Identifying Your Self-Care Benchmarks

We all have a list in our heads of the things we do, or want to do, that help us relax, reset, and rejuvenate. Some of these things we do on the reg, and some feel like guilty pleasures only appropriate + doable on vacations.

One year when my family and I took a beach trip, we made friends with a French couple. We were there for one week, and they were there for three. Oh la la. They felt so much frustration and concern on our behalf.

“You Americans (stay with me) wonder why you’re so stressed. You don’t let your vacations fulfill their purpose. You treat enjoyment and time away as a luxury rather than a vital part of health and happiness. Do you know why we take three week vacations? Because the first week, you are tired and still thinking about work. You rest, but you only enjoy yourself a little bit. The second week, you are more present and relaxed. You are actually ready to feel good. The third week is absolute bliss. You become your favorite self.”

As my spirit animal, Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation, said, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” So many of us struggle with this– spreading ourselves too thin, and not fully committing to what we choose to do. We wear stress and multitasking as badges of honor, even if they undercut efficiency.

There’s a big difference between coping + taking the edge off, and refilling your tank. So what if we applied the rule of French vacation phases to our self-care? What if we knew what circumstances + choices represented each tier of our revitalization?

Sometimes we only have the time or money to put just enough gas in our tank to get from Point A to Point B. We know we’re running on empty and will need extra juice stat. Sometimes we can afford to fill up all the way, but we straight up don’t (out of habit or fear). And when we do fill up all the way, there’s freedom.

I know my Just Get from Point A to Point B Tier looks like binging on sleep + Netflix. I need cozy and quiet. No humans allowed, but dogs are welcome. I know my Half Full looks like sleep, Netflix AND creativity, yoga, and spending time with my favorite people. And my Bliss State? All that PLUS dancing, tequila, reading at my favorite cafe, and candle-lit baths. #YAAAASSS

I’m breathing easier and smiling bigger just thinking about this list. More of that please.

Now go have fun building your bliss benchmarks.

Until next time,
Terra

 

Well, You Can Just Shelve It

I recently went to an event full of prompts. I knew what I was getting myself into. I had been to many a “I am woman, hear me roar” shindig where strangers become soul sisters in under three hours. Such is the life of a life coach’s daughter, I guess. I usually take to these gatherings like a duck to water, but something inside me snapped AND clicked. It wasn’t the prompts or the people. It was the story I was telling.

I wasn’t even confessing a painful deep dark truth that no one else knew, but I realized I had told some version of the same sob story for the billionth time. And I was bored with it. I had become bored by my own story that I was telling myself and others.

I have spent years dissecting and peeling back the layers of my dark in earnest so I could not just survive, but thrive. I know I am completely justified in having the fears and trends I do (we all are), but it turns out I don’t want to be right after all. I want to be happy, and they’re quite different. And with that, it was as if a grandiose chandelier turned on.

Then a quote from my bulletin-board reared its head- “If you want to change your life, change your story.” This quote has pissed me off for years, but I stubbornly hold on to it. I know it’s not calling for witness protection protocol, but rather a reframing of my data. I get it. The stories we keep on tap directly correlate to our quality of life + relationships. But pretending that certain not so fun threads don’t exist seems like a recipe for disaster. It wasn’t until I picked up the novel in my purse I was reluctantly trudging through that a second chandelier lit up.

The stories we hold about ourselves and our lives are just like the stories we buy. There are the books on our shelves, and then the books we’re currently reading that we carry around with us. You get to put the book that no longer suits you back on your shelf. You’re not burning it. You’re not even donating it. You’re just shelving it. You’re saying, “this isn’t what I need right now,” so you can make room in your bag for the one you do need- the one that gives you something that’s in alignment with what you want.

I was just as stubborn about finishing every book I started as I was about carrying the same old version of my story around. I needed to give myself permission to change it up. I didn’t realize I could reframe and still be authentic. Turns out, there are no loyalty points for using a certain story’s app.

So give yourself permission. Same bag. Same collection on your shelf. Just choose to read yourself a story you actually like. Cuz you can!

Happy reading 😀
Terra

Thanking the Academy

Originally published on thedickinsonian.com February of 2013.

