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Beautiful

Every so often, Postsecret publishes a secret that could be mine, and this week is one of those times. I didn’t have the above mentioned dream, but when I read it, I found myself thinking I get it. I’m never told I’m beautiful, so… I get it. 

I’ve written before that I rarely feel pretty. Feeling beautiful is almost a foreign thought.

I am occasionally told I “look nice” if I have dressed up and put on some makeup. My mother tells me I’m beautiful, but she’s my mother, so that doesn’t reach all that far.

I remember the first time I’d felt pretty in years. It was the day my baby cousin got married in 2013. I had a new dress that I loved, my makeup looked pretty good, and I was happy. It was still while I was at my heaviest, but I remember looking in the mirror and feeling pretty. I saw pictures and was amazed that I managed to look happy amidst the darkest months of my life. Even as I started losing weight and working on being happy, the pictures from that day reminded me of a turning point: I had the potential to be pretty.

Then, a few months ago, my father tried giving me a compliment, but in the process, I was devastated. I know that he was trying to encourage me by noticing the changes I’ve made, and the work I put into it. In doing so, he pulled up a picture to show me just how bad I used to be. It was a picture from that day, in that dress, smiling in that makeup. I know my dad loves me, and I know what he meant, but what it felt like was someone saying What you thought was beautiful is something to be ashamed of. I could barely respond to him. I know he didn’t mean it that way, but damn if that didn’t cut pretty deeply.

I don’t get told I’m pretty very often. Definitely don’t get told I’m beautiful.
But sometimes I like to feel like I might be.

Fat girl clothes are expensive. Pretty fat girl clothes cost a black market kidney. 

For most of my adult life, I have been poor, required to wear a uniform of some kind, or both. Especially when I was in seminary and ministry, the opportunities to be frilly and feminine were scarce. When I tried to take advantage of them, I got grief about it from people who didn’t seem to realize that their little jokes and comments about “who I was trying to impress” made me feel foolish for bothering to wear a skirt. So I did what I could: I bought pretty underwear and bras.

Standing in front of my dresser, deciding what I wanted to wear under my uniform was the only time I got to wear something that fit my mood. Lace? Satin? Polka dots? Snowflakes? No one saw them but me, but I felt just a little bit better knowing that there was something pretty there.

That habit hasn’t changed now that I can wear pretty much whatever I want. Wearing boring, plain, cotton underwear makes my day feel less spectacular. I could be wearing the prettiest dress I own, and if my undies are lame, I feel it. I’m willing to spend more on what I like, on what is better quality fabric, cut, etc., because when I wear it, I have a little more confidence. A little more oomph.

When I wear it, I feel like even if I’m not pretty, at least something I’m wearing is. So give me Calvin Kleins, bikinis with lace so delicate you hesitate to touch it, cottons so fine that they feel like magic.

Today, I read that the average person has just twenty-one pairs of underwear. I found this astounding because I own sixty if I own one. I commented to a group of people that I was shocked by this, and the conversation got ugly. I was mocked and laughed at for having so many pairs, and for spending money on something they see as unnecessary. I explained that pretty underwear changes my attitude a little and makes me feel pretty, but what they heard was that I thought they can’t be pretty in regular old Hanes (I didn’t mention them at all). I was told that the things that make them happy are more meaningful: a husband who helps out, kids who do what you want them to do, etc (I don’t have a husband or kids, so those aren’t even options). I tried explaining again, but that didn’t help. I was told it was petty and pointless, and that I needed to get over it. I don’t care what anyone else wears, but it stung to be mocked and told that what makes my day a little brighter is ridiculous. I was defensive and hurt as I cried most of the way home.

It’s so damned hard to feel pretty when you don’t fit the common description of pretty, and as much as I try to be above it, I want to be pretty. And not just wear pretty underwear, or a pretty dress, or manage to braid my hair in a way that impresses people… I want to be beautiful. I want to hear from someone other than my bff tell me that I’m gorgeous, but that has never happened, in 34 years. I want to turn a head for once – in a good way. I’m slowly starting to have more moments when I feel almost pretty. I’m getting there.

And Christ Almighty, if it takes a bit of overpriced lace from Macy’s to help get me there, I’ll go with it. Because chances are, my own voice looking at that scrap of lace is the only voice I’ll hear all day that associates me and beautiful in even the most indirect way.

