Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

The chicken or the egg?

I realize that I’ve been getting things all backwards. For quite some time now I’ve been functioning on the assumption that if I change the outside world somehow, that would inspire change inside. In actuality, it’s quite the other way around. The impetus for change comes from inside; moving things around in the physical world is not going to inspire anything.

For example, I used to think that buying a pretty shirt would make me feel pretty. I think a lot of people operate under that assumption. Actually, that assumption is what makes capitalism work. Anyway, the problem is, I would buy the pretty shirt (maybe it had some lace on it, or sparkles, or was a color other than blue or grey) and then it would sit in my dresser drawer because it never felt right. It felt like wrapping tinsel on an old marble statue – ridiculous.

The thing is, people are the puppetmasters of things. (At least, we start out that way before our things take over and mean more to us than people.) Things don’t have any spark of life in them; things don’t get up of their own accord to get a glass of milk or have a self-reflective conversation with you over tea. The feeling of beauty, or whatever other feeling you’re going for, has to come from within and then the outside world changes accordingly.

I admit, sometimes a change of scenery helps the brain out of the drudgery of routine and familiarity. But buying books to make yourself more intellectual, and then having them sit on your bookshelf or slumber under your kitchen sink – that doesn’t work. It seems obvious when you write it down, doesn’t it? Therein lies the answer to the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Along these lines, it had to be the egg. There has to be the potential for something before there can be the something itself. Potential can’t be made out of moving things around that already exist; it’s noncorporeal, and dwells within the object of change, in this case the person.

I suffered from one of these paradoxes from age 12, one of the big ones that’s a problem in the US (if not most of western civilization, in one way or another): “If I lose weight, I’ll get a boyfriend.” (For western civilization: “If I [insert appearance/personality/talent-base change here], I’ll get a boyfriend.”) Magazines targeted at women thrive off of this idea. White guys in suits make inordinate amounts of money preying on the insecurities of the masses – this is not news.

I didn’t buy the magazines themselves, but I did buy into that idea, in a deep way. From age 12, when I started putting on weight, to age 23, I functioned under the impression that who I was wasn’t good enough for anyone else. That’s a hard burden to bear, and I think the power of it is frequently underestimated because of its omnipresence in the minds of westerners. “Well, everybody feels that way.” Well, doesn’t that scare you? Isn’t it terrifying that the ordinary state of affairs is unadulterated self-hatred?

But I digress. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, able to reason my way through almost anything. But this idea was the white elephant of my intellect: I know it’s wrong, but why can’t I make it go away? The only thing I could do was to move things around in the physical world, and hope that somehow it would help me change my idea of myself. I bought new workout clothes to make myself go to the gym. I stopped eating fast food. I bought low-fat everything from the store. I tried everything I could think of. But all the while I tortured myself in my head, berated myself for not being better, being thinner, for being a failure. I wanted to eat fast food; I didn’t want to work out, I wanted to eat ice cream instead. And those impulses, I didn’t realize at the time, were borne out of my damaged psyche – the very psyche that was scolding me for doing and wanting such things.

It only ended when I got a boyfriend.

It was a short relationship – a mere 2 months – but I finally had something real I could latch on to, and shove in front of my dwindling self-confidence. “See?! Look! You can have this! You did have it! You deserve to have it!” I wasn’t an alien to human relationships, I wasn’t somehow fundamentally different than the people I saw around me. And the important point was, I didn’t have to change myself to get it. The ludicrousness of all of my self-effacing thoughts started to shine through. What in hell made me think I didn’t deserve someone that loved me? What made me less of a person that I had to change myself to make myself desirable? I finally saw that the answer to that was “nothing.” And for the first time, it rang true. I didn’t have to try to believe it, I just did.

It was then that I got healthier.

Because now I was doing it for me, not because of me. I started buying organic, locally grown, cage-free and fresh. I started to cook, and not eat from a box. I didn’t want to put any chemicals or preservatives in myself because now I cared for me. I ate well, and enough. Fast food became abhorrent. Feeling miserable after eating badly or too much was not a punishment, it was unattractive. Exercising became less of a burden and more of a necessity – it got my blood pumping, my adrenaline up, made me be grateful for my body and what it allowed me to do. I could finally internalize all of the yoga doctrine I’d been fed by my teachers through the years, and I can now honestly say “thank you” to myself after my practice.

You can’t lose weight and then love yourself for it. That self-love is perilous, built on something that could fall apart with the faintest breeze of doubt. You have to love yourself enough to believe that you deserve to be healthy. That’s based on something internal, solid, supported by you, not the whims of our fickle world. And that goes for everything, not just weight: intelligence, beauty, confidence, activism, acceptance. Whatever it is you feel you lack, you don’t. It’s in you, but you can’t get to it with things or diets or hair products or books or making others feel small. You have to dig deep in you, and not put the chicken before the egg.