I live in a city where I am PUMMELED by diversity the second I walk out the door. Diversity in race, diversity in religion, diversity in gender identity, diversity in age, class, body type, occupation — you name it, New York City’s got it. Bougie brownstones next to dirty bodegas. A multi-zillionaire riding the 1 train next to someone without a penny to their name.
I have never ever ever once in my life been exposed to so much diversity in my daily life. It has made me a better person because my eyes are opened wider. It has made my voice louder and stronger because I know it’s the only one of its kind in a sea of unique songs. Diversity has made me deeply internalize that the lens through which I view the world is neither right or wrong – no one’s is – because it is merely a single lens amidst COUNTLESS different prescriptions.
But. BUT. Here is the thing about diversity. Living amongst such radical diversity has also made it abundantly clear that while we all have different backgrounds and opinions and deep-seated beliefs about the way the world is, everything boils down to one of two buckets: GOOD or NOT.
We can all have different lenses on, but there are only two choices when it comes to what we condone when it comes down to the very basics of humanity.
I have noticed that sometimes the people around me can be harsh. They can sometimes be bitter or mean or maybe have different political views than I do. But at the end of the day, they (for the most part, don’t wanna generalize a whole city) believe in the notion that no matter who you are or where you come from, you deserve equal rights and you deserve to be here. Exactly as you are. The beauty of living in NYC is that while it’s maybe the most diverse city in the entire country, and the diversity is APPARENT on every street block, we’re all in this together. The majority is GOOD.
The majority of AMERICA is GOOD. I know it. But when we don’t own our stories or speak up or simply get curious as to why our story has favored certain races, religions, genders etc for so long – when we can’t even be proactive with our CURIOSITY – the GOOD gets weaker. And the NOT gets stronger.
As Queen of All Things Brené Brown said so eloquently in her FB Live this week (seriously, go watch it HERE), we need to own our own story in order to write our own ending. If we don’t, the story owns us. The ending gets written for us.
The shame is that too many people think that owning your story means making yourself feel like an asshole. Or that owning your story means aligning yourself with things you don’t believe in. And neither of those could be farther from the truth.
We’ve been talking a lot aboutrecoveryandeatingdisorderson WANT lately, so to go with an analogy: owning that you once had an eating disorder does not mean it defines who you are. Owning the fact that an eating disorder was a part of your story does not mean it is anywhere near your entire narrative.
Owning that our country was built on white supremacy, that anti-semitism and racism and homophobia are woven deep in our fabric, does 👏not 👏mean 👏 that WE ourselves are any of those things. But to stay silent – to not even let your curiosity question GOOD vs NOT out loud – is to stay in denial of a NOT that has gone on for far too long.
Speak up. It matters. Oh my god does it matter. I’m not saying you have to be posting all the time on social media. But words have immense power. We learn from each other. Just like bonding over negativity, if we make silence our MO, others will follow suit. However, if we start thoughtful conversations or make at the very least offhand comments boosting the GOOD and admonishing the NOT, others will start to follow. Your words let others know where you stand and how you think we should write the rest of our story.
And if you are struggling right now at speaking your mind – if you are feeling like you’re maybe at risk of losing your community or someone you love because they’re afraid of what owning their story might mean and will disown you if you’re the one who brings it into the light, because I do recognize that that is a VERY REAL THING for some people – I urge you to at the very least weave curiosity into your conversations.
It can go something like this: “It’s funny: we were raised to believe that XYZ” or “We learned 123 in our textbooks or in Bible study”…”But my current, more enlightened self WONDERS: _______?”
Create your own script. Wonder deeply and with intention. But do it out loud.
Wondering out loud opens doors that blame or shame cannot, and can lead to taking ownership of your past and therefore creating a new future.
WHEN I WAS 12, I read the book The Giver by Lois Lowry. A sort of Brave New World for the tween set, it’s about a confined society in which everything is Just So all the time. It’s a society that’s been converted to “sameness” – a plan that has eradicated pain and strife. Everyone is identical. No one feels. No one judges. No one’s flawed. No experience, no emotion, no hunger for life. Just…predictability.