The Oscars are about celebrating the multiple facets of the art of film—the actors, the costumes, the special effects, the screenplay, and so on. To some, it honors the behind-the-scenes work of an art form that many people all over the world admire and enjoy. To others, it is a fashion show to drool over and critique. Yet one common theme among discussions about the Academy Awards is the brevity and general superficiality of the acceptance speeches.

Something that I find really irritating is fake gratitude. Whether or not their actual feelings are genuine, reflective, or gracious, the expectations put upon the award winners by the structure of the show tend to facilitate remarks with minimal inspiration and reflection for the public and other artists to internalize.

First, the enforced time limit with “chasing out” music cuts off the displays of gratitude too quickly in my opinion. Sometimes the music can’t come soon enough to rescue the audience from awkward moments. Most of the time, however, they barely have three seconds to say something personally crafted after they finish name-dropping the 10 plus “most important people” they worked with to make the film great. Of course I understand the need for a cut off point, but for the love of etiquette, don’t signal that time’s up with the suspenseful, eye darting iconic tune of JAWS! That is the instrumental version of heckling.

Second, I find the custom of name-dropping annoying, impersonal, and not at all inspiring. I guess the point of it is to demonstrate that many kinds of talent and vision go into the making of a noteworthy film and to give credit to the people behind-the-scenes who make the movie possible. But we all know that. The Oscars celebrate more than just the actors and directors because each award category represents the different departments of artistry that contribute to a film’s excellence. Plus, if you led an effort that supported the making of the film and someone else receives an award for their role with the film and they don’t mention your name, does that negate the significance of your work? No, but that is the fear behind name-dropping: your work only counts if everyone knows about it.

So I want to thank Jim Erickson, the winner of the Production Design Oscar for Lincoln, and First Lady Michelle Obama, who introduced the award for Best Picture with actor Jack Nicholson, for being the exception to the rule. They shared remarks that at least sound like they come from the heart and not from a manager. While Michelle Obama’s introduction had the tone of a political message aimed to support the inclusion of arts programs in education, it also served as the perfect climactic closing message to acknowledge the power and importance of art forms in our lives.

When I am watching movies and the Oscars, I am looking to be inspired. I want food for thought. I want to have something to reflect on and apply to my own life as an artist and young professional. So forgive me if I am not satisfied with the many speeches that throw away the opportunity to reiterate the importance of art, creativity, vision, and the faith to see it through. What could be a better time to inspire people than at the show that is meant to celebrate the significance of these very things? That is what I would call an untapped resource.

This I Believe: You See What You Believe

Originally published on thedickinsonian.com February of 2013.

I was having a philosophical discussion with a friend who identifies himself as a realist, but I see him as a pessimist in contrast with my identity as an optimistic realist. We started by discussing job searching and our prospects. He was obviously distraught about his near future, and expressed all of his main concerns—particularly about money and finding a job within the realm of his studies. His concerns were absolutely legitimate and I also carry them. However, I challenged him to alter his perspective and move his focus away from “My sector is very competitive and there are very few jobs available.”

My life has taught me that it is all about perspective. If you believe that there is a very slim chance of you getting a job remotely close to what you want, then you see that the odds are not in your favor. If you believe that things will barely work out for you, if at all, then that is likely to be exactly what you experience. It will feel like driving with the breaks on. On the flip side, if you have faith that everything does or does not happen for a reason, if you trust that there is a job out there with something important for you to learn or experience, then you are likely to pay more attention to the possibilities that you do see and your ambition will not feel counteracted. I am not suggesting that anyone should feel a sense of entitlement or expect to be able to sit on their butt and wait for the right thing to come along if they wish hard enough. But I am suggesting trust. Trust that your skills and your efforts will pay off in some way, maybe in a way that you cannot even predict.  Trust, faith, possibility—all those mysterious yet helpful things that keep a fire lit under our proactive stamina.  There is a very big difference between fear based thought and action, and faith or trust based thought and action.

My discussion with my friend then got more intense when we began debating the status of reality. I do believe that it is important to “be realistic,” but I believe that reality is relative.  So what does Reality on an individual level even mean? Our own personal experience of how the world around us works is relative because our filters and lenses are not generic. Therefore, how we see the world impacts our experience of it. This relativity is evident in the different philosophical views between those who are “pessimistic realists” and “optimistic realists.” There are two sides to every story and there are two sides to every coin. The same circumstances can be approached from two different perspectives and create two perceived outcomes. So of course we would find it difficult to relate to those who have a different filter through which they see the world than our own.