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Brick by Brick

There are parts of the world that I am not dying to see, and art exhibits that bore me pretty quickly. One thing inhabits both of these lists: Egypt. Whenever I’m at the Art Institute with my sister, she could spend all day in the ancient Egypt collection while I quickly get to the point where my brain is screaming “oh look: another chipped clay pot, just like the last 700 you’ve seen.” My desire to visit Egypt is lessened quite a bit by its recent political climate, but I have to say, the biggest draw for me are the pyramids that showed up in the background of story books when I was a child.

They aren’t amazing because of what they look like, but because they are a testimony of greatness and power. Over decades and decades, thousands of nameless people slaved -literally- to turn crappy limestone into something great enough to house the holiest, most esteemed people of their society. One brick at a time, they carried and stacked. Each brick unimpressive on its own, like millions of tons of other limestone rocks all over the planet that go unnoticed every day.

A year ago, my life felt as barren, hot, and miserable as that desert must have been. I wanted out, but to imagine successful life on the outside was as insane as the ancient Egyptians dreaming up the first pyramid. I wasn’t the first, though. Thank God, I wasn’t the first. I had two in particular who were my own pyramids, Cory and Christin. Both had left and built their own pyramids, so I wasn’t as afraid to build mine.

How long would it take you to build your life if woke up tomorrow with no job, home, car, phone, insurance, credit, and only $374 to finance your move to another state? It’s a hell of a thing to envision, and even imagining it beforehand is nothing compared to living it.

No one, and no previous experience prepares you for building your pyramid. I wasn’t on my own – I had family and friends who have been an unquantifiable amount of help, but it’s both a solitary and community effort. Every tangible bit of building a pyramid is the result of the mental work that goes into it. Sometimes, the mental work involved was coming to the weary, humbling conclusion that I needed someone else to carry and place a brick for me.

And the only way to see any results is to just keep going.

Ten months and fourteen days ago, I packed everything I owned in a uHaul, unloaded it into my parents’ garage, and started over, covered in scars that still feel raw from time to time. I did a lot of pride-swallowing and took the exact job I swore I would never take after college and worked enough to buy a car. Stock up on some interview clothes. Pay for my coffee at Starbucks where I used their free WiFi to look for a job that I didn’t hate.

Slowly, bricks were laid, even when I wasn’t looking. Wounds healed, friendships unfolded, nightmares lessened and dreams took their place.

Today, I signed the lease on an apartment. A one bedroom apartment at the end of a street lined with old trees in a small town just outside of a university bubble. It feels like a very significant brick. It’s just a couple miles from where I live now, in a town that has managed to feel more like home in three months than anywhere has in a long, long time.

I’m going to move in over the next week, with the help of more friends and family. For the first time in three years, I’ll get to put my Christmas decorations up. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’ll have a space to invite friends into – until now, it seemed like I either had space or friends nearby, but rarely the two together.

My pyramid has a really long way to go, but today feels good. It feels like I get to finally believe that I wasn’t crazy to think about the possibility of life of the outside. Individually, the bricks laid in the last year aren’t much to brag about, but let me assure you: they were heavy, they were necessary, and they took a hell of a lot of effort. So when I look at these little silver keys in my hand, they are a lot more than just keys. They are big, gigantic bricks in my pyramid.

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Gigantic bricks disguised as tiny silver keys

Extreme(ly) Tired

After dinner tonight, my dad was flipping channels and ended up on an episode of Extreme Weight Loss. I hadn’t seen it before, but the premise is familiar: take an obese person, give them a crap ton of personal training and resources and let us all live vicariously through their weight loss while we sit on our butts and shovel in the Oreos. We only caught part of the episode, but rather than inspire me to use the gym membership I’m paying for, it made me want to pull the blankets over my head and give up.

This week’s subject, at her heaviest, was only 34 pounds more than I am now. She was 40 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight.

They kept showing her initial photo: a sad expression on a puffy, droopy face, her stomach huge and far past the “muffin top” stage, her thighs stuck together… How tragic it is to look that way, they inferred. How grossly unfortunate that a person exists like this. Once she loses the weight, then she might be pretty.

I shifted in my chair. I kept watching, wanting to see how she turned out, regretting every bite I’ve eaten in six weeks. In the end, she beat her goal by a few pounds and everyone in her reveal  audience cheered.

I wished that it hadn’t been so long since I’d eaten dinner because I wanted to throw it up (don’t freak, I haven’t thrown up in almost a decade). Instead, I messaged my bff.

