I was asked one of the toughest questions ever this week by a friend and fellow writer: How do I love the part of me that I hate? It’s the sort of question that lands like a concrete block—heavy and quite easy to stumble over—but it deserves an answer.
First, I think hate is a really strong word to aim at anyone, especially oneself. It is the polar opposite of love and acceptance—the darkest corner of the human heart. Let us pause a minute to consider the horrible things human beings have done to each other because of hatred—images of holocaust, atomic bombs, and the inquisition come to mind, right? Yet, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve overheard women lamenting some physical aspect they’d give anything to change: I hate my thighs. I hate my abs. I hate my hair. I hate my…body.
My friend’s question is also a universal question, since our Inner Critic develops from early childhood and begins to shape the way we feel about ourselves. As a sub-personality, the Inner Critic’s goal is to protect us from hurt and shame by offering pointers on how we should correct and improve, and it usually echoes the criticisms of our parents and other authority figures. Sometimes it’s a good thing—it reminds us to eat right, exercise, show up on time, and be a good citizen, for example. The problem is that it also has a tendency to become venomous and nasty.
The more we listen to its debasing drivel, the larger it becomes until our self-esteem retreats from a battle that seems impossible to win. War-torn and bleeding, we forget that we are beautiful, intelligent, capable, and loving beings. We forget that we are wondrously made of stardust and dreams, and that we have a right to be here and enjoy life.
One of my personal challenges in this lifetime is being shorter than average. I am 4’11” and very, very petite. I think I stopped growing around age 13 when puberty arrived, but if you could see the other women in my family, the reason is obvious. I got the short genes. There is no pill, no plastic surgery, and no miracle cure to attain the “standard” U.S. female height of 5’4”. So I grew up with the idea that I was somehow less than others because they were taller. This was further exacerbated by a lot of bullying and name-calling throughout my entire formative education in the public school system. I still managed to shine academically, which kept the wall of my self-esteem from crumbling entirely, but I entered my 20s dragging around a suitcase of self-doubt and emotional scarring. I avoided a lot of parties and any situation where I could end up being the center of attention. I grew tired of coming up with witty answers to the same old questions: How tall are you? Are your parents short, too? What size do you wear? Do you shop in the children’s department?
Nothing really changed for me until I was able to put my Inner Critic on a leash and make it behave. Buddhist studies helped a lot with this, because the first step was simply being aware of when I was being critical. Most of the negative feedback we give ourselves goes unnoticed. It just sneaks right in there along with our to-do lists and all the other thoughts that occupy our minds, like a log floating down a river. The key is to pay attention to the river—really watch your thoughts and consider if they are helpful or harmful.
After doing this for a while, I realized my Inner Critic was a total bitch who was much harder on me than anyone else ever had been. So I began cutting her off in mid-sentence and ending her dialogue before she could do further damage. I started replacing her negative statements with positive ones. In other words, I gave myself a break.
Sometimes it’s not just our internal dialogue that trips us up, though. We’re also bombarded with unrealistic standards of beauty from the media. Women’s magazines are full of photographs that portray an editor’s idea of perfection…no wrinkles, no faces without makeup, no cellulite…nothing that represents how we really look in the light of day. Even the articles encourage us to drop 10 pounds in two days or follow the latest beauty trends in order to be sexy enough. (Sexy enough for whom, I wonder? Our partners or ourselves?) I stopped reading those magazines when it became clear that they were breaking women down far more than they were building us up. Check out Killing Us Softly and Body Image PSA for a wake-up call on just how much influence the media has on women and girls, especially teens.
Long before the glossy pages of Cosmo and Vogue, however, there were goddesses. They were worshipped, and they had curves, let me tell you. Just look at Inanna, one of my personal favorites. Look at Aphrodite. Look at the Venus of Willendorf.
The goddesses of our ancient past came in all shapes and sizes, and truly, the Divine Feminine still shows up in short, tall, skinny, fat, wrinkled, and smooth because she lives in us. Did you get that? I’ll say it again. She lives in us and expresses Herself through us. So honor Her by being kind to yourself and all of your parts. Tell your Inner Critic to take a permanent vacation. Ignore the beauty ads, or at least remember that they are just an illusion. As Marianne Williamson states in A Return to Love, “Our bodies are merely blank canvases onto which we project our thoughts.” So paint wisely, carefully, and lovingly, my sisters.