To some of you, this may all sound like gobbledygook because I’m a Political Science major and I love discussing philosophical issues. By your potential categorization, this may be a bunch of New Age hippie mumbo jumbo.  Call it what you will, but promise me this: That as a reader, a Dickinsonian, or an engaged citizen of the world, you will reflect on these thoughts and see if any of them potentially hold any truth for you. If they do, awesome-sauce.  If not, that’s cool, just respect that they might ring true for someone else in your community. That is all—I bid you adieu.

What Nourishes You?

Originally published on thedickinsonian.com April of 2013.

The Idea Fund co-created a TED Talk style event with JJ Luceno, featuring personal reflections from four different members of our Dickinson community. The purpose of this event was to explore what makes us tick, what we care about and what passions drive what we do. The presentation and conversation, facilitated by Tyce Herrman, the Projects Coordinator for the Center for Sustainability Education, stood out because of its multidimensional nature and space for diverse reflection. Essentially, he raised questions around the meaning of life and the purpose of environmentalism for the audience to contemplate during their own search for meaning.

To many people, it is obvious why protecting the resources, health and systems of our natural environment is important: to sustain healthy and prosperous human life. But why do we want the opportunity to keep living? Why is it important to us to be healthy and prosperous? Simply put, we want to be happy. We are in a constant search for and remodeling of our personal and communal happiness, and this entails many different components for different people. I believe that the essence of what we are all searching for, of that core of human joy, is nourishment.

We are used to thinking of the term “nourishment” as strictly referring to food, and whether or not an individual or population is malnourished.  I would like to expand the application of this concept to include not just what we eat, but what we do, have and experience.  We understand ingestion as the most direct way of internalizing something outside of us, but we take in much more than the food we eat.

Malnourishment in the traditional sense comes from either not eating enough food, or not eating enough of the foods that are high in nutritional value.  When we eat food that is not nutrient rich, we have less energy than we need. There is still a void to fill, so we think that all we need to do is eat more.  This concept can easily be applied to consumerism and doing anything that only makes us feel good in a more general way.  This creates a state of false nourishment. How can we really take care of ourselves if we don’t know the difference?

Multiple aspects of our existence need to feel nourished. We need something that feeds us that is “nutrient rich” for our body and soul.  This sort of satisfaction is the kind that stays with us for more than four hours and its benefits are endless.  Our body wants food and water that is pure, fresh and not chemically manipulated, while our heart and soul want positive and fulfilling relationships, space to explore and develop internally and the time and opportunity for creative expression.

We all have something that makes our sanity and peace of mind feel a bit more sustainable. We like research, painting, singing, writing, playing music, analyzing data or creating an organization, because we seek meaning and the freedom to express our passions.  We are reflective and curious, and we all use different tools to help us process what we observe, experience, and “eat.”

To summarize, I interpret a core intention (or a positive side effect) of the environmental movement to be a “back to basics” initiative.  In his recent lecture on global climate change and 350.org, environmentalist, author and journalist Bill McKibben stated that the least liberal idea is the desire to do what it takes to keep living on our planet.  It is not liberal or conservative to want to exist as we have done for thousands of years; it is instinct.  In other words, it is instinct to continue our pursuit of what makes us happy, what makes us feel nourished. In order to ever feel a sense of deep fulfillment, we have to contribute to “feeding” the community and natural world around us.

Happiness: Choice vs. Proactive Acceptance

There’s a lot of talk out there about how happiness is a choice- how we need to build up the strength to drown out our Negative Nancys with sheer will until we’ve practically reconditioned our impulses. But here’s what I find twisted about this message when it’s disclaimer free:

1) If you’re unhappy, you’re weak
2) Ignoring your crummy feelings is what happy people do
3) Strong and controlled people are happy people

I know you can’t see me, but I am cringing at this big pile of NOPE right now. To these underlying messages I say:

1) We all come by our shit honestly, and some of the strongest people I know are wrestling with big shit. While your own happiness is your responsibility, suffering over your suffering tends to zap your prospects of actually feeling genuine happiness (not just relief) more of the time.