My best friend since fifth grade, she is no newbie to handling my body image issues. She was there when I was a big-boobed size 7 in sixth grade, convinced I was enormous. She was there when I was a size 24, and every minute of every day as I’ve tried to shrink. She reminded me that people are stupid and told me I’m beautiful. We never agree on the latter, but she seems determined to be wrong.

“Be kind to yourself,” she told me last night.

I’m so exhausted of being told that to look like me is to look disgusting, ugly, and unfathomable. I’m so exhausted of having to try to drown out that persistent thrum of society that tells me in a million ways that the bigger I am, the less I am worth. I’m so tired of being told that if I want to be “normal,” or happy, or pretty, or desirable, I have to become half of what I am now.

I know that there are women who are confident in how they look, women who are anything but thin who work what they have, and do it well.

I am not one of those women. I am not a Melissa McCarthy, who boldly tells anyone who gives her crap about her size to kindly fuck off. I wish I was bold and brave like that, but I’m just not.

I’ve been seeing someone for a few weeks. It’s kind of casual and nothing official, but tomorrow is our fourth date. Near the end of our last date, he said something that very nearly got him slapped, had he not quickly explained himself: “You’re like a 70’s porn star; you see what you want and you go for it. That kind of confidence is fucking sexy.”

Me? Confident? Are you kidding me!? I am anything but confident. What I am is a decent actress with just enough pride and vanity to keep her from throwing up from nerves. If only he knew what was going through my head while I tried desperately to act like I was chill:
I like your arm around me. But please don’t squeeze too hard and realize how soft my hips are.
Your hand on my arm is nice, but please don’t notice how my batwings hang like drapery.
Kiss me again. But don’t open your eyes because I don’t want you to see how fat my chin is and how undefined my jaw is when my head is at this angle.
I won’t be the one to take your hand when we walk down the street, no matter how much I want to, because I worry you won’t want people to think we’re “together.” So please take mine.

I am not confident. I am tired.

I scrolled through Facebook as I walked to the bathroom to take a shower. Another friend posted another picture of her abs. I undressed in the bathroom and reached around to the back of my shoulder to scratch a mosquito bite and had the misfortune of seeing myself from the waist up in the reflection in the mirror.

I saw the stretch marks on the back of my arm, the result of my arms changing in composition as I built muscle faster than the skin shrank. I saw the roll where my boob pulled the flesh from my upper rib cage down, and the stomach that had a permanent muffin top shape, even when not wearing pants, and the way that my stomach protruded in the front, making me look about 6 months pregnant. I thought about how a picture of this hot mess would have such a different response than my  friend’s did.

I saw the same things that made the TV audience feel pity. I tried to remember that I’ve made progress, but instead, all I could think is “this is the body I worked hard to get? Are you fucking kidding me? All that work, and this is it. Seventy goddamned pounds and this is it. I’m never going to lose enough to be anything other than fat. Gross.” And I felt tired. So tired. Tired of living in a body with an improperly working thyroid that makes weight loss damn near impossible. Tired of feeling like I won’t ever be small enough to be pretty. Tired of the looks I get as a fatty. Tired of feeling like I have to spend so much energy trying to ignore the messages society sends.

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Not pretty, not thin, just tired.

While in the shower, I thought about texting tomorrow’s date. I wanted to tell him that I hoped he’d be the first: the first (straight) guy to tell me I’m beautiful, or the first guy who didn’t lose interest after a few weeks, or the first guy to introduce me to his friends. I’m not confident that those things will ever happen. A little part of me hopes that they will, because I’m an eternal romantic, but if I’m honest, I’m really, really tired of hoping.

Hot Lips

Twelve years ago, while in college, I worked in a clothing store as a second job, basically trading my time for clothes. One evening, I found myself staring at one of the customers. I couldn’t help it. She had lips that belonged on a pinup, the most perfect shade of blazing red that somehow managed to look classy and not at all whorish. I complimented her on it, and she thanked me, explaining that she worked on State Street in Chicago at a very high end makeup counter and their makeup “uniform” not only included all black clothing, but red lips and minimal makeup everywhere else. I told her that I could never wear red lipstick because it looks terrible on me, to which she replied it was about finding two things: the right shade, and the right attitude, because when you wear red lipstick like you should be wearing it, no one questions you.

I smiled and thought “uh, yeah, no. I will stick to my rose colored glosses and Cherry ChapStick.” Wearing red lipstick was as scary as wearing a tube top, an act that cannot be ignored. Just think about it: no one remembers what Jennifer Lopez wears on her lips, but Gwen Stefani’s red lips are legendary, even above her outstanding clothing.

