Effortlessly Perfect

I think, you become an adult the moment you realize that most of the time NOBODY knows what they’re doing. Practically no one is an expert in anything except for pretending to be an expert at something and making it seem like they’ve got it all together. Keeping up appearances and “faking it” could be a full-time job. I guess there’s a turning point, it’s a paradox really, where once you realize how much you know (about your field, life, “the real world”) you realize how much you actually don’t know. The objective then becomes, “how can I convince as many people as possible I belong here and I’m as knowledgeable as they expect me to be?”

When that objective impedes the functioning of your life and begins to dictate your decisions that’s called Impostor Syndrome. It’s defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence (Caltech Counseling Center, 2015).

Impostor Syndrome is common among, although not exclusive to, academics and high achieving women. It’s been discussed in academic literature since 1978 when Clance and Imes coined the “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women”. They explain that “Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persists in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample object evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief. ” Alrighty, enough literature…

Impostor Syndrome is real and by reducing it to “humility” and ignoring its consequences we’re perpetuating the silence around mental health and the pressure and culture of perfectionism.

For me, Impostor Syndrome started invading my thoughts when I decided to apply to Brown. Then more persistently, when I struggled through my personal statement for my graduate school applications. And, most viciously when I got accepted to Brown and decided to come. In many regards, I’m “over it”. I know, and I’m confident that, I’m “intellectual enough” to be in graduate school but still, sometimes, it creeps up on me unexpectedly.  On a bad day, if I let it win, Impostor Syndrome prescribes me to stay in bed. It convinces me I shouldn’t even try because I’m simply not good enough. In my work Impostor Syndrome sounds like me telling myself “I can’t believe they’re letting/trusting me to do this task” – regardless of the rigor or importance. Then I spend hours scrutinizing over the smallest details to be sure to impress or meet their “delusional” expectations.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Impostor Syndrome as it relates to social media and the necessity to present as perfect and simultaneously have every accomplishment appear effortless. I’m sure many of us can relate to abruptly halting our lived experiences to snap the perfect photo (and another and another) and then later stressing about crafting the pithy caption to capture the moment that was already ruined once we decided to take a photo. Right? The anxiety social media perpetuates in terms of what/how/why we share about our successes and good news (and how we perceive others will respond) makes this compelling to explore.

Why is it that when someone posts about their successes on social media it’s always accompanied by a slight, yet extremely important, attribution to luck or “the amazing opportunity”? Yes, humility is important and often we aren’t doing it all on our own but, can you recall the last time you shared an accomplishment without being concerned someone would think you’re being conceited or think you’re only sharing it to boost your self-esteem and receive their praise? Why should you be nervous to call a friend or post online and share something exciting?

There’s this pervasive notion that you can’t actually be proud of what you’ve done.102615bucks-carl-sketch-master675 You have to be #blessed or #lucky to parade positivity online (listen to #blessed – Stuff Mom Never Told You for more on this – it’s spot on) because calling attention to your successes outright is, apparently, social media taboo. WHY? Why do women feel the need to downplay their success or appear effortlessly perfect?

There’s even an app now that helps women stop saying “just” and “sorry” in emails so they stop “inadvertently discredit[ing] their own opinions”. It’s troubling though because nobody is talking about the societal and institutional parameters that perpetuate these minimizing behaviors and render them acceptable. Why do women feel more comfortable making themselves small? In some ways, I think, it’s an attempt to build themselves up. We’re not talking about the protective features those asides provide to make women feel like it’s okay to share about their exciting news or even simply their opinion. These small, but important, choices we make assure we’re not experienced as “bossy” or “boasting”. We do it even when we know we’re right!

The New York Times, discusses this culture of appearing perfect and saving face well in one of their most popular articles from 2015: Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection. They detail a phenomenon where students talked about how “They could say what they’d accomplished, but they couldn’t necessarily say who they were”. Such mind games! But it’s true and, it’s practically unbelievable that intelligent people can stare at their resumes and acceptance letters to Ivy League institutions (which if you “look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment…what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation”) and see right past all the evidence that indicates they are deserving. They can easily convince themselves otherwise and may not even recognize themselves beyond the list of “things they’ve done”. Suddenly, their accomplishments stand in as the default measure that indicates who they are, their worth, and beyond the impressive list they’ve compiled they feel lost and misguided. It happens without consent and it’s positively crippling once it captures your mind.

