It was the perfect day to go to the beach. After all, it was August in New York City. The air was thick and wet. And the coolness of the sea would provide soothing relief.
Artist and author Meera Lee Patel yearned to feel this relief and savor the fresh, salty air. But as she laid on her bed, in her sticky apartment, and thought about getting up and going, her anxiety spiked.
“Ever since I became aware of beauty and its value to the world, the idea of going to the beach has made me stiff with anxiety,” writes Patel in her beautiful book My Friend Fear: Finding Magic in the Unknown. “By the time I was six months old, I’d had two corrective surgeries, leaving me with a seventeen-inch scar that snakes its way along the inside of my foot and up the back of my leg. Like a lot of scars, it looks like a poorly placed zipper. Like anything that makes us different, it brought a lot of fear into my life—and it started at the beach.”
When she wore shorts, Patel’s friends averted their eyes. Patel’s classmates wondered what was wrong with her and called her legs ugly. Moments that naturally and understandably stayed with her over the years. Moments that stay with all of us.
Patel yearned to trade her legs for a “forgettable pair,” so she could instead fade into the background.
What have you yearned to trade? Maybe it’s your face, which has wrinkles all over. Maybe it’s your nose, which has “looked” out of place since you were a kid. Maybe it’s your stomach, which, too, showcases scars from surgery. Maybe it’s your skin, in general, which is filled with dimples, stretch marks and cellulite. Maybe it’s your too-big thighs or too-wide hips or too-flabby arms. Maybe it’s your weight. Maybe it’s always been your weight.
What have you yearned to do but haven’t or aren’t doing because of how your body looks, because of how you feel about your body? Maybe you also love the beach, but have stopped yourself from going. Maybe you’ve wanted to try a dance class or yoga class but have been too worried that because of your weight, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe you’ve simply wanted to wear shorts or sleeveless shirts on a sweaty summer day but feel wayyyyy too self-conscious.
Maybe you regularly say no to events where a swimsuit is required, even if it seems like something you might enjoy. Maybe you purposely don’t get in any pictures with your kids (because, well, you hate how you turn out). Maybe you sit on the sidelines—the sand—as your kids play and laugh in the water, and take breaks to beg you to come in, too. Maybe you regularly focus on your supposed flaws, leaving little time and space to simply savor some joy.
Patel ends up going to the beach, anyway. “So what if my heart fluttered a bit while I approached the wild sea?” she writes in My Friend Fear. “So what if my heartbeat quickened while I stripped down to my bathing suit? The sun warmed me as the water rushed around my ankles. I was free.”
What if you, too, do what your fear is telling you will crush you? What if you go to the dance class or the yoga class or some other class? What if you book a vacation at the beach, because you want to feel the warmth of the sun and coolness of the water? What if you spend more time focusing on the beauty of your surroundings and having fun with your kids and less time on the supposed ugliness of your traits? What if you put yourself out there anyway—regardless of potential rejection or criticism?
What if you walk beside your worry and fear? What if you ask yourself, honestly, thoughtfully, what sparks joy for you, and what if you start seeking it and savoring it, even when your body worries arise or peak?
Sometimes, it’s as straightforward as going and doing something—a small thing—that you’re afraid of. And sometimes, the path is winding. Sometimes, it twists and turns. Sometimes, it requires seeking help—from a therapist, for instance—and working through your body worries. But straightforward or winding, it’s worth it. It’s worth the work to remove the shackles. It’s worth it to feel free.