Last week I wrote about my appreciation for my body, for all the things that it allows me to do. That appreciation still holds, but I’d like to go into it a little further; with all things simple, there is a lot to be mined from the depths.
I grew up studying ballet, a discipline which in general teaches its students to have anything from a mild distain to a full hatred for the body — usually because it’s not meeting the ideals of the ballet physique or the standards of what a body should do and how it should look doing it. If you want to seen an example of just how much ballet can skew your self-concept, take a look at this Russian ballet superstar.
In addition to ballet, add the fact that I’m female. The pressure to act and look pleasing is so subtly pervasive, it’s like a mist in the air; you know there’s something there, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it. Then, compound that with female competition — who’s the most pleasing, the thinnest, the smallest, the prettiest — and I was swimming in a pretty chunky self-hatred stew. The trouble is, like I mentioned, it’s so pervasive and so common — and starts at such a young age — that I wasn’t even fully aware of it until I was well into womanhood.
I left ballet towards the end of high school — I wasn’t going to be good enough to be
professional — and even though the physical training had ended, the mental training of ballet stayed. There was some good in that training: I was very goal-oriented, self-disciplined, extremely respectful of authority figures and teachers, I had a lot of body awareness, and strangely good peripheral vision. But I also retained heavy self-judgment and self-doubt, I was perfectionistic, and I could hardly ever acknowledge that I was doing a good job, let alone doing “enough.” And these characteristics made it hard for me to be good to myself as a college student and a young adult. These characteristics also made it hard for me to be good to the people around me.
What does all this have to do with life being a grassroots campaign? Yesterday I was listening to a podcast with Mike White, a movie writer and director. The topics he discussed were wide-ranging, but mostly focused on people’s jealousy and obsession with status. At one point he said, life is a grassroots campaign; we start with ourselves, in the body that we’re in and the dirt that we’re standing on, and from there we build out to the people around us.
And I realized — intentionally or not — that’s what I’ve been doing since the day I left ballet. I’ve been working to let go of the self-judgment and self-doubt, the perfectionism and the idea that I am never enough. I’ve been loosening my grasp on “perfect,” and reframing my life around growth and self-forgiveness. A small, quiet, tiny but profound internal revolution.
I ask myself, are my health and body perfect? Definitely not. But can I see small changes when I go to exercise, when I make a choice about what to eat, when I ask my body to do something challenging and it rises to the occasion?
I ask myself, is my job perfect, is this the job I want forever and always? No. But am I growing and changing through this job? Am I thinking of how I can use it as a bridge to develop into what I want and who I want to be professionally?
I ask myself, is my marriage perfect? Sometimes yes, but not always. But is it growing and changing with who we are? Are we approaching a life together focused on mutual love and support?
I ask myself, are my friendships and family relationships going the way I want? Mmm, it depends. But can I see how approaching a person with compassion and optimism can strengthen the ties we already have?
Can I see how my loving treatment of myself can build momentum, turn into a ripple and then a wave, and that over time it can radiate outward? And can I see that eventually I am the head of my own grassroots movement — one that is rooted in recognizing and cheering on growth, change, forgiveness, optimism, and resilience?