You may recall that I started resisting using before and after photos as a way to document weightloss. I realized that while they may be good tools for some people, they had done a huge part in making me look at my body in an unhealthily critical way. It wasn’t even my own photos that did me harm, I would see other people’s “before” photos (where many times they were smaller than I was) and would spiral into self-loathing seeing that my “after” was worse than that person’s “before.” I don’t take them anymore and I scroll quickly by if I see anyone else’s on social media. They’re just not good for my mental health or my journey towards self-love.
However, making this change (because I had been taking “before” photos for 15 years) has created more disruptions in my perception of self. It hit me that I do a lot of critical “Let’s be better!” analyses of myself, even beyond body image.
I tell myself I’m going to be a better wife and not guilt so much. I tell myself I’m going to be a better Mom and not nag so much. I tell myself I’m going to be a better friend and follow-up more. I tell myself I’m going to be a better citizen and read more. I tell myself I’m going to be a better human and love more.
I’m in a constant phase of self-improvement and I’m starting to question this entirely.
I mean, obviously a large part of me says: “If I’m not striving to always be better, what is the point?”
But now I have this voice that says, “But what about loving who you are at ever moment in time?”
I mean…can I do both?
Theoretically I do believe it is possible. I do believe you can root self-improvement in self-love, I just don’t think I’m there. I mean, I know I’m not there. Because while I’ve quieted some of the loud voices in my head that are constantly criticizing my body and weight gain, I still am constantly criticizing myself in other ways. I do not allow myself to make a mistake without beating myself up about it and making huge sweeping character evaluations from it.
“Kim. You forgot your friend’s birthday. You are so self-involved and inconsiderate.” Now, even as I type that I’m screaming to myself, “NO! THAT IS NOT TRUE!” but those critical voices are loud and mean and cruel.
So I’m trying to figure out what the spiritual equivalent is of boycotting before/after photos. What kind of concrete changes can I make in the way I look at my insides that will keep me from being unnecessarily critical and cruel.
I think a lot of my problem lies in the Comparison monster. If you are someone I know in the real world then I promise you there is something you do that makes me hate myself. I compare myself negatively to EVERYONE. She’s smarter, she’s kinder, she’s funnier, she’s a better Mom, she’s a better wife, she’s healthier, she’s more creative, she’s more dedicated, she’s more loyal, she’s…
You get the point.
Hell, I do it to online friends too, to be honest. I had to “mute” some online friends on Instagram because their feeds made me hate myself too much.
I don’t like admitting I have a Comparison Monster. That feels like the biggest flaw of all. That I look at the beautiful traits in women around me and somehow twist them into hating myself. That’s a terrible way to pay tribute to someone’s assets. I want to look at my beautiful friends and celebrate their beauty without denigrating mine. (And I’m OBVIOUSLY using the word “beauty” here to mean what truly makes a woman beautiful – her heart, mind, and soul – not her physical representation of herself. It’s interpersonal beauty that I concern myself with. The rest of it is just an excuse to buy cute jewelry.)
When I shut down those critical voices in my head, I do see my own interpersonal beauty. When I quite the Comparison Monster I can see how we are all flawed, no one is perfect, but those flaws compliment our beauty, not detract from it. BUT HOLY SHIT IT IS VERY HARD TO QUIET THOSE TERRIBLE VOICES.
I need to approach it like I’ve been approaching the voices that tell me I’m fat and ugly. I have to deliberately shut down those voices. When they start talking to me I have to tell myself that I need to be as kind and as loving to myself as I am to the other women in my life that I love. None of those women are perfect yet I choose to focus on the many ways they’re beautiful, WHICH IS WHAT I NEED TO DO TO MYSELF.
I want to find that balance between “always working to be a better person” but “not constantly looking at myself as being in need of improvement.”
In this interpersonal introspection I’m starting to understand why the “cool” language to use now is “Radical Love” – I mean, what is more radical than loving yourself as you are, and letting that love be what guides you to improvement. Rooting any desire to make myself better in LOVE instead of CRITICISM seems like the most radical thing I could do right now, to be honest. Any time I want to be better, a better Mom, a better Wife, a better Citizen…I need to try basing those desires in love of self. Instead of saying, “Kim…you need to be more patient with your kids, they deserve better than that,” I need to say, “Kim, your kids are lucky to have a Mom that loves them as whole heartedly as you do…take deep breaths more when you get frustrated and focus on that love and see where it guides you. Trust that love in your moments of frustration.”
This is a new perspective and I’m certain I’ll be tossing it around for awhile before I really get the feel of it, but I’m hoping to find a more stable foundation for all sorts of self love if I can figure it out.