2) Our feelings are pure reactions. They are intuition, or instincts. They quickly give us a sample of raw data before other parts of our brain start to domesticate it with previously stored information. Emotions have a job to do. So by cutting off the unpleasant voices mid sentence and saying, “You’re stupid! Go away!” we’re cutting ourselves off. It’s an act of coping and seeking relief, rather than transmuting perspective or circumstances. This also sounds like a very bad way to fall pray to perfectionism, and a very easy way to create addiction and apathy.

3) Our culture seems to have a very surface level and wobbly definition of what it means to be strong and put together. Strength and control are also often associated with success, which absolutely does not ensure happiness. So instead, aim for self-awareness, self-trust, intuitive decision making, surfing with the ebbs and flows of your raw data like a champ.

The American Dream: Wanted, Dead or Alive

Across college campuses and within activist communities, young adults are having conversations about the reality of the “American Dream.” Is it still present and tangible? Is it worth fanning the flames? Was it ever real and accessible?

The basic concept of the American dream is that anyone in the United States, no matter his or her background, can graduate from high school, graduate from college, get a stable, quality job, buy a house, start a family and climb the class ladder….if you work hard enough.  This is how we define success and “having it all.”  And because our society emphasizes work and the individual, we think the next rung is just waiting at the end of every fingertip. All you have to do is work a little harder to grab hold.

Firstly, the individualistic nature of our culture and our focus on independence puts the total burden of responsibility on the individual for making or breaking their future.  We know that everyone is handed a different set of cards, but we assume that if they don’t win the game, it must be because they didn’t play their cards right. Many people are dealt a hand that places them at a farther starting point because of their ethnicity, gender identity, school district, sexual orientation, or familial economic status.  A number of them DO achieve the American Dream despite the odds, but these people are not the majority by any means. They are the staunch exception, not the rule.  Having a number of sucess stories that demonstrate progress does not negate the millions more stories of communities and populations who are still stuck pretty damn close to where they started.

No matter what identity, statistic, population, region, socioeconomic class you are a part of, it takes resources, investment and strategy to succeed. That’s a given. It’s also true that in order for anyone to gain resources, a quality education, and a good job, someone else has to choose to invest in you.  That’s why who you know often outweighs what you know, because a network of connections becomes a network of investors who support your mobility.  Being a part of a community and network with resources is what accompanies and creates privilege, and is largely removed from the resource-less. Someone has to be their own advocate and seek information, training, or mentorship in order for someone else to want to invest in them.  But here is the catch. A) These tools are often not shown to you unless someone else in your family already uses them. B) No one has time to learn something different than what they are already doing when their survival is on the line.  When you are just barely holding on to where you already are, you can’t climb.

So before even tackling the issue of access to means and resources, we have to acknowledge the privileging of information. There are not wide scale systems in place for training on personal budgeting and investment, writing cover letters and resumes, interviewing for a skills-based job and negotiating salary, and how to understand and negotiate the terms of loans. Much of this information is easily accessible to those who already have means. So when information on how to best gain resources is withheld from those without them, it kicks 1/3 of this nation in the gut when they are already down.

Our formula for the American Dream is based on what we consider to be a valuable investment with high return. Higher education and real-estate used to be the best investments an individual or family could make. But the cost of attaining and maintaining these investments has been on the rise while their value has arguably defaulted.

The price of attending college has dramatically increased since our parents went to school, and more and more students are having to take on larger loans at growing interest rates.  So not only has higher education become a more burdensome investment, but the return (aka average salary and job stability) on a Bachelor’s degree has not grown to match the larger price tag. The perceived increase in value is actually due to a decline in average salary and job stability of those WITHOUT a Bachelor’s degree.  Therefore, going to college has become that much more important, but not necessarily valuable.

Purchasing a home has also become almost more of a gamble than an investment. Having a mortgage on a home in a market that significantly devalues the property has been hindering many middle class Americans’ financial need to move.  People are now faced with the question of whether or not the sale will even cover the remaining mortgage, rather than how much of a profit they will have to put towards their next home.  In short, the type of ideal living situation that we are told we ought to strive for, as it has existed, requires constant investment that we are quickly realizing is financially unsustainable. These investments in higher education and homes we make to spring forward are now pushing back.