I think that most of my classmates empathized with the times the main character, Jonas, felt weird for being different (how much more tweeny can you get?). I, however, empathized with how angry Jonah felt when he started to see – really see – how phoney Sameness really was.
Perfection is a hoax. The allure of being perfect is the greatest con, the greatest scheme ever devised. Forget about the Photoshop, the glossy pages, the television even. Perfection is a stagnant ideal and a consummation of all we find unsatisfactory. It’s an artifice to fool ourselves into believing that there’s an excuse or that we’re failing. That is perfect, They are perfect is internalized and morphs into This is not perfect. I am not perfect. Perfection is conditional love. It’s an invisible benchmark and a thick glass ceiling. It’s the expectation and the idealization of the absolutely monotonous. It’s a lonely, one-dimensional load of crap we think we need in order to feel special.
Perfection is a pile of you-know-what from both ends of the spectrum; doesn’t matter how you look at it. We live in a world where the sweetest apples are discarded for a touch of brown, where we inject plastic into the lines we’ve earned from reading novels late into the night, where we over-sterilize and under-appreciate.
And then there are the people who seem to be constantly extolled for their beauty, their wisdom, or their achievements. Their existence is idolized, their lives an exercise in perfection maintenance. And that…that is a huge burden to carry, too. It’s immense, unreasonable pressure to stay at a certain age, look, job and caliber indefinitely. Because what if – no, when – we don’t? What happens when we falter – or maybe just aren’t astonishingly mind-blowing every single second?
Will we still be loved?
The word “perfect” has haunted me my entire life. When I was in middle school, I would be called perfect as a taunt. I didn’t have braces. I liked to color-coordinate. I got good grades. My awkward stage was mild. Sounds great, huh? Yeah. Not really. I felt detached and alone. I felt I could not be myself; God forbid I spoke out of turn or mismatched a sock. Just like Jonas in The Giver, I saw how fabricated the idea of perfection was, but didn’t know how to convince people otherwise. There was an immense discomfort in knowing I was looked at as someone who had everything together, and that that was both desired AND detested. Trying to convince people I wasn’t always backfired, since perfection was so ingrained in my identity to others. It was weird for me to be perfect but wrong for me to be flawed.
But the most uncomfortable thing for me was that my biggest taunts were also my highest praise. I was told I was pretty, I was told I was smart, I was told I was sweet, and I was told I was talented. I wasn’t ever forced to be those things – no stage parents in my household – but it was obvious the value they had. Plus, the alternative was scary. When you grow up in a culture that puts people down for fun and thrives off ofcasual negativity to get through the day, how does anything but perfect seem like a viable option? There was currency in perfection…as well as immunity. I felt that.
Balance was virtually impossible.
How was it that the very thing I equated with love and worth from my family and mentors was the thing I equated with loneliness and weirdness when it came to my friends and peers?
Some would have rebelled. But no – I didn’t want to rebel. I just wanted to relate. So I downplayed my assets and kept them locked away. At the root of it, I feared loss. I wanted to guarantee love, but at the same time wanted to be the full range of myself – which included the dark and messy parts. Please let me be normal, I’d silently beg. Do not love me for my light, because it sometimes gets dark in here and I can’t bear the loss when you realize that.
What was the most interesting is when I started to focus on feeling special instead of focusing on the whether or not others THOUGHT I was special. I let my guard down in front of people. I took myself very seriously but took the world a whole lot less so. I cried over boys and told people who hurt me the way that I felt. I opened up about being melancholy for what seemed like no reason and realized there were way more people like me than there were not. My dark and messy wasn’t all so dark and messy after all. I was just, asGlennon Doyle says, “a feely person in a messy world.” I began to realize that only I could determine my value, and only I could know what was my rightest right. I stopped using the word “perfect” to describe people and things and started to call them “perfect-for-me.” I stopped feeding off “perfect” and living on purpose.