The NY Times article also explains that “female students felt pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort.” These internal narratives are consistently challenged by loved ones’ encouragements, “you belong with those people”and “you’re meant to do this”. Where the words, “those people” throb like a pounding headache because they feels so separate, so elite, so much more than they could achieve; they  hear “you’re meant to do this” as “you tricked them yet again” rather than the support these phrases are intended to provide. So their foundation must be rebuilt often due to the wrath – expressions of support and encouragement – of what seems like never ending wrecking balls whose only obligation is to create cracks in their concrete with their terms of endearment. They go through the motions working themselves into fits of sleeplessness and mind boggling anxiety trying to prove they can do this – it becomes their sole obligation. At the same time, they’re consumed by maintaining an online presence of apparent effortlessness and success – but not too successful of course.

Don’t be fooled. Underneath the encouragement from friends and family and the pristine social media presence, their mind is unraveling. It tells a story which is comprised of lists of achievementsour-deepest-fear that amount to nothing special – cloaked in phrases like “it’s mediocre” or “just a thing I’ve done” – even when they’re spectacular! The list is glistening with expectations still to be met. We call these unmet items potential and as their list of accomplishments grows longer so too does the list of expectations. Somehow, as they become  more “qualified”, and subsequently feel less qualified, little by little the consideration of the associated hard work they’ve done to reach these numerous accolades dissipates. At some point, perfection becomes a burdensome, heavy expectation that weighs them down and occupies their mind. Soon, the means by with they achieve are less important and to the outside world it looks like they can do it all – and so they do and then some – whatever the cost. The conceptions that they work hard and overcome challenges or adversity are not entertained.  The final product becomes the only objective – nobody is concerned about the process or the progress. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope that ends in fear and pent up, insidious, persistent feelings of inadequacy which are kept separate from the persona they put on each day to face the world. It feels like they must make it seem absolutely effortless because otherwise, they’d have to actually recognize THEMSELVES rather than their resume. They end up feeling defeated simultaneously wondering how they can maintain the facade and how it was created in the first place. They experience all this utter nonsense, instead of owning their successes and being proud. Social media only makes it worse. It’s never ending and mostly they want it to stop – even if just for a moment – so they can gain some perspective.

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15 Good Things From 2015

Everyone’s positive energy building up to the New Year is absolutely contagious. I want to join!

Here’s my list of 15 good things from 2015:

*not in chronological order or order of importance*

  1. I was awarded a Chapter Distinguished Service Key (DSK) in Alpha Phi Omega (APO): Upon receiving this fraternity honor I wrote “I feel like this statDSCN4702us should go something like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or “nobody said it was easy…” but actually, in all seriousness, it was truly an honor to be awarded a Chapter DSK today. I am so thankful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had as an active Brother and I cannot wait to continue to serve with APO as alumni!” Just a few weeks later I was offered a position on Region 1 Staff! This fraternity has given me more than I could ever ask for. APO continually shows me the the meaning of brotherhood in ways I can’t explain. I made some of the best friends and learned some of the most important lessons and skills of my life.
  2. I went on Birthright and spent my 23rd birthday in Israel!
  3. I finished my honors thesis: but really 53 pages later! This seemed like an impossible task made manageable only by consuming inappropriate amounts of coffee and working ALL THE TIME. I still don’t know how I did it all. Before this project, conducting my own research seemed like a task that was beyond the scope of what I expected I could accomplish as an undergraduate; my advisors’ commitment to me and my project convinced me otherwise and showed me that I can accomplish more than I expect. Having an advisor who saw enough value in my ideas and capabilities to believe in my project was imperative to the success of this work and was necessary for me to grow both academically and personally. My confidence and pride was ignited because she didn’t tell me no. Rather, she pushed me each day to excel. This project not only taught me the research process but was instrumental in creating a foundation for both my future professional and academic interests. Now, I want to be a researcher! Of course, none of this would have been possible or as fun without my amazing HDFS honors cohort. We were a great bunch and I loved every minute of our learning and lamenting together.11149684_10204024050981885_3863601930795783864_o
  4. I became a runner: I used to have a witty excuse as to why I hated running. I’d say, “it’s physics. It’s just logic. If you start where you end then you’ve displaced nothing. So, why would I run if displacement says at the end I’ll have accomplished nothing?” I clearly didn’t really understand running or physics then. I still don’t understand physics. Now, whether I’m running to escape or running to gear up to something, running is important for me. It gives me time to think. It gives me order, control, discipline, expectations, freedom, and strength. Some days, the best we can do is put one front in front of the other and face the day. That’s what running has taught me. There are no unconquerable obstacles, just different paces with which we overcome them. On June 4th I posted this photo [yes on Facebook] and pulled the caption from the first time I publicly shared this picture during my senior year of high school public speaking class last lecture. I wrote, “In the face of a challenge, face it. You never know what you can do until you try”.Then there were sentiments of continuing to persevere until you 11351330_10204410118993344_5105233088170803531_nreach your goals and never stopping until you achieve what you want. Apparently my 18 year old self was more attuned to grasping at opportunity than I realized and, I may never learn to stop!

