Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Day 334: 2 Truths and a BIG Truth, Part 1

With five weeks to go before the end of my year without mirrors, I've started to think seriously about what I've learned and gained from this experience.  I've still got 31 days to reach my final conclusions (and a lifetime after that to see if they stick!), but, for once, I'm not going leave things until the last minute.  To avoid scrambling for wisdom on Day 364, I've done a lot of journaling over the few several weeks, searching my soul for things I know to be "true.  I gave myself the freedom to ramble in my thoughts, and I looked over old journal entries as well, so the list I came up with was long and kind of random.  My "truths" ranged in content from "Good enough is good enough," to "Reducing your anti-depressant dosage without consulting your doctor is a really stupid way to save money," and one of my mom's favorites: "Stand up straight, suck in your gut, and don't let your mouth gape open!" (that last one is advice passed down from my late Great-Grandma!).  Needless to say, some editing was necessary.

So, I cut out everything "off-topic," and then divided the remaining 15 "truths" into two categories: (1) "Truths" - stuff I knew before I started my no-mirrors project (even if I haven't always lived in accordance with these truths), and (2)"BIG Truths" -  the important, possibly life-changing, stuff I've learned along the way.  My list ended up with 10 "Truths" and 5 "BIG Truths," so I've decided to dole out "2 Truths and a BIG Truth" on the Wednesday of each week I have left, starting with today.  Here goes:

Truth 1: Good Enough is Good Enough
The statement is true by default of logic alone.  It reminds me of that Gertrude Stein poem claiming that "a rose is a rose is a rose," but more practical.  As a chronic perfectionist, I've struggled with knowing when to stop working, when to stop editing, when to stop losing weight, when to stop putting on makeup, (when to stop listing things), etc. etc.  I adopted the mantra "good enough is good enough" while recovering from anorexia, and have since revitalized the phrase time and time again, to apply it to almost every aspect of my life. It's closely tied to the idea of not letting "perfect be the enemy of good (enough)," which is something my academic advisor reminds me of whenever I start a new writing project.  This Truth is incredibly freeing.  Without mirrors in my life, I'm pretty sure my standards for "good enough" have gone down a bit in the categories of hair, makeup, fashion, and poppy-seed-free teeth.  Thankfully, it's turned out that my new version of "good enough" seems to still  be good enough!  Yay!

Truth 2: Challenge Assumptions and Do What Scares You!
A core tenet of Cognitive Behavioral Psychology (the most popular and effective form of talk-therapy out there these days) is the importance of challenging unproductive thoughts.  I've had plenty of those in my day, including "I suck at writing and I hate it" and "I'll never find love if I'm not really really skinny."  I really did think these things, and I held on to these beliefs until a very wise and patient therapist forced me to defend my assumptions using logic (which failed), and then I was gently encouraged to prove myself wrong in practice.  Turns out that I write "good enough" and I never would have found the love of my life if I'd been scary-skinny when we met (he's not into washboard abs on girls).  I had to do some things that scared me (like start a blog!), but the process of challenging my assumptions has always left me braver.  At it's core, my no-mirrors project challenges a lot of my assumptions about the importance of appearance.  I knew that I'd never convince myself to be less looks-obsessed if I didn't give up my obsessiveness and see what happened.  This process of challenging my assumptions led me directly to my first BIG Truth.

BIG Truth 1: When it comes to bodies and beauty and fashion (and almost everything), people who matter don't mind, and people who mind don't matter. (But it's still important to treat everybody as though they matter!)
It's true, and it's so freeing.  The people who love you for who you are on the inside, for the uniqueness you bring to the world... well, they really don't care if your eyeliner is smudged, if you're chubbier than a supermodel, or if you're wearing last-season's styles, or even yesterday's t-shirt and PJ-pants (I've been there folks).  Your dear friends, family, pets, and kind strangers (ahem, future friends) really don't mind, and they really do matter.  On the other hand, there are some major haters out there.  When my blog got some media attention in August, hundreds of Yahoo commenters went out of their way to talk about how ugly, fat, and stupid I am.  It really hurt my feelings.  I thought, "geez.... these strangers are telling me the truth that my friends are too nice to say."  But then I got really pissed off, and realized that those anonymous haters were just bullying misogynistic cowards.  They didn't matter.  

What's changed for me because of this project is a fundamental shift in how I decide whether or not somebody's opinion of me "matters."  I used to want to please everybody.  In fact, I'd work harder to impress the snobbiest folks, and practically dismiss compliments from my loved ones.  I resembled that Woody Allen line from Annie Hall: "I'd never join a club that would allow a person like me to be a member." How awful.  Now I've turned the tables.  Now, when people "mind," it's a sign that their opinion shouldn't matter so much.  I'm good enough, and that ought to be good enough.  