I am wary of perfection. The ones who make it their life’s mission to be perfect, I’m onto them. There is something deeper there, there is something hiding and some voice inside that once told them that the only way to be is to be flawless. Because big voices and unique souls and feely people are risky to a messy world that likes to put things in cramped little boxes that are easy to define and file away. Nothing is intriguing when you fit into Sameness.
Whenever I see these people, I want to take them aside and hug them and tell them just to Be. Just BE. Be on purpose. Be a contradiction. Be extreme! Whatever you are and whoever you are, be extremely YOU. At the end of the day, what else is there left? The people who know how to live are absolutely flawless in their quirks and extremes. They’re certainly not afraid to mismatch their socks or disagree with the world.
The idea that perfection gets you a prize is a big fat lie, and the thing is that we ALL KNOW IT deep down. Because those beautiful on-purpose souls, who are extremely and unquestionably themselves, those are the people we’re all ultimately drawn to in the long run. Not the ones who homogenize their lives to be Just So. Because this is not sameness. This is life. In all its extremities and nuances.
What makes you special isn’t someone else’s declaration that you’re special. What makes you special are the exact things that end up making you feel as if you’re living with the entirety of yourself. Find those tiny details and idiosyncrasies that make you you, and use them to support and enhance the extreme You-ness of the way you Be. It isn’t about “perfection” or “flawed” or whatever’s the opposite. It’s about being unquestionably yourself.
Forget about the Sameness, forget about utopia. There is no better person to be, no better place to live, than Oh-So-On-Purpose.
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Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire lifetime. As such an iconic artist, it’s natural to assume it was one of the “greats.” Starry Night? Irises? Sunflowers? One of his many, famed self portraits? Nope – it was a golden auburn-toned piece entitled “Red Vineyard.” A depiction of farmhands harvesting crop at a wine plantation. Not the one that I, at least, would expect. His life was tumultuous, his paintings underappreciated, his world not ready for what he had to offer.
And yet…he kept painting. He kept expressing himself in the unique way he knew how.
We are so lucky he did.
I’ve been contemplating success a lot lately. What it means to succeed, who it is that determines success.
So many of us desire to be lasting or expansive, or maybe simply useful. We long to make a difference that goes beyond us or lasts way past our own existence. Whether than means a change within the four-ish walls of our apartment uniut or on a big huge global level, our sense of mortality can sometimes scare us into a scramble for success that’s visible, success we can SEE.
Whether our definition of success involves the immediate future or posthumous celebration, we want to be sure it’s gonna happen. We want to know we’re being the change we wish to see in the world.
But how do we know what is actually lasting?
When it comes to success, what is more important:
success that lasts a lifetime, success you can scale and be sure of…or success that is not shown to you directly, but is impacting the world on a level that’s beyond your awareness?
Social media and technology provide us with amazing tools to connect with and impact each other. It’s now easier than it’s ever been to gain signs and signals of our success. Whether it’s likes, shares, or just a message from a friend saying how happy they are to know you, in some ways we’re able to be hyper-aware our influence. Seeing our impact, however small, can keep us fueled and connected.
But not everyone reaches out. Not everyone is connected. And as dialed in as our culture is, in many ways the true tell-tale signs of success are old-school. You don’t always know.
And then there is the work we do in the world that we’re not necessarily recognized for. Work that, centuries from now, our society might deem revolutionary. So what’s more indicative of success: that the success materializes, or that we see its impact?
I’ve come to the conclusion that seeing our impact can be a metric of success – a symptom of and supplement to the success itself. But if we’re truly successful, there might be a whole boatload of impact we don’t see. Lives we’re never aware we touch.
And we need to be okay with that. Because lasting impact is the one thing we cannot control.
Success you can’t see is scary (“Does what I do really matter?”), but it’s also kind of empowering. Success you can’t see is what drives us to be fully and completely self-expressed, for how will we know if we don’t even try? If you’re one of those people who believes we are all put on Earth for a reason – and I for sure am one of those people who believes we are all put on Earth for a reason – then we must let ourselves fully and completely live on purpose, and look for the little signs telling us we’re doing the thing that’s in our DNA to do (or at least on the right track).
