So this thing happened the other day that I want to tell you about, mostly because I think it’s going to considerably change my life and then also because it might be of use to you, too, if you struggle in similar ways.
I am an insecure person. I’ve recently stopped apologizing for that, which has been nothing short of a miracle in and of itself. Insecurity, especially for someone who claims the title Fat Activist, can be a hard thing to own. The failure to achieve the (largely self-imposed) expectation of being ‘fierce’ and ‘fabulous’ and loving one’s self and one’s body wholeheartedly and without reservation can add another layer of shame on top of any that’s already being experienced, which is pretty counter-productive. But when one is prone to insecurity, often the presentation of new opportunities can be internalized as something one should already have known about and therefore achieved. Honestly, insecurity is pretty much the bane of my existence but, largely owing to childhood trauma and systematic abuse on a level that thankfully precious few have to contend with, it’s going to be part of who I am, ideally in lesser and lesser frequency, for the rest of my life. Somehow, accepting that things beyond my control have created this aspect of my reality has really helped me integrate it into my life in a much less conflict-ridden fashion. Through no inherent failings of my own, this exists. It is what it is. So now I get to build a little toolbelt to contend with it.
Two of these tools recently came together in a little epiphany. The first is something someone said to me years ago, to great effect. I was talking about self-care in terms of general life skills, specifically in relation to being a mess-maker and living in a chaotic environment because of it. I was waiting for the switch to flip. You know, the one where magically you know something you didn’t and then immediately everything in your life falls into place and you know how to be good at organizing and a productive citizen and all that ordered-existency, grown-uppy stuff. The person I was talking to said that it never happened that way. That it wasn’t an overnight shift but a slow, gradual process in which your tolerance for being miserable slowly lessens and you start making different choices, a bit at a time, which increase your well-being in small ways until one day you turn around and realize that you’ve been quietly taking better care of yourself for a while. And that’s exactly what happened. The phrase “tolerance for being miserable” really stuck with me because, well, that’s exactly what it is. A choice, in a moment, between settling for misery (to whatever degree) or choosing to act differently to alleviate it. I began to see the ways in which my mess-making impacted my general sense of well-being. I began prioritizing my overall happiness over my momentary overwhelm. I slowly morphed over a couple of years into a tidy person, much to the surprise of anyone who had ever lived with me prior.
The second tool came to me last week. My Mama and her partner own a big, amazing old house and, as big amazing old houses are wont to do, bits of it tend to fall apart at really inconvenient times. The most recent conjunction of bad luck and bad timing was rotten floorboards beneath the shower during a visit home by my partner and I. Four people without a shower for a week is not so much fun, especially when one of them gets the twitchy-eye if they can’t shower every day, and double-especially if that person lives in London where victorian-era plumbing means taking a shower feels kinda like someone taking a long slow pee on your head (not that this person would know what that feels like), and triple-especially if approximately 33.9% of their excitement at coming home was about having ACTUAL WATER PRESSURE.
So this person (Ok, it’s me) was totally NOT going to NOT SHOWER, come hell or high water. In fact, BRING ON THE HIGH WATER, that’s the WHOLE POINT.
My first line of defense (wearing down my mom’s ‘no showers’ resistance by whining incessantly) failed utterly. My second line of defense (the bathroom sink spongebath) was just not cutting it. So that left me with showering at the public pool. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that they would have a big group open shower rather than private stalls. I mean, I guess that’s pretty much the norm for pools. I think my mind didn’t allow for the possibility as it was just too horrible. It’s one thing to rinse off after a swim but lathering up your bits in public is another thing entirely, especially when you’ve got a stareable body, even when it’s clothed. The idea of a hoard of gawking children parading past me towards swim class felt unbearable. Then again, the idea of no shower at all felt unbearable, too. I stood there, little bag of toiletries in hand, gazing at the showers at impasse.
In that moment, something clicked for me, something I’ve been hoping for for a long time but had only been able to find in moments where I felt safe, where I was surrounded by other fatties, in community, and in solidarity. What happened was this:
I dropped into my hedonism. In that moment, the feeling of warm water washing away the river silt and sunscreen, the coming joy of a cool breeze across my fresh-scrubbed skin, these things mattered more to me than the potential judgment of strangers. My tolerance for being miserable shrank considerably. I asked myself this question: “Will it *actually* kill me to do this? No? OK. I’m doing it.”
Then the woman from the front desk came in and said “Oh, I meant to tell you, there’s a private shower room out front here if you want – it was full when you came in, but they just left.”
Admittedly, dear reader, I was relieved. And I opted for the private shower ‘cuz, I mean, who wouldn’t? But that’s kind of not the point. The point is, I would have pushed past my insecurity and taken the risk. And I would have left the pool sparkly clean and totally still breathing, no matter who stared, who giggled, who pointed, laughed, or even directly mocked me. And I went on, for the rest of the week, asking myself that question every time I felt insecure. In the last week I have felt the wind on my bare skin, have clambered down rocks to swim beneath waterfalls, have waded neck-high into rivers while hawks dove and rose, fish-in-claw, a few yards from where I stood. I wore my swimming suit in public, surrounded by muscular frat boys and half-nekkid teenage girls (my least favorite). I went sleeveless in a hipster-ridden London market in a brightly-colored, vertically-striped shirt. I even tucked it into my skirt and showed my belly outline, which is absolutely the area of my body that I struggle with the most. I have made choices, not with the fear of judgment at the forefront of my mind, but my own pleasure. And I have to tell you, it is SO MUCH BETTER.
I have spent so much of my lifetime shortchanging myself in anticipation of judgment. I have let what others may or may not think of me dictate my actions on so many occasions that it became my subconscious default. I’m not saying that I won’t still struggle with insecurity, or that i won’t have to repeat my mantra to myself eleventy-squillion times a day in order to maintain this perspective. I’m not saying that I will have the energy to make the hedonistic choice every. single. time. or that the world has lots its ability to knock the wind out of me with its cruelty from time to time. What is different, however, is that I have gained a new perspective. An intolerance for misery combined with a genuine desire to get the most out of this lifetime of mine, to not miss out on life experiences because of the ignorance and bigotry of others. In other words, watch out jerkfaces, ‘cuz you’re about to see a WHOLE lot more of my butt. And I’m about to get real mouthy, too.