Hi! Remember me? A long time ago, I used to blog here.
So, last time I wrote, I was off to my first destination bachelorette party. The destination, it can now be told (OK, it was already told repeatedly on Twitter last weekend), was Vegas. The bride, one of my oldest and dearest, works for a big, giant corporation that owns several casino resorts. Said big, giant corporation is not in the habit of comping its employees, on accounta they’ve got a bazillion employees and that would get spendy, but the bride and some of her local friends were able to call in a few favors and get us some ridiculous free shit, including rooms, a cabana by the pool for Saturday afternoon, and numerous free bottles of booze — including some at two different clubs of the sort I didn’t even frequent when I was 21, which is really the only time you’d want to.
So we all had a total blast, duh. But it was one of those total blast events I spent so fucking much time stressing about beforehand, it’s kind of a wonder I did manage to enjoy it. First of all, I didn’t realize there would be quite so much free shit, and with a book tour coming up, I was worried about spending too much money on comparatively frivolous travel. But that was really the only practical, reasonable stress. All the rest of it — and it was a lot — was self-image shit.
Not just body image shit — though gearing up to wear a bathing suit in public can still throw me for a bit of a loop. (As I said in comments on the bathing suit shopping post, it’s not even really fat shame anymore, just general prudishness; I’m simply not comfortable with anyone but Al and my doctor seeing that much of my naked flesh. And really, I’m not that comfortable with my doctor seeing it.) No, I was just all-around obsessed with how I’d present myself — i.e., making the fatal mistake, not for the first time, of assuming that anyone else really gives a rat’s ass how I present myself. Especially when I’m standing next to a woman wearing 4-inch heels, a white feather boa, and rhinestones spelling out “bride” across her shoulder.
The problem was this: I didn’t know most of the other women who would be there. And even though I knew the bride would never be friends with assholes, I just couldn’t tamp down the following fears:
- They’d all be girlier, cuter, better dressed, more at home in bathing suits and fancy clubs, etc., than I am. (Actually true, overall — it just didn’t ultimately matter a bit.)
- There was a strong likelihood of running into diet talk, given that it was a group of 10 women. (Also true, but it was minimal.)
- Some of them might look at me like I had 3 heads, all of which were about to be diagnosed separately with diabetes and heart disease, when I told them what I write about. (Not true!)
Now, about 85% of this stress manifested as me going, “WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO WEAR NO REALLY WHAT THE FUCK?” — I wasn’t having panic attacks or anything. But it was a good lesson in how much the stability of my self-image can depend on context. Still. After two years of blogging and writing half a book purporting to share the secrets of my awesome self-image.
Don’t get me wrong — I DO have an awesome self-image, both generally speaking and especially compared to what it used to be. Overall, I’m plenty confident and often enough arrogant. It’s just, there’s still that “what it used to be” part lurking underneath, and certain situations can bring it shooting up to the surface. I can stand on a stage and read to an audience, write opinionated blog posts, get loud and stupid with my friends, wear skintight yoga pants in a class full of hardbodies, moderate the fuck out of comments, and talk easily to reporters, all without worrying too much about what anyone thinks. But put me in a group that’s mostly people I don’t know and ask me to socialize OR ask me to spend an entire afternoon wearing a bathing suit in public, and I am suddenly self-conscious as all hell. Ask me to do both at once, and I’m suddenly a useless pile of WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO WEAR NO REALLY WHAT THE FUCK OMG OMG OMG THIS MIGHT ACTUALLY KILL ME.
But here’s the difference between me now and me when my self-image was like 90% suck: I went anyway. I didn’t talk myself out of it because I was so afraid the potential for being judged negatively outweighed the potential for fun. When I asked myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” the answer was, “Some of [bride’s] friends don’t like me.” Bride would continue to like me anyway, as would another one of our oldest and dearest who would also be in attendance. It seemed highly implausible that all 7 of the other women would find me repulsive, so it was unlikely that I’d get stuck with no one at all to talk to, or that a bunch of grown-ass women, including two of my oldest friends, would gang up on me like a pack of hostile 7th-graders. At the absolute worst, I’d get a polite brush-off from a couple of people I would only have to see one more time in my life. WAIT, THAT’S ALL I’VE BEEN FUCKING FREAKING OUT ABOUT?
