Gym Face: Skin Shame In The Fitness Industry

Gym Face: Skin Shame In The Fitness Industry

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There aren’t many more powerful places to shift people’s perceptions of their physicality than in the gym. It’s part of the reason fitness was so appealing to me when I first got started. I could give a shit about how many lunges you can do or if you can do them at all. I give lots of shits about your self-image.

As a leader in the space, it’s part of my job to model to you what’s called “good form.” Sure, this means I can show you how to do that proper lunge I don’t give a shit about. But more importantly, it also means I carry myself in a way I hope you’ll carry yourself too. With pride, empathy, and awareness – right down to the skin you’re in.

~

When I started teaching fitness classes, I was ashamed of my skin. I saw the people I admired in the industry in ads, on television, in magazines, and on social media, and I felt as if I didn’t look the part. I didn’t feel like I had the ideal body, the coolest clothes…and I most certainly did NOT have that silky-smooth skin I thought everyone else had.

And so I not only doubled down on my product use, I wore makeup to class to cover up my perceived flaws. Spoiler, wearing makeup while you sweat is a recipe for clogged pores and very unhappy skin. So obviously, it just got worse. Not to mention, I was a broke 20something to begin with, and trying to fix my insecurities just made me broker. I felt shame around my skin, I felt shame around the bank account I mismanaged in order to try and pay for the products I used to un-shame myself from my skin. There are a lot of myths around being “someone from Los Angeles”…but I can tell you the stereotype of aspirational skincare is very real. Not only could I not keep up with the facials, peels, and products I believed I needed, but I felt like a fitness industry failure for not looking like the perfect version of health.

It wasn’t until I read Adina Grigore’s book, Skin Cleanse, that I realized that the perfect skin is the skin you’re in. I’d been overloading my system with SO many products over the years and had been wearing so much foundation and concealer to literally mask my insecurities, that I didn’t even know what my skin’s natural M.O. was.

The second I stopped piling on the products and stopped wearing makeup to teach is the second I really truly found my voice and stepped up my game in the fitness world. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’d like to think it had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t covering anything up anymore, literally and figuratively.

 

The perfect skin is the skin you’re in. Click To Tweet

 

I often think about the rise of body positivity in the fitness industry. Yes, it’s FAR from perfect, but it’s gotten so much better than when I started teaching over a decade ago. Body positivity is the norm not the exception, and the idea of working out for happiness, energy, and mental health is becoming way more mainstream. 

But just like anything we spend our dollars on, fitness is an industry. An industry that all too often banks on us feeling bad in order to sell us feeling good.

I wonder, with the skincare industry being as huge as it is, and apps like FaceTune and Photoshop being as accessible and easy to use as they are…will the shape of our skin be the thing the industry banks on in order to keep us coming back?

Will “Perfect Skin” become the new “Perfect Body”?

Is Skin Positivity one of the final sneaky Body Positivity frontiers out there – too subtle to be addressed but obvious enough to make us feel badly about ourselves on the regular?

I don’t have control over an entire industry, but I have control over what I do on my own platforms, literal and figurative. I no longer wear any makeup to teach my classes or to workout on my own. I’m older now, so I’ve got a few fine lines and eye circles and hyperpigmentation.

But if I’m not accepting of myself, in the skin I’m in, how can I ever expect anyone else to be? I’m not in love with my skin all of the time, but I’m too committed to modeling “good form” to let it distract me.

If you’d have told teenage-me I’d willingly get in front of hundreds of people a week with a spotlight on my naked face, I would have shuddered. If you’d have told 14 year-old me I’d be spotlighted on The Cut (bare-faced, in a VIDEO) talking about my skin, I would have straight-up laughed in your face. But I’m so grateful to know my classes and managers don’t care, and so grateful to know there are highly visible pop-culture publications just as dedicated as I am to busting open the myth that the way your skin looks is some sort of indication of how fit you are.


Skin Shame and Skincare Privilege is a real thing – but I’m here to tell you that you do NOT need to spend a ton of money or have airbrushed-flawless skin to glow from the inside out.
Take off the foundation. Let your pores breathe as deep as you breathe during a breathless push or a spinal twist. Model good form. Let’s break the skin shame together.