We see only one star in the dark night and confuse it for a lack of sky, when instead we should be taking it as proof that there’s a huge universe out there filled with way more stars that we can imagine.
It might be a smile from a stranger. It might be a comment on your blog or a tweet from a stranger. It might be your best friend’s child expressing gratitude, or hearing a family member repeat a word of wisdom you offered up randomly one day. Maybe at first glance they don’t seem like much, but that’s the sneaky thing about success: it shows itself in the micro moments, but the macro effects often are so big – so many collective moments upon moments – we can’t accurately gauge what a difference we’re making.
If you keep your eyes open and live your life to its fullest, its fullness, you will start to see signs everywhere that you’re a lasting force in this world. It’s only those people who actively choose NOT to create change that don’t.
Whether you’re far along your path or just beginning to let it live, please know and trust that what’s right in front of you is just the tip of the iceberg. A star in the sky. One painting in the collection. Simply desiring to make a difference means you’ve probably already made one.
Recent Question: “Katie, as someone who writes as a profession…do you ever sit down some days and feel like you don’t have anything to say?”
Recent Answer: “LOL. Try almost EVERY WEEK.”
The comparison trap – ie comparing yourself to others – is one I know well. When I’m feeling good, I can look at comparison and self-doubt and see how pointless and counter-productive it is.
But when I’m in it? On my best days, it takes a lot of work to talk myself out of that place of “what do I even have to say.”
On all the other days, I completely check out.
There’s not really a middle ground: I’m either aggressively talking myself out of self-doubt or I’m voting myself off the island by not doing ANYTHING whatsoever. I think maybe it’s because I know how exhausting the pep-talk can be.
Doubt-induced inaction is a frightening place to be. You stop creating, stop participating, stop BE-ing who you are because you look out and don’t know if you really add value to what you see. And that fear isn’t fun, so a lot of times we’ll just decide we don’t want to deal.
The thing with checking out, however, is that our feelings of doubt, envy, and fear are still lighting up a big ol neon NO VACANCY sign in our minds. We might be dissociating mentally…but those doubts and fears are growing like weeds in the meantime. No wonder we feel anxious when we’re triggered and lash out at other or push the blame on something else – those overflowing feelings have to go SOMEWHERE.
For me, this happens when I sit down and think of the MASSIVE PROBLEMS I care about and how the hell I’m going to help fix them…and then for some reason I think it’s a really good idea to just go down a big long rabbit hole and see what everyone else is doing.
I’ll save you some frustration and let you know that comparing yourself to others and looking to them to inform what you “should” be doing pretty much never works. You either end up feeling like everything has already been done OR start comparing what you do/who you are to everyone else OR maybe on the off-chance you actually get inspired you make like me and tell yourself you’re not allowed to be inspired by someone else’s work because that’s being something that’s way too close to a copycat. Yeah. You read that right. I look at others for inspiration and then talk myself out of it when I actually get inspired.
The thing is, I KNOW I’m not a brain-box of empty thoughts. I KNOW I have something to say…it’s just that my intentions don’t always line up so nicely in sentences. Sometimes I have just the right words…and sometimes, the above box of vintage Scrabble letters is my spirit animal. Somewhere between my brain and my lips (or fingers, if we’re going the writing route), the lines get all crossed and I end up with a bunch of gibberish. Worse than gibberish. What’s worse than gibberish, you ask? Fake wisdom. Fake fake fake. I can feel it in my bones. Nothing sounds right; nothing is what I really mean.
And that…that can SCARE THE F outta me if I let it. Because then I start to doubt I have anything new or interesting to say, and then I start looking at what everyone else is doing, and then I wonder if what we REALLY need is just another essay, just another tip or trick, just another podcast episode.
And that’s when I check out. Except you can’t check out when it’s your job, your calling, your through line to stay in it. So all that happens is that my anxiety mounts and my points of comparison multiply.
