Every week the co-founders of The Juggle send each other something we call a “hey girl hey.” It’s our way of giving each other a little life update and checking in on things for the week. This week’s check-in went on a personal tangent on insecurity, body image and when reassurance can actually feel terrible.
Sarah [April 8, 10:50 am]
I had kind of a low week emotionally. It was the perfect storm of coming down from a love fest of friends in town for a wedding, getting my period and some insecurity.
I’m not sure about y’all, but from time to time my brain will fixate on some insecurity, blow it way out of proportion and take me to the precipice of a dark place. It’s usually about an exaggerated fear of getting older, being single and having this sinking feeling that I’m doing everything wrong. It will hit me by surprise, because most of the time I feel pretty great about myself.
But there’s lingering emotional trauma from times I’ve been really, really sad about being rejected by people I love and that gets stirred up. It’s almost like a feeling of being afraid of getting really sad again, even though I’m not.
It’s interesting how your brain will draw on old pain and emotions when you’re feeling insecure and turn things into something they’re not. I’m glad I was able to recognize that. It’s not that I felt really terrible, it’s more like I could stare over the edge into a possible abyss of sadness and negative feelings about myself, and it felt uncomfortable. Can you guys relate?
I honestly feel completely better now though. I came down with a cold this weekend, so laid low some of the time (binged “Please Like Me” on Hulu which is amazing), but also saw friends, which was lovely.
I’ve also been reading and journaling a lot in the last few weeks and almost nothing makes me happier and smarter and more creative.
Jen [April 8, 12:20 pm]
Yes! I relate. I fear getting older and thinking I’m doing everything wrong, too. In my case, I wonder if I’ve wasted the years I’ve put into my career. What have I really done? My job in PR is to promote things — not to make a difference in this world or, honestly, even to promote things that will make a difference in this world. It’s a challenging field and can be rewarding, but I struggle with the “So what?” factor.
Meanwhile, I never used to picture myself having kids or getting married, but I changed course at some point. What would my life be like if I hadn’t? I love my family and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but it’s interesting to think about where life takes us.
Also, this probably goes without saying, but fear of rejection is so, so normal. It’s what makes new things (relationships, friendships, jobs) so exciting — the “what if?” anxiety that both puts you on edge and makes you want to know what will happen next. It’s why we get butterflies. And of course it’s also terrifying, especially when you’ve seen its dark side.
Finally, something sort of unrelated but tied to my “getting older” insecurity crisis that I’ve been thinking about lately as I approach my 35th birthday*: A lot of my identity used to be tied up in being “cute.” I know cute is for children, but it was a tool for me. It let me get my way, earn better tips in my restaurant days, and be kind of an asshole without causing great offense — like calling out or making fun of someone in a way that was somehow wholesome and forgivable coming from me.
I know I’m still young, and more importantly, that age is just a stupid number. And I’m comfortable with the adult I’ve become. But still, it’s weird to lose that part of my identity, that quality only the very young can claim.
Now, my coworkers think of me as nurturing and mom-like. I like what is underneath that — certain strengths of mine as a manager and a peer. An ability to relate to people and empathize, and to understand and help propel their motivations. (And it might not be uncorrelated — I am, in fact, a mom, and 77 percent of parents believe parenting makes people better leaders.)
But at the same time, I hate that I’m the office mom. Is that my new identity? It makes me want to puke.
[Ed. note: Jen’s birthday was May 2 if you want to wish her a happy belated!]
Sarah [April 8, 1:30 pm]
Oh girl, I feel you. I relate to the “cute” thing too on some level. I realize that a lot of my self-esteem is tied up in how I look and know that isn’t a sustainable or deep way to feel good about myself.
Thanks for being so honest. I’m sorry you deal with this, but I’m comforted that I’m not the only one that has these kinds of thoughts.
Sarah [April 9, 8:45 am]
Jen, I keep thinking about this, and it’s reminding me of something I’m thinking about lately — trying to be conscious of when I choose to engage with what someone says. When is it best to validate what someone is feeling versus letting them just feel how they feel?