    What’s even more important (and timely/relevant) about this picture is this: it’s the first time I ran and triumphed over RSD (circa 2007).  And now, I consistently surprise myself by running farther, faster, and longer than I have in my entire life. Not pain free but, still confident and owning it! In 2015, I tracked 426 miles and ran a 10K (6.2 miles) in 1:04:47.

  5. I was published on The Mighty! You can read my piece: The One Statement I Want to Hear From Loved Ones About My Invisible Illness here. [Side note: I have a forthcoming  piece on Ravishly – I’m really excited!]
  6. I started this blog! When I started this project I said, “I’m starting this project to make space to wonder…I’m also using this blog to find a space to reflect. That’s a word that wasn’t in my vocabulary a year ago but, many great mentors and conversations later, I’m craving that necessary “me space”. However, not even my best mentors or friends would willingly sign on to interact with my every thought, question, challenge, insight, funny link, or freak out moment. So instead, there’s blogging. ” I’ve grown to love exploring and thinking on things. Sharing my work has been exhilarating and making connections through my writing [and my online community] has shown me that even when I’m feeling lonely there’s someone out there who “gets it”. My list of “things to write about” is growing longer and longer each day. These days, you won’t find me without a notebook in hand in case something sparks an idea. It’s been a risk, it’s still a risk but, I’m really loving this project.
  7. I learned about the importance of relationships and gained some amazing friendships: And of course the only appropriate comment here would be from Grey’s, “We’re friends, real friends. And that means, no matter how long it takes, when you finally decide to look back, I’ll still be here.” – Grey’s Anatomy
  8. I practiced saying what I need, asking for help, and being a better communicator: I started with being okay with things not being “okay” or “fine”. I found an outlet through writing and some great, trustworthy friends to express myself more honestly without worrying about being a burden or being a toxic friend.
  9. I graduated from UConn!  It’s true, some of the best learning happens outside the classroom. At UConn I was challenged, pushed, mentored and questioned both inside and outside of class. Rather than feeling inadequate or frustrated I was inspired and thankful for all that I learned and all the ways I grew. At UConn, I truly thrived! I felt supported and confident. I did it all and then some and, I had an amazing network of friends, mentors, advisors, and professors encouraging me along the way. This quote rings true for me and is so applicable right now, “I’ve learned that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”― Cecelia Ahern.  I miss UConn *literally* every day and I am SO proud to be a  Husky!
  10. Logically what comes next, I started at Brown University in the Urba10360465_10204185744024110_6042675827618780031_nn Education Policy Program: While this hasn’t been the BEST thing in 2015, one thing is certain, (in a paradoxical way) I know that if I never came here and if I stayed at UConn I wouldn’t ever know that I truly didn’t like it. I mean, beyond speculation. Also, and I guess obviously, the things I don’t like aren’t the things I was most nervous about so I suppose there’s value in that too. Regardless, I’ve had some amazing opportunities here to continue to grow as a researcher and an academic (whatever that means). I also learned the value of networking and connections beyond the colloquial saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m working hard and making it work day by day.
  11. I fell in love with stories and great conversations: I traded social media connections for authentic, personal connections and I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I’ve been listening a lot and also searching for those stimulating conversations that ignite wonder and create more opportunities to learn. The kind that leave you thinking and questioning long after the formal discourse has ended. I craved thinking critically and conscientiously. I’ve learned that when you’re open to allowing a conversation to change your perspective and you’re a partner in creating the space for meaningful, intentional interactions you’re facilitating change. Hence, this year, I adopted the use of the phrase “thought partner” in every, even sort of, appropriate context.
  12. MUSIC: Just music. But really, from country concerts and Broadway musicals, to the sounds and spirits of Kabbalat Shabbat I was reminded of and gained a new appreciation for the ways in which music connects us and fills a room (or a person) with such unique energy. Music fills the quiet space that so often feel lonely. A quote from one of my favorite movies August Rush seems appropriate here, “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” SO TRUE! And of course, Taylor Swift gave me more reasons to love her. Including most recently, topping DoSomething.org’s Celebs Gone Good list for the fourth year. Gotta love her!
  13. I traveled! In 2015 (and the last days of 2014) I went to the APO National Convention in Chicago, Israel with UConn Hillel, New Orleans with Honors Across State Borders, NYC, the first ever ParentCampUSA at the U.S. Dept. of Education in D.C., and more!
  14. I recognized and reclaimed my body: It’s easy to learn to ignore  your body when you’re living with chronic pain. Too much attention to your pain can be detrimental because then you can get stuck focusing solely on your pain. We’re taught (in the chronic pain world) to find ANY strategy to ignore the pain and distract ourselves. In 2015 I reclaimed my body and grew stronger! I’m more physically fit than I’ve been before. I pursued strength for me – starting with an earnest desire to be able to run a mile. Rather than my pain owning me, I owned my pain and I was in charge of my body.
  15. I accomplished everything I wanted!  2015 was the year of doing too much and not knowing how (or when) to stop. With coffee as my lifeline and internal motivation I didn’t even know I possessed (once described as a glowing purple ball inside my body that was constantly radiating energy, and another time described as “robotic” – as I operate with the same amount of energy an11008595_10204092958784537_8915779519335960414_nd efficiency at all times) I did some amazing things! And, perhaps more importantly, I learned that I am more than the list of accomplishments that fill up my resume or the things I do each day to feel productive or worthy. With the encouragement of some amazing mentors and lots of hours spent thinking (reflecting), I found myself when I intentionally took the time to critically consider my experiences.  I started attributing credit to myself for my accomplishments rather than luck. Told myself “I earned this. I did this. I am good enough” and slowly I started to believe it. Judith Bulter wrote, “life histories are histories of becoming” and that notion has been a driving force compelling me to consider what I’ve experienced and why it’s been influential in my life rather than just considering how it’s going to propel me on toward the next “best” thing. I am done quantifying my success by how others view my accomplishments. This year rather than reaching the top step and turning around to find 15 more steps to climb I’m standing proud on the top, looking down with satisfaction, attributing value to what I’ve accomplished, and just letting it all soak in.