What helps me is to identify when I am most likely to get into this shithole of a headspace.
It’s usually when I’m home sick, when I need to take it easy, when I’m bored with the status-quo I’m stuck in…basically, whenever I am NOT acting on my desire, either by choice (laziness) or necessity (circumstance), to do one of three things: move, learn, or create. And when I am not acting on my desire to move, explore, or create, I get out of integrity* with what I say I value or what I know I care about.
(*Integrity, for the record, is different than character or values. Character or values are your ethical/moral code. Integrity is adhering to that code. So if I’m out of integrity with my values, I’m thinking a lot about things like gender equality, reprogramming self talk – i know, ironic – race relations, teaching empathy, etc etc etc, but not DOING anything about them. Doing things like exercising, reading, or journaling help me get back in alignment with who I am and what I stand for.)
That’s not to say a run or watching a documentary or painting a picture (or a table, as I did last weekend) can or will fix everything. But little by little, it can be the start. One walk around the block might not seem like much, but after a few days of walks you might find your mind drifting off into places it hasn’t been in a while. Reading one night a week instead of scrolling through Instagram might not stop the comparison (and oh, does that Insta-comparison sting), but once you get in the groove, it just seems way more interesting to feed your mind than it does to feed your fears.
But also…and here’s where it gets really real…it’s not just when I’m home sick or I’m stuck in a loop of sameness that I doubt my value.
It’s when I find myself trying so hard to explain myself over…and over…and over to those I love most.
That’s when I really want to check out.
And that’s a harder one to admit. Because it can’t be solved by the habit a run every morning or a doodle-in-your-notebook break. Because it doesn’t just make you feel like you have nothing important to say, it makes you feel like the things you DO have to say are wildly inefficient. If I can’t get through to them, then who CAN I reach?
But here’s the thing.
And I want you to read this a few times over and let it sit.
Those are not the people who need to learn the lessons you have to give.
They are here to learn those lessons on their OWN time, from someone ELSE and some OTHER experience. And just because your words aren’t the ones they need DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE NOT IMPORTANT.
Someone once told me that public speaking is 10% what you say and 90% how you say it. Just because it’s been said doesn’t mean it’s been said by YOU. That’s how people actually hear things – when they’re being said by someone who makes it “click” for them. You can’t get mad at it, because it was never your lesson to teach those people to begin with. That’s why comparing yourself to others never works – they’re here to teach and learn in ways that are entirely different than your own. We’re all here to learn the exact same lessons, just not at the exact same times. So wouldn’t it make sense that we all have a different way of giving and receiving these universal truths?
Of course you have something to offer. Of course you have something to say. We ALL do. That’s what we’re here for, right? To teach each other and help each other grow. Just the fact that your ideas exist means they’re just as valid as what that best-selling author has to say – just the FACT that your loved ones learn from others MEANS that YOU are here to teach someone ELSE. The comparison traps and the deaf ears – they’re all just distractions that, when flipped on their head, can help you see how strong your voice really is.
So do I ever sit down and feel like I have nothing to say? The answer is: all of the time.
But my logical brain knows I DO have something to say – a lot of somethings, in fact. And if I can just *be* with myself long enough to listen, I’ll eventually start to find the words.
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I have a friend whose primary language has always been sarcasm. She’s always making a joke of sorts, always deadpanning her way through her day. Yet something has shifted in the last year: where she once would use her wit to mask her emotions, she is now listening more acutely, responding more personally, and opening up to others about how she feels – even if she doesn’t know why she feels the way she does.
What’s pretty incredible to watch is how this has caused a domino effect in her life. The “friendly”-ships she’s had, with me and with others, have started to turn into deep, personal, soul-ie bonds. Negativity doesn’thijack her conversationsanymore. Her sleep has gotten better. She’s mindful of her triggers and has left her “victim” mentality behind. She’s glowing like I’ve never seen her glow.
My friend has always had a bold, infectious personality and has always been one to speak her mind. But as I watch her navigate through her day-to-day interactions with the world around her, I realize what’s different: she is finally speaking her heart, too.
