I was gazing at the amazing chandeliers and thinking about the rock-and-roll history that has graced the Fillmore in San Francisco’s gorgeous ballroom when I felt someone gently touch the top of my right arm.
I turned to find myself face to face with a radiant woman who said, “I just had to come up and tell you that you have the most beautiful arms! My friend and I were just admiring them from afar.”
I was momentarily taken aback. My skipping calves have gotten a comment or two over the years, but this was a first for my arms and I wasn’t even sure I heard her right. “Your arms are amazing,” she repeated.
Once I regained my composure a little bit, I thanked her as her friend walked up and took my bicep in her arm and squeezed it gently. “We were like, wow. Look at her! I wonder if she lifts or something,” she said. I muttered something about how I do a body pump class once a week at my gym and that my muscles tend to get toned pretty quickly.
They were lovely women and seemed extremely sincere, but I was awash in a sea of inner emotions after my encounter with them. On one hand, it felt good to be complimented like that out of the blue. Over the past year and a half, I have lost and kept off 30+ pounds and am in the best physical shape of my life, so it was nice to be acknowledged for my efforts.
On the other hand, I felt uncentered, awkward, and overcome with shame. The interaction triggered a deep reservoir of inner angst I’ve struggled with around being a woman with a larger build in our culture ever since my well-intentioned but misguided Dad made me go with him to weight watchers in my early teens. “if you don’t get a handle on your weight issue now,” he promised, “it will only get harder the older you get.”
Alas, I digress. That well-intentioned compliment and my inability to accept it shined a huge spotlight on the inner work I currently have in front of me. My mind started racing and thinking irrational thoughts like, “I must look like a total bodybuilder freak for two strangers to come up to me and talk about my arm muscles. They probably were just making fun of me. I bet they felt sorry for me and that is why they approached me. I should stop doing body pump class because it is making me look like a he-woman,” and on and on it went.
Thankfully, the part of me that knows better was also present and accounted for as well. At the deepest level, I know that my inner critic is full of shit and that accepting their kind words about my body and taking them to heart was the truest and most appropriate response. Unfortunately, though it was close, in that moment, it was the “not good enough” part of me that won the battle.
This couldn’t have gotten triggered at a more perfect time because I am reading shame researcher Brene Brown’s new book Daring Greatly right now. She says that we all deal with shame at some level, and in order to heal it, we need to recognize it, reality check it, reach out and share our story about it, and talk about how we are feeling and ask for what we need when we feel it.
So I decide to sit down and write out this experience as a way of using my words to help put into perspective the immense shame that I have carried around about my body for so many years but only recently have even been able to acknowledge the presence of.
As Brene writes about developing shame resilience in Daring Greatly, “Own the story! Don’t bury it and let it fester or define you…If you own the story you get to write the ending.” When we bury the story we forever stay the subject of the story. If we own the story we get to narrate the ending. As Carl Jung said, ‘I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
I choose to become a woman who acknowledges her body as the incredible ally that it is, instead of a container for judgement and disdain. I choose to develop shame resilience and to rock this statuesque body from deep within. I choose self-acceptance and wholehearted love for my body.
And so it is…and so it shall be!
I feel better already.