I have become, without a doubt, one of those people who gets super excited by the new year. I know that I’m still the same person at 12:01 that I was on 11:59, but there’s something to be said about having the ability to turn a specific block of time that means something to us all – 365 days – into something more magical than the last block of time. I, honestly, look forward to it.
A large part of my journey has been about learning to be more reflecting – identifying the things I need; the things that keep me from relapsing on my emotional eating habit; and the things that I let interfere with my progress, be it mental or physical. January 1st is the date I set for myself to analyze what I’ve struggled with since the last January 1st, and how I can work to make it better.
But now, I’m not really analyzing just for myself – I’m also looking at the words so many of you share, not just here – but on Facebook with me, on Twitter and Instagram, all that. In e-mail, in our chats on the street, everywhere. So much of what I’ve heard from so many of you is so similar, than I think I can boil most of these problems we all share down to about five key things that we need to leave behind as we begin our new year.
1) Impatience. Nothing worth having ever comes easy, nor does it come immediately. If you’re a person who is starting off sedentary, please don’t be surprised that it might take you a few years – yes, years – to get to the point where you effortlessly wake up at 6am to go run in 18 degree weather. Don’t be surprised if, in the process of learning how to eat healthier, you still slip up and fall into an old habit of “Monday night Big Mac.” It’s okay to be disappointed! Failure is a part of growth – if you’re not failing, it’s because you’re not trying. It’s all about how you use that energy – do you let it cripple you, and make you give up? Do you spend time thinking about why you went to your old comfortable habit and how you can prepare yourself in the future to prevent it from happening again? Only one of those options reflects the patience necessary to allow yourself to grow.
I can understand the immediateness that comes with feeling like you need to lose weight now – stakes are high. The ability to be promoted at our jobs, the ability to be accepted into graduate programs, and even the ability to find a partner and happily mate are all, unfortunately, wrapped up in a standard of beauty that requires being thin or, at the very least, “not fat.” However, you must be honest and take focus – letting that urgency be the guiding factor in how you lose weight will cause you to do things that make you sick, impede your ability to do your job successfully, can make your hair and teeth fall out and, in some cases, drive you mad.
I can’t tell someone to not worry about these things – for some of us, these matter a great deal – but what I can tell you, is that a focused, compassionate and patient effort is oftentimes the most successful effort. Let’s leave impatience behind in 2014.
2) Self-Doubt. I recently received an e-mail that broke my heart – a woman shared with me that she didn’t feel like she deserved all the effort that would’ve been necessary to begin to shrink her “relatively large body,” because she should’ve never gotten to that size to begin with. And this jibes pretty well with something else I’ve been reading, about perfection, self-worth, self-doubt and “being deserving.”
In lots of times and in lots of ways, especially for black women who might feel inundated with messages of unworthiness, doubting ourselves comes from a place of feeling like we don’t deserve the things we want. We don’t deserve to be fit, we don’t deserve the effort it takes to get there, we don’t deserve to spend a little bit of money exclusively on ourselves so that we can live healthier lives. It’s not meant for us, it’s meant for other people. Or, maybe you’ve never attached these kinds of things to a degree of “deserving.”
But what if you did? What if you said “I can admit that this is hard, this sucks, this is difficult, and it sometimes feels demoralizing. But I deserve everything that’s coming to me, everything that I worked hard for, on the other side. What happens if you frame it that way? There’s an empowering level of ownership to that – you worked for it, you fought for it, of course you deserve it.
Spend the time learning about yourself and what your negative habits are. Take some time to deconstruct why you’re so attached to those habits. Do what you can to find newer, healthier habits that not only make you happy but help you get closer to your goal. Read up on ways other people have done what you intend to do. Stay knowledgeable, and back it up with consistent effort. Nothing removes self-doubt like knowledge combined with actual effort. Let’s leave self-doubt back where it is.
3) Toxic relationships, perpetual nay-sayers, and saboteurs. Nothing grinds my gears more than hearing people tell me that they’re stuck with people who do little more than shoot down their methods for self-betterment. These people are not friends – what kind of friend wants to do anything other than support your efforts to be your best you? These people are not lovers – what kind of lover doesn’t understand that love is about “support,” not “squashing?” These people might be family, but if being family doesn’t include “not putting me down at every turn and actively resisting supporting me,” then exactly how valuable is that family to you?
