I was gazing at the gorgeous chandeliers and daydreaming about the rock-and-roll history that has graced the Fillmore in San Francisco over the years, 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 enthused, "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. I wasn't even sure I heard her right. "Your arms are amazing," she repeated.
I struggled to maintain my composure as the friend she was with took my bicep in her hand and gently squeezed. "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.
"Well I just wanted to come up and tell you that you are beautiful," the first lady said as the pair turned to walk away. "Have a great show!"
They were lovely women and seemed sincere, but I was awash in a sea of emotion after the encounter. On one hand, the compliment felt good. I had recently lost 30+ pounds and was 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 body image angst I've been dealing with ever ever since my well-intentioned, but misguided father made me go to Weight Watchers as a teenager. "If you don't get a handle on your weight issue now," he promised, "it will only get harder the older you get."
Years worth of self-doubt rose to the surface. My mind started racing and spewing negative thoughts like, "I must look like a freakish bodybuilder for two strangers to come up to me like that. They probably were just making fun of 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 present and accounted for as well. At the deepest level, I was aware that my inner critic's perception was skewed and that the appropriate response was to take their kind words to heart. Unfortunately, though, the shame I felt around my body was too formidable of a presence for me to actually be able to do so in the moment.
The timing of this encounter was really quite remarkable in that I happened to be reading shame researcher Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly at the time. She says that we all deal with shame at some level. In order to heal it, we need to recognize it, reality check it, share our story about it, and then talk about how we are feeling and ask for what we need when shame arises.
So I decide to sit down to write this post about my experience with the intention of starting to put the immense shame I have carried about my body for so many years into perspective.
Because, as Brené 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.'"
And so I am writing a new ending when it comes to my relationship with my body. I choose to rock this statuesque physique from deep within. I choose to acknowledge my body as the incredible ally that it is, instead of using it as a container for my judgment and disdain. I choose self-acceptance and wholehearted self-love.
And so it is...and so it shall be!
I feel better already.