My 25 year-old self never would’ve guessed I’d say this as I approach 40 and the highest weight I’ve ever been (pregnancy excluded), but I've truly never felt more comfortable in my own skin. I’m not technically overweight, I just have the kind of not-so-perfect body you might expect a busy teacher & mom to have: a decent set of love handles, thighs that rub together a bit, underarms that wave a little when I do, and, when I look down toward my stomach while in a plank, well…
it’s just not good.
Yet that extra "me" somehow still feels lighter to carry than the mental load I lugged around back when keeping it off was my biggest priority--fixating over calories and a certain number on the scale, imposing consequences on myself if I ate "too much" or skipped a workout. I couldn't keep up with that today if I tried, and I don’t care to. These days, if my cholesterol's good, my blood pressure's in check, & I can keep up with my five year-old and share an ice cream with him, too--then we're all good.
That's why it was so surprising to me when I caught myself randomly getting sucked into the Compare-Myself-to-a-Completely-Unrelatable-Celebrity shame spiral the other day.
Here's, in a nutshell, how the scene played out in my head as I watched TV:
Wow, Kristen Bell has really nice skin! (wishes I had "nice" skin, too)
Googles "Kristen Bell skin care" (because somehow this should lead to some magical, easy answer for the increasing number of sunspots and crow’s feet popping up on my face)
Sees she's vegan.
Hmph. Well, that explains it. And probably explains why she's so tiny, too. She really is in good shape! And short, like me. I wonder if we're the same height?
Googles "how tall is Kristen Bell?" (you probably see I’m headed into tricky territory here…)
Hmm. Exact same height. But she looks so much thinner…
(Ohh boy, here we go. The perfect setting for Shame to make an appearance.)
Enter Shame: Of course she would be thinner than you, she’s vegan--you don't have the self-control to do that! Or keep up with any kind of restrictions, really…at least not long-term. You really should take better care of yourself, or at least do it for the animals—don’t you care about the animals?! You should Google how much she weighs--guarantee you it's at least twenty pounds less.
Now here's the difference between the Me now and the Me fifteen years ago: the Me today calls "cut" on the ridiculous scene at this point—both out of respect for her and myself. Because, let’s face it, not only is this woman’s weight none of my business but what a worthless endeavor. The Me fifteen years ago would've followed Shame's suggestion without blinking an eye--comparing myself to someone whose life doesn’t even remotely resemble mine and then beating myself up over the answer; promptly followed by embarking on whatever diet or exercise routine Google said she follows because, well...if she can do it, then so can I!
The Me now isn't beyond going down the rabbit hole of comparing myself to celebrities and buying into unrealistic expectations, but the Me now does catch myself about halfway down. In other words, we all get hooked into shame, but the nice thing about growing older and wiser (and, yes, usually a little bigger, too) is that we now catch it a little quicker and stop the nonsense before we've fallen too far in. For me, that’s a no brainer trade-off.
Because--let's get real. Although I applaud Kristen Bell and other celebrities' efforts to take care of their bodies and be health-conscious, my life can't be compared to theirs, and it shouldn't be. I can make the excuse "well they have money for personal trainers and chefs and have more time to work out because they have nannies and I'm just a teacher-mom that can't afford those things" but the truth is, I shouldn't be checking another woman's lane at all, celebrity or not.
All I need to keep my eyes focused on is my own lane; on being the best version of me I can be. Doing what feels good for my body. Rather than asking Google what makes her look so great, I should be asking myself what makes me feel good, because that's all that matters. Pilates and a vegan diet might feel good for her, but it may not necessarily be the best fit for me. Maybe the best path for me looks like a nightly walk after dinner listening to my favorite podcast and cutting back sugar because it makes me feel like crap. It might not mean I'm celebrity-level ripped, but if it means I'm in a good place mentally and I feel confident, that's enough these days.
In two weeks I'll return to teaching after the summer and if this coming school year is any like the ones before, it'll play out something like this: I'll get super busy, I won't make it to the gym as often as I did over the break, I might hit the drive-thru or get the school lunch now and then because it was too busy the night before to pack the healthier option, and I'll put an extra five to seven pounds on just in time for Pumpkin Spice Lattes to come back. Every summer I fight this inevitability and declare that the year ahead will be different this time.
And each year I feel like a failure.
So, this year, I'm going to try a new approach because this whole working mom thing -- it could be viewed as an excuse, or it could be acknowledged as a legitimately tough load to juggle...a load not made easier to carry by beating myself up. The answer isn’t letting myself go; I'll keep my self-care in sight for my own sanity and health. But what I will do differently is give Shame a break and let a little Grace in -- not if, but when I fall short of my goals. Because, yes, I am strong enough to stick to them but also wise enough to understand that life happens and that I’m a woman simply doing the best she can.
As a teacher and a mom, trust me, I’ve got enough voices to listen to -- one of them doesn’t need to be Shame.