An addendum to this BIG Truth, however, is the importance of treating everybody as though they matter.  This is about politeness, kindness, and respect (and I believe it ultimately begets politeness, kindness and respect).  It took a while for me to wrap my head around this, but I've decided that part of treating people as though they matter CAN include dressing a little bit different or doing your hair or makeup a bit differently, for different occasions.  You aren't crushing your "true authentic self" by wearing black to a funeral, or by polishing your shoes for a job interview.  Likewise, showering and brushing your teeth are nice things to do before you grab lunch with your best friend.  Saying "those who matter won't mind" isn't an excuse to be knowingly disrespectful.  Rather, if you feel like you can't be yourself without offending people or being judged... you're hanging out with the wrong people!  Go make some new friends, or replace your biological family with an adopted one.  And brush your teeth!

What assumptions have you challenged in your life?  Who "matters" the most to you, and why? Tell me a story of a time that you've decided that somebody's opinion of you "doesn't matter." Go ahead and hate on haters! 

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  1. I LOVE Big Truth #1--all the way through. When my trainees/kids/family members let hurtful comments get under their skin, I will say "Only respect the opinions of people you respect...but treat everyone respectfully." And the utter importance of having a self-esteem team (aka Jess Weiner).
    Also, so much wisdom in the last point. It is OK and respectful to bend those personal rules out of respect for others--because you CHOOSE to. Same theme as in The Woman in the Mirror book ( ). Of course you can dress up, get fancy, wear make up, paint your nails...but because you WANT to, not because you feel like you HAVE to in order to be someone.

    1. Cindy - Thanks so much for your comment. It means so much to me that you're reading (and participating!) in my blog. :)

  2. I'm intrigued by the notion of using logic to dispel unproductive thoughts. Realizing that it isn't necessary to be in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to give this a try, I'm going to test some of my insecurities against the tenets of logic and see if they seem less scary. Thanks for this! Looking forward to hearing about the other truths and BIG truths!

  3. LOVE all the big and little truths that you have come across in this project, I have been so blessed to read along with your journey. I struggle a lot with those insecurities that creep into my thoughts each day, and just finished a book called "So Long, Insecurity" by Beth Moore that really revolutionized my thinking. I don't want to talk it up too much, but it genuinely changed my life and I would highly recommend it, especially in the next five weeks of finding the truths! Thanks so much for all you have been brave enough to do AND write about!! :)

  4. Wonderful. I love everything you had to say. Hopefully one of your truths
    along the way will be "go with your gut". Not in a "if it feels good do it"
    sort of way, but if it feels "right" to you, then it is probably the better
    path to take. Sometimes this results in "foot in mouth" disease, but
    other than that, for me, it results in a great inner happiness and satisfaction.
    So many people do not "get me" - I am frequently interpreted as rude or unkind
    (even by those closest to me) even though they know in their hearts that I
    do not mean to be that way and something I said or did must have come out wrong.
    I continue to work on this, and work around it, by letting those I am closest to
    and people that I interact with every day know that they MUST tell me when this
    happens so that I might try to prevent saying or doing those things repeatedly that
    are initally misinterpreted. Whoa, that was some "sentence", but I hope you
    will understand where I am going with that.

    Again, thanks for the Wednesday truths - looking forward to next Wednesday.



  5. Kjerstin-
    Great post today. I wanted to tell you some reasons I love you-
    We share a live of sunburn margaritas and chips and salsa. We've suffered through hangovers working at j crew. I think you look great in comfy and target clothes. And when I told you I was having friend problems, you told me you would be my friend. I almost cried when you said that.
    Two simple truths I've learned lately-
    A shower can make me feel human again. Just like brushing your teeth. I'm not saying I always wash my hair, but 5 minutes in a hot shower can be a great recharge.
    I can make cheaper clothes work. I have lots of friends that seem to have more designer clothing than imaginable. But you know what, i have a great house and even though I can afford it, 400+ for shoes isn't worth it. They all wear out in the end. I don't need to spend a ton of money on clothes. Some people may feel pressured to do do but I rock at least one target item daily and often get compliments. I think that goes along with not trying to impress others as you mentioned. I just would rather spend money elsewhere liking saving for Reid's college or paint for the kitchen.
    Someone gave me a book about tips for a happy mommy. It basically said find the one or two things that set you off and work on those. So if you have to have laundry folded immediately or have to vacuum daily, do those things. Everything else will eventually get done. In the end, it doesn't matter, Life goes on.
    So my piece of advice to you is to not sweat the small stuff. People can be horrible but you know what? When they judge you and cut you down, they lose the right to be your friend. I know it's easier said than done but you are a good person and real people will see that. If beauty is skin deep than an ugly personality is too the bone. My motherly advice to you is fuck them. You are smart, pretty, funny, a good friend, and sweet. A great man fell in love with you, pets adore you, and you have friends that support you.
    So I'll leave you with words of wisdom for R Kellys "feelin on your booty," "haters gonna hate.". Let them hate while you get on with the rest of your life.
    Sorry for the ramble. The baby was up in the middle of the nigh and work coffee sucks.
    Much love, Meaghan