So I went. I went, and I had a blast. What’s more, my very favorite part of the weekend was the part that involved wearing a bathing suit in public. (As it turned out, the day was cooler than expected, so I ended up wearing sweats over my suit most of the time I wasn’t in the pool or hot tub — so much for all the anxiety about finding a sufficiently adorable suit and cover-up combo.) I lovelovelove to be in the water, and I have now learned that I REALLY love to sit in a private cabana and have people come and refill my drink while I’m not in the water. (This is a bittersweet bit of new knowledge, since the likelihood of my ever having access to a free cabana again is about equal to the likelihood that I’ll ever have enough disposable income to just pay for one, i.e., nil.) And of course, I loved all of the bride’s friends I got to talk to for longer than 5 minutes, and I’m sure I would equally love the ones I didn’t. Most of my fears did not come true, and those that did turned out to be irrelevant anyway. (Oh noes! 90 seconds of throwaway diet talk!)
All this should surprise exactly no one, least of all me. But when you’re an anxiety-prone person who’s still overcoming decades of self-hatred — even if you’ve written half a book about how not to hate yourself so damn much — it’s still so easy to get wrapped up in the fear of not being charming enough and smart enough and funny enough and bikini-ready enough to survive an unfamiliar social situation. Not so many years ago, I probably would have decided to skip the whole thing, purely because I knew I was likely to be the fattest person there by a considerable margin (which I was). I would have convinced myself that all of them — including the two I’ve been friends with for plus or minus 20 years — would be humiliated to be seen with me, disgusted by having to look at me in a bathing suit, and thus either terribly awkward (my friends) or downright cruel (all the rest). And the thing is, none of that would have been true then, either. But I never would have found out the fears were bullshit. I never would have found out that flitting between a cabana and an enormous pool all afternoon is pretty much my idea of heaven (though again, it might have been better if I never did find that out). Not to mention, I would have missed a celebration in honor of one of my oldest and dearest — all because of my own fucking insecurity.
I still get alternately angry and weepy when I think about how much I used to hold myself back, how much I chose to miss out on, because I was so worried that people would think I was too fat/ugly/dull/irritating/etc. — mostly fat and ugly — to deserve to take part in whatever fun activity was on the table. It wasn’t even that I didn’t think I deserved it, necessarily — but that I believed everyone else would be looking at me and thinking, “Who the hell does she think she is?” (I mean, wearing a bathing suit at a pool! Can you imagine THE NERVE?)
The first mistake, of course, was believing that everyone — or anyone, really — would be looking at me at all, much less long enough to form a strong opinion about my body and/or character. It is kind of amazing how closely related insecurity is to egotism. But the other mistake was believing that the risk of being judged was always greater than the potential fun of putting myself out there. I mean, how could I possibly enjoy swimming, or lying by the pool, or drinking fruity drinks, or dancing, if there might be someone nearby thinking, “Damn, she needs to put those thighs away.” Oh, wait — I would still be swimming, lying by the pool, drinking fruity drinks, dancing. These are INTRINSICALLY ENJOYABLE ACTIVITIES in my book. It would take a lot more than a dirty look from a stranger to make those things not fun.
Of course, sometimes you get a lot more than a dirty look. (And people fatter than me get a lot more a lot more often.) But as Lesley said in a brilliant post (which happens to be reprinted in the book) a while back:
Given the choice between restricting my movements and being assured of never being catcalled again, versus going out shamelessly and risking (or demanding!) attention – I will gladly take the latter. I like being visible. Even when I become a bull’s-eye upon which the insecurities and savagery of others are exorcised. Even when I lose time processing and remembering the emotional risks I take just by being myself, time I would have otherwise spent relaxing in the sunshine. When I first began my self-acceptance process, I decided first off that I never wanted to feel afraid of what those people – those who would mercilessly catcall me from a moving car, for example – might think or say about my body again. I never wanted to avoid life out of fear. And I’m still there, still fighting to be fearless.
So I say fuck those people. I’ll be on that beach tomorrow, and this weekend, and for months to come, and if they don’t like it, good, I’m glad to displease them.
And as my lovely co-author said just today:
I would rather be seen than be invisible. I would rather exist as a vocal and visual body than as a silent and hiding one, occupied mostly with minimizing myself.
Right on. I may never be completely rid of all those old fears, but these days, I feel strong enough to fight them, instead of rolling over and letting them win. That’s the big difference between having a mostly positive self-image and a mostly crap one. And I can tell you this much with absolute confidence: The next time someone invites me to spend an afternoon in a free cabana by a ridiculously gorgeous pool (oh please, let there be a next time), I will immediately say yes.