Most of the time, I feel like I’m walking a balance beam between wanting to be invisible and wanting to be noticed. I don’t want people to zero in on my faults and imperfections, which I think are glaringly obvious and visible from the International Space Station. When my ankles are puffy and my hair is Fraggle-ish and I just messed up at work, I am desperate to glide under everyone’s radar. However, when my resume is lost in a sea of resumes, and everyone is hanging out without me, and I’m having a good boob day, it’s all I can do to not walk around saying “hey! What about me?!? I’m special, dammit!!”
A couple years ago, I went to a department store to buy Chanel nail polish. It seemed like a nonsensical thing to get, but I was in a pretty low spot and wanted something over the top pretty. When I got there, I was bummed to find that they didn’t carry Chanel cosmetics. So I wandered around and came across Yves Saint Laurent Glossy Stain.

You know that first time you drove your first car? Or maybe when you got those earrings for graduation? Or the first time you had pizza at Lou Malnati’s?

That was me, meeting YSL Glossy Stain No. 5.

Angels sang. Stars shone brighter. The smell of summer enveloped me.

I was afraid, though. It was a far darker pink than anything I’d worn before. I couldn’t put it down, so I handed my MasterCard and left with a teeny little black bag of happiness in my hand.

I loved wearing it. It was just so pretty, even if I was a little nervous about people noticing my mouth. It would mean that they would notice me, even in a small and passing way. I couldn’t be invisible anymore.

Last fall, I went to dinner with my bff, Brandon, and afterwards, I was in a really good mood, high on laughter and chips and salsa. I decided to stop and see if there was another shade of the same stain that I’d like since I was up for something new. No. 9 was perfect, except for the fact that it was exactly what I’d feared: intensely red, glossy magic.

I feared it and had to have it at the same time.

The first time I wore it, I nearly shook. I wasn’t a red lipstick kind of woman. Those women were assured, confident, beautiful. I was just me, sometimes shaky, shy, and definitely plain. One of the best lessons my choir director taught me is that “this, too, is part of acting. If you present yourself like you mean to be here, no one will say that you shouldn’t be.”

In that vein, it became war paint. When I wanted to feel strong, in command of my universe, the red lip stain was one of my best tokens. When I wanted to feel gorgeous and anything but plain, painting the color on my lips went a long way. I am a different woman when I wear red lip stain. I get a surprising number of compliments when I wear it.

I’ve picked up a few more shades from other brands since then. Today, I woke up to a horribly anxious brain. I spent the day watching The History Channel and napping before heading to my niece’s choir concert. When I got ready, I pulled out a tube of stain that I haven’t worn in months and with one swipe, I remembered that this is the most intense color I have, and this brand doesn’t wear off easily at all.

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The super intense color from earlier today.

Dang. I was already trying to fight through a scumbaggy brain and now here I was, with lips that are visible to the Mars Rover. Deciding to follow Max’s advice again, I took a selfie and stuck it on Facebook, declaring myself ready for the day. One of my friends commented on it, saying that I can pull off bright colors, but she looks silly when she tries. I found myself standing where that other woman stood twelve years ago, telling her to find the right shade and run with it.

Every woman can – and should – wear red lipstick, if not literally, then metaphorically. Find the courage to stand out. Draw attention to what you have to say. Even if you have to fake it, act like you are here on purpose.

Yves Saint Laurent changed my life. What will it take to change yours?

Discomfort

The tattoo on my back is a symbol for wisdom. The wisdom books in the Bible are my favorite books (along with 1 John). It’s a quality that I hope to possess, but one that I am realizing is the product of tougher and tougher lessons. I am much better at dispensing wisdom for others than listening to it for myself. Because listening to such wise words usually means that I am in the process of doing the opposite of whatever I should be doing.

“Baby, don’t spend your whole life waiting to be happy in the future.”
I typed these words to Brandon today. Though his dedication and faithfulness are things I admire and cherish in him, sometimes I worry that he puts up with too much sorrow now because he hopes to be happy later. In this, he and I are two peas in a pod. A former friend used to joke that I am the Queen of Delayed Gratification, suffering through an endless sea of garbage because I have this absurd notion that it will pay off, that some day, I will be able to enjoy the product of such hard work and misery.

I’ll spare you the details, but lately, life has sucked and I have lost sight of the good things. I’ve let myself get caught up in all that isn’t going right that I have a hard time seeing what is good. So much so that I haven’t taken much time to do the things that make me happy.