Happy New Year!

A Letter to “Health” Magazine

Dear Health Magazine,

We’re past “the top 10 foods that are secretly making you fat” and “11 ways to stop overeating after a workout”. We’re past “Superfoods that help you stay super slim”. We’ve FINALLY arrived at “all bodies are beautiful” and we call that the body positive movement. We’re reclaiming words like “fat” and “plus size” as descriptors of people rather than critiques. We’re not really into “no offense but that makes you look big” anymore. We’re definitely over mistaking “thin” for healthy and we’re tired of seeing only slim fitting, toned bodies as ideal bodies or how we should aspire to look if we want to be perceived as healthy. Nearly 50% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 and even with this reality knocking down the fragile notions of the garment and retail industries countless headlines are STILL encouraging us to make more changes, swaps, or restrictions. Change your food, your home, your friends, and your workout. THEN you’ll be better – you’ll be healthy. And yes, some changes sometimes are warranted but, why can’t you tell me I should be happy with who I am or proud of doing enough? Is that too much to ask for? Honestly, we’ve moved beyond the misconceptions about women that fund your initiatives and fuel your subscriptions. Well, we’re trying! You keep shoving it down our throats with promotional orders we didn’t ask for and by flooding the internet with ways I didn’t even know I should be disappointed about my lifestyle and my body.

Here’s an example, last week this article was posted: Here’s How Far You Actually Need to Run to Reap the Health Benefits. As an avid runner I clicked on the link and initially this article met my expectations. Running has a number of associated health benefits which were mentioned in the post. I felt good about my weekly mileage and exercise accomplishments. I thought I was doing enough! What made me cringe, and I’m still thinking about it today, was the end of the article, “But of course, if you’re running to lose weight, the same logic still applies: More steps means more calories burned”. So basically as I’m reading along I’m thinking I’m liking this, I’m liking this and then BAM I’m not liking this anymore. To conflate “here are the health benefits” with “oh yea and you can also lose weight if you do MORE than this” is a BIG problem. Women who read this may start out feeling great about their lifestyle and exercise habits (maybe even encouraged to pursue running) only to feel ultimately defeated to know that if they want to lose weight (which apparently every woman should want to do) then they need to do more.

