“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable. That's why it loves perfectionists— it's so easy to keep us quiet. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees. Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither. Just the way exposure to light was deadly for the gremlins, language and story bring light to shame and destroys it.”
— from Daring Greatly by Dr. Brene Brown.
Have you guys read this book? Go get it right now. I’m serious. I just finished chapter three, but it’s already sent me into an epiphany frenzy. In fact, the above quote is from just the opening teaser for chapter three of Dr. Brown’s book. I wanted to stop right there and come write this, but I decided to read the actual chapter and by the end, I was fa-reaking out.
How many times have you gone to reach out to others only to stop? Maybe you're feeling lonely, wanting connection or to go for the big promotion, only to have your better angels shut down by shame? “No one wants to hang out with you”, it hisses. “No one wants to be with a sad person. You’re not good enough to be loved. You can’t have real friends. If you were cooler, you’d already have plans because people would want to hang out with you. No one will hire/promote you, you're not a leader. Remember that epic mistake? Your ideas suck.” And on and on. If you’re like me, it’s what keeps you from ‘living in community’ and from living fully. From letting others in. From being okay with being ourselves, flaws and all. Shame is deceptively powerful. Shame is also an asshole.
My own narrative regarding my body comes into play here. Dr. Brown gives a bunch of areas where we feel shame, and right up there is body image. ‘You’re only as sick as your secrets’. Our secrets don't have to be things Shonda Rhimes would include as a story plot. Sometimes what needles us into our own shame closet are every day things like our weight, money, or where we did or didn’t go to school. Our careers. Our mistakes. Sex. Not living up to certain societal/cultural expectations of our gender/age/etc. Those things become taboo — unspoken.
My body shame started in childhood, and like a vestigial organ, it stays with me, hanging there without purpose. Over the past few months, I’ve been talking more candidly about my weight, about the lack of representation in media unless in certain tropes and ‘acceptable’ ways. About the limited options in shopping. Dating. About the little slights in tv and film. If it’s relevant, I even reference it casually in conversation, which can make some uncomfortable. It’s not that I’m trying to talk matter of factly about my weight to devoid myself of feeling, or distance from it emotionally. Quite the opposite. I’ve just learned that if we authentically and lovingly speak our shame and let it see sunshine, it ceases to be verboten. Dr. Brown’s book gave me language to articulate this and see it more clearly.
Here’s an example. Going shopping with a friend, we went to a store with a plus size section. Usually, it’s not the greatest or its picked through of the good pieces, but I decided to check it out. I remarked cheekily to my friend, ‘hopefully the other fat people haven’t gotten here before me’. I meant this somewhat literally and somewhat tongue and cheek, but she was upset about my usage of the word fat. She saw it as self-denigrating. According to her connected dots, fat equals bad. Fat is something to be embarrassed by, ashamed. She tells me I’m beautiful the way I am, but also tells me she’ll help me lose weight. Like I have a zit I need popping, but I still look 'okay'. It reminds me of a stewardess who whispered to me with a sympathetic look as she drug-deal style palmed me a seatbelt extender on those tiny ridiculous planes. But I am fat, and I’m not bad and I’m not ashamed. I used the word fat or overweight because to me, it’s as valid a description as saying I’m a brunette. Talking about being fat, about what it’s like to live as a larger person has helped me get rid of my personal taboo, my own shame. It does not, however, necessarily help others get rid of theirs.
I’ve watched my shame about my body wither over time. Consciously, I’ve decided to let go of self-created rules (with food, clothes, activities). This has created space for things that are actually helpful and awesome. Things like being starting yoga and going for the headstand. Or speaking up when I need different seating because bar stools are the worst— and not feeling bad for it. The attachment I once had to constantly trying to somehow hide myself and be small is being vanquished because I’ve been putting sunshine on my shame. I’ve decided to not judge, withhold, or create parameters wherein I will or will not be okay with myself. I know that this is not the weight that is the healthiest. It is not the weight that my body wants to be. And yes, it can be frustrating to carry this weight. The difference is that now I will be able to get healthier without diet mentality and lose weight in a way that honors my body and my value as a person. In a way that is void of the gremlins that have always stood in my way. It’s an ongoing choice to embrace myself as is. The useless shame that creeps up is just a weed, and I know how to take care of it.