For example, I could tell you that I think you’re super cute and always will be because I believe that. But if I did, I would be further reinforcing that being cute is an important value (which I totally buy into at a superficial level, but want to move away from in myself and others). I’m working on a more neutral attitude about my own appearance and placing less value in it. This has made me not want to reinforce “appearance is important” in other women, even through compliments. It’s complicated.
A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s wedding and I was drunk and kept telling her (the bride), “It’s not important, but you look SOOOOO beautiful, but that’s not what’s most important.” Hahaha…
I know this is rambly and philosophical, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.
Jen [April 9, 8:49 am]
Can I just say how much I appreciate all of this? In my earlier response, I almost wrote, “Please don’t take this as fishing for compliments.” I wasn’t putting it out there to be reassured. And I really appreciate that you didn’t jump in to try to do that.
What you’ve said got me thinking: Reassurance can be dismissive, and can end up undermining how the other person is feeling. It sends a signal like: You shouldn’t be feeling that way, and the way you’re feeling is not valid.
Sometimes reassurance is great, and it’s definitely hard to know when it’s welcome and when not. But many times, it is truly not.
There’s actually a whole parenting ideology around this as well. You’re not supposed to say things like, “It’s OK,” or “Don’t be sad,” when a kid is upset. They feel how they feel and that should be allowed and not dismissed. It’s better to acknowledge their feelings (like, “I see you’re upset,” or just, “You’re angry”) and help them process and move on.
Sarah [April 9, 1:56 pm]
The reassurance angle is so interesting here. I’ve had people complain to me about things before, when I had to resist saying, “It’s all going to be OK,” because I’m not sure it will be and because that potentially stunts your ability to learn from whatever you’re going through.
Body image is a big one too. I hate how normalized it is for women to complain about how “fat” they are for example. I don’t blame women for saying that, but it bothers me that as a society we think it’s totally fine and expected for a woman to publicly shame her body. So I try not to counter with, “No you’re not!” because that’s the same thing as saying, “You’re right, your weight is important.” But that can be hard to do.
A few weeks ago when I was in DC I tried on some dresses to potentially borrow from a friend who I thought was the same size as me. I didn’t fit into any of them and said something about being fat, which I immediately regretted because I don’t even believe that. It’s also totally insensitive because I have so much thin privilege. But it’s almost like I felt I had to apologize for not fitting into them (SO FUCKED!). Her response was so beautiful. She said, “You are perfect, those dresses are inadequate.” I liked that her message was about reaffirming who I am, not countering it with “No you’re not.”
Sarah [April 9, 2:00 pm]
ALSO, I’ve noticed in myself and other women lately a lot of apologizing for not wearing makeup if they’re not, and I am so bummed by that. The language we use to talk about ourselves is so powerful. There is nothing wrong with my or anyone else’s face ever, but we’re essentially saying, “My face is not good enough right now, and I’m so sorry to subject you to it.” Ugh.
Jen [April 9, 2:19 pm]
Honestly — I do that. And then I always feel stupid because at least 70% of the people I’ve said it to are men (who never wear makeup and never apologize about it).
Once on a work video call, I had a female client comment on my “Friday look” (no makeup, hair in a ponytail). I don’t think she meant to be judgmental, but from then on, I made a point of putting on makeup before our weekly calls.
Also on the body image stuff — I make fat jokes about myself. I don’t really believe them. (But I kind of do believe them sometimes.) It’s terrible but I feel like I need to make a joke if I’m reaching for the cookies again.
Alyssa [April 10, 8:41 am]
Coming to this thread super late.
Re insecurities — I have so many and go down the rabbit hole so quickly. I can’t describe all here now but would love to share at some point.
Re body image — I don’t wear makeup on the weekends unless I personally want to. I used to playfully ask Landon [my husband], “Would you go to the ___ with me if I don’t wear makeup?” He would respond, “Well I’m not planning on wearing any, will you go with me?” After he did this hundreds of times, I finally just stopped telling him and myself that it mattered.
Sarah [April 11, 9:43 am]
I’m a little tender (in the best way) because I went to my therapist this morning and she was super empowering. The line from Landon about “Well I’m not planning on wearing any, will you go with me?” literally made me tear up a little. So sweet.