 

How To Actually Apologize (from a Highly Sensitive Person + Chronic Over-Apologizer)

How To Actually Apologize (from a Highly Sensitive Person + Chronic Over-Apologizer)

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You’ve heard it thrice already before breakfast.

In line for coffee.

When you hold the door.

An arm brushes against you unexpectedly at work. The yogi next to you scoots their mat a few inches to the right to make space. It’s a crowded class and knocks your elbow.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.

I’m so. so. sorry.

~

We live in a culture of over-apologizers. Sorry Not Sorry is a cute hashtag and a catchy Demi Lovato bop, but its resonance comes from a very real and very not-cute place: we’ve engrained Sorry so deeply into our vernacular that rebelling against it feels electric, almost dangerous. “Sorry” is a part of who we are.

The problem with over-apologizing isn’t just that it cuts away at our self-respect – how can we respect our own opinions if we’re constantly apologizing for them? – it’s also that an abundance of apologies makes us like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Or rather, the Girl Who Cried SORRY. You remember the story: there’s this kid. He’s watching some sheep. He thinks it’s HILARIOUS to yell, over and over, that there’s a wolf. The villagers rush out each time, terrified, only to be met by the little twerp laughing at them.

Of course, when a wolf finally DOES show up and he calls for help, no one believes him. Can you blame them?

 

If we’re known as a constant sorry-sayer, it doesn’t matter how genuinely sorry we are or how terrible we feel – our sorrys are not trustworthy and are deemed inauthentic. “Sorry” has become cheap, and is way too often associated with weakness or being a pushover.


But sometimes you screw up – majorly. Maybe it’s a missed deadline. Maybe you forget about important plans. Maybe you sleep through your alarm clock or lose a pair of borrowed earrings or think it’s Sunday when it’s actually Monday. Or maybe it’s worse.

Whatever the case, you’re deeply sorry – yet don’t know how to accurately portray how sincere you really are without coming across as flippant, disingenuous, or just another sorry-monster.

How can we respect our own opinions if we're constantly apologizing for them? Click To Tweet

Saying “sorry” can be a way of protecting yourself from hurt (ie: “if I say sorry first, then maybe they’ll pity or empathize with me”) or clinging to relationships (ie: “if I say sorry, then they know they have the power”) instead of really, truly, feeling regret or sorrow over something you said or did.

But what about those times when you actually are sorry?

The most sensitive and aware of us are usually the ones that mistakes hit hardest. I highly doubt it’s just me that can/will dwell over a misspoken word or even a tone of voice that might have been “taken the wrong way.” I’ll dwell for days. Weeks. I mean, there are things I said or did in fifth grade I still stress over.

A sample from my collection of thoughts I’ve gathered over the years: Do they hate me? Will I get fired? Will he break up with me? Is my reputation dead? Should I just quit everything and start fresh where no one knows me? 

The act of saying “sorry” holds a lot more weight than others may realize – especially for you, you Sensitive Soul. The trick is to subtly shift the way you apologize and be the slow-yet-steady change you wish to see in the world (because change and mistakes go hand-in-hand).

Shift the way you apologize, and be the slow-yet-steady change you wish to see in the world - because change and mistakes go hand-in-hand. Click To Tweet

Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to how to say sorry, for those of us who get hit the deepest by our own mistakes and want to make our apologies last longer than just five little letters:

FESS UP COMPLETELY.

When we’re in the wrong, it’s tempting to lean on stories, excuses, or even little white lies in hopes of getting us in the clear quicker. However legitimate (or convincing, in the case of little white lies) your story, you’ve gotta face the facts. The act has already been done, the opportunity has been lost, and you just might have let someone down. An explanation might be necessary, but not if it’s in hopes of defending yourself. An explanation and an excuse are two very different things. Fess up completely, and explain whatever you need to in order to support your apology, not ask for a free pass.

As for the “omission of truths?” I’ve found that white lies can be habit-forming, or just icky. Little white lies are like plaque on your soul, and can (and will) build up inside you. Over time, they morph into a weighty guilt that is way harder to shake than telling the truth ever would be.

GO FOR QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY.

