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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