per Webster's, and it's not a real image problem because I'm measuring against myself, not some media-induced hype of an ideal. But more importantly, it's not mutually exclusive to outward attention and contribution.

You see, very often---as self-centered and self-serving as this entire concept might come across---those bits I consider lovable, or the portions I think need changing are, at heart, all in the interest of making myself a better contribution to the world. I think as I quoted in the comments on the other post, "...achiev(ing) a healthy balance between caring for self, and knowing when to set self aside and care for others," is a worthy goal, and is indicative of virtue. Where better to begin and learn than...with yourself.

@ Billy Joel, Just the Way You Are

* William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

11 comments:

Queen of the Mayhem said...

Julie,
I love reading your blog! You put things that are near impossible to explain so eloquently.....it's almost like therapy for me! :)

I agree with you. Wanting to improve some things does not,necessarily, mean you do not love yourself. Nothing is wrong with wanting to make things better. I think the damage comes when you beat yourself up for the choices you have already made, instead of working towards making better ones!

You are very insightful!

( PS: This mare will NEVER know if she goes gray...as I pay a nice lady to make me a natural redhead every three months!) hee-hee

kim said...

It's funny but I've kind of obsessed about your vanity post and subsequent discussion as well. I'm glad you did a follow up.

I think that sometimes we need change to grow. The trick is figuring out why we want change, for personal betterment or to conform to someone's else's idea?

There is a fine line between valuing your self and recognizing the need to evolve so that we can grow.

Rachel Briggs said...

You are so right about needing to accept change, and grow with it, instead of fighting it.

kaliroz said...

Oh, Julie!

What you're getting at here ... about the change ... is what I've been ruminating and struggling with on my blog for the last year.

I think it, at heart, is all about knowing yourself. Knowing who you are and what you are in the MOMENT.

I keep forgetting that. I look at old photos of myself or I read old things I've written and I have no idea who that woman is. How she got there. And then I look at myself now and read what I've written now and have moments when I don't know who she is or how she got here.

For me, changes creep up. Like, the way my body has widened. I still have the contours I've always had but suddenly everything's broader. And I was always broad to begin with.

I'm just coming to the realization that, yes, those fries might actually go to my hips. And the way this body feels isn't really nice. Not the contours, but the sluggishness that comes with it. I've been really trying to do something about it ... but find I'm having a hard time. I think that comes from having lived one way for so long. You know?

This is key for me ... "Remember to listen". I try to be in tune with myself, and have made positive changes, but sometimes I tune myself out. When I get superstressed that big old bag of chips seems the only place to drown my sorrows. (Or that big old bottle of wine. Neither of them are doing me any favors.)

I think, when we're young, listening to ourselves comes much more easily. How many children do you see self-analyze? (I realize some do, but when I was a kid I was free as the wind.) I think as we get old and have kids and jobs and spouses and other BIG things we forget about self. We allow that most important voice to be shouted over by the needs of others. Then one day we wake up and realize we aren't who we thought we once were.

These "vanity" posts have been really wonderful.

Julie Pippert said...

Queenie, thank you! I'll say ditto because of the value in the very real things you say, then I'll slow down on the lovefest. ;)

And now you've added an excellent point: damage through beating yourself up for what you've done.

I'm thinking back to the "guilt motivating morals" comment I made in the original vanity post.

The initial guilt can be productive; the "oh crap what was I thinking, that's not cool, I feel like a turd" can bring about good.

But you are so right: the key is to not get mired down in the guilt, and to move forward and do better.

Love that...thanks for adding it.

(And so easy to say, harder to do. I think I need a lot of tattoos with messages LOL)

(P.S. I am thus far fortunate to not be gray. My mother is not yet fully gray at her age. My family doesn't gray much. I believe when he passed my grandfather still had some original hair color in there too. That said, I do see a gray pop up now and again these days. Once it is needed, I will probably find me a nice lady with the necessary potions. LOL!)

Julie Pippert said...

Kim, good, I live to serve. :)

And you bring up the very tricky wicket: figuring out why we want change, conformation or betterment.

That can be such a muddle at times.

I think the trick to the trick (or is it the key to the trick?) is your last line: KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING where the fine line is between valuing yourself and needing to evolve to grow.

Great point. Thanks!

Julie Pippert said...

Rachel, now see, there, you've just given me yet another thing to tattoo somewhere prominent.

There's this divide between knowing something logically, in your head, and having internalized it as a concept into true, deep, self level knowing.

The former is not too hard, usually. The latter is a challenge.

And I have assumed you mean, necessary change, not unecessary. So that's why I have said all of this as I have.

Julie Pippert said...

Roz, yes, you've struck exactly at what I am talking about.

It really is like parenting for me in so many ways.

The changes do creep up, but it's like all the signs were there---when I look back---and I realized it on some level---when I look back---and it's been in play for a while---when I look back---but it hits, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly, but always with the same force of realization, that illuminating moment when it all adds up, "OMG 2+2 equals FOUR!"

I agree that the barrier is how divvied up our attention is when we are adults.

The conscious living approach has seemed to help. I can't do it always but I do try to pause and quickly question or reflect. I try to make it a choice.

It is hard to change habits. Things we used to be able to get away with...but can't any longer. Sometimes they are habits we really like and don't want to give up.

I hear you...I do!

We can keep dialoguing as much as we need. :)

jen said...

I always go back to the journey, friend. the journey away and back and forward and around ourselves. sometimes i am on pause, sometimes i move forward full steam, but the pause of the current is more conscious than the pause/denial of the past.

i've never felt more like me than i do now, and yet a stranger still.

nice post.

NotSoSage said...

Julie, you're so so so right. I have more to say but no time. I'll be baa-aack (but in a good way, not in a poltergeisty way)!

xo

Julie Pippert said...

Jen, I like your analogy.

Jill, on tenterhooks here. :)