No, this isn’t the title of my funny new children’s book. This is the real-life story of how I came to believe that I’m a monster … who also wanted a date.
I have an image of myself that’s unkind. When I walk through a room I envision the lumbering steps of a two-ton beast; remember Jurassic Park when the T-Rex is nearby and the whole ground shakes — yeah, that. I imagine the features of my face have been swallowed by fat, my limbs are unwieldy clubs, and my stomach and butt are explosions of jiggly flab. I see rolls of puckered flesh resting on rolls resting on rolls.
This next part will be shocking given what I just revealed, but I don’t tolerate negative self-talk. I’m constantly lifting myself up and cutting myself slack. I’m confident and I work hard on self-acceptance. As a matter of fact, the name of my blog, Not Bad for a Fat Girl, comes via my hard fought self-acceptance. I am a fat girl. I don’t say that to be demeaning. I say that because if our society happened to be sorting women into two categories, like fat and thin (imagine!), I’d land in the fat category 100% of the time. Even at my most healthy, by societal standards I’m still a fat girl. The earth is round, gravity exists, and I’m a fat girl. I own it.
So how the hell did this monster sneak into my closet and slip into my shoes?
During an exercise in The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels I was asked to visualize myself standing in front of an audience of people who I feel judge me. That’s easy: heterosexual men. For most of my life I’ve felt a complete dismissal of my worth by the opposite sex. Of course gay men and women judge just as unfairly and even as cruelly, but there’s something clinical and absolute about the way dudes and bros measure a woman’s value solely on how her appearance arouses him that eviscerates me. And as a single woman, I have no respite.
I imagined myself on stage looking out at an audience full of men and I felt so much anxiety that I stopped the exercise. I was overwhelmed. I texted my friend who had recommended The Tools that I’d be hiding under my bed if he needed me. A week later I tried again, getting to the second step where I look at myself standing in front of this audience. And guess who was standing on the stage? Me, the monster. That’s when I realized this monster wasn’t who I thought I was, she was who I imagined others saw when they looked at me.
“The Shadow is everything we don’t want to be but fear we are, represented in a single image. It follows us wherever we go.” – The Tools
Son of a bitch! I’d left a gaping hole in my confidence that my self-acceptance wasn’t going to fill. According to The Tools, “No matter who you are, when you crave the approval of others, you give them power over you.” And even though I tried my best not to care what others thought of me, I had done exactly what The Tools described: “Everyone wants to feel that as an individual we have value. But when we look inside ourselves, we see the Shadow, and we’re ashamed. Our immediate reaction is to turn away — to look outside ourselves for some evidence of our worth. This takes the form of looking to others for approval and validation.” It’s a relentless cycle.
I’ve been loved and I’ve been in love. I’ve broken a couple of hearts and had my heart broken. One man I fell in love with suffered from severe depression and I wasn’t equipped to understand or support him, so when he’d retreat, I’d lock the door behind him on his way out. We were on and off for a couple of years – it was awful. During that time I started working with a life coach and with her guidance I finally let myself be vulnerable, sharing my wants and feelings with him. His response was that he wasn’t attracted to me, AKA, my nightmare come to life. A trapdoor may as well have swallowed me whole because I pretty much dropped out of the love game after that. I dated a few more guys, but I didn’t let myself get serious. Two years of that and I decided I wasn’t going to make ANY effort in the love department and instead I’d live my life to its fullest. If romantic love was part of my destiny, then it would come find me because I’d just be right over here living an awesome life.
Fast forward through several years of an incredible life sans romantic love: I traveled the world, was successful in my high-profile job, went to amazing exclusive events, met incredible people. No romantic love. OK, I thought, maybe there’s a bigger picture and love would only distract me from achieving my dreams. Who knows? I trusted that I was where I was supposed to be. Fast forward a few more years: more events, more travel, more cool people, and I leave my successful high-salaried job to pursue my dream. Still no romantic love and I’m suspicious.
One summer day at my best friend’s backyard BBQ a married friend of hers and I were chatting over baked beans when he leaned in and said, “I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong with you, why you’re single. Are you a total bitch or something?” Lovely. But somewhere along the way, I started wondering the same thing. What was wrong with me? Aside from the realities of dating after you’re 30 (like that it’s impossible to meet available men in my everyday social circle), I wasn’t getting any action in the produce section, at the gas pump, even at the gym. So I start telling myself a story about why. Isn’t it obvious? I’m an ugly, obese, sloppy, smelly monster.
Instead of trusting that my love life has its own timeline (if any), I start telling myself this story about why I don’t deserve it. And this story created a monster. Not just in the arena of romance, but at this point I show up as my monster everywhere I go: little league games, holiday dinners, getting my hair done. “Insecurity destroys people’s ability to connect with one another. Over time, insecurity makes you dull and uninteresting to other people, and, paradoxically, it makes you ungiving. Insecure people are so obsessed with how others perceive them that they give almost nothing of themselves. As a result, they feel even more alienated.”
Hellllllooooo! Even though I’ve never considered myself an insecure person, I quack exactly like that duck, which makes me a duck. And we all do it. We crave approval so we “hide” the undesirable things about ourselves that’ll get us rejected and that creates our Shadow, which we’re ultimately ashamed of. And in my case I buried my inner self under rolls and rolls of puckered flesh, both real and imaginary. My Shadow is also loud, bossy, clumsy and slow. But here’s the thing. That monster, my Shadow, is the only way to be wholly myself.
“It may seem like the worst part of us, but really, it’s the doorway to the inner self. Only when that doorway is open can we truly express ourselves.” – The Tools
So what can a monster/girl do? Here are the two steps of the “Inner authority” tool (read: entire excerpt):
- Imagine again that you’re standing in front of your audience. See an image of your Shadow off to one side, facing you. Ignore the audience completely and focus all of your attention on the Shadow. Try to feel an unbreakable bond between the two of you — as a unit you’re fearless.
- Together, you and the Shadow forcefully turn toward the audience and silently command them to “LISTEN!” Feel the authority that comes when you and your Shadow speak with one voice.
The advice from the book is to start out slow and build up to the toughest situations. For me that means using the Inner Authority tool before I write, while I’m hanging out with my friends, and when I’m spending time with my family. Now I’ve joined an online dating site and I use the tool when I log on and respond to the men who’ve contacted me. I’m at the point where I’m being asked on dates and I am FREAKING OUT. 99% of me says I’m not ready, my monster doesn’t have the right dress, I need to lose 50lbs, I need to get my hair done, oh my god what will we talk about, what if he is mean to me, what if I’m bored??? 1% of me says I need to start before I’m ready, dive in, work out this tool, make some mistakes, not take this whole thing so seriously. I’m pretty sure I’ll have to go with the 1%. Damnit.
I truly believe I can live a full and meaningful life without romantic love. I just don’t want to avoid it because I’m afraid and insecure.