When you’re truly sorry for something you did, the best thing to do first is accept full responsibility – but keep it concise. Long, drawn-out apologies can seem inauthentic and water down your true intentions. Side note, they can make you seem weak, which you’re not. Acknowledge your faux pas, acknowledge the fact that you fell below your usual standards for yourself, then turn your focus onto the other person (friend, boss, lover, whoever). Look the other person in the eye and listen to all they have to say. Prepare to be met with at least a little bit of anger, frustration, or sadness. You might get a lecture and your impulse might be to go into defense mode. But being fully present, fully accepting of both the other person’s perceptions and emotions, as well as your own inherently beautifully flawed humanity, is one of the noblest, strongest things you can do to move forward in an effective way.

OFFER YOUR SERVICE.

Are you able to fix the situation? Get on it. Ask if there is anything you can do to help the situation – and offer clear-cut suggestions to prove you’re not just asking because you think you should. Is there something you can replace? Go find it. Is there an additional apology you can make to someone else? Go make it. Is there an errand you can run or a call you can make, or something unrelated yet needed that the other person values? Figure out what it is and make it happen. Being of service after a screw-up not only helps others feel good again, it helps you feel useful and proactive instead of ashamed and defeated.

MAKE A PREVENTION PLAN.

Ever heard that hindsight comes right after you need it most? Not necessarily. Forgive yourself first and foremost, then take at least one active step to prevent your mistake from happening again. Find yourself sleeping through your alarm when you’ve had a long day/week/month? Schedule a free wake-up call online. Work mostly off of memory or your phone’s calendar? Maybe an old-school, handheld Day Planner is what will help you stay organized (I personally need to take this advice – something about pen-to-paper keeps me on track like no app ever could). Did your mistake involve more of a slip of the tongue or an offensive remark? Start practicing extreme compassion and empathy in every single one of your interactions throughout the day. Constantly ask yourself what would make you feel good, how you would want to be treated, how you would want someone to breach a difficult topic to you. Basically, be the kindest, most thoughtful person you know.

 

The way you’re wired might be different than others, but the simple act of exercising empathy on a day-to-day basis could be the thing that saves you from a major misstep in the future. And if it doesn’t? You know what to do to make your apology count.

 


WANT Yourself:
In the comments below, tell me about a time you made a mistake and had to apologize. What did you do to mend the situation or relationship? What was the lesson you learned as a result? Has it shaped the way you do things today?


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a version of this post originally appeared on the chalkboard mag in 2014

Embracing The Pre-Autumn Reset.

Embracing The Pre-Autumn Reset.

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Last weekend, I made a rookie mistake of going to HomeGoods on the trifecta of the worst days to go to HomeGoods: the Sunday before school started and September began. As I rode the escalator down the narrow hallway while Michelle Branch softly echoed through the speakers, I was smacked in the face by a combination of assorted pumpkin spice -esque scents and children squealing at delight over Paw Patrol and Peppa The Pig backpacks. As I entered the too-long line with my cart filled with storage boxes, new towels, and various assortments of off-brand kettle corn (have you SEEN THE KETTLE CORN SELECTION), I overheard a mother and son talking in line. I just don’t want summer to be over, he moaned. “I know, sweetie. But school’s going to be so much fun!” his mom reassured him.

Then, picking up a ceramic cornucopia, she said, The sooner school begins, the closer we are to the holidays! Isn’t that great?

There it was: the full-speed-ahead into the end of the year.

~

Unlike most kids, I always looked forward to the first day of school. I might have had a mini panic attack before starting my senior year of high school (first and lasts always get me), but even those years when I switched schools and had to find all new friends, all that ever bubbled up was excitement and enthusiasm.

Maybe it was my naiveté, maybe it was my upbringing, maybe it was just my personality. But there was something about backpack shopping, picking out my outfits, and pouring over the introductory paperwork all the students at my schools were sent pre- Day One that made my heart so very happy.

The impending challenges of a new grade – or in some cases, a new school altogether – never really entered my head. Back To School season was the BEST season of the year.

 

I’ve always loved transitions.

 


It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long it’s been since you held a No. 2 pencil in your hand: for most former-kids, September will forever be synonymous with “Back To School.”
The seasonal shift from Summer to Pre-Autumn to full-on-FALL signals that something new’s afoot – new friends, new challenges, new tests, and new teachers. We prepare for a new start, hope for positive change, and cross our fingers that we’ll be able to handle what life dishes out in the coming months.


