I'm talking to the little munchkin in you today. That little girl who jumped heels first into giant piles of mud; who listened to the cricket chirping behind her bed and imagined it was calling an army of tiny insect soldiers to ransack your slumber; who wrote letters in her diary to an imaginary best friend whose life was full of fanciful adventures; who wanted to be Rainbow Brite AND Bambie when she grew up; who thought a day well spent involved nothing short of aimless wandering, colored pencils, a peanut butter honey raisin sandwich with the crust cut off, and fireflies caught in a jar at dusk.
I'm talking to her slightly older self too, the one whose childhood pleasures may have drifted away but whose idealism remained in tact. The young woman who just knew she could be anything she wanted - from an international spy to a professional ballet dancer to a stellar college student to a traveling journalist. The one who considered, no matter her circumstances, that perhaps the world was hers for the taking, if she just worked hard enough and dreamed big enough.
Do me a favor today and remember this as I say what I am going to say: I am speaking to the above in you and I am not judging you nor am I am bummed out by you nor am I wishing otherwise for you. I love you. That's true. Here we go.
This new job o' mine has created a slightly uncomfortable situation for the naturally (severely) introverted me. Parties. Events. Networking. Promoting. Giveaways. Let's just say that there is no way for me to enter into the backdoor and escape through the side exit without notice. And, let me take a moment and state that I don't despise this new situation. In fact, when I get there, I'm in 100% and can be found embracing the whole experience like a little kid delighted to feel sand for the first time. What I assumed would be scratchy and uncomfortable turns out to be warm and accommodating. I'm also learning - thanks to Barbie - that introducing myself and actually chatting to strangers is kind of totally awesome and inspiring. Major progress for me. Don't get me wrong, when you meet for the first time, I will most certainly be awkward and I will probably say something really odd that will make you be like, um, did she just say that? But, once I warm up, we'll be friends for life.
Here's where it gets tricky. Through these new experiences, I'm realizing that the whole "positive body image" movement for women has completely missed its mark. Sure, we might hear women talk about how much they are learning to "accept" their bodies and we might run with arms wide open to support brands like Dove merely because they hire models who inhabit a variety of body shapes. BUT. This whole movement has missed the mark. It's like thinking we could solve America's obesity problem with fat-free foods and Diet Coke. The issue is not that there's fat in food or that Coke has calories. The issue is deeper. This is true for the state of women and how we perceive our own skin's worth in the world around us. Positive body image is a trite medicine for a much more layered reality.
And here's where it gets sticky. 95% of what I hear women talking about concerns how they look, what they are eating, how they can (should) change their body, what they're doing to sweat, and how other women look. 95%. Maybe more. And I'll be blunt and say that within this 95%, the majority of it is negative. I hear about failed diets, wobbly thighs, FUPAs, so-and-sos botox, and so much more. And, thus far, I've smiled and nodded. In fact, most of the time, I feel called to become self-deprecating just so that I don't alienate myself from the group. But. We are casually disregarding our self-worth by doing this.
It breaks my heart to hear these things. And that's not because I haven't felt them myself. I've written about this before many times (here, for example) because I feel like this very reality for women is not really talked about as effectively as it could be. There was a long period of time when it was all I could think about. And much of the last decade, I felt so incredibly insecure about how I measured up, or didn't. And, I can tell you for a fact that that feeling I had about myself, that insecurity, had zero to do with how I actually looked. It was so much deeper. I had a big fat ugly secret. I wasn't taking care of myself. I was not congruent in terms of my job, my relationships, and my daily existence. I wasn't happy. I had big huge gaping holes that I attempted to fill with everything from jobs to people to things to television to food to drinks to gossip to exercise to extreme dieting/eating. I remember the feeling being as if my skin actually hurt to wear. Like I was walking around in a fleshy, inflamed, ill-suited costume. I wanted out, but instead, I dug myself in.
What shifted for me? Blowing up my life. Following the yellow brick road. Saying YES to what your happiness compass begs for you to follow. Letting things go and attaching to others. Surrendering addictions. Being willing. I know. Not easy to hear. But, it actually worked. When I look back and think about all the energy I spent on both worrying about how to "fix" myself and on how to receive external fills for my holes, I want to ask myself at that time, "Weren't you so exhausted? Isn't this fixation tiring?" I was exhausted. It was tiring.
I remember one night in particular, locked in my wee one's nursery at 3am with her wide awake little face bobbing around to find my breast, contemplating all the ways I could not show up the next day for the things I had said I was going to do. How was I going to hide my dark circles and make my face look shiny and what shirt could I wear to hide my yucky belly, etc etc? Fuck it, I thought. I'll just cancel everything, as per usual. I'll crawl up on the couch in front of my friend Kelly Ripa and pray no one calls or stops by. I'll do exactly what's necessary to just breastfeed this gorgeous baby and act semi-human so no one notices how badly I feel. And, then, the thought came - one that had come before, but was growing steadily in intensity: What's the fucking point of it all?