Our millennial generation is looking at this dream that has become more and more of a burden, and knows that it needs to be updated. Some feel that it’s called the American Dream because you need to be asleep in order to believe in it. Some have watched their families struggle to make ends meet just because of the constant investment that a home requires. Some are debating whether or not to go to community college or trade school so that they don’t add to the deep pit of stress of facing unemployment and paying bills.  Some still want their white picket fence and 2.5 children. But regardless of whether the majority of this generation’s goals fit perfectly into this formula or not, a college education, a job that pays livable wages (after tax), a safe, sustainable residence, and information on how to best invest in and advocate for our longevity must all be made more accessible options that one does not get penalized for using.

No one achieves anything alone. It takes a partnership, a give and take, and people working together to get anything done. Someone has to choose to invest in you in order to get the experience and resources, to HAVE experience and resources. This is the message that should replace the individualistic fine print of the American Dream. Emphasizing the responsibility of the individual to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, neglects the tendency of human kind to first, need to be personally told it can be done, and second, to be taught and guided through the how of success.  We learn through observation, so if we don’t witness these tools being used by those we share an identity with in our families and communities, then how are we supposed to know to put it into action for ourselves?

Related Articles:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/poverty-unemployment-rates_n_3666594.html

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/09/10/a-third-of-americans-now-say-they-are-in-the-lower-classes/

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2013/06/26/niall-ferguson-on-the-end-of-the-american-dream.html

Originally published on lenzink.com in 2013. 

Owning Your Writing Fears – and Ambitions

Originally published on PossibilitiesPublishingCompany.com September of 2015.

I am a screenwriter. I am a screenwriter. I am a screenwriter. I still feel like a fake-ass impostor when I say it. It feels like an aspiration or at best a half truth.

I have TV episodes drafted, several more outlined, and the embryos of feature films. I also have an industry coach/consultant and a growing list of connected contacts who seem open to possibly continuing to believe in me, of being in my corner. This identity and this career are in process, but I have no listable accolades or job titles as palpable evidence.

At a recent event for screenwriters, the speaker said, “I don’t care what stage you’re in. I don’t care if writing is your day job or your night job or your on-your-way-to-work/lunch-break job. It doesn’t matter. If you are here, if this is what you want, then you are a screenwriter. Own it.”

But here’s the thing—two things actually, two hang-ups lurking around my otherwise intuitive, full-steam-ahead, and sometimes cocky self.

  1. I’m not a produced writer.
  2. No one has read my script yet.

These are two plain facts that I have soaked in a vat of meaning. My fear filter is at high opacity, and I’ve turned not being published into not being taken seriously. All I want to do is incubate my words until they are grown enough to order their own drinks and nail their first job interview.

I’m having flashbacks to when I wanted to develop my own major in college. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and why it was important and different. It wasn’t crystal clear or unique or exciting to anyone else, and I couldn’t explain my way into it. So I had to settle for a degree that already existed.

Now I wonder: What if after all the coaching and pitch honing and networking and script refining, no one awesome will want to stay on my team? What if my idea is so strange and complex that there is no one else for my script to eat lunch with?

My two biggest fears in writing for public consumption are that I will get in my own way and that I will settle for a familiar, convenient life—one of public, traditional success and private, inconsistent creativity. But at the root of those fears is one big kahuna: that I won’t get to authentically express myself out in the world, that authenticity in moderation and in private is all that is realistic.

I have a great need to be known, understood, and respected. At the end of the day, I must choose to trust that my needs will be met. I must trust that my fear is telling me something—maybe that I’m hot on the trail and just feeling the fear pounds as they sweat out, or that something is not in alignment with what I say I want.

Either way, the key is trust. I know in my bones that I have a unique story and a perspective to share. I know that something important happens when I write, no matter what comes of it. I know that I will continue to find support and enthusiasm, even if it’s not for the purpose that I expect.

When I used to kerplop into a tizzy, my mom would say, “You can’t fix what you can’t face.” So here I am, dumping my fears publicly in good faith and staring at them in partial squirm, partial gratitude and relief. Fears have a job to do, so thank you for hanging with me while mine cleaned house.

What do you know in your bones? What truth are you kind of cocky about? What fears or truths need to come up so that you can get them out of your atmosphere?

The Bible: Getting in Touch with Truth and Context

I recently went home for a long weekend and my mom and I went to church. We are friendly feminist progressives who are also Christian and care about our relationship with God (yes, we exist!). We had been church-shopping for a while and finally seemed to find a community that felt welcoming and diverse with sermons that didn’t boil our blood. Until this particular weekend.