Right now, I have to trust that all this crap is temporary and is going to pay off. But I don’t have to wait until someday to figure out some measure of happiness, as impossible as it seems right now.

“I’m trying to find the line between hope and foolishness, and I’m not so sure there is one. Hope, by its very nature, is foolish.”
I tweeted this earlier today when I was thinking about relationships, but the more I think about it, the more it seems true. I’m (usually) a rational person. I like evidence, statistics, probability, and facts. At the same time, I’m a romantic, and cannot help but believe in the long shots. For every 98 times something happens, the opposite happens twice, and I hold out hope that someday, I’ll benefit from the 2%. I sent my resume in response to a job posting that, in many ways, sounds like the best possible combination of my education and experience. I don’t think I’m fantastically likely to even get an interview, but still: there is hope.

Not that a job would make me happy, specifically, but a different one would make happiness a little easier. Stupid Face is back, and when I saw him a few Fridays ago, he said something about how if he could have really spent time in “the mission” (meaning serving people, helping them grow, that kind of altruistic crap that suckers like us can’t help but buy into), he would be happy. It’s what he does now, in a different setting, and it’s what I desperately miss. I miss having a real purpose to my work. As it is now, I work in a place with little purpose, in a schedule that makes outside work kind of impossible. It also keeps me from being able to attend church, and it is really hard to miss out on church week after week after week.

So I hope. Foolishly. And I am trying to figure out how I can manage to be happy even in the midst of hating some parts of my life.

If You’re Happy and You Know It… Help Me Out!

I’ve been happy lately and it’s weirding me out. Seriously.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been told that I’m too serious, that I look perpetually bored/angry/sad (a.k.a. “bitchy resting face”). I’m told that I don’t have/show enough emotion. I’m pretty Spock-like, in that it isn’t that I don’t feel emotions, but it’s that they are intense and the way I handle them is to control them. For a long time, as long as I can remember, the prevailing emotions were anxiety, fear, loneliness, frustration – almost always unpleasant ones, in one way or another. I am a cynic, and I’m usually good at it.

You would think that becoming jobless, car-less, and technically homeless right before the holidays would make those things worse, but what I realized months ago is that the source of much of that trouble was the mismatch between me and my old denomination/work. In walking away from that, as scary as the rest of it might be, I walked away from those miseries and towards a lighter life.

This week, I start a new job. An unglamorous job that is nowhere near my field, but in a town with an astronomical unemployment rate, it’s a full time job that is willing to pay me 20% more than they usually pay someone in this position. That’s a decent start, I think, while I keep my eyes and ears open for something better.

What’s really different for me, though, is that this is the first time in years that I am going to work to live, instead of live to work. That is really liberating. Another thing that is really great is that it is second shift, four days a week, and then first shift on Sundays, which means that during the week, I will have the same hours as CJ and I won’t miss family things on Sunday afternoons. One of my days off, Monday, is the same as CJ’s and the other is Saturday, which means I’ll be able to go to my niece and nephew’s games. The only sucky thing about the schedule is that first shift on Sunday means missing church, but they said they can try to work something out so I can have an occasional Sunday off.

I have a new church I love. I am close to most of my family. I have tremendous friends who are so kind and supportive. I’ve had two months of God providing for me in ways I didn’t expect. My anxiety level is almost zero compared to what it was two months ago. I have a boyfriend who seems to be an exceptionally good fit. I have a new job that is in some ways better than I’d expected. I have a place to live that might be a little drafty, but I also have a space heater and blankets galore. I have the best parents in the universe, even if they watch way too many episodes of NCIS. I have a dog that is my best friend some days, always willing to listen and forgive me for my bad moments.

And all of this is weirding me out.

I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not afraid. I don’t know how to think about myself when I’m not beating myself up. Some days or hours have still been rough, but not like they used to be. I am nowhere near where I want to be, but at the same time, I am not so miserable about where I am. I am smiling a lot more – I think – at least on the inside – and this less Spock-like expression just feels weird. A good weird, but I still feel like I don’t quite know what to do with it. If I’m honest, sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be happy, that I haven’t done anything to earn it, or that it’s all going to fall apart just as soon as I settle into it.

I’ve realized that I kind of don’t know how to be happy. This new homeostasis is more pleasant, but like all transitions, it’s also a little exhausting. New ways of thinking, new habits, new bits and pieces of life coming together, combining into some weary days sometimes. It’s in those weary moments that I struggle the most, when I’m tempted to revert back into my cynicism and dwell on the things that AREN’T making me happy. Usually, I can catch myself before I’m too far down that rabbit hole, or I have enough good sense to let Melissa and Brandon remind me that it’s going to be OK.