I could see instantly that I had lost myself in the swirl of life and mortgages and babies and the status quo and there was little left of that little munchkin that opened this post. And I could feel that beneath the frustration of wanting to throw away my skin and borrow a shinier version there was a deep hurt for the loss of the little munchkin. And that even though I had every reason in front of me to fully grasp the point of life - the palpable gift of life resting on my chest and another sleeping in the next room - I knew I couldn't feel any of it until I started living congruently.
Everything shifted after that for me. And I'm not going to lie. Coming out of a fog like that is not always easy. You make a mess of things when you can't see clearly. But, all the ways I had fixated before on my appearance and all behaviors I had adapted to stay numb and the myriad ways I not cared for myself just started falling away without effort. I can only now really appreciate the miracle of that statement, because at the time all I felt was an acceleration of living that dissolved exhaustion and depression - a sudden breeze on my face, light in my step, and some wide open doors. When you start living congruently, you stop living in hiding. And when you stop living in hiding, you let yourself just be. Out. Inner munchkin and all.
I can guarantee that that little munchkin in you did not even for a second hope that she was going to grow up to feel such hatred for and discomfort in her own skin. I can guarantee that she never imagined she'd be sitting around with other amazing women and talking about how terrible she looked. I can guarantee that she believed she had so much more to say and do and see and feel than these things so many of us feel. I'm here today to be a momma bear for this munchkin in you. I'm here to put my hands over your tiny, impressionable ears when people around you are saying crappy things or asking you to be what you are not. I'm here to stare down the bully that is the objectification of your everything. I'm here to remind you that you, little munchkin, deserve to own as much space in your skin as you can possibly grasp and that you, at every moment, are enough.
It's not your fault you feel this way. Our society is not (yet) designed to help women return to wholeness after giving birth. Instead, we're told we're gonna "glow" our way through it. We're left along in our houses to care for tiny people. We're expected (and needed) to go back to work before our bodies are even healed up from pregnancy and birth. We don't have a tribe of caregivers (other women) there to help us remember this too shall pass and to lend us ancient wisdom (and humor). It's no wonder that when our kids' feet finally touch the ground and we get a bit more sleep and independence that we walk into the world dodging the bright lights.
I'm here in this space not to give you great workouts. How lame would that be? I'm here because I know that when you start signing up to reintegrate your system into living, you start giving that little munchkin in you room to breathe again. I'm here to stand up for that in you. To make you feel as recovered physically as possible as a mother so that you can make choices about how you want to show up. To defray the effects of depression. To counter injury. To be a part of a tribe of women focused on self-care through a lens of taking risks and finding adventure from strength instead of a new smaller pair of jeans. The truth? I show up every day for my 15-minutes because I don't want to have to think about working out the rest of the day and because it helps my mood stay lifted and my body resilient. I want is to talk about other things that are vastly more important to me and to engage in the world in ways that are inherently more tethered to what makes me me. Period. And I'll keep talking and writing about this until I witness shifts away from how women are co-opting this system.
Let's dig deeper than the positive body image movement has and start asking each other what's underneath it all. What have you lost and how can I help you bring it back to the surface? What would happen if women showed up in the world like this, instead of as preemptive strikes against our physical insecurities?
I have a challenge for all of us. When you are around your friends, stop talking badly about your body. Stop being casual about your self-worth. Stop laughing at jokes directed at your friend's supposedly screwy frame. Stop obsessing and comparing and slinking. Take a deep breath and be a momma bear to that munchkin in you and remind yourself it's worth refraining from what feels like a comfort in that preemptive strike. Be a momma bear to the self-worth of women who surround you.
I'll be doing it. When I hear you talk badly about yourself, I'm going to shift your attention. I'm going to ask you about YOU instead. I can tell you a joke if you want. I can quote some Shakespeare. I can talk about what I just read about the science behind windmills. I can ask you about your deepest dreams. I can do anything but engage in a casual disregard for your presence. You might not like me. You might think I'm too serious about this. You might think I'm too confident about myself. You might not want a light shining on you. I'm okay with all of it. I was considered a major dork in high school until I grew boobs (another blog post topic, me thinks). I don't mind being unpopular. Because this matters.
We got this. Yes, you, munchkin. Shine bright.
PS: This is part one in a series of Munchkin related posts. Some munchkin teasers (and yes, I'm the one with the blonde bowl cut):