Wednesday Missive: Self-Care and The Dressing Room Mirror (and what I did when I didn't like what I saw)

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Hello dears!

I hope it’s been a solid week for you!  I hope you’ve learned something new about yourself and the world, even if those lessons were a little painful in the moment.  I hope self-care has held you through it all.

Before we get to the self-care, a few announcements:

And now...

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing my real life self-care struggles and triumphs in this newsletter.  I’m doing this to get ready for the upcoming session of Self Care 101 (real habit change + lovely group support = quite a bit of magic) and also because I learn best from seeing how other people handle their self-care challenges.  

Two weeks ago, I shared about a rough trip to the dentist and last week, I wrote about my decision to bring Jonah on my self-care retreat.  Thank you for all of your thoughtful comments!  It’s comforting to know that others are gracefully dealing with the same issues.

This week, I want to cover a topic that feels as common as it is frustrating: the dressing room mirror.

As I’ve shared (and as every mother knows), my body has shape-shifted a lot in the months after I had a baby.  Some moments I’ve been ok with this and others I just wanted everything to go back to how it was so I could wear jeans again.

Over the past few weeks, however, I was starting to feel a little better.  My latest weigh-in at the doctor told me I was within seven pounds of my pre-pregnancy weight, and my clothes felt pretty ok.  I decided it was time to get a few new things, or, since I love frequenting thrift stores, some new-to-me clothes.

Last Wednesday afternoon I pulled up at the Goodwill in a good mood.  It was one of Jonah’s days in daycare and I had gotten a lot of work done in the morning.  I had an hour before I picked him up and was excited to lose myself while I searched for treasure.

Right away, I began pulling items off the racks.  I love thrift stores because I can find items that are more unique than I might find in a normal store. My practice is to try on everything that catches my eye and, as long as they fit well, to go home with clothes that are a little risky.  This helps me find my fashion edge and have more fun with what I wear.

When my cart was full I began unloading - five items at a time - in an empty dressing room.  I began pulling shirts and dresses over my tank top and leggings.  The first three items didn’t look great and the last two didn’t fit at all.  Usually, I am decent at knowing what fits me. Were my eyes off, or was my body really not back to normal?  I tried on five more and didn’t like any of those either.

I took a long look at myself in the dressing room mirror.  Every part of my body looked strange.  My thighs were too big and my stomach had rolls and my skin didn’t look great.  I felt like I was being misled by my own brain.  I wasn’t almost back to my old body but instead, really far from any ideal.  Suddenly, I wanted to go back home and never go shopping again.

I wish I could say that this dressing room mirror struggle is a new one, one borne out of postpartum body changes.  But the truth is, I’ve been struggling with it for as long as I can remember.  I grew up overweight, and I mostly did my shopping in the plus-sized department, a fact I always tried to hide from my friends.  They’d want to go to 5-7-9, a store at the local mall that specialized in petite sizes.  Knowing nothing there would ever fit me, I’d spend my time looking at jewelry while they tried on all the cute, small clothing.  

As I look deeper into my thoughts, I know I was taught early on that the size of my body meant something important about my worth.  Since I wasn’t that ideal size, I just couldn’t measure up.  I felt shame every time something didn’t fit, and I fantasized about losing weight so maybe someday they would.  I dreaded going shopping until I was in high school, and even then I never loved it.  It was only after finding thrift stores and a few companies online that I began enjoying clothes.

But now, even that safe space was feeling bad.  All of my old issues were triggered.  I knew I needed some self-care ASAP, but what could I do?  Could self-care be enough to handle this moment and all the emotions bubbling up?

First, I had to breathe.  Through the pain, I took a few deep breaths.  Then, I took a moment to affirm my worth.  Throughout my life, and the many shapes and sizes my body has taken within it, I’ve learned that my value has absolutely nothing to do with my appearance.  Sure, taking good care of myself does make me feel more confident, but that works no matter what my body looks like.  I spoke to that hurt part of myself, and reminded her of her inherent worth.  I sensed she didn’t totally believe me, but I did relax a little.

Although the voices in my head were shouting at me to go on a diet, I made myself suspend that line of thinking until I was in a calmer frame of mine.

After another deep breath, I exited the dressing room.  I decided that, before leaving, I would take one more look through the store.  I didn’t want to leave this trip in defeat.  I deserved another chance to find a few things I liked.

Working quickly, I found a few tops that looked interesting and then bravely went back into the dressing room to try them on.  Most of these fit, and a few of them even sparked a bit of joy.