In the past week alone, the headlines on this site reminded me why we can’t let ourselves be consumed by what mainstream media articulates as the standard for healthy women. It also made me wonder why we think we can “tell” if someone is healthy just by looking at their body and judging their actions. [Side note: BMI is a messed up measure too! – because apparently I’m obese but can run a 10K!?!?] Furthermore, assuming every woman who reads Health Magazine is trying to lose weight is dangerous and insensitive. We’re beyond exclusively equating “health” with weight.

So, based on the unsettling conclusion of the article above, I did some investigating and found more disappointing headlines from that same week! Here are some that are entirely focused on weight loss and food: “12 Foods That Control Your Appetite” and “10 Types of Hunger and How to Control Them”. These articles tell you the “scientifically proven” ways to “reach your weight loss goals” and “say goodbye to unneeded calories”. Why not just put up a sign that says “you only matter if you are thin so you should probably start starving yourself now?” I won’t get into triggers and eating disorders too deeply right now but, for some women, this is where disordered eating habits and body image challenges begin. We’re inundated with new ways to fear food and reasons why we shouldn’t quench our hunger or respond to our body’s natural indication that it needs something – like food! So, we’re being encouraged to listen to our body but, what that really means, what the subtext is saying, is decide if you’re really hungry so you don’t eat for no reason and waste calories. Because calories are evil, food is evil and even your go-to foods should be changed so you can shed more pounds. In fact, we fear “fat” so violently that it’s encroaching on every aspect of our livelihoods.Red apple and tape measure. Image shot 02/2008. Exact date unknown.

Here’s another example: “10 Signs Your House Is Making You Fat”.  Now in your pursuit for “health” you can be averse to your own home too! Probably a deserted island with limited resources is the only safe place. Really, did you know that having stocked cabinets is putting you at risk for being “fat”? This statement is so problematic I don’t even know where to start! Oh also, “family style serving” is another no-no. First and foremost, I just want to scream “check your privilege!” What I’m reading here is a complete inattention to what this article is actually saying which is “your privilege, access, and food security is making you fat” and that’s horrible. Am I supposed to be sorry for your privilege or just ignore it like your editors did when I read this article?

These perspectives, these pseuo-bibles to living “correctly”, are dispelling a version of womanhood that requires us to expect that healthy living can only be achieved if it initially comes from a place of immense, intense dissatisfaction with our bodies and ourselves. These publications encourage constant criticism, crafting a narrative that misconstrues womanhood, and more specifically what/who is a “healthy woman”, to be a compilation of never ending changes and improvements based on overwhelming proportions of articles that tell you how severely you’re doing everything wrong and that you’re doomed to be “fat”. THE HORROR! Kidding. But really, where’s the “you’re doing it right” or “you’ve done enough” article? That’s an article I’d like to read.

Sincerely,

Someone who’s trying to do enough (Me)

Calling All Beautiful Brains!

Every year around the holidays, the body image/food banter begins. There are the fitness/health magazines that flood you with ways to cut calories before, during, and after the holidays so your family doesn’t “ruin” your diet. There are the online support and communities for individuals who face eating disorders and are challenged in a different way by food each day. And of course, let’s not forget, while many of us are worrying about how many calories we’ll eat and making sure we get in those extra workouts before the holiday to mitigate the damage, there’s the very real fact that food insecurity and poverty is rampant in our world. How ironic  (or disappointing, disgusting, humiliating, etc.) is it that while we’re attempting to limit ourselves and we’re faced with the “problem” of overeating on the holidays there are individuals and families who are, rightfully so, more preoccupied with wondering where or if they’ll have a holiday meal at all?

Untitled (Recovered)

A few months ago I posted a new profile picture (above) on Facebook (nearly days before I deleted my Facebook – still SO happy with that choice!). I posted the photo because I had a great day! The sun was shining, I felt strong, confident, and HAPPY! I was surprised because this photo received nearly the most likes I’ve ever had on a profile picture (second only to my Brown University acceptance post). Not only did it receive so many likes but also there were a lot of comments. Initially the positive vibes felt so good but after a short while I was perplexed. I didn’t post this photo to receive high praises. I definitely didn’t post it for people to comment on my body!