The service focused on the culture of God vs. the culture of modern day America, and generational changes and values. A guest pastor started his speech by saying he wanted to challenge our worldviews, no matter what they were. I thought this could be very powerful and important if it challenged a sampling of hot button perspectives across the spectrum, but instead he laid  the groundwork for a very doomsday timeline of how the US has changed since the 50s,  filling the room with tension and fear – fear that it was no longer possible to straddle both worlds, that you had to choose between God and a modern world perceived to be out of alignment with God.

In one breath he was enthusiastic about feminism, and in the next hanging his head becauseRoe v. Wade made abortion legal (although restrictions on abortion, like the Hyde Amendment, have made it only available to those who can afford it – often the wealthy and the white ) and 98 percent of women have taken birth control at some point.

He then proceeded to rank three values according to the supposed culture of the millennial generation vs. the culture of God: Love, Freedom and Truth. For millennials he ranked Freedom first, then Love followed by Truth. His explanation made us sound like self-obsessed, demanding, ignorant children.

I wanted to run up on stage and grab the mic.

This generation – our generation – is a reaction, a pendulum swing away from the hypocrisy, misogyny, abuse and exclusivity of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. That’s a good thing. We value the freedom to do what we love and to love who we want because we’ve grown up watching people around us be miserable.

We value freedoms that are actualized and accessible because, while theories are great and all, we are well overdue for some real-life application. And we love the truth- the truth about the state of  our planet, the truth about money contributed to elections, the truth about sexual assault and rape culture, the truth about systemic oppression and inequalities, the truth about health and healthcare, the truth about healthy relationships and self-care, the truth about violence, the truth about the quality of our country and the truth about God.

For the culture of God, the values were ranked Truth, then Love, then Freedom. That order makes total sense to me, but here lies the hang-up: community-based human life makes truth relative and contextual. We are people with fears and experiences and opinions that filter what truths we hold. No two people or two groups have the exact same beliefs, yet we all want to be right.

Does being part of a spiritual community to learn about the Bible help align and standardize some of the beliefs of communities? Yes, absolutely. But there is no one way to interpret and apply the Bible. If there were, there would not be so many different sects within Christianity. I think of the Bible like I think of the constitution – they are both sacred and supposedly straightforward documents with clear dos and don’ts. It seems two main approaches have developed to decipher these written works. You either see them as precise blueprints to be interpreted within the span of their origin, or you see them as roadmaps that are versatile enough to meet us where we are. Boiled down, it is the belief that either we adjust to fit it, or it evolves to fit our times.

I believe the Bible is an inherently long-lasting and durable sacred text with many stories and themes that will remain unchanging truths and always apply to our society; like faith, service, kindness and forgiveness. But I also believe some pieces only make sense under the context of the times they were written in, like women being considered as spiritually unclean and then ostracized for having periods, and not eating shrimp. Can you say out of touch? There has been a push in some Christian identities to get back to basics and stick to the letter of the law, but even those who adhere to that philosophy seem to agree that it’s best to exclude shrimp bans and menstrual lock-ups from the agenda.

Millennials are the most educated generation thus far, and we’ve grown up watching contradictions and injustices run rampant in a country we’ve been told is the best, most powerful and most free. So expecting an increasingly critical and observant generation to not question the way things have been done and the thoughts that have been thought while so many harms and problems were developing isn’t realistic.

I love this country, that’s why I want it to be amazing, but you can’t fix a problem you refuse to face. We have a strong desire to be right because we are humans with egos who are afraid of consequences, so of course we honestly want to be in alignment with God. We are earnestly trying to do and be the right thing to the best of our ability, but our idea of what’s right and what’s true change over time, even though the Bible doesn’t. We grow and have different experiences that change our filters, but the closest thing we have to the word of God stays the same. Sometimes in trying to be right and to know more truths it has to be alright to be wrong.

More than being wrong about facts and loved ones, we fear being wrong about God the most. In wanting to make God proud we become rigid in protecting our beliefs about what God wants so our egos feel confident that our margin of error is practically nonexistent.

But we can get in our own way. We can try so hard that we forget about humility- something I was taught since I was six that God cares about. Many of us have grown up believing strongly that adhering to the Bible is the surest way to create a one-size-fits-most roadmap for the most truthful beliefs and way of life. So if we start to think we know everything, then we stop asking for help, we stop asking for new information and reflecting, and we stop inviting God.

