She’d asked me to get in the bathroom stall with her while she put on the swim team suit that she’d been given to wear to the meet. I hesitated. The stall was exceptionally small and the air conditioning in the building was not working. But there was a pleading in my child’s eyes that seemed hauntingly familiar so I accompanied her.
She immediately asked me to turn away. I crammed myself into the corner. The bathroom door hinge was two inches from my nose. I was already sweating and I was not the one wrestling with a fierce duo of nylon and spandex.
I had a bad feeling about this.
Behind me there was grunting, wiggling, pulling, stretching. There was a tremendous amount of exhausting effort going on back there. I could feel the frustration radiating from my child through the back of my shirt. Or maybe it was sweat.
“Everything okay?” I asked with a cringe.
“I.Can’t.Get.It.On!” my child burst out.
“Would you like me to help?” I asked hopefully. “I’d be happy to help,” I repeated desperately hoping to improve the situation.
After a few more grunts and sighs, my child accepted my offer.
“But close your eyes, Mama,” she instructed.
I couldn’t see anything, but I knew that standing before me was a defeated spirit. This child who has mentioned feeling different than the rest was feeling even more uncertain, even more uncomfortable, even more awkward. “Can we just go home?” she pleaded. “I don’t want to swim,” she said sadly.
“We aren’t going to let this silly bathing suit stop you from doing what you love to do,” I stated. “You have something to contribute that no one else can,” I argued. “Don’t worry, we’ll get it on.”
For three agonizing and perspiring minutes I used every ounce of strength in my body to get that suit on. And once she was in it, she wiped away her tears. “Thank you, Mama,” she said quietly. “I’m ready now.”
But there was doubt.
When something doesn’t fit—literally or figuratively,
When you’re not comfortable in your skin,
When it feels like a struggle just to show up,
That little voice inside you can be pretty darn cruel.
I knew. Oh how I knew.
Suddenly I was back in my first apartment, newly married, getting ready for an evening out. My husband and I were going to his boss’ house for a dinner party. It was in an upscale part of town and my husband had recently started with this new company. I knew he wanted to make a good impression—and I did too.
But it was going to be a struggle.
On the floor in front of the mirror was every item of clothing I owned. My husband waited patiently while I changed 107 times and now we were going to be late. He peeked in timidly to tell me we really needed to leave in five minutes.
I felt like cursing. I felt like screaming. I desperately wanted to stay home. I wanted to hide. I hated how I looked.
“Nothing looks good,” I managed to say without blowing up. When he tried to console, I snapped. “You don’t understand!”
I felt very alone in my self-hatred that happened when I stood in front of the mirror. When things didn’t fit. When I thought I looked bloated and unattractive. When I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. All the successful areas of my life and all the positive attributes I possessed meant nothing. They totally disappeared when I stood in front of that mirror picking myself apart.
I clearly remember settling on a long, chocolate brown jacket with dark leggings and tall boots. Every inch of my body was covered. I was hidden. Now I could go to the party, but I would never forget the helplessness I felt and the amount of distaste I had for myself in that moment.
It scared me.
In the past sixteen years that have passed since that moment, I’ve quieted that cruel voice, my internal critic, my inner bully—but sometimes, in moments of fear and uncertainity, it surfaces again. And it alarms me how quickly I can dismiss all the things that I am and all the important roles I play when I judge myself in front of that mirror.
I remember going to that dinner party with my husband and laughing with his colleagues the whole night. They were so funny and so welcoming. They thought I was funny too. At one point my husband leaned over and said, “They love you, Rach, just like I knew they would!” I remember having a wonderful conversation with a lovely colleague of my husband’s named Bonnie. We connected on many levels—she was real and honest and open. I was so thankful I’d left the house despite my urge to withdraw from the world.
Later that night I acknowledged that the cruel voice inside me was wrong—completely wrong. I acknowledged that showing up swollen, bloated, make-up less, disheveled, and out of style was better than not showing up at all. I acknowledged that being here on this earth—not quite looking like I want—was better than not being on this earth at all.