I already wrote about why I quit Facebook but one aspect of this is still on my mind. When we post things, who are we posting them for? Why are we posting them at all? Are we looking for approval? Are we sharing information/resources/insights/thoughts? Are we hoping one specific friend will see it but too nervous to send it directly to them? Regardless of our rationale, does it really matter? Once we put it out there, others decide how it resonates with them and so even if we posted something literally because “we’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” (shout out to Taylor Swift) that doesn’t really matter.

I said something to my mom about my concern regarding the overwhelming positive attention the photo (ie. my body) was getting. She told me (and her words pierced my mind) “if you gained weight they would still be talking. Just, they’d be saying it behind your back”. Ahhh, my body is for me! I don’t understand how it became anyone else’s prerogative to police of approve of my body. I don’t know why people feel that they have the right to fixate on another person’s body. Why they feel compelled, and they feel good about it too, to tell you how “great” you look! Clearly skinny is beautiful and fat is shameful and shameful things are discussed in private while beautiful things are praised publicly. Why did I have to look  “holy skinny” so that others would “like” my photo? GOSH!

At this point, I want to share a resource: How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body. The most poignant thing I’ve read recently about “body positivity” and “self love” came from this article, “How to talk to your daughter about her body, step one: Don’t talk to your daughter about her body, except to teach her how it works.” Bottom line, beauty is far more complex than what we see on the surface. In this piece, Sarah Koppelkam gently encourages us to “Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.” In fact, when I read that, I felt like I’d heard something of a similar sentiment before!  I was right! One of my favorites, Cristina Yang (shout out to all the Grey’s fans – for more quotes click here!)  said, “Oh, screw beautiful, I’m brilliant. You wanna appease me, compliment my brain!” YESS YOU GO GIRL!  Except one caveat, can’t I have a beautiful brain? Why does our perception of beautiful have to always relate to the outward appearance of our bodies? Why can’t we compliment each other about things that have nothing to do with our bodies? Furthermore, why can’t we separate our self worth (or other people’s perception of our self worth) from the numeric value that appears on the scale or the clothing tag?

Recently I saw this tweet from Realize Your Beauty in response to a twitter chat about maintaining health & happiness over the holidays. The question was: “Why are the holidays sometimes triggering or stressful?” The response: “Seeing family & friends you haven’t seen for long periods of time-Feeling you have to look or ‘be’ a certain way around them. This really resonated with me. I noticed that I was worried about that too. I just hadn’t been able to articulate it.  [side note: I sort of feel like this twitter chat in itself was triggering or stressful – or could have been] Going home means that I will have to endure questions and comments like “you’re really keeping the weight off!” or “how much weight have you lost?”.  AND obviously we can’t leave out the drama and hassle of Black Friday shopping. At this point, these are the last things I want to hear or do over the holidays. I want to draw attention AWAY from my body, not toward it. It’s frustrating and it makes me worried to go home. In fact, I didn’t notice the stark difference in my own body until a good friend brought it to my attention. These two photos are pretty telling, to me, but what I don’t feel they indicate is “beauty”. [side note: remember, I’m great at keeping up appearances, so while I may appear happy in these photos the contrast, and the reason I’m sharing these images, is more important than the emotion they seem to portray]

My point here, is simple. No overthinking involved (I wish!). My body is for me. It is not for anyone else to comment on unless I give them explicit permission. My body is not for you to approve of or to disapprove of.  Furthermore my body is not for you to speculate about “how I did it” or for you to judge or envy. I am not your success story. I am not your inspiration. [side note: watch this because Blythe Baird says ALL this way better than I could] For just a moment, please consider how telling someone they “look good” or inquiring about their weight loss can be triggering or challenging for them. It’s just uncomfortable. While likely it’s meant to be a kind gesture, a compliment, it can be harmful, embarrassing, or upsetting. Instead, focus on complimenting that person on something that has nothing to do with their body. Perhaps, their mind!

All I ask is that we cultivate the space, time, and the intentional energy to recognize how each person is different and how each person is perplexingly beautiful in their own way this day and every day.

 

Some Thoughts About National Coming Out Day

Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day!