Learning how to be happy is an unexpected task, but one that is long overdue. Sometimes, I’m in such a good mood that I kind of annoy myself because I feel like all those perky people who used to annoy me. As tiring as it may be, I’m going to try to keep this up. It’s bound to make for a much more pleasant Cindy for everyone involved. I may even find that I like the newer, more pleasant me.

Invention and Discovery

About a year and a half ago, I started a sort of new phase in life, though I didn’t really intend to. All I was trying to do is recover from the darkest season I’ve ever experienced. I adopted some new disciplines and tried to unlearn years of unhealthy habits. Some friendships ended and new ones started. I started losing weight, and right now, I’m about ten sizes smaller than I was a year ago.

Now, it seems like the decision to resign and start a totally new chapter was inevitable; the person I was becoming was increasingly incongruous with the role I played and the denomination I was in.

It’s hard to say, though, whether it has been a journey of invention or of discovery. On one hand, the new habits and ways of thinking make me feel like I am creating a Cindy that didn’t exist before, but then again, it also feels like this “new” Cindy is someone who has always been there but was afraid to exist. I always had opinions, I just kept them hidden for fear of punishment for disagreeing with people higher on the ladder. I always thought of myself as a good friend to others, but I didn’t have enough confidence to think that people would actually want to be friends with me.

I’m sure it’s some mixture of invention and discovery.

As I fill out all of these applications, send in resumes, talk to recruiters, and go on interviews, I am being asked questions I am not sure how to answer: What am I looking for? What do I require from an employer? Where do I see my career in X years? Good grief, I don’t know… Change was inevitable, but going from a construct in which all these questions are invalid to having to answer them over and over is a bigger shift than I thought it would be.

It’s a shift that is really from one extreme to the other. A year ago, the expected, socialized response to questions about my own career path was to assume that leadership would make the best decisions for me, and the highest measure of success was the extent of obedience and my willingness to invest myself entirely in the role and location in which they placed me. I could provide some kind of feedback, but ultimately, I, like others within the organization, were moved like chess pieces, and sometimes, it seems like some were sacrificed (or at least endangered) in the interest of protecting the king. The underlying response to people indicating that they had a particular view of how they wanted their career to progress was that the individual was prideful.

And now, here I am, having decided to make such a huge change in the interest of my own health and sanity, and I’m stunned by such basic questions as “what do I want?” How do I undo years of thinking that answers to that question are prideful and therefore wrong?

I know how the old Cindy would have responded. I kind of have an idea of how the present Cindy wants to respond. I’m just struggling with feeling like it’s OK to be so “selfish” or “prideful.” I have a hard time imagining what life will be like in a year – a year ago, I certainly didn’t think I’d be where I am today.

It’s uncertain and weird and scary, this process of inventing/discovering myself, and I’m sure I’m making mistakes along the way, but it’s where I am, for the moment anyways, and I’m starting to be less anxious in letting things unfold.

My Worth and Kim Kardashian’s Naked Butt

A few of my friends have shared an article or two or twelve in reaction to the recent photos of Kim Kardashian, and, as usual, the articles fall short of what I hope they would say. The articles generally condemn her for the photos, reminding women of the religious mandate for modesty and preaching about how the readers (presumably most often women) are worth more than their ability to conform to beauty standards.

Sigh.

I’m thoroughly exhausted by the sermons of the modesty police. By railing against clothes that show off a woman’s butt or a neckline that isn’t at her throat, they imply that our bodies are shameful and meant to be hidden, lest they entice the menfolk. It puts the responsibility for “sin” on the woman, rather than in the hearts of the men – and it also presents a misunderstanding of sin in which attraction is mistaken for lust. However, they seem to fall short of telling men to stop dressing one way or another, ignoring the possibility that clothes enhance men as much as women (I’ll give you a moment to Google “Ryan Gosling in a suit”). They also tend to be the same crowd that decries the religion-mandated clothing women wear in Muslim countries. Well, why is one form of religious modesty OK and another is oppression?

Let’s be honest: Kim Kardashian’s butt is epic. I am jealous, because I have no butt, something that had been tragic in previous relationships with men who like butts. I know I’m not the only straight woman who has ever looked at her butt and thought a. her butt is epic, and b. I wish mine looked that good. Yesterday, I was watching The View (side effect of being in the middle of job interviews) and to paraphrase Rosie O’Donnell, “if I had Kim Kardashian’s body, I would be naked in the frozen food section at the grocery store.” OK, maybe not, because I’m a chicken and can’t afford bail money, but you know what I mean.