Without Summer vacations and required reading, though, it can be hard as an adult to draw the line between where Summer ends and Fall begins.
Because although we’d love to have an endless summer…and although the first day of Autumn isn’t technically until September 23rd…we can all feel a shift happen the moment Labor Day weekend comes to a close. It’s “back to the grind” – even though most of us have been grinding all year long.


And so it can just seem like more of the same – like we lost track of time, and the Summer months so associated with taking a breather completely passed us by.
Couple this with a built-in programming from childhood to register this time of year as transitional, and it’s easy to feel a little bummed out once September hits.

 

While January usually gets all the attention when it comes to resolutions, I’d like to argue that September holds just as much promise as the 01/01 mark.

 

Pre-Autumn (and then into Fall) is the perfect time to evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re going. It’s a time to bring back that childlike enthusiasm, relentless joy, and maybe even those first-day jitters you had as a kid (because all worthwhile and exciting changes in life bring up first-day jitters, really).

 

It’s called “Fall” for a reason: just like the leaves fall away from their branches so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth.


This month – and this Fall in general – I encourage you to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what your heart truly desires in this moment.
Maybe you’ve been skimping on self care. Getting a 15 minute sweat in before work is just what you need. Maybe you’ve been so wrapped up in work that your social life isn’t what you’d like it to be. Call a friend you haven’t checked in on in a while. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished this year so far, and how you want to feel by the time the clock strikes midnight on January 1st of next year.


Each transitional moment – whether a season or a reason – I like to take a beat and get intentional about what I want to notice in this particular transition. Doesn’t matter if I write them down and completely forget about them two days later. Simply the act of identifying questions I want to ask or thinks I want to think about introduces them into my subconsciousness.

Some thinks I’ll be thinking and questions I’ll be asking myself – feel free to steal them for your own musings:

 

  • Role models who are living their legacy. Who can I look up to who is doing the REAL work, not just what is trendy, popular, or the easy way out?
  • More yesses and nos, less maybes. How can I tap into my intuition right away, and use it to help me make concrete decisions? And if there’s a “maybe” that enters the mix – can I set a time limit for it?
  • Creating, staying in, and fully owning my own lane. This is MY life, no one else’s. What am I doing to honor it? What about it is unique? How can I make sure it stays unique? And, if I get distracted by what others are doing, how can I redirect my focus?
  • Time management. What things are the most important to do each day…and what things are just “routine addiction”? (ex: if I have a podcast interview at 9AM but wake up at 7:30AM, is it more important for me to fit in a workout like I do almost every morning, or take the time to get centered and prepare for a successful conversation?)
  • Family. DNA and chosen. How am I nurturing both, especially those members that live across the country from me?

Just like the leaves fall away from their branches so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let the old fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth. Click To Tweet

 

The holiday decorations are already springing up (I see you and your Thanksgiving napkins, HomeGoods.) and it’s easy to feed into the mindset of “there’s so little time left!!” But we’ve got four whole months. A THIRD of the year left. Think back to January through April – you did so much during that same time period earlier this year. Less if you take February’s weird dates into account. You have so much time left. It’s all about what you do with it.

 

There will be challenges in the coming months, of course, and the newness of Fall and Winter will bring all kinds of highs and lows we could never have predicted. But if we shift our perspective to refocus our minds, refresh our hearts, and renew our commitments, there’s no telling what kind of miracles the rest of this year has in store.

Pick out your outfit, grab your backpack, and let’s get on this bus together.

 

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Breaking Out Of Negative Cueing

Breaking Out Of Negative Cueing

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I’VE BEEN teaching group fitness classes for over a decade – way before it was trendy and cool, and definitely way before “fitpros” were the new It celebrities they are right now. This was back when  people thought “spinning” classes meant twirling around in circles for 45 minutes, and when that one old friend of mine so casually commented, “You’re not planning on becoming the ‘exercise girl’ for the rest of your life, are you?”

The industry has changed a lot since I began, but the thing that’s remained at the core of fitness is that it’s rarely ever truly about the fitness part alone. What we do in the gym is practice for what we do out in the world – and fitness advice is life advice disguised in sweat and squat-jumps.