People downplay, demean and denigrate others and their goals for numerous reasons, the most obvious of which being that if you believe weight loss is hard, changing your eating habits is hard, living a healthier life is hard… how, exactly, are you going to be able to support someone else through it? At the bare minimum, you might feel like you’re trying to save them the disappointment… but it isn’t “saving” someone if you’re preventing them from trying… and you need to do your best to share your goals with someone who understands that. Trying – and the subsequent failure – are such huge parts of life, that not trying basically amounts to not maturing, growing or changing.
You might not be able to ditch every single toxic relationship you’ve got in your life, but you can at least stop sharing your goals and the things that matter most with them. Let’s leave that behind in the new year.
4) Using being a “strong black woman” as an excuse for ignoring our needs. I wrote about how calling black women “strong” is dehumanizing, and implies that no one should worry about hurting us or worry about us being hurt because we’re “strong,” can “take it,” and therefore shouldn’t be granted the kind of protection and consideration that comes with worrying about the thoughts and feelings of those around us. And, years later, I received a comment from a woman who told me that she felt as if my e-mail was degrading her and her mother, because all they had to be proud of was their strength and it was cruel to tell them that this was no prize. I couldn’t disagree with that – for some of us, that strength is a source of pride; it’s something to lean on when we are hurting – it’s a way to remind ourselves that there’s no need to cry, there’s business to be tended to, and besides… we’re strong. We can take it.
Now that I have this in mind, I’d like to amend my position. I don’t think that it’s wrong to see that strength as a source of pride. I think that the way that strength is manipulated, as if it implies that people shouldn’t worry about us mentally or emotionally because of that strength, is the problem. I think, also, that the manipulation of our pride in being “strong” rubs off on us, as well.
If we believe in our ability to “be strong” through anything, then this affects the kind of treatment we’re comfortable with demanding from others. You can deal with your partner’s incessant wandering eye, because you’re strong. You can deal with the passive aggressive behavior from your subordinates at work, because you’re strong. You can deal with your mother making rude comments about your size or your hair without calling her out on it – didn’t know you could do that, huh? – because you’re strong. You are not an animal. You are not required to suffer abuse at the hands of people who insist on being in your life.
I think, most importantly, the belief that “it’s okay, because I’m strong” affects the way we manage our own emotions and pain. Your boyfriend just left you, after three years, for another woman… and you avoid crying because you’re “strong?”
Listen, that right there? That’s my story. I didn’t cry for five whole days. And, finally, my girl said to me, “Why are you so afraid to be sad or feel hurt about this?” And, I finally said back, “because I don’t know what to do with those feelings. I don’t know what to do at all anymore!” What’s more, I was an emotional eater, a habitual binge eater, a food addict. Choosing to hide my feelings or ignore them only caused them to come out in spades the next time I got my hands on something sugary, salty, or fatty. Without fail. It was a wrap. Every. Single. Time.
I won’t say give up being a “strong black woman,” but I will ask you to think long and hard about what that means to you, and begin to do the long work of decoupling that from your emotional needs. It is an amazing thing, something to be proud of, to persevere. Ignoring your own emotional needs, though, is another problem entirely. Let’s leave that back in 2013, as well.
5) Body-snarking. I have to be clear on this one. It’s one thing to identify parts of your body that you’d like to change in one direction or the other. It’s another thing entirely to denigrate yourself simply because you don’t have all the “parts” and “pieces” you’d like to have, looking the way you’d want them to look.
Think of it this way – if someone else said to you, the things you say about yourself, in approximately how many seconds would you slug them? Think of this as the Body Slamming Method for Spotting Self Body Snarking. If you’d slap someone else for saying it about you, you’re not allowed to say it about yourself. And, if the thought of measuring that makes you cry simply because you think you’d allow someone to talk negatively about you in that way, then you’re definitely not allowed to say anything negative about yourself.
Nothing long-standing and permanent comes from a place of inner shame. The only thing that shame can bring about, in my eyes, is an urgency — an urgent need for change, that often comes with risky and unhealthy measures for weight loss… measures that often fail miserably and only beget more shame. Shame and permanence rarely go hand-in-hand, and the best way to avoid the cycle is to avoid the shame. Avoid the shame by leaving the body shame in 2013.
What else are you leaving behind in preparation for the new year?