The other night, I went to a restaurant with a group of friends and acquaintances prior to a play we were seeing all together.
While we were waiting for all the members of our party to arrive, I was dismayed to see how quickly the conversation—among an all-female group—turned to dieting.
“I was really good at lunchtime,” said one, “and ate really lightly, so I don’t have to worry tonight.”
“I had [insert food]. Is that good? Is it high in calories?”
“I heard that we should cut out [insert food] completely,” said another, “because it’s so high in fat and calories”.
It’s not even worth noting which foods, because I’m sure a quick search on the interwebz would yield articles and posts claiming ANY food as evil.
“I’m sorry,” said one of the women turning to me at some point, “our conversation must be so boring!”
[Insert apologetic laughter by all of them]
“We’ll stop worrying about all that stuff once we’ve reached our goal weight!”
Now, I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure that this is a pretty typical conversation, that could be found pretty much anywhere in the Western world and potentially beyond, at any time women gather together—especially to share food.
How incredibly depressing!
I won’t lie to you and pretend that I’ve never played that game. You know the one where a certain number on the scale means that you’re “good”, and that there may be a little range in which you’re “ok”, but above that you’re most definitely not?
I’ve certainly been quite a willing participant in the past. There were long stretches of my life where I had a very skewed relationship with the number on the scale, and let it have tremendous power over how I felt about myself.
I think now about the behaviours that this elicited—feeling ugly and gross, restricting my food intake until I was back to “being good” (which could mean surviving exclusively on black coffee and a few cucumber slices for an entire day), weighing myself multiple times a day, etc.—and I can’t help but be sad for that young woman so wrapped up in this logic.
Although to be frank, I can’t even be down on myself for adopting those skewed behaviours when I think of my environment!
Between the fashion magazine’s complete lack of body diversity, the entertainment magazines scrutinizing everything about celebrities’ appearance, and so-called fitness magazines urging readers to try “revolutionary diets” and “miracle workouts” (so many of them, so many new ones every couple of issues!), there was hardly space left for anything else in mainstream media.
I became an adult in the late 90’s, hence all the magazine references, but I still believe that if you simply add “online” to all that I said before, we’re still not too far from what’s still going on today.
I confess that I was a bit shocked when I heard that conversation the other night though. Were we still, as women in this society, stuck in this rhetoric?
Beyond the terrible, unending and damaging messaging that the dieting industry keeps aiming towards women, I think conversations like these stem from a deeper issue.
Do any of these sound familiar?
When I reach my goal weight, then I’ll be happier.
If I can just get my act together, then I’ll be a good parent.
When I’m done with this project, then I’ll take care of myself.
If I could just find *someone*, then I’d be ok.
When people see how hard I’ve been working, then I’ll get the respect that I deserve.
If I get that promotion, then I’ll be legitimately successful.
When we set up prerequisites for when we are “allowed” to be satisfied with who we are, we’re essentially putting our worthiness into question. That’s totally not ok!
Going about our life continually feeling that we are not “enough” in one or (more often) more arenas but believing that if we can just get it right, then some magic will operate and we’ll be fine is a sad illusion.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t want to improve things, but there’s a major distinction to be made between yearning for more out of love and a thirst for life, and striving to be different out of self-loathing.
The hard truth is that if we don’t feel worthy now, we still won’t feel worthy when we’ve achieved our prerequisite. It’s heartbreaking: we go about life attaching our worthiness to certain things we yearn for—be it status, physique or possessions—only to find out that, in the end, they don’t make us any happier than when we didn’t have them.
Breaking out of that “prerequisite for joy” mindset isn’t easy. It takes what may seem like an overwhelming amount of self-compassion to undo the years of working against ourselves, to release our old deeply-held beliefs, and to see that there is, indeed, another way.
And I think this starts with mindfully stopping to think that there are conditions to be filled before we’re allowed to access joy.
Joy is there for us to embrace anyway.
We can believe, unapologetically, that we are enough just as we are. Right now. Not tomorrow, not when we’re more this or less that. Right this moment.
Not perfect—now where would the fun be in that, I ask you?—but unquestionably enough.
What’s your typical “If… When… Then…” internal dialogue? Which “prerequisites for joy” are the ones that pop up the most often in your life, whether it’s consciously or not?
I’d love for you to share them in the comments, or directly by email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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