Fitness advice is life advice disguised in sweat and squat-jumps. Click To Tweet

WHENEVER WE’RE working out, we’re shifted into a vulnerable state. Whether we’re doing vinyasas or vying for a new running PR, our breath deepens, our heart starts beating faster, and we’re thrust (or eased gently from a seated cross-legged position) into a state of self-imposed stress. And let me clarify: not all stress is ultimately BAD. It’s what we do within those moments of stress that stick with us. It’s the stress that gets us vulnerable, and the vulnerability that allows us to be open to shifting for better or worse in the long run.

And so if fitness advice is really life advice, then what we say (and how we say it) as leaders in that space matters. A lot.

Because what you hear is what you will internalize, and what you internalize will be the language you use out in the world to speak to others and yourself, way after you’ve gone on with your day.

NEGATIVE CUEING is a term used in fitness that generally describes any sort of phrasing that uses what you don’t want to happen as the main motivator. Think, “don’t arch your back.”

Negative cueing isn’t just saying “Don’t do X,” though. Negative cueing is anything that makes the person listening feel like who and how they are isn’t enough.

~
Negative cueing can look like…

  • It’ll be over soon (implying the current experience is worth skipping over)
  • I know you hate me right now (they probably don’t, but you just planted the seed that maybe they should)
  • Burn off that happy hour! (equates what you eat to how much you need to exercise, and that exercise should be food-motivated)
  • Ladies grab X weight, Men grab X weight (not everyone identifies as a “lady” or “man” and therefore you run the risk of people feeling left out – also this reinforces sexist assumptions; I know many women who can out-lift men ANY day)
  • You can do better than that! (um. maybe that IS their best??)
  • That’s not good enough, give more! (along the same lines; this might be their best work – but also shames the work they’re doing)
  • I know you want to fit into those new jeans / get that summer six-pack/ etc (implies everyone who works out is dissatisfied with how they look – and, moreover, probably should be)
  • Don’t give up (implies the person was going to give up at some point)
  • You know you can SMILE (omg please don’t force me to smile – give me something to smile about and I will)
  • I know you want to quit, but… (no, I actually did not, please don’t underestimate me) 

    i did this shoot, in this shirt i owned, within the first five years of teaching. while i still think the photos turned out badassedly, i don’t believe that “work harder” (printed here in reverse so you can read it in the mirror – cool concept for sure) is the best way to motivate someone to work harder.

Negative cueing can also look like self-deprecation in order to “connect.” Stuff like sharing with your clients/students/members how much you hate your thighs or how much you ate last night and need to “burn off.” Might feel cute or “down-to-earth” in the moment, but it’s reinforcing a dangerous epidemic we already fall prey to of bonding over negativity.

It doesn’t matter how “inspiring” you are or what cute tweetables you’ve got lined up to sprinkle throughout your class. If you’re not modeling self-acceptance, self-love, and what the journey TOWARD that actually looks like, your words are just words.

 

IF YOU’RE STILL reading this, are not a fitness professional, and wonder how or why this applies to you…think of all the times we cue negatively in our own lives. We do it to ourselves, and we do it to each other. We think we’re offering advice, being helpful, or inspiring someone else – but the hard truth is, it doesn’t matter how good your intentions are if your impact is creating a shame loop in someone else.

It doesn't matter how good your intentions are if your impact is creating a shame loop in someone else. Click To Tweet

Anyone can study the objective facts. Anyone can teach a class or train a client. Literally. Anyone. You can buy the course online. But the way you talk, act, and live is what actually makes a difference in someone’s life in the long run. For better or worse.

 


Here are some alternatives for the negative cueing above:

Instead of: It’ll be over soon!
Try: Can you give your all to this moment? (implying the current experience is one worth having)

Instead of: I know you hate me right now…
Try: I’m your biggest fan right now (lets them know you’re their ally)

Instead of: Burn off that happy hour!
Try: Literally just not talking about food. Just…don’t do it.

Instead of: Ladies grab X weight, Men grab X weight.
Try: Grab a weight that feels (insert a feeling or a number of reps you’d like them to perform with said weight, so they can gage what they need for themselves). If you don’t know what that is, call me over and I can help you figure it out.

Instead of: You can do better than that!
Try: If you were to give your all, what would that look like? (ask a question and have them come up with the answer themselves!)