My point is this: truth and circumstances are always evolving. We believe certain things for a time, then our views expand and our questions and problems grow with them. Modern-day culture is not out of alignment with God because religion is our map, with culture as our road. They need each other to stay relevant and useful.

Self-Ownership in a Culture of Shaming

At a previous job, I was being harassed about my weight.

I was working at a progressive nonprofit full of feminist do-gooders, yet my female boss would make comments and pepper me with questions in one-on-ones, during lunch and in staff meetings.

She’d say things like: “Your face looks thinner.” “I think you’re losing weight! At least five pounds!” “You’re looking great, what are you doing differently?” And when I came back from having my tonsils and adenoids removed, she said “You’re so lucky that you had to go on a surgery diet.” ….Really?

What’s worse is I didn’t know I was being harassed. I didn’t know I had grounds for a complaint or to ask her to stop. It wasn’t until I was going through employee training for a new job I learned that, while her behavior is culturally rampant and accepted, it is actually illegal. BOOM.

Our culture makes harassment against females, minority and LGBTQ identities  –  whether obvious or covert, well-intentioned or malicious, back handed or pure –  a given. We treat it like an uncomfortable yet unavoidable consequence of not being a white, straight male. The emotional impact is huge, but we feel obligated to grin and bare it, to hold our breath until we can escape it and hope we grow tougher skin with fewer stretch marks.

Like too many women, I’ve struggled with body appreciation, feeling safe and respected. It hasn’t mattered what my weight or shape has been. It didn’t matter when I was a multi-sport athlete or when I was depressive and sneaking food. There has always been negative attention in the mix. You can look like you belong on “America’s Next Top Model” or “The Biggest Loser” –  you are not immune to harassment.

But shouldn’t I at least feel safe at work? At my place of worship? In my yoga class? At my favorite cafe with my nose in a book?

I wish I could become my authentic fit and fabulous self without anyone noticing. I wish I could hibernate for three months then move to a new city where I don’t know anyone. I don’t want congratulations or catcalls after losing 20 pounds.

I thought I had to choose between being attractive and feeling safe, and that you could not have both. So I chose safety. But then I learned there is no such thing as a safe size or weight. There is no weight or shape that renders your body practically invisible.

I watched and heard about gorgeous girls getting attention they couldn’t control and didn’t want, so I somehow got this idea in my head that it was a good thing if I was a little overweight. It meant that only nice and well-intentioned guys would give me attention, right? A natural quality control if you will….NOPE.

Weight loss is a private decision on public display, and our society treats what is visible as FullSizeRenderclaimable. Finder’s critiquers. I am practicing claiming and supporting my body, but how am I supposed to do that when people around me are acting like invasive Italian grandmothers? Knowing how to take care of yourself and feeling ready to take care of yourself are two very different things.

What people don’t seem to understand when acting as a weight loss cheerleader is they are, in effect, dissing a person’s previous form. And since we are not separable from our bodies in this life, no matter how much we wish we were, that means they are dissing a whole person, not a container. Our bodies are not blouses that are two years too old or hot off the rack. Our bodies are an intimate, yet public part of who we are. They reflect pieces of our journeys, our struggles, our habits and our conditioning, but they do not reflect our passion, our intelligence or our worth.

In my ideal world, the aim of most attentions paid would be to my mind, my talents, my energy and how I treat the people in my life – because that requires knowing me, not just seeing me. It requires respect. My body allows me to explore different cities, to create, to sing, to dance, to give the best hugs, to do yoga, to laugh, to feel everything and to think a lot of cool thoughts.

So when we do want to bring positive attention to each other’s vulnerable yet visible bodies, let’s take the back hand out of the compliment and leave our Critique Christies and Critique Christophers at their boring ass party. To celebrate the new version, you don’t have to diss the original (that goes for outsiders AND our own voices). You just have to be genuinely happy for yourself and the people around you.

Here’s some 100 percent pure juju remarks that are diss-free:

“You look so happy! How do you feel?”
“You look awesome/fabulous/badass.”
“You’re beautiful -plain and simple.”
“You seem so confident! I’m so happy for you!”
“Damn girl, you’re lookin fly!”
“Dude, you look good/awesome.”

Originally published on FindYourMoxie.com October of 2015.