I could write a book about how I overcame that critical inner voice over a span of sixteen years and maybe someday I will. But not today. Today I am just going to offer an alternative to the voice of negativity. I call it A Reality Check for the Inner Critic. This technique was truly where it started for me. I began talking back to my inner critic. I called it out on its ridiculous lies. I refused to let it stop me from doing what I loved: living. I refused to let it hole me up at home when I could be outside laughing and connecting with others. My hope is that someone out there can benefit from hearing what it sounds like to drown out the inner bully with words of truth.
A Reality Check for the Inner Critic
I wish I was beautiful.
Maybe you are.
I wish I was smart.
Who’s to say that you’re not?
I wish I was brave.
Perhaps it’s there, just waiting to be seen.
I wish I could start over.
Why not today?
I wish I could do a better job at this.
Maybe this is your do-over moment.
I wish I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe that first glimmer will come when you least expect it.
I wish I could love myself.
Maybe it’s time.
Maybe it’s time to unload the heavy, hurtful words and preconceived notions you’ve carried around for too long.
Perhaps enough is enough.
Who says you aren’t worthy of love, acceptance, and peace?
Maybe someone does.
But don’t let it be you.
You are more than one opinion, one ill-fitting pair of jeans, or one Saturday night mistake.
You are more than you give yourself credit for.
Instead of going farther down the damaging path of “I am not” consider lifting yourself up with “I am.”
I am beautiful.
I am smart.
I am brave.
I can start over.
I am doing the best I can.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I can love myself.
I am more than one opinion, one ill-fitting pair of jeans, or one Saturday night mistake.
I am more than I give myself credit for.
I am more than I am not.
After my daughter triumphed over the swimsuit that refused to budge, she competed in several events that day. My non-competitive, laid back, easy going little Firefly shocked me on our way out to the car.
“That was the best meet of my life!” she said triumphantly. “I sure am glad I didn’t go home.”
There had not been any first place finishes or record-breaking times for this child but she was happy, oh so happy, and I knew exactly why. She’d conquered the voice of the inner critic to feel beautiful, capable, and strong in her own skin regardless of how the bathing suit fit.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, tell us about your inner critic. Does it cause you to shy away from living, loving, speaking out, laughing, and connecting? Do you have any techniques or mantras you use to silence it? Please share your struggles and triumphs. Thank goodness, we are not alone on this journey.
1) “I use mindfulness to help with that stress reduction. So, it helps young girls find a happy place inside of them that is not attached to an external source,” said psychotherapist Kerry Foreman, founder of Grounded Girls. Grounded Girls is a national group formed by you in your local area, but it is guided by Kerry via Skype to help tween girls learn valuable lessons about navigating life and cultivating inner happiness and peace. Kerry writes: “Is your daughter struggling with drama, stress, insecurities or just finding a happy place inside of herself? Is your daughter not dealing with this yet, but you want to ensure she is equipped with the best coping skills possible when it comes? Consider GROUNDED GIRLS. I am currently scheduling groups for summer 2016, no matter where you live. I will Skype in for the lessons and the program is turnkey!” For more information, watch this video, visit this link, or message Kerry Foreman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grounded Girls was recently featured on a Colorado news station. Their latest mission was truly inspiring!
2) A Mighty Girl provides valuable information on books, toys, music, and movies that empower and celebrate girls. On their uplifting Facebook page, they shared the following information: “For a great parenting book about fostering positive body image that addresses the issue of moms' grappling with their own body image issues, check out “You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies — Even When We Don’t Love Our Own.” For more recommended books for parents on body image issues, visit their “Body Image & Self-Esteem” parenting section. Mighty Girl also reviewed books designed to help girls navigate issues related to puberty, including normal changes in weight and body shape, in their post on “Talking with Tweens and Teens about their Bodies.”
3) Dr. Jessica Michaelson helps women cultivate a positive body image, self-care, and confidence. She also works with individuals and couples who want to:
-Enjoy their lives now, not later
-Find freedom from unhealthy habits
-Trust and take care of their bodies again
-Reconnect with their partner & their sexuality
-Stop being ruled by stress, overwhelm, and worry
-Navigate parent-child struggles with clarity and connection
Here is one of her recent articles on self-compassion I found enlightening – Be Nicer to Your Mean Parts
* Check out the beautiful “i choose love” or “only love today” wrist wraps in spring and summer colors if you (or someone you love) needs a wearable reminder to drown out the voice of the inner critic & choose love.