Instead of: That’s not good enough, give more!
Try: Can you maintain your work…or even surprise yourself by giving just a little more? (emphasizes the work they’re in as good enough, while giving an option to go farther if they can)

Instead of: I know you want to fit into those new jeans / get that summer six-pack/ etc.
Try: How do you want to feel after this workout is over? (redirects focus to a feeling instead of a look)

Instead of: Don’t give up.
Try: Keep going, you’ve got this.

Instead of: You know you can SMILE… 
Try: Not telling people how to react or emote – everyone processes their emotions differently.

Instead of: I know you want to quit, but… 
Try: You’re doing so great. (simple as that!)

~

NOT SURE if your cueing is negative or not? Find a mentor. Ask them to come take your class and keep their ears open for anything that could be improved upon. Not a fitness professional but want to monitor the negative cueing in your own life? Dedicate a week to hyper self-awareness. Maybe even tell a close friend, coworker, roommate, or partner that you want their help in calling out your language.

What we do in the gym is just practice for what we do in life - and I want all the practice I can get. Click To Tweet

Oh…and as for that friend who asked if I was going to be “the exercise girl” for the rest of my life? That comment that made me doubt my path, my abilities, and my legitimacy as a professional adult trying to find her way in the world?

I sure hope so.

I sure hope that, in some capacity, I am up on that podium, all mic’d up, with my words out there in the open for everyone to hear. And if not, I hope I’m going to classes, keeping sweat dates with myself, or lacing up my shoes for a long run. Because what we do in the gym is just practice for what we do in life – and I want all the practice I can get.

 

all photos by jesse deyoung
Don’t Fuck With My Friends.

Don’t Fuck With My Friends.

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Don’t fuck with my friends. Do not hurt them or tell them they are crazy.

They are not.

Don’t fuck with my friends. Don’t swindle, peddle, take, or steal.

And don’t you DARE break their hearts.

Don’t fuck with my friends.

Don’t lead them to believe they have bad judgement, draw negativity, attract the wrong people or jobs or circumstances. Do not take advantage of their immense capacity to feel and their great power to give. They are so very special and so extremely delicate in all their strength. Although they don’t let on, I know they’re just as easily bruised as you or I. More, even. Because to know the highest highs, one must also be capable of experiencing the lowest lows.

They know it all.

Don’t fuck with my friends. Don’t ignore them; don’t place blame on them for your own demons.

Don’t make them cry.

Don’t fuck with my friends. Don’t insult and don’t make them feel un-talented, un-beautiful, not-thin-enough or not-sexy-enough or not-worthy-enough of greatness. Pulling them down does absolutely nothing to raise yourself up, even though that’s your alternate agenda. It’s so much easier to throw your pain at someone else, anyone else, instead of sitting with it as it slowly transforms. And even if you’re self-aware enough to know, even if it is SO obvious that all you are doing is pummeling them with the trash piling up in your soul, they can’t necessarily see or accept that. They are IN it. They hurt.

I don't want appropriate. I want real. Click To Tweet

I can hug, I can talk, I can cry alongside them. But I can’t heal them from your sickled sword and it enrages me that I’d even have to. They are stardust and sunshine, the waves in the ocean and the dew that helps the flowers grow. They are the hope of a new day and the long exhale as the week ends. They’re the birds you can barely hear chirping over the car horns and angry screams, but you know they’re there, and the knowing is a sort of comfort in the chaotic entanglement of city cacophony. They’re newsprint on your fingers, a souvenir from the adventures of a curious mind. They’re the giggle you can’t quite stuff down and the tears that come whether “appropriate” or not.

To hell with appropriate. I don’t want appropriate. I want real.

I want the laughs and the tears and the talks till 1am that can’t wait a second longer. I want the waves and the dew and the bird songs even if I can’t always hear them. I want the charcoal on my fingers, delicate stains from a morning well spent, and questions asked, and a mind expanded just by saying yes, I will turn that page.

Don’t fuck with my friends – because they are the ones who are making this world come alive.

friends women againt negative talk katie horwitch


This post was originally published on october 8, 2012.

Blind Optimism.

Blind Optimism.

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I’m just gonna say it: we have an optimism problem.

Living with an optimistic approach to life is, undoubtedly, a strength and a personal asset. It’s forward-motion and seeing what could be, and finding the beauty in the possibility instead of the darkness in the seemingly inevitable. No, optimism (lower-case-o, neutral tone) by itself isn’t bad at all.