Truth be told, all week I’ve been waiting in anticipation of this day. Actually, I’ve been waiting for  months. But, now that it’s here I’m met with much ambivalence. Mostly I’m challenged with the fact that we have National Coming Out Day at all. This is not an original idea – I realize that. The bottom line is if we didn’t live in a heteronormative society then we wouldn’t need this day. Moreover, why do people who aren’t straight need to come out when straight people are just presumed straight? You want to talk about privilege?!?! So framing this day as a privilege, celebrating that someone “gets” to come out is just so unbelievably frustrating. It’s like EVERY other day of the year it’s not your space, privilege, right, obligation, expectation to come out but today it is? And so coming out becomes yours under whose terms? I don’t need to spell this out but even National Coming Out Day operates under the constraints of the dominant, majority groups. So is it really our day? 

Moving past my rant, National Coming Out Day is also another day that is FILLED with labels. Right? We’re supposed to say “I’m _________” in the vein of solidarity and support. The alphabet soup of the LGBTQIA movement is hard to swallow and the myriad of identities is difficult even for experts to dissect. I star24daa08c97f5b9759ffc1051343da9e3ted considering this more earlier this seek when I saw these three images:9-bi

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I just wonder, how can we have National Coming Out Day and consider that yet another triumph in the LBGTQIA movement when certain identities are still minimized even within minority communities? Someone who is Bisexual feels like they should just say the’re gay because it would be easier. Someone who is Asexual doesn’t know how they fit into the community. [side note: this Buzzfeed video captures that sentiment in a super compelling way: 15 Poignant Asexual Confessions] And then I saw this on Instagram in reference to National Coming Out Day: “don’t you dare come out as an ally”. First, everyone needs allies. Second, this is about the time I want to smash all labels (and all social media). I’m frustrated! These words mean nothing if they’re simultaneously residing in the realms of discrimination and unity. National Coming Out Day is supposed to be freeing. It’s, to me, a demonstration of how large the community is and an opportunity to find support and connections in an unforgiving, hard to navigate world. But instead, I feel like even National Coming Out Day is also being dominated by a majority group. It’s a day for CERTAIN people in the LGBTQIA community. Others stand to the sideline and grapple relentlessly with their positionality. We question “are our identities valid enough to be recognized on this day?” or “have we struggled enough to deserve to participate in National Coming Out Day?” Here’s where it comes back to labels. We decide the meanings we attribute to these words and then we judge. Why should one person who identifies one way fear so violently speaking their label? Owning their identity? Even on National Coming Out Day these wonderings, these anxieties, are real and for some of us they’re amplified.

[Side note: I’m not in any way attempting to minimize any one person’s struggle or journey. I realize that coming out as anything is challenging or even terrifying. I’m not even talking about who people love or who they’re attracted to. I’m talking about labels. And in doing so, it feels like I’m taking a huge risk.]

Labels can give us closure but they can also really harm us. I’m thinking here about a medical or mental health (not sure why I made that distinction – ugh society) diagnosis. These labels follow us and while in some contexts they allow us to receive the services and interventions we need to be our best selves in other ways they limit our potential by attaching an inescapable stigma that lingers long after we’ve felt that we’ve triumphed and moved on or overcome one of our many hurdles. Similarly, in the LGBTQIA community labels speak volumes! Among others, they indicate the level of struggle you’ve endured, who you are sexually or romantically attracted to, and who you love.

I haven’t talked yet about the third image I saw. It said “Be Yourself”. I liked this one the best but I also wish that we didn’t need motivational pictures on social media to remind us to be ourselves. I wish there wasn’t a day where it was okay to proclaim loudly who you really are and then attach a label to it so other people can make their judgement about you or know how to categorize you. I hope that tomorrow people can still proudly and loudly be exactly who they are and how they identify without any stipulations. Our labels are both constricting and empowering when we first speak our truths. However, once society gets a hold of them, we’re leaving our words to be interpreted differently with each repetition of who we are. The threat of misinterpretation makes me breathe too quickly. On National Coming Out Day I can choose my label but I cannot choose its connotation. That’s scary.

National Coming Out Day reminds me there’s still a long way to go in the LGBTQIA movement. We’ve had victories large and small but the whole idea that we need a day for people to say who they are makes me wonder, if I don’t come out today will I have missed my chance?

And now, I’ll resort to homework and hiking today to avoid this social media mess of labels and many, overwhelmingly colorful displays of false or fleeting approvals (which I interpret with a certain degree of insincerity) to someone’s real, breath taking proclamation of self.

