Ever noticed that when you are ready to hear a truth, the Universe begins to whisper it at you, then shout and finally jump up and down like a crazed monkey until you pay attention? Yeah. Well, today’s bang on the noggin was courtesy of a fascinating post by Kameron Hurley on January 27 that I just found today via her agent’s link salad. Here’s the meat of the bit that caught my attention and had me scrambling to log in and discuss it with you:
As I’ve been working off last year’s weight gain by listening to too much Jillian Michaels and watching too many episodes of The Biggest Loser while getting in my 90 minutes of cardio every day, there was this recurring theme on the show, and with the folks Jillian deals with, that really got to me. It was this notion that our internalized version of ourselves that we have soaked up from the world is our real selves. We outwardly express who we perceive others believe us to be. Anybody who has found themselves confronted by prejudice knows this feeling intimately. As a nerd, a fat kid, a woman, I’ve encountered it many times, and when I felt I couldn’t fight it, when I’d internalized all the external hate so completely that I wanted to beat somebody’s head in, I simply retreated from it.
One of the reasons I’m intensely introverted and live over 2,000 miles away from my family is because I am a mimic. It’s very easy for me to internalize what I believe others think I should be, and express that. …..But those things that make me a good mimic – empathy, a good ear, a knack for translating what it is people are trying to say – also make me very good at regurgitating versions of myself that I feel will be best received.
I could have written that post, though I have always named it being a “chameleon” rather than a mimic. In my teens, it was unconscious – probably in part because there were really so few truly different groups with truly different expectations of me. But at college, I was suddenly in a vast sea of interesting-ness – students from every walk of life, from inner city NYC to pure East Coast prep to glamorous foreign students, all of them smart enough to be admitted to a top tier school and either wealthy enough to afford the astronomical private school tuition, or (like me) fortunate enough to have earned a scholarship. There were groups everywhere, all different, that I wanted to be part of, and I was like a sponge, soaking up how they interacted and mimicking it right back. Around that same time, I found the quote that says something like “True education is the ability to hold a conversation with anyone, from any walk of life.” That fit right into my developing self image – I wanted desperately to be that person who was equally at home with rural kids back home, sophisticated rich people on yachts, and everything in between. In some ways, I still do.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I found myself confronting the horrifying realization that I had no idea who I was, if I stopped mirroring someone else. At that time, I was working for the University, continuing in the role I had developed as an undergrad for pay while I “took a year off” before heading to grad school and living alone for the first time. And in that silence of living alone, I questioned everything from the trivial (how I coul decide what music I want to listen to when there is no one around to be pleased by my choice?) to the truly frighteningly – was the career path I had mapped out right for me, or just a reflection of how I could get praise from my college mentors? It was not pretty, my friends.
By my thirties, I came to accept that part of myself, even to use it. It’s part of what makes me an effective teacher, advocate (as an attorney), speaker, and writer. And it isn’t “selling out” if I truly enjoy doing whatever my companions choose, because I enjoy bonding with them over their pleasure in it. To be sure, there are a (very) few areas where there is a solid core of me that cannot be compromised without consequence, and to some extent, I’m still figuring out what those areas are.
But all of this got me thinking – [and yes, Universe, I get it, Biggest Loser reference and all] is that I do still absorb, sponge-like, other people’s expectations of me and, in the wise words of Ms. Hurley, I am “very good at regurgitating versions of myself that I feel will be best received.”
That’s why “I wasn’t always like this” is just my way of saying “I won’t always be like this.” It’s why I had to start this blog explaining “how I got this way.” It’s my way of “reguritating a version of myself” that is only “temporarily out of shape” instead of the classic fat lady, with all the baggage that goes with it.
Fact is, I changed jobs when my first child was 18 months old – heavier than I had ever been, horribly out of shape, with the idea that the new job would give me more time to fix those issues. Instead, I have been here nearly six years, and I am undeniably in far worse shape and about 70 lbs heavier. And other than my husband (who has an obvious bias) NO ONE in my daily life now knew me when I was anything but a morbidly obese mommy who says she will do something about this weight and just never does. Who appears to have “given up.”
if when I lose as much weight as I want to lose, I will make a lot of people uncomfortable. Lots of people are happier with the fat version of me. To some, I know – with the unerring ability to know what other people feel – that me being fat is what makes me non-threatening. If I am thin, they will feel like I have done it “at” them, to one up them. Some will be jealous. Some will be sure that it miraculously happened because it is hard work and no one wants to think someone else simply worked harder than they did. When I am fat, I validate my mom’s life choices, and I “bond” with my family in our shared problems. When I am fat, I don’t have to worry about whether being an outgoing, extroverted, bubbly personality will give some guy the impression that I am coming on to him. When I am fat, I don’t have to stress about whether I will wear something or do something that is “inappropriate.” And I guess deep down, it is easier to not have to worry about it than to trust myself to navigate those waters.
All of which is just too damn bad, really. Because this really is a part of myself I cannot afford to compromise just because of its effect on other people.
And on the flip side? Fact is, saying you won’t always be this way can only get you so far. Fact is, I am currently a morbidly obese mommy. Let me try that again. I am a morbidly obese mommy. /shiver Very hard to type that without a “currently” or “for now.” But I think facing it as the reality – present reality, but reality nevertheless – is one way to cut through the BS Little Kitteh spews at me and face the fact of where I really am, right now.
As those Biggest Loser people learn, don’t let someone else tell you what you can do. Don’t let someone else’s view of you become your own. Or stated positively, I and only I decide who I am and what I will and will not do, no one else.