To speak your heart is your right, but also your blessing. We are all blessed with the capacity to feel an entire spectrum of emotions and formulate all kinds of opinions and, moreover, questions, based on those emotions.
So why is it that with this incredible blessing, so often we stay silent?
Why are we so afraid to be ourselves – all of ourselves?
Sometimes we feel so alone in our thought processes that it seems wrong to speak our heart. To “talk deep,” as some call it. There’s this notion that expressing thoughts, feelings, opinions, and questions of an empathetic, introspective nature is embarrassing and makes us vulnerable. And vulnerable, we’ve been taught, is being susceptible to danger; either physical or emotional attack or harm. I just looked it up to be sure – yup, you can thank Merriam-Webster for our warped relationship with the V word.
This perception is left over from our childhood, middle school, and high school years: the perception that speaking our hearts, being authentic and unique, and letting others know how we feel is a sign of weakness and just another chance to be teased or ostracized.
And so we stay silent. Of course we feel alone – we don’t have any proof otherwise.
“Mean Girls” don’t just exist in the 18-and-under set; they follow us throughout our young adulthood and into our lives. ADULT judgement and gossip, we forget, both have the exact same roots as their childhood origin: insecurity, myopia and a strong desire to remain top dog at any cost.
And yet with that desire to Top-Dog’it comes a loneliness; an emptiness, lack of connection, and a distance between the person we project on the outside and the person we are (or long to be) inside. It drives us farther when all we truly want is to get closer. We begin to say we don’t care. We make “Whatever” or “Screw them” or “I don’t give a fuck” the catch phrase that we tell everyone.
But the irony is that we do care. So. Much. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle, “No woman on earth doesn’t give a fuck – no woman is that cool – she’s just hidden her fire. Likely, it’s burning her up.”
We all have the capability to become that person. That woman who is burning inside with her hot vulnerability she’s locked up for no one to see. What ensures we don’t is how authentically we let our heart live out in the open…and (and!) with how much compassion we approach those who haven’t quite gotten there yet. Because the more we see others thrive in a space of authentic truth, the safer it can seem to follow suit.
Vulnerability, at its core, is nothing more than honesty. Vulnerable is being truthful; saying I am raw, I am flawed, I am crazed, I am bare, I am on a journey and I am urging you to join me. Yet this idea of vulnerability is so often met with trepidation. Can I be vulnerable? Should I be vulnerable? Doesn’t that mean I’m in harm’s way?Because true vulnerability isn’t just expressing joy or loving feelings. Vulnerability also means looking inside to find the cause instead of looking outside to fix the symptoms. And who knows what causes lurk beneath the surface…
Dr. Seuss got it mostly right when he said “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I’d like to add: Those who mind – the Mean Girls of our adulthood – probably feel envious that you have the self awareness to be honest. Those who matter will “be who they are and say what they feel” right alongside you. And aren’t THOSE the people we want to be surrounded by anyway? They’re the ones who treat others like equals, the ones who can empathize because they’ve been there too. They’re the ones who can show compassion to anyone, even the Mean Girls, because they know what it is to feel things deeply.
They are the ones who thrive in the space of being…dare I say it…vulnerable.
Speak your heart and trust you are far from powerless. You might get a bit bruised, but by being authentic and true-to-you, there is nothing to fear. Because speaking your heart – even if you’re hurting, even if what it’s saying is somewhat unclear – is about Learning, Healing, and Giving. At the root of you and of me there is a pull to do all three. For others, for ourselves, for both at once.
We all have the ability to self-heal, it’s just about accessing that power – and being not only brave enough but self-trusting enough to do so.
We often view vulnerability as the danger from which we need healing. The barrier that prevents us from connecting.
Yet vulnerability and speaking your heart is actually the bridge that forms connection.
It’s the honesty that gives us the power to heal.
