When we first step into the dating arena, whether for the first time or after the end of a relationship, almost everyone I know has the same "oh shit" moment:
"Who on earth is going to want me? I'm not that pretty. My ___ are too big/small, I'm not skinny/curvy enough, I hate my nose/hips/chin/stomach, I'm too old..."
Why is the search for love is so full of self-hate?
It breaks my heart.
And I'm no stranger to it either. When I started dating again in my 30's as a divorced, size 8 woman with a tummy, an STI and a few wrinkles, I thought I was hopeless. I thought there was no way that the kind of man I wanted would want me too.
I was wrong, as is just about everyone who feels this way, but it definitely brought up a lot for me around how I see myself.
A practice my teacher Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson taught me when a painful feeling comes up is to ask myself: "What's the youngest I remember feeling that way?"
I started thinking back to when I was a size 2, modeling as a hobby in NYC... and realizing I felt the same. exact. way. I was completely brainwashed by "perfection culture" -- and I was still in it, about 15 years later.
When I was a model in NYC, I got an uncomfortably close look at perfection culture, and some of the ugliness it produces. In that world, there was an obsessive need to fat-shame ourselves to one another, and a pride around how many crunches we did instead of eating on any given day. I was surrounded by visually flawless people who could do almost nothing but fixate on their self-professed unforgivable flaws. In that world, flaws were something to punish ourselves for, and do our best to eradicate.
In short, even those seen as perfect by everyone else never got to sit back in the rosy glow of satisfied perfection. If anything, they lived incredibly critical and hurt lives, constantly being shown photoshopped versions of what they “should” look like, watching their humanity being edited away.
Perfection was NEVER about enjoyment. It was about following impossible standards to always make what you have feel like it’s not good enough.
I was finally able to see that for me, this drive for perfection was fertile ground for developing a serious eating disorder, and with the help of close friends and mentors, I was able to back away from that ledge before I did some serious damage to my body from constantly starving it.
When I first started gaining weight, I was honestly horrified that I couldn’t fit into my size 2 jeans or see my hip bones. I didn't love my body. I felt huge. I cried, wore baggy clothes, and wanted to go back to my old behaviors so that I could be skinny again.
But something changed. I started to inhabit myself. Instead of constantly trying to make more of me disappear, to diminish my body and my connection to the world, I started to let myself enjoy it. Instead of the rush of pride that I had denied myself another meal and replaced it with working out, I felt a deep appreciation for what I had, sitting down at a good meal, and could exercise to enjoy myself (usually in the form of dancing and hiking), not to diminish myself.
I am learning that there is a far happier and more productive alternative to perfection:
Being engaged in my life. Doing my best.
When I am really engaged in what I am doing, and really putting myself into it, I enjoy it far more than when I perform flawlessly.
Do you remember being a kid, losing yourself for hours coloring, splashing around in the pool or making up some silly song that you inflicted shared endlessly with your family? You didn’t give two thoughts about being perfect– you were just excited to enjoy the act of coloring, or whatever it was that you got into. Splashing around in a pool, I was only interested in the mayhem I could cause in the waves; it never occurred to me that there was a “right” way for my body to look in order to be in a pool. It didn’t occur to me to ask whether I was skinny enough to be in a bathing suit in public until I was older. We are molded into that as we grow up, when others who gave that up start to impose it on us, and, as the little sponges that we are at that age, we took it in as the way things should be.
I’d like to encourage you to reclaim your enjoyment. Try doing something imperfectly. Not to get skillful, per se, but for the love of enjoying yourself. Your imperfect experiences of just getting into it. Sing loudly and badly! Have a dance party in your room and forget about what you look like when you do it! This is your life; you owe it to yourself to enjoy each delightfully imperfect moment, for the sole reason that it is YOUR experience, and you deserve to really be there in it. Over time, there is a deep joy that grows from being where we are, how we are, without judgment.
And here's the kicker: there's almost nothing as sexy as someone having a blast being themselves. That freedom and aliveness is just about irresistible.
When I started actually being myself on dates, really getting into the activity we had planned instead of trying to do it "prettily" I started getting much more interest from others.
Some guys even confessed to me that it was such a relief to just be around someone having fun -- that's the kind of person they could see themselves actually wanting to be around long term. Women who acted too "perfect" just made them feel nervous.
In fact, one of my cousins knew that his now-wife was "the one" when he watched her messily tear into a steak on their first date. Everyone else he had dated had daintily picked at their salads while making polite conversation. Her gusto sold him, right then and there. They're now married and have several adorable kids. You just never know when being yourself is going to unlock something beautiful.
So stop worrying about if you're pretty enough, sexy enough, skinny enough... just be really interested in your life. Have fun. Really get into it... Go out there and get messy.
I'll see you there.