What I Learned from Disconnecting

A few weeks ago, I gained some inspiration and some courage and returned to blogging after a couple years of hiatus. I wrote this post, Contrasting Being Connected with Just Connections, and was honored to have it shared on a friend’s page, Organized Babble. While initially, the reposting, sharing, and tweeting of this post was exciting after just a few hours it was exhausting and also seriously anxiety provoking. Nearly a week later, I deleted the post from my own Facebook page and then a week after that (approximately) I deleted my own Facebook page. If you want to know more about why I deleted Facebook or about me in general you can listen to my segment on Storries (the Facebook stuff starts at 51:20) a weekly Public Affairs talk show on UConn’s radio station, WHUS.  I haven’t been on Facebook for nearly a month and while I initially thought I’d miss it, I’m actually happier than I’ve ever been.

Considering that statement I just made, you might be wondering why I’d start a blog. Why I’d purposely create another social media platform to maintain and interact with on a regular basis. I actually am wondering that too. There’s a few reasons:

  1. I think too much. I spend a lot of time trying to convince myself and others that I don’t “reflect”. The truth is, I do. We all do. The difference for me is, I don’t think about myself all that much. However, without the distraction of everyone else’s lives and the ease of “virtual people watching” on Facebook, I’ve had more time to think about me and now it’s becoming a lot to process. I think we call that flooding. Anyway, it’s overwhelming. AND, while that’s all well and good (and apparently part of life and growing up) now I’ve come to a crucial crossroad where I’m entertaining more thoughts about my own life than ever before and I have less people available to process and converse with me. So then there’s blogging. It’s actually for me.
  2. I do well with order and routines. If I say to myself “I’ll tackle one of these things each week and write a post about it” then it’ll get done. Somehow the internet has a strange way of holding people accountable. I doubt anyone will notice if I don’t write a post (hey, they didn’t notice when I deleted Facebook) but there’s something compelling about the obligations that we create for ourselves in the virtual world. Sociologists believe that everyone has a desire to know or feel that they matter to someone. I think the internet helps us with that yearning. Here’s how, even if nobody replies, verifies that they’ve read this, or challenges my viewpoint, my voice (figuratively) is out there! And maybe, my words will influence someone. And if I’m not reaching anyone then, I’m held accountable to the “stats” tab on this blog, reminding me that I didn’t take space for me.
  3. My physical list of “things I want to write about” is getting longer than the list of things I’ve tackled. Now, some things I’m admittedly not ready to write out for the world, but this is a perfect space for everyday wonderings. Which, I’ve had WAY more of now that I’m not held captive by social media and the need to convince everyone that I’m living a seemingly perfect life or know what everyone else is “up to”.  Plus, typing is faster!
  4. Loneliness is real.  Another contradiction if I’m writing a post lauding being relatively disconnected. Remember I over think things. I’m in the midst of a huge transition in my life and what’s accompanied that is a lot, LOT of self discovery. More than I know how to handle. Remember I said that there have been fewer people around to entertain my conversations? Well, I miss them! Seriously, I miss them every day! And, while I’m figuring out my life in a new school, academic field, city, new friendships, roommates, jobs, I’m feeling really lonely. I want to write, call, text, email, and visit with all the people who have made a difference to me, who have supported and encouraged me, but the truth is, they have lives that don’t always include me. I watched a great TED talk recently  (side note: I love TED talks, so more to come!) called “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid” and psychologist Guy Winch made a point that really resonated with me. He said, “Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound, one that distorts our perceptions and scrambles our thinking. It makes us believe that those around us care much less than they actually do. It make us really afraid to reach out, because why set yourself up for rejection and heartache when your heart is already aching more than you can stand?”  I can absolutely relate to this – p.s. I sent this talk to my friend and she never got back to me.

This post is called, “What I Learned from Disconnecting” but after writing it, I think it would have been better titled “Why I Started a Blog”. What I learned was that there’s more to learn and explore about me and that I have some serious self work to do. I learned that I am not motivated by constant comparison and I AM my biggest critic. I learned that I crave meaningful relationships and that the influential people in my life taught me more than I knew at the time. I miss them. I also learned (if I was saying this aloud I’d look away and talk really quietly) that reflection is difficult, scary, and overwhelming but also SO necessary. So, I’m starting this project to be more self aware, to make space to wonder, and to “publish” my thoughts in a space where I won’t feel like I’m being a burden to anyone.

Welcome!