“I’ve spent too many years at war with myself…”

Every time I listen to Sting sing “Consider me gone” I get stuck on these words. Why do we spend so much time picking on ourselves? As a psychologist I assume we learn how to do this from our overly self-critical parents, and then carry on the practice by habit. Some say these patterns get stuck in our brains and are almost impossible to fight against or change.

I know I have been far too self-effacing for as long as I can remember and then, of course, others along the way helped me become even more critical. Now, in my 60s, I’m still working at fighting this pattern in various ways. It helps so much to have a close friend or life partner who points out how hard we can be on ourselves. I remember back in my late 40s I gained a lot of new insight when I read Gloria Steinem’s book “Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions” but this is a process that will last forever I’m afraid.

The three Carter kids at Grandma’s house at Christmas

Just recently I was rearranging things and came across a small photo of myself at around age three, looking pretty sassy in my new Easter clothes. Now I focus for a few minutes everyday on that little girl, on loving her all the way through and sending good thoughts for the many ways she might feel really good about herself for the rest of her life. I feel so much compassion for the battles she has fought in her war against herself and visualize how much easier her life could have been if she had learned self-love at an early age. I seems it has always been easier to be critical rather than compassionate towards myself.

I watched a marvelous 2005 movie recently called, “Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont.” It’s about a retired older woman, played wonderfully by Joan Plowright, who befriends a young man, played by Rupert Friend, (YUM!) by chance on the streets of London. It’s has a lot of insights into aging and how we treat our elders with a number of great lines, but the one that keeps coming back to me is:

“It’s very important to praise people a lot early on, otherwise they might die of disappointment.

Dietland: Being fat in a world that hates women

My measure of any form of media, is whether it continues to please, alarm or haunt me days after viewing it. Dietland did that for me! After viewing the first episode on AMC this past Monday night, I couldn’t quit thinking about how mixed are the messages we receive as females growing up in a world that tells us to love ourselves while critiquing us at every turn.

Part of me learned about being fat from watching those around me struggle with dieting and self-hate their whole lives. The other part learned about it on a much more personal level in the past few years, as I joined the legions of women starving themselves constantly for “the cause.” But perhaps all of us can relate to some extent to how beauty-focused advertising teaches young girls that we don’t deserve joy. We should instead strive toward “perfection,” no matter how self-destructive that path may become.

dietland baking scones

“Dietland doesn’t merely argue that beauty culture is violent, but also asks the unsettling question of whether the violence that women spend inflicting on themselves is actually a coy display of anger, not at ourselves, but a deeply misogynistic culture.”  — Arielle Bernstein, “Killer Looks, How Dietland Confronts The Violence of Beauty Culture.”

A few things I learned while watching Dietland were disturbing at best. For example, this line by the star “Plum Kettle” about being fat and attracting men: “Men screw women like me, but marry women like my boss,” played by Julianna Marguiles below.

dietland Julianna Margulies

Since I didn’t grow up dieting, I never quite understood the fantasy of those women who have been taught that their lives will be completely transformed as soon as they lose just the right amount of weight. The self-hate is everywhere in this show, and in our cultural bias created by advertising.

“Dietland allows fat women, women like me, who have fallen off too many treadmills and gone to bed so hungry it hurts, the chance to explore a righteous anger; it connects our pain to the bigger issues of a world that hates women.”  —  Laura Bogart, “I see myself in Dietland”

All of this brings up the issue of finding a healthy sense of self-love and respect in a world that doesn’t necessarily believe we deserve it. My biggest issues growing up were around whether I even deserved to be here at all, because I was quite different than most of the girls I met. In my decades-long journey to find and then allow my true self to be seen and heard, few were reassuring. I thank those strong, brilliant women (& Mike!) everyday for speaking to me about my right to be here and to be heard!

Take the greatest risk of all, to be seen as you truly are!