First thing: Please have a listen to my latest podcast with feminist business maven Stephanie Newman. During our conversation, we speak about the myth of "needing" to stay at your office job, how feminist values can create a viable business, and the stories of our grandmothers (and how they influence our current ventures). Listen and learn how to bring more feminism into your career - the world really needs it!
And now today…
We are in full-force house hunting mode (with some potential exciting news to share next week!). While it’s an extremely stressful moment, especially while caring for a very energetic 8.5 month old, I feel very grateful for my current set of problems.
To me, these present-day challenges are a testament to the work I’ve done to let go of the self-care image I projected to the world in exchange for cultivating a truly authentic self-care identity.
Allow me to explain. Nine years ago, when I first starting teaching yoga in Washington, DC, I projected the image of a really healthy person, both inside and out. From what the world could see, I went to yoga class a few times a week, ate mostly vegetarian, and, from what I heard from others, moved through life with a mature and calm demeanor.
While it made me feel good to hear this positive feedback, I wished I felt as a healthy as others perceived me to be.
The reality of my life was different. Sure, I was doing yoga and eating some healthy meals. I could talk a lot about the importance of mindful communication and peaceful living. The problem was that it felt like a lot of talk, and a lot less action.
What others couldn't see was how much of my mental energy went into judging my body and trying to control my eating. If I felt like I was gaining weight, I would beat myself up and tell myself I wouldn’t eat any more _____ (sugar, carbs, etc.). Then I would rebel against my restrictions and feel even worse.
In relationships, I pined after emotionally unavailable men and felt incredibly anxious whenever a relationship seemed to have potential (that was the point when I usually broke it off, as it seemed safer to be the one to end it before I got hurt).
And my emotions often got the better of me. Without much provocation, I could internally fall into an anxious and depressed hole. In this hole, I felt essentially defective, powerless to change and angry at the world. These feelings would pass after a while, but they would always come back and leave me feeling worse about myself.
The hardest part of enduring my internal struggles was how much they went against the outwardly healthy image others had of me. This wasn’t by accident. From early on, I had learned to source my self-worth from being perceived as “together.” I made good grades, organized my room and had professional ambitions.
When I would try to open up to others about my messy parts, I was often met with resistance:
“Wow, I never thought of you as a person who ate sugar!”
“I can’t image you ever getting upset.”
“You just make it all look so easy.”
Just like me, these well-meaning people were attached to my image of being a certain kind of person. The more I received this feedback, the less I wanted to share what was really going on inside.
With this outward image of perfection, there wasn’t a lot of space for me to have and learn from my struggles. There wasn’t a lot of space for me to be me, or even try to figure out what that meant.
Finally, a few years ago, I saw that my image—what I was trying to project to the world in hopes of keeping safe—and my identity—how I really felt about myself—were at odds. It felt like they were pulling farther and farther apart. I knew that if I didn’t let go of my image and work intently on my identity, this tension would only get worse. Maybe I would really hurt myself in the process.
Working on creating a healthy identity is challenging (Ok, that’s an understatement: There have been some deeply uncomfortable moments in there.). It’s taken very specific self-care, including an awesome support team, a good sense of humor and a willingness to sit in the messiness of growth.
It isn’t easy to codify the self-care process of releasing image and shifting focus to identity, but if I had to break it down into a few steps, it would look like this:
Allow others to think what they want to think about me (letting go of my image)
Get quiet enough to listen to my own inner voice
Translate this inner voice into an understanding of my authentic values
Use these values as a compass to make tough decisions (keeping integrity with myself)
When my decisions go against other’s image of me, once again, allow them to have their own thoughts while I stick to my values
I’ve learned that while image seems to be quite fixed, cultivating an authentic identity feels pretty elastic. For example, right now in life, I see myself as a person who is capable of having a pretty mature and satisfying romantic partnership. I also see myself as a person who has a pretty ok relationship with her body, and often stays mindful of what she feeds it (and can mostly enjoy the other indulgences).
Of course, I still struggle with my emotions, but with practice I am shifting my identity to someone who feels my feelings deeply while practicing self-compassion and the courage to stay resilient.
My self-care practices—my physical, emotional and spiritual habits—are what help me grow most in my identity. Showing up for myself, even when my identity tells me that I’m not worth it, is what eventually changes my identity. Practicing self-care, every single day, enforces the belief that I am someone who is worth caring for. This makes practicing self-care even easier, which makes it easier to value myself. It’s a wonderfully generous cycle.
What about you?
How is your self-care image different than your self-care identity?
What is this tension doing to you?
Is it scary to let go of what others think of you?
What would happen if you did, even just a little bit?
How are your practices helping your identity grow in positive ways?
What specific self-care habits could you add along the way?
If you’re inspired, forward this email to a few of your friends and start a discussion on self-care image vs. identity. Knowing where your loved ones get stuck and how they care for themselves will help you clarify your own process and build connections between you all.
Doing this work is so much easier as a community. With that support, I invite you to toss away any image that makes you feel limited or stuck. Give yourself that freed-up space to explore what liberates your spirit and allows you to show up as your fullest you. I can’t wait to know more of her!
Don’t forget to RSVP for the Thrive DC Do More 24 Party on Thursday, May 17, from 6:30-8:30pm (that’s tomorrow!). It’s a free event (there will be a donation ask) with excellent snacks and lovely people. I’d love to see you there! (If you can’t make it in person, please consider donating here. It’s an excellent organization that really cares for our most vulnerable population in DC.)
Has everyone made this recipe yet? SInce we were out of town last weekend and came back to full-force house-hunting, we don’t have much in our fridge. After a little head-scratching, I remembered that this one-pot meal is so simple and delicious.
Did you have a hard Mother’s Day? I appreciated these self-care practices that can help one deal with a toxic maternal relationship.