She’d asked me to get in the bathroom stall with her while she put on the swim team suit that she’d been given to wear to the meet. I hesitated. The stall was exceptionally small and the air conditioning in the building was not working. But there was a pleading in my child’s eyes that seemed hauntingly familiar so I accompanied her.
She immediately asked me to turn away. I crammed myself into the corner. The bathroom door hinge was two inches from my nose. I was already sweating and I was not the one wrestling with a fierce duo of nylon and spandex.
I had a bad feeling about this.
Behind me there was grunting, wiggling, pulling, stretching. There was a tremendous amount of exhausting effort going on back there. I could feel the frustration radiating from my child through the back of my shirt. Or maybe it was sweat.
“Everything okay?” I asked with a cringe.
“I.Can’t.Get.It.On!” my child burst out.
“Would you like me to help?” I asked hopefully. “I’d be happy to help,” I repeated desperately hoping to improve the situation.
After a few more grunts and sighs, my child accepted my offer.
“But close your eyes, Mama,” she instructed.
I couldn’t see anything, but I knew that standing before me was a defeated spirit. This child who has mentioned feeling different than the rest was feeling even more uncertain, even more uncomfortable, even more awkward. “Can we just go home?” she pleaded. “I don’t want to swim,” she said sadly.
“We aren’t going to let this silly bathing suit stop you from doing what you love to do,” I stated. “You have something to contribute that no one else can,” I argued. “Don’t worry, we’ll get it on.”
For three agonizing and perspiring minutes I used every ounce of strength in my body to get that suit on. And once she was in it, she wiped away her tears. “Thank you, Mama,” she said quietly. “I’m ready now.”
But there was doubt.
When something doesn’t fit – literally or figuratively,
When you’re not comfortable in your skin,
When it feels like a struggle just to show up,
That little voice inside you can be pretty darn cruel.
I knew. Oh how I knew.
Suddenly I was back in my first apartment, newly married, getting ready for an evening out. My husband and I were going to his boss’ house for a dinner party. It was in an upscale part of town and my husband had recently started with this new company. I knew he wanted to make a good impression—and I did too.
But it was going to be a struggle.
On the floor in front of the mirror was every item of clothing I owned. My husband waited patiently while I changed 107 times and now we were going to be late. He peeked in timidly to tell me we really needed to leave in five minutes.
I felt like cursing. I felt like screaming. I desperately wanted to stay home. I wanted to hide. I hated how I looked.
“Nothing looks good,” I managed to say without blowing up. When he tried to console, I snapped. “You don’t understand!”
I felt very alone in my self-hatred that happened when I stood in front of the mirror. When things didn’t fit. When I thought I looked bloated and unattractive. When I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. All the successful areas of my life and all the positive attributes I possessed meant nothing. They totally disappeared when I stood in front of that mirror picking myself apart.
I clearly remember settling on a long, chocolate brown jacket with dark leggings and tall boots. Every inch of my body was covered. I was hidden. Now I could go to the party, but I would never forget the helplessness I felt and the amount of distaste I had for myself in that moment.
It scared me.
In the past sixteen years that have passed since that moment, I’ve quieted that cruel voice, my internal critic, my inner bully – but sometimes, in moments of fear and uncertainity, it surfaces again. And it alarms me how quickly I can dismiss all the things that I am and all the important roles I play when I judge myself in front of that mirror.
I remember going to that dinner party with my husband and laughing with his colleagues the whole night. They were so funny and so welcoming. They thought I was funny too. At one point my husband leaned over and said, “They love you, Rach, just like I knew they would!” I remember having a wonderful conversation with a lovely colleague of my husband’s named Bonnie. We connected on many levels – she was real and honest and open. I was so thankful I’d left the house despite my urge to withdraw from the world.
Later that night I acknowledged that the cruel voice inside me was wrong – completely wrong. I acknowledged that showing up swollen, bloated, make-up less, disheveled, and out of style was better than not showing up at all. I acknowledged that being here on this earth—not quite looking like I want—was better than not being on this earth at all.
I could write a book about how I overcame that critical inner voice over a span of sixteen years and maybe someday I will. But not today. Today I am just going to offer an alternative to the voice of negativity. I call it A Reality Check for the Inner Critic. This technique was truly where it started for me. I began talking back to my inner critic. I called it out on its ridiculous lies. I refused to let it stop me from doing what I loved: living. I refused to let it hole me up at home when I could be outside laughing and connecting with others. My hope is that someone out there can benefit from hearing what it sounds like to drown out the inner bully with words of truth.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rachel Stafford blogs at www.handsfreemama.com.