Q: Erika I really loved your post about the makeup (loved that green, girl!!) but what struck me more was what you said about having an internal tape that plays negative thoughts over and over in your head. I totally have that and I have no idea how to stop it. I know that there’s a fierce and fly chick in me somewhere, but that’s not what I see or say to myself when I look in the mirror and it’s a part of why I feel so sad when I look in the mirror.
I don’t want to be this person anymore, but I think my internal tape plays messages to me that forces me to KEEP being this person and I want to stop that. I fully intend to play in the mirror like you suggested, but can you talk more about your experiences with changing your internal tape?
Your internal tape is, simply, what you say to yourself when no one’s around. How do you talk to yourself? What is your guiding voice? Do you give yourself pep talks, or do you take the opportunity to compare yourself to others for the sole purpose of highlighting how much you come up short? Does your internal tape play lyrics that make you feel incredible, or is your internal tape full of hateful things your mother/older sister/other influential person in your life has said to you?
That last thing is so important. I don’t think enough of us grew up with lessons to help us reject the negativity that we soak up from the world around us. When you’re constantly hearing your peers say negative things about themselves or others, you soak that up. It becomes a part of the metric you use to measure yourself. When you watch commercials or infomercials, they manifest “a problem” out of thin air that their product can then solve for you… if you buy it. You might not buy the product, but you certainly might soak up the belief that you have “that problem” and it needs solving.
For far too many women, their understanding of themselves and their bodies has always been about pleasing and appeasing someone else… so their internal tapes reflect that. “No man would ever want you looking like this,” it might say. “No wonder they’ll only sleep with you and never bring you home to the family,” it might say. “If you don’t lose this weight/lighten your skin/get this hair bone straight, you’re gonna die an old lonely cat lady,” you might say.
Often, our internal tapes are just full of hateful things we’ve collected over the years, methods of measuring ourselves that don’t actually center us, and things we’ve assumed about our lots in life. Understanding that is a core component of reconstructing our internal tapes.
I first started thinking about this with regard to my book—if your internal tape is full of hateful and negative language that only brings you down, how do you cope with that if you’re an emotional eater? Often, with food, and that’s what makes this an important part of successfully achieving permanent weight loss. You have to deconstruct—then reconstruct—your internal tape in a way that caters to and brings out the very best in you.
The first step in doing that, honestly, is rejecting media that rejects you.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I watched a music video. (That is, presuming Lemonade doesn’t count.) I can count on one hand the number of TV shows I watch with any regularity.
I don’t watch media that ignores me and people like me, or tries to pretend that we don’t exist. I don’t buy products or read magazines that seek to make me a problem or stigmatize me or my life. I don’t go in places or spaces that demean or devalue me because of who and what I am.
Conversely, I throw all my time and coins in the direction of places and spaces that celebrate those who come with open hearts and minds. The TV shows I watch faithfully, American Horror Story and The Walking Dead, notably have black lead actresses. The blogs I read and the bloggers I love—I have the immense privilege of actually meeting, hugging, and breaking bread with many—make space for women of all sizes, all complexions, and are thoughtful in the language they use to address the women who follow them faithfully.
People love to snark on the idea of “safe spaces,” because the world isn’t a “safe place” and you should just accept that instead of trying to change things to accommodate your sensibilities. I get that. I do.
However, when it comes to what you enjoy in your spare time, precious and little though it might be, you don’t have to use that time engaging spaces that are hostile to you and your humanity. Go places that celebrate you. Go to places and spaces that see the light in you, recognize it, and respect it. And don’t feel bad about the spaces you have to leave behind.
Secondly, you have to surround yourself with people who are friends, not frenemies. You have to surround yourself with people who build you up instead of snark you or constantly shoot you down in a passive aggressive way. Those people feed into your internal tape, too, and it’s even worse because you trust them because they’re friends… but maybe, they shouldn’t be.
It’s okay to disassociate yourself from people when you realize you simply aren’t compatible anymore… especially when that incompatibility is resulting in them demeaning you to keep you from growing and, ultimately, leaving them behind. The same goes for places that aren’t for you, too—if that gym/club/organization chapter/whatever isn’t for you, then it’s okay to lessen your commitment to it.
Next, you have to think about how much of what you say to yourself is rooted in shame, and think about how poorly that serves you well. It’s one thing to feel guilt about knowing better but not doing better. It’s another thing entirely to feel ashamed of where you are. Guilt can be motivating. Shame, however, is isolating.
If your internal tape is full of self-shame, it’s okay to get help in deconstructing that. It’s okay if that help includes seeing a therapist, too. My internal tape was full of all kinds of crazy mess after the birth of my first child—it took me having an epiphany to realize that, no matter how young I was when I had her, she was the greatest thing to ever happen to me and charted my life on the course to not only meet my husband, but create this blog. Had I not changed my internal tape, I’d still be shaming myself for not being married first. Some stuff, you’ve just gotta let go.
Fill your tape with positivity, and the words of positive people who fill you with praise, so that you have something bright and loving to hear when you need it most. And don’t be afraid to disassociate from the things and people that don’t. Taking care of those three things are so clutch when it comes to changing your internal tape, and letting your fierce and fly run wild.
Katt Williams used to refer to this as “staying in tune with your star player,” and that’s real. Recognize when things steal your joy instead of fill you up, and govern yourself accordingly. Block out things that demean or devalue you, eliminate sources of shame, and detach yourself from people who only seek to take from you instead of give. After this, your internal tape is free and clear to be filled with positivity, encouragement, and efforts to let your fierce run wild (and, more importantly, to be okay with you when you don’t feel like being fierce.)
So, run that tape back! Listen to it. Think about where you might’ve gotten the messages you find on it, and give yourself counter arguments to what you find. Figure out where you got those messages, and determine whether those intentions were pure. Take what is motivating, and leave the rest behind. And don’t feel bad about a single ounce of it.