Have you ever noticed that friends have a habit of doing things to truly embarrass you? From making pointed jibes about things you’re sensitive to in front of strangers to posting really unflattering snaps of you when you thought you looked good. I have noticed a direct correlation between the amount of “selfies” someone takes to the amount of unflattering photos they post of their so-called friends. It’s kind of disturbing.
All of this is apropos of nothing, really, except that it reminded me that it is important not to disregard how we come across to others in a given situation.
I mean, on the one hand, focusing on how we look is silly. Standing in front of a mirror in skin tight jeans, sucking our stomachs in while pivoting on our invisible third foot and jutting our chins up to tighten our chicken waddle may make us feel better before leaving the house, but it doesn’t change the fact that our muffin top has exploded like a tin of Pillsbury biscuits over our waistband, and our second chin is catching on our shoulder every time we turn our heads.
The moral is: you can’t hide how you look. You can work to change it over time, but generally, you just have to accept yourself and be confident anyway.
But on the other hand, focusing on how others view us as a person is much harder to do. Just like an unflattering photo shows us how we look when we’re not “on,” so do the responses we get from others. Taking in feedback from friends is often a difficult thing to process. You like to think your friends will be honest with you, but you also have to take what they say with a grain of salt since they are likely trying not to hurt your feelings.
Which hurts less? The stranger that says, “Dude, SHUT UP. You’re so fake!” Or the friend who says, “You’re a great person, but you shouldn’t TRY so hard…” Both are essentially saying the same thing. You’re not coming across as genuine. So what do you do when you get this kind of feedback?
It’s easy to throw it away when a friend gives such a diplomatic critique – we can just choose to focus on the “you’re a great person” bit. But when strangers or casual acquaintances begin to make you feel bad, it’s probably time to take a good hard look in the mirror.
Good intentions are sometimes overlooked when the results are an unexpected failure. My ex-husband’s parents are a great example. Whenever I was with them, I tried hard to live up to their expectations for what a daughter in law should be. I listened hard when they spoke because it took me years to get used to their accents (they were English), and when I didn’t understand something, I would simply smile and nod anyway, hoping it was the right thing to do. I tried to be extra helpful and always have a smile on my face, shrugging off anything that was bothering me in favor of pretending to positivity. It took several years before my mother-in-law enlightened me that the reason I was never able to win them over is that I never came across as genuine. They saw me as fake and vacuous.
This all came as a shock, as you might imagine. I have never been a mean-spirited person, and I wanted so much to do the right thing. But because I never could just relax and be me, I lost them before I ever could have won them over.
Even now, I don’t quite know who I am. I struggle daily with trying to figure out what I think about the world and where I fit in. My adult beliefs have been shaped by the same people I have always tried to please – my parents, my ex-husband, my friends.
Have you ever seen the movie Runaway Bride with Julia Roberts? There’s a bit in there where Richard Gere asks her former fiances (of which there were many) what kinds of eggs she likes. Each one of them replies that her favorite eggs were the same as THEIR favorite eggs. Eventually she breaks down because she doesn’t actually KNOW what kinds of eggs she likes. It’s a revelation to her because she had no idea she was such a people-pleaser!
It’s the same with me. Movies, TV shows, books, actors – I’m having to sort through my feelings on all of them because I’ve been conditioned by the people I love to feel a certain way.
I feel like this is my year – the one where I finally figure it all out. Where I can really look hard at myself and decide who I am and what I believe. Where I can throw off any preconceived notions about the girl I was and decide the kind of woman I want to be.
I can’t change the choices I’ve made or not made. I can’t fix what has been broken. But I can try to make it better. I can learn to love myself whatever happens while still addressing that how I appear to others is important.
Just like I want to shrink my muffin top and work on that extra chin, I want to stop being the butt of people’s jokes and the kind of person that others look down on.