“What it seems the world wants me to be: really skinny and really tired.”
This sentence comes from Shauna Niequist’s beautiful book Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic For a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living. In other words, our world wants us to be super productive, to schedule every minute, to reply to every email, to check off every task. In other words, our world wants us to stop eating certain foods, because, well, they’re high in calories or sugar or fat. Because they’ll go straight to our thighs, because they’ll soften our stomachs. Even more than they already are.
And what will we do then?
(We will abandon ourselves, because we will realize that we aren’t what we should be. And we will make ourselves an afterthought. At best.)
Niequist further writes, “The messages of the world say, in no uncertain terms: ruin yourself, and starve yourself. Wring yourself out. Ignore your hunger, your soul, your sickness, your longing.”
Do you find yourself internalizing these messages? Do you find yourself consuming them and breathing them every day? Do you find yourself starving? Hungry for more food? Hungry for more fun, relaxation, connection? With yourself and with others? Exhausted (not in an exhilarated way because you spent the day immersing yourself in life. No, in a way that is depleting, soul strangling)?
Do you find yourself constantly searching and striving, and still feeling empty? Do you find yourself chasing a specific number on the scale, and you can’t really remember why? Do you find yourself powering through a cold, an illness? Do you find yourself feeling sapped and spent? Or feeling guilty for leading a slower life or for wanting to? And questioning whether it’s OK?
It’s so hard to resist these messages. Be thin! It’s the only way to be healthy! And beautiful! Be productive! It’s the only way to live. It’s so hard to resist something that’s all around us. Online. On T.V. In magazines. In doctors’ offices.
But maybe you do. Sometimes. Maybe you don’t devour these messages. You sip them. Slowly, subtly, they invade your psyche. Slowly, subtly, they erode your perspective, and before you know it, you’re cutting back on carbs—you know, for your health—and you’re wondering why you can’t be faster, and you feel disappointment wash over you at night when you realize how many tasks you’ll have to carry over to tomorrow.
That’s why we keep reminding ourselves that these are distorted, unrealistic, dangerous messages. We keeping reminding ourselves these messages are optional. And we can opt out. We can spit them out. Instead of spending time twisting and turning ourselves to conform, we can take the time to explore what feeds our soul. We can take the time to explore our longings. We can rest. We can heal. We can play. We can make. Just because.
You have the power to say no to these messages. No to being a certain shape, weight and size. No to being a robot. No to gluing your level of productivity to your self-worth. And you have the power to say yes to yourself.
Start by asking: What do I want to savor right now—whether that’s about what you want to literally eat (a grilled cheese sandwich, a big salad, a piece of chocolate, an apple, a bowl of soup), or figuratively feast on (something that satiates your soul, something that soothes, inspires, empowers, enlightens, interests you)?
Or start by asking: What do I want to be?