Trying to let go of criticism

I went to a Body Image conference in the fall and one of the seminars that I attended was regarding the portrayal of women in advertising. The keynote talked about the Dove campaign mostly, but then a whole discussion opened up and ended up going way longer than the presentation was supposed to.

There’s been so many little instances that have happened to me in the past two years that have made me question my own path. First, I trained for and ran my first marathon. People are always surprised when I tell them what a profound experience it was, but I can’t explain it otherwise. I was able to let go of so many unhealthy notions that I had about myself – primarily weight – and I realized that I truly am stronger than I know. Sure, that sense of self-affirmation wasn’t cemented in conviction, but still, I do believe that all of us have a depth of strength that will allow us to overcome anything.

Then there were books read about women and girls, about body image and this box that we are squeezed into as teens, suddenly expected to be feminine and “nice”. Do you watch The L Word? (I love it.) In one scene, one of the characters felt that her privacy had been violated my her male roommate (it had). She told him to write “Fuck Me” on his bare chest and then walk down the street naked. To let anyone fuck him that wanted to, to smile while it happened and to act like he enjoyed it. And then, when it was over, he had to smile and thank the person, like he had done him a favour. “And then you’ll know what it’s like to be a woman.” Admittedly, she was on the verge of a mental breakdown and had been a victim of a childhood rape, so the statement was dramatic, but generally speaking, it’s true.

Not that all women feel that they need to give themselves physically to every person who requests it, but woman give. And we don’t do it because it’s in our nature or because we are inherently nurturing, we do it because we are socialized to believe that women give. And so we give to our friends and we give to our lovers and eventually we give to our children and husbands and parents and co-workers and anyone else who asks.

I was worried that I would be very uncomfortable while Steve was away last week, I think that I was a little afraid that I had forgotten how to be alone. And you know? It was really nice. I watched what I wanted, I did the amount of schoolwork that I wanted, sometimes none at all, and sometimes until ten at night (we have a strict one-hour-of-work-in-the-evenings rule). Sure, I got a little bored of having no one to talk to by the fourth night, but my main concern of being anxious at being alone was unfounded. Until Sunday night, as I tidied the kitchen before I went to bed because he was getting in that night. Then I started to check to make sure the sink was clean and that the dishwasher was emptied and that the laundry had been done, as I knew he’d have lots to do the next day. As I sat in my therapist’s office Monday morning while he slept off his late night of travel, I realized that I put just as much pressure on myself to be the perfect wife as I do anything else. If not more-so.

The problem with having these realizations (however obvious they may be to other people), is that they upset me. It’s like taking something that I thought was normal and fine and turning it upside down and shaking it until something unhealthy falls out. Shaking it doesn’t make it unhealthy, it just makes me realize that it’s been like that all along.

Steve is my safety net. He is my support and the shoulder that I cry on. Sure, he doesn’t always understand, but if I ask him to hug and while I cry, he will. Always. So for me to realize that I was putting this pressure on me and on him and on us, it really made me sad. Because neither of us deserve it, I guess. Because I thought our relationship was the one thing that I hadn’t let be affected by my own ideas of what I should and shouldn’t be, maybe. I’m not sure why, exactly, I just know that realizing the amount of pressure I put on myself to make healthy meals and to fold his uniform and to keep the house tidy and to make him feel appreciated isn’t healthy made me upset.

My therapist says that I’m too critical of myself, which I think is a pretty accurate statement. She asked me if I was afraid to not be overly critical of myself anymore. And maybe I am. Because if I remove the constant criticism, what then? I mean, I guess it’s safe to say that I would be able to accept myself. So why does it seem scary to let it go? Because… what then?

Maybe somehow it feels that if I’m the one criticizing myself, I won’t be surprised or hurt by anyone else’s criticisms. But if I stop, if I start truly accepting myself as wonderful, and if someone tells me that I’m not, well, then I’ll have been the fool, won’t I?

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