Now about the issue of worth:

The articles are intending to remind the readers that a woman is worth more than her body, but there are a few things that they miss:
1. Kim Kardashian is not worth any less than any other woman because she has posed for nude pictures. We as the church, are called to love. End of sentence. Please stop throwing religious stones at her.
2. The intrinsic value of a woman is not relative to her body, but the realistic value is. Consider these realities: women get paid less than men, overweight women get paid less than thin women, plus-sized women’s clothing is disproportionately more expensive than big men’s clothing in many places, women pay more for things that are “designed for women” (everything from razors to pens), women face higher rates of eating disorders as a result of the pressures to look certain ways, women pay more for health insurance… I could go on, but you get the picture: it’s more economically challenging to be a woman than a man, simply because of her body and societal perceptions of gender. It shouldn’t be this way, and it would be great if what is on the inside is really what counts, but realistically, what’s on the inside is weighed heavily against the packaging it’s in.

image

In 2010, with my "cousins" Alyssa, Jess, and Tessa. One day I'll stop wincing when I see pictures of me (especially older pictures).

It’s hard to not look like Kim Kardashian. It’s hard to turn on the TV and see a solitary person who looks anything at all like me (Melissa McCarthy) amidst a sea of size 2 women, to see magazines covered with models and actresses who weigh nearly half what I weigh. It’s hard to counteract years of insecurities and try to think of myself as pretty or attractive.

It’s also hard to look like Kim Kardashian. I have a couple friends who are more like cousins to me, who have the best bodies I’ve probably ever seen in real life. They’ve worked hard for them. They’re also smart, funny, brilliant women who have, at times, faced a lot of pressure because of their too-perfect bodies. Other girls/women wouldn’t trust them around their boyfriends for fear that they would “steal” them, or would avoid being friends with them altogether. Honestly, if I hadn’t grown up loving them to pieces, I may have the same insecure reactions. Even now, I cringe a little when I see pictures of us together because it looks like a bad joke of “one of these things doesn’t belong here.”

So many of these articles that surface every time something edgy makes the news send women a well-intentioned, harmful message: you fail to meet the mark, but that’s OK because your body doesn’t matter anyways.

Ouch.

My body does matter, thank you very much. It matters because sometimes I like feeling pretty and feminine and desired. When I’m not financially punished for being a female, you can start to argue that it’s the inside that matters. The day legislators stop arguing over my body and the bodies of other women, I will throw a great big party for my brain, which they are far less concerned about. Until then, both my body and my brain matter.

I propose we try a different response: love and respect. Love and respect women no matter how they dress, or whether or not they are comfortable doing nudes. Love and respect women enough to stop telling them that their bodies don’t matter. Love and respect women enough to stop yelling at and shaming the women who look like Kim Kardashian or like me.

It shouldn’t be revolutionary to suggest that women be treated with love and respect, but it does seem to be an uncommon occurrence.

Shapes

Did you ever look in the mirror so long that your face doesn’t make sense any more? It just becomes all these shapes. Just shapes. Not good or bad. ~Noelle; The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Just... shapes.

Just… shapes.

Some days, I don’t know that I recognize myself. CS Lewis once said something about how it feels like nothing ever changes but when we stop and consider things, we realize how vastly different they are. I don’t know what the exact quote is, but you can google it if you want.

See that? The old me wouldn’t have thrown a paraphrase out there and left you to figure out if I’m BSing you or not.

The me from two weeks ago would not think that I’d have gone on and blogged about a weird date on Friday. The me from three months ago would not have bought jeans with tiny, classy sparkles on the butt pockets (nor would she have thought that sparkles on butt pockets could ever be classy, but Jones New York proved me wrong on that one). The me from four years ago would never have thought that I would lose 70 pounds without amputating a leg or getting tape worm.

The old me didn’t wear bright red lip stain, or speak up for myself, or successfully keep a houseplant alive.

I am occasionally sure that I like the me I am today. The old me didn’t think much of herself.

But sometimes, the new me and the old me collide. The new me does something brave and then the old me gets instantly anxious about it. The new me does a really good job at being consistent with the gym and eating better and then the old me takes the one “bad” day and tries to undo all my progress. Or I get excited about buying a cute dress and then old me freaks out about the fact that it touches my skin. I make new friends and open up to people while old me is certain that they’re fake and just waiting for a chance to betray me.