I held on to two sweaters and put away the rest.  Before checking out, I took a glance through the home goods section and picked up a large wicker basket where we can store Jonah’s outerwear, and a big retro-looking mug covered in sailboats to replace a similarly sized-one that broke.

Two well-fitting sweaters, a basket and a mug - overall, it was a good trip to the thrift store.

By the time I picked up Jonah, I felt better.  His sweet, slobbery grin pushed me over the edge into happy territory.  It reminded me that my purpose was way bigger than fitting into a certain size.  When Micah got home, I made myself vulnerable and told him a little about the dressing room mirror. Letting him support me helped take the lingering shame out of the experience.

Then, in this calmer state, I checked in with myself about my diet and the places that felt out-of-integrity. This analysis told me that I was doing pretty great, but I would like to work on:

  • Snacking while I cook (a few bites with each meal can really add up)

  • Eating a nightly big dessert with Micah (a habit I’d gotten into during pregnancy and was still practicing)

  • The number of doughy things I eat on the weekends (mostly, I wanted to eat only one a day)

All of these practices felt doable and kind, unlike diets that feel aspirational and mean.  A diet felt like a punishment, while a few habit shifts felt like care.  These shifts had way more to do with how I felt in my body than what it looked like to the outside world.

And these adjustments haven’t been so hard.  A few times, I’ve caught myself tasting in the kitchen and gently reminded myself to wait 15 minutes until I could sit down. It's worked. On Saturday, I decided to have fish and a salad instead of leftover pizza.  As for desserts, I’ve taken to having a piece of dark chocolate while Micah has his ice cream, and I don’t feel like I miss out.  Overall, I feel a little better in my body and know I can continue these practices.

The kindness I showed myself in the dressing room and the sensible, realistic eating adjustments I made afterward showed me I really had grown in my self-care.  Of course, I haven’t been able to escape the cultural expectations for the female form to be thin at all costs. This is way too much a part of my history for it to disappear.  

However, when these hard feelings arise - as they did when I was in the dressing room - I know I can comfort myself.  I can do it by shifting my perspective, sharing my experience with loved ones and making tiny habit changes that leave me feeling empowered.  That’s self-care in the best way I can explain it.

***

Thanks for listening to my story!  Again, it’s no big whoop, but still, pretty awesome to me to see how my self-care continues to grow. Personally, I think growth is the most fabulous exhilarant of them all.  

I wonder what it sparks for you.  When have you lost it in front of the dressing room mirror?  How has a bad body-image experience translated into a restrictive diet?  What tiny, kind actions do you take to dig yourself out?

As always, I’d love to know!  Please hit “reply” and share your story.  I’m always so honored to receive them.

And if you need help with any of that - the kind perspective, the doable habit change, the vulnerability of sharing your story - then please consider signing up for the spring round of Self Care 101.  It’s a full-on self-care reboot where we learn the routines that work, find out how to outsmart our inner saboteur and stay inspired alongside the other women in the group.  This session is going to be really good!  Learn more here and fill out an application to join.

Until next week, when I’ll be back with another self-care victory, keep counting up your own! They are there when you take a moment to focus on them - I promise!

With care,
Gracy

***

Self-Care Inspiration

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a huge shout-out to Costco.  They’ve been keeping me - and Jonah - steady with their non-GMO (and very affordable) formula and our everyday staples like raw honey, coconut oil and frozen blueberries.  Also, they are employee-friendly, which means a lot to me in this day and age of Amazon’s abusive labor practices (Micah and I are taking a one-month pause in our Amazon ordering, which I hope leads to a full cessation).  Plus, if you are searching for a doughy thing for your weekend, I love their take-and-bake pizzas!

It’s the year of the dog!  Woo-hoo!  Now, what does that mean?  This article breaks it down really well.  My favorite part is the idea that it’s time to just forgive the past and treat everyone as an ally.  This is such compassionate advice that’s easy to imagine coming from the every-loyal dog energy.

My friends in Orlando make these all-natural products.  Although I love many of them, my all-time favorites are this super-hydrating face cream and this just-the-right-amount-of-spicy seasoning blend (I put it in everything now, and I don’t even like spicy that much). Note: their webstore interface isn't the fanciest but the products are amazing!

As part of Generosity, the Self Care 101 continuity program, we are diving into the Bored and Brilliant book and podcast (thanks to the awesome Rebecca Hassel, who is facilitating it).  The first podcast explains the importance of boredom and how, due to our smartphone addictions, we almost never give ourselves time to get bored.  It’s helping me to shift my tech habits, and I’m digging the space it’s opening up.