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You know how on Sex and the City, the women NEVER seem to stop eating (and drinking)? One minute it’s soft-serve, the next second it’s cupcakes. These women stay lithe, luminous, and lively…and yet they don’t take particularly great care of themselves. Well, Charlotte and Miranda run, and Carrie has a bout with a spin class, but aside from that. No, sex swings don’t count.
When I moved here, I heard the SATC-esque eating habits of New Yorkers were actually true. People did really grab-and-go, and it wasn’t uncommon to see everyone from the stroller set to suit-and-ties chowing down on a random park bench. It was a refreshing change from the uber-conscious foodie set of Los Angeles, where a calorie isn’t a calorie but a torture device.
Still, I never thought I’d be one of them. My body doesn’t work like that, I thought. I can’t just eat whatever I want and not feel it. Snacking In Motion might be the city’s MO, but unfortunately, it can’t be mine.
Or so I thought. I knew the part of me that was highly in tune with her body, the one that didn’t make food rules for herself and ate based on how she wanted to feel, the one that didn’t view food as good or bad but definitely knew the things that made her physically feel bad. The part of me that has taught herself to be totally fine with a “bad body day” and the compromise of wanting a taste and being okay with the aftermath that would follow.
But there was also a part of me that I thought those practices had silenced, and apparently still lived loud and proud in the crevices of my psyche. It was the part of me that was told she ate too big of portions, the part of her that viewed certain foods as “treats” or “indulgences” rather than just things. Soft-serve and doughnuts were Sometimes Foods, ones that only made an appearance when an unignorable craving would hit. I knew I could have them whenever I wanted to, I just didn’t want to. I think it was half that I knew the way they made me feel (#froyobelly), and half that I’d done a fantastic job at convincing myself that they weren’t worth my time.
And then there were french fries. A little history with me and the fry: I have never been a starch lover. Fun fact, I used to ask my mom to order my school cafeteria-made sandwiches on rye bread because I liked picking the toasted caraway seeds off the crust. Bread-y things have just never interested me. But french fries? I knew the gloriousness a well-done, well-salted french fry could bring. Oh, I knew. But because this usually wasn’t the case at most restaurants, I had no use for them. I didn’t not like them…I just didn’t care about them enough to make them my choice.
There was also the sociocultural factor. Maure Adult Women in my immediate circle never ordered french fries. Or at least never ordered their own. They’d pick one off of their child’s plate, or pawn one off their significant other, and then they’d make a big stink about forcing everyone else to try one and do the same because they were sooooooo goooooood. This was always so obnoxious to me, and as I grew older, I realized why:
The french fry had been deemed a taboo, so if they got someone else to eat one, it would normalize their sin.
Because of this, I developed a kind of apathy toward french fries. One woman’s sin was THIS woman’s nothing. I didn’t eat them not because I was scared. I didn’t eat them because they annoyed me. I hated the way other women gave a singular french fry such power, and I hated the judgement pinned on women who did eat them. It was such a spectacle – one I had no interest in being a part of. So I opted out.
And then I moved here. I don’t remember when it was, but it must have been within the first month. I was at a restaurant in the neighborhood, and I saw them: a white ceramic ramekin filled with the most beautiful french fries I had ever seen. They were mahogany. They were sliced to perfection.
They were sweet potato fries.
Real talk, sweet potato fries were another thing I had a chip on my shoulder about. They were like low-tar cigarettes to me: what french fry transgressors ate to show the world they weren’t doing anything wrong, even though they’re just a variation on the same. Like, if you’re gonna do it, just do it. I thought sweet potato fries were a sham to ease guilty minds.
In that moment in the restaurant, I started to question my fry aversion – my restaurant, if you will. Why did fries annoy me so much? And if I got really, truly honest with myself, did I have that Mature Adult Woman in the back of my mind telling me that fries were empty, or bad, or would make me feel awful?
I didn’t even know anymore. I had to find out.