However, just like anything, there’s a necessary balance needed to make optimism actually work. If you pay very close attention, you’ll feel the disconnect when it happens. You’ll lose your words. You’ll realize that there is such a thing as being “too” optimistic: shutting out the realities of life as a means of avoidance and calling it “looking on the sunny side of life” or “glass-half-full” mentality.

I call it Blind Optimism.

How does this happen? How can something so inherently good betray us and bar us in? Blind Optimism is what results when we rely on our positive outlook to ignore, shut out, fabricate and gloss over our lives. It can minimize experiences and eat us alive – just like Casual Negativity, cynicism, auto-pilot pessimism, and projection. It can gnaw away at our spirit, our relationships, and roll a haze of oblivion over our existence. 

Blind optimism makes me dizzy – like carousels. Ah…the carousel. My amusement park ride of choice as a highly sensitive kid. I could get on and, for three whole minutes (or more) escape from everyone and everything around me (or more). And, of course, they were pretty. Anyone who has ever visited an amusement park or fairground knows: carousels are very, very pretty. With their porcelain hollow horses and spherical moulding on loop. And they make us smile (I mean, unless you have some sort of childhood phobia which has stuck with you through adulthood, but I’m going to discount that slight possibility for the sake of this metaphor). Most carousels cost mere quarters to ride, so it’s easy to just stay on and go around in circles ad nauseam.

But when the ride ends, we’re faced with the world beyond the beautiful lights and porcelain fairytale creatures. And if we’ve stayed on too long, there’s a good chance we’ll stumble off a bit more than wobbly.

Blind Optimism turns us away from facts and reality in favor of the carousel around the corner, going in circles and circles and circles and circles until we get dizzy and lose our bearings.

When we find ourselves caught in these nonstop-carousel-ride moments, one of two things starts to happen after a while:

a) The carousel stops being fun and eventually breaks down. There is only so much we can give. There is always a breaking point when it comes to extremes. Always.

b) The carousel becomes bothersome, saccharine, and dismissive; something other people tire of don’t want to go near. It’s cheesy and trite at best, ignorant and entitled at worst. We become a part of that fairy tale world playing on loop. And we find ourselves alone on a ride going nowhere.

People always comment on my optimistic life outlook, and when we’re all stuck in the collective doldrums together, ask how I stay so optimistic. The funny thing is – I don’t necessarily view myself as a glass-half-full Optimist. Pollyanna was admirable but always bugged me for some reason (which made me feel guilty, of course – sorry Hayley Mills). I always loved the brilliantly crafted songs and rad penguin dance parties in Mary Poppins, but the Practically Perfect nanny was never someone with whom I identified.

 

When asked for my “secret,” I chuckle a little and reveal that I’m not really a bona fide Optimist (capital O, chipper voice). I’m Practically Perfect’s alter-ego: Pragmatic. Proactive. Positive.


Life’s ups and downs are inevitable, and some moments will seem more hope-filled than others. So what can we do about it? We can see the facts in front of us and the projected outcomes ahead of us. And we can root for the positive while still recognizing the negative. Not myopically blinding ourselves to the possibility that things aren’t perfectly in place or might go awry…but taking in the world as is, seeing all the good and all the bad, and choosing to build upon what is good and right. It’s like true love: we love fully and deeply when we love others FOR their strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences – not in spite of them.

Look at the glass not as half empty or half full, but as a glass that's being sipped from every moment. Click To Tweet

To break away from Blind Optimism into Pragmatic, Proactive Positivity, our love of life and self MUST transcend those pitfalls and darkness. It starts by moving forward through things instead of around them. It starts with granting yourself permission for your self-like ebb and flow– because it’s normal, and because you’re human – and viewing self-love as the kind of unconditional unbreakable love that no high high or low low can affect.

It starts with letting go of searching for how good things can be in the future (or not), and instead sitting with how good things are right now (or not). It starts with looking at the glass not half empty or half full, but as a glass that’s being sipped from every moment. Easy but nuanced. Simple yet scary. It’s not easy work, but it’s right work. And it’s the work that’ll lead us to finding our genuine smiles, without the help of the ceramic ponies and the carousel leading nowhere.

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