    1. Meaghan,
      Your email showed up and was the first thing I read this morning - you made my day! It's been so wonderful exchanging emails with you and reviving our friendship across the miles. I hope we can see each other in person before we're old and grey! In the spirit of your email, I though you should know a few things I love about YOU:
      You are the funniest and ballsiest woman I know. From rainbow hair to pink-flamingos and beer keg Christmas trees, bought just to torment nosy neighbors, well... you're epic and unapologetic and I love that.
      Second, I love that we became friends from random circumstances. Yes, we both love fashion, but this was never what we really bonded about at JCrew. We were just fast friends, who loved to laugh and saw the same ridiculousness in other people (helloooo Amy Locane!) Anyhoo... I wanted to be your friend, and I liked having you as mine. I still do. No big deal, and yet a very big deal sometimes when we feel lonely and misunderstood. So thanks. :)
      Finally - Sunburn Margaritas and chips and salsa. Thanks girl, now I've been craving this combo ALL DAY! Well, at least I know what we'll munch on the next time we meet face-to-face. ;)

      Give your baby boy some hugs, and then maybe some drugs to knock him out tonight. Sounds like you need your rest! Hi to Ryan.

  6. I have not commented on here before, but this weeks blog really hit home. I am the same way and am struggling with it currently with my few friends because I am scared of being judged and even my boyfriend. I know it has affected our relationship because I wonder, even after almost 4 years of dating, why he 'loves' me? What could he possibly see in me that are not in 'other prettier girls' than myself? I also find that I do not put myself out there to meet new people because I am scared of being judged and/or made fun of. I even do this with my parents.
    I have been reading your blog for quite a few months and I do not even recall on how I stumbled upon it, but glad I have. I have often wondered, what if I did this? Would it help me with my issues, which seem similar to what you have gone through? But the BIG Truth really hit me when I read it and find it very admirable and I can only hope that I am able to do that soon so I can live a more joyous life. Thanks!!!


  7. Still am super impressed by your challenge and well thank you because when I read your posts I feel better about myself and on days when i have stared into my mirror not liking what i see I have looked for what i do like and gone on with my day...I have even started not looking in the mirror at least 1 day a week when getting ready for work and am amazed that it is often those days my students tell me how great I look or how happy...funny right. Thanks and your are so so so right on your BIG TRUTH!!

  8. Talk about free association.... I have several thoughts on this subject and instead of trying to organize them I will just put them down as they pop into my head. The first is people who delve into the negative have no concept of karma. They say or do unkind things and then use phrases like "well some had to say it, we are all thinking it" or "I was just kidding" or they think if they add "God bless her heart" at the end of what they had to say it makes what they had to say ok but we all know words are powerful and that there is no truth to the old adage of sticks and stones because the injuries caused by words go so much deeper and are so much harder to heal. The difference is you cannot see the injuries caused by words and we have all unfortunately been the recipient at some point in our lives. Whether they are positive or negative words are like pebbles in a pond and so the karmic implications reach beyond just the person those words are spoken to.

    With that said, someone's light often brings up someone else's darkness which on the front end does not sound like a good thing but it does in fact provide the contrast necessary in our lives. If every day where paradise and everyone agreed with us we would soon be bored with that too. Contrast provides growth opportunities through the choices we make in the face of that contrast. Often it is our haters who push us to do our best work. I guess the ultimate goal is to realize those people create contrast in our lives so instead of condemning them we need to learn to thank them for their contribution to our growth and move on. Easier said than done but it all depends on how emotionally attached we are to the outcome and in the case of anonymous haters on the internet, just look at them as another chapter in your book, another challenge you were presented and overcame.

    Hope you are feeling better.

    1. Hey Katie - great advice here. I think I might carve out some space in the book to talk about the haters... if Taylor Swift can win music awards for her song "Mean" (about mean girls) I ought to get some leverage out of my stuff too, eh? :)

  9. Just read your latest blog. I can't believe its almost been a year. Thank you for sharing. I had a moment not long ago when I decided it did not matter what people thought. I rededicated my life to the Lord and am learning so much. I don't "push” my beliefs on anyone - but many even family turned away. I am feeling so much better. You are awesome & such an inspiration
    Thank you - my name is Jeannette Larson
    Psalm 55:22 Pile your troubles on God's shoulders-he'll carry your load, he'll help you out. He'll never let good people topple into ruin.

  10. I've challenged all sorts of assumptions in my lifetime. Today, driving home from campus...late, I found myself thinking that I could be chairman of the department if I tried. I'd never thought this before.

    What's fascinating to me about your project is the sense of SUBSTANCE (as opposed to appearance) that's emerged and that will be invaluable for a lifetime.

  11. Great, great blog post. You're super inspirational!

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