I felt the words falling off my lips as the waitress took my order – “And A Side Order Of Sweet Potato Fries” – and they felt so weighted to me. Would she judge me? Would she make a big deal about “how lucky” I am that I can eat “anything I want” or how she could “never eat fries” or something like that? Would she think I was one of those “basic” women who justified her fries by saying “but they’re sweet potato!”? Ordering my first order of sweet potato fries felt slightly rebellious. But, I was also convinced of the fact that they probably wouldn’t be that great and I probably wouldn’t think they were that great and I probably would have proved to myself that the whole fry frenzy was uncalled for.
The fries came to my table. Some well-done. Most limp and disappointing. But I had ordered them, and I didn’t care enough to send them back, so I just said whatever and picked up the most structurally decent one and bit into the stupid thing.
No, not restaurant…but definitely great. Definitely a step up from “alright” or “good.” I enjoyed sweet potato fries – who knew?!
And so then I had the next challenge ahead of me, which was the even harder one. Can I eat as many as I want and not feel bad about myself? I wasn’t gonna find out by just staring at them.
The evening came and went and we walked back home. I felt normal, but was preparing myself for that hungover or heavy feeling I’d been taught happens the next day when you eat something taboo. I went to sleep. I woke up. Nothing happened.
I come from the world of wellness, which thank goodness is starting to morph and preach a bit more balance than it used to. I’ve always had problems with the term “clean eating” because it insinuates anything that does not fit into this bracket is dirty. Under the guise of “clean eating” you could healthify anything. Cauliflower pizza crust, zucchini noodles, carrot fries.
Not trying to put on a front: I LOVE those things (really). But telling yourself you can ONLY have pizza if the crust isn’t dough, noodles if they’re spiralized, or fries if they’re veggie sticks dipped in ketchup sets isn’t the solution.
This isn’t for the people who have severe food allergies – this is for the rest of us who keep wondering when the hell we’re gonna make peace with our plate and what a healthy relationship with our body even feels like. I have some inklings, but I can assure you it doesn’t involve scare tactics or ultimatums.
Sure, if I eat a little “too much” sugar (ie beyond when my own unique individual body says “k i’m good”) I feel crappy. Yeah, if I have fries every day I start to feel like I’m becoming one. But by wiping the chip off my shoulder about french fries, trying that cupcake place my friend raves about, or ordering a Salty Pimp from the place next door, I’ve taken the judgement out of the equation. I’ve realized that food affects me for SURE, but so does sitting sedentary in a chair all day. So does staring at a computer screen letting its rays zap me of my B vitamins. So does scrolling through Instagram, flipping over to Facebook, checking in on Twitter, then switching back to Instagram to see if “anything’s happened” since I checked it all of four minutes ago. So does jealousy, anger, or complacency. Food isn’t responsible for when I feel bad about my body. Being out of touch with my body is.
I contemplated – and celebrated – my fryaversary today with my fiance as we sat at brunch eating a batch of fries baked to perfection. Not sweet potato, either; good old fashioned fried white potato fries. They were flaked with rosemary and sea salt. They taste like Disneyland, I noted. Or a hotel from my childhood.
Did I eat the whole plate? It doesn’t matter. Because they’re not a medal of honor OR a confessional I need to make. They were just fries.
I find myself Snacking In Motion here like Carrie or Miranda, and when people come to visit I sometimes wonder what they think of me. I wonder if I’m being judged or I wonder if they’re secretly snarking that I won’t be able to keep up these habits for long. But mostly, I wonder if they’re scared. I wonder if they’re looking at me thinking “I could never do that.”
I wish I could tell them that I don’t have a magical metabolism and I don’t work out like a crazy woman. I wish I could convince them that they totally “could do that,” too.
So go ahead, eat the snacks. Order the soft-serve. Let the doughnuts into your life. You’re allowed. Check in and note if they make you feel less-than-average, but also do that in the rest of your life. There are so many factors that contribute to feeling the way we want to feel, food only being one slice of the metaphorical pie (see what I did there). Being a Mature Adult Woman isn’t about willpower or the food you avoid. It’s not even about all the things you say yes and no to. It’s about why you choose one over the other.
Now, pass the sweet potato fries. Well-done, please.
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