It makes me wonder which me is me. Is the new me a facade? Am I capable of all the changes I want to make? Is the new me any better, or am I just fooling myself? All these months of introspection and evaluation and all I can say is that right now, I am. And I don’t have to make sense of all of me tonight. I suppose that that’s an act of being kind towards myself.

Miss Meany-Pants

Oh, I'm not good at this.

Oh, I’m not good at this.

Like you, I have a lot of roles I have to play throughout my days, but the one I hate the most is when I have to be “Meany-Pants.” Whether it’s at work or elsewhere, I hate conflict. Except, apparently,when I’m being mean to myself. I am really good at being mean to myself.

If I had spoken to my friends the way I spoke to myself lately, I’d have no friends left. Unfortunately, I can’t just walk away from myself.

This week felt like a big long parade of things I cannot control. I never thought of myself as a control freak until I started realizing how often things I can’t control send my anxiety through the roof. Every single day seemed like curve ball after curve ball, and every day, I got meaner to myself. Why didn’t you see this coming? You should have known better. You always screw up like this… 

I had a challenging week. It happens. Sometimes, the universe just gives you a hard week. I couldn’t have seen any of the major things coming. I wasn’t screwing up, but that didn’t stop me from being needlessly hard on myself.

One of the things I was trying to focus on this year was on being kind to myself. I was doing better at it, for the most part, until I moved.

I think that I have probably used the word “stupid” more often in the last week than I have in my entire lifetime. Part of it is just the amount of stress I’ve had because of moving and getting used to a new role in a new church in a new town in a new state with new people and a new home and a new grocery store to figure out and an all-out mental deficiency when it comes to distinguishing my apartment and office keys, which look identical.

Part of the stress is coming from the continuing Reorganization of Cindy that has been happening for a while now. In understanding myself, I get to know the parts of me that I like and don’t like and what I can change and what I can’t change and it’s just all exhausting. It’s no big challenge to find and understand things I don’t like about myself – I’m quite good at that. What I’m not good at is recognizing the good things.

A little more than a week ago, I was let down by cancelled plans. They were unexpected plans, since I didn’t think I’d see this person for months, when suddenly, the chance to see him in a few weeks became a possibility. The next day, plans got cancelled. Plans are usually cancelled with him, for one reason or another. Immediately, I started mentally cycling through all the reasons I should be beating myself up over it: I should have known better because plans are usually cancelled; he never meant to make them in the first place, I know how busy he is and I should be more patient, I somehow fell short of being worth plans and his time… A million and one reasons to feel like a fool, each one getting worse.

I messaged Melissa, who asked if she could run it by her husband, Matt, and I messaged Brandon, and eventually a friend whom I call BobbyJeff (not his real name). Their responses varied according to their personalities, and I really appreciate their help; they are part of the village that is raising this person. Matt and I are a lot alike, so it doesn’t surprise me that his response was the one that made the most sense, and then, after a bunch of other things, he said to Melissa:

 “Cindy’s a catch. She doesn’t need to hang onto a maybe, she needs to realize that.”

That first sentence is really hard to accept. It’s outlandishly hard to believe. Dangit, Matthew, why did you have to throw that one in my face? It’s one with minimal supporting evidence. I think I’m a great friend. I think I’ve got plenty of redeeming qualities that make me well-suited for a number of roles, but when it comes to men, apparently I’m missing something. I don’t know what, or why. My darling friends try to assure me that it’s not me, but my cynical, anxious brain gets in the way.

I am trying really, really hard to be kind to myself. To not let the stress and anxiety push me into being Miss Meany-Pants towards myself. It’s hard, because it’s easy to be mean to myself. It’s easier to default to cynicism. It’s easier to start obsessing over things I can control in place of the things I can’t, and I’m trying really hard to not do that  – it’s good to vacuum the house, but it’s not necessary to vacuum the couch six times a day simply because the dog got on it just after I vacuumed it 20 minutes ago.

Yesterday was an attempt to be kind to myself. Though I am generally over the case of mono I had and not contagious anymore, I hadn’t really had a day to do nothing since I moved, and I was wiped out. I slept later than usual, read, took a nap, watched horrible tv, cleaned the kitchen, read, and went to bed early. While not 100% restful, it’s kinder than I’ve been to myself in a while. I wasn’t as good at shutting off my brain, but it was a step in the right direction.