Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Thicky Thick Club

I heard her before I saw her. “WHITNEY! You’re back! You’re here!” It was a lady who works in the building where I took the majority of my grad school classes, greeting me as I walked inside. “You’re here again! What are you doing here? Your jacket is so thin! Where are your gloves? And honey, you have gotten THICK since you’ve been married, haven’t you?!” 

 Oh my, I thought. Oh no. She didn’t just say that. But she did. I’ll ignore it and it will go away. “I’m so glad to see you," I told her. “Yes, I’m back, I’m just teaching a couple of classes.” 

 “TEACHING!? How WONDERFUL! And you HAVE gotten thick since you’ve been married, haven’t you? Haven’t you???”

 Oh no, the ignoring did not make it go away. How do I answer this appropriately? “Well…maybe a little bit?", I told/asked her. 

 “Ok baby, you stay warm. I’ll see you later!” And she was gone. 

 This was the delightful interaction with which I got to start my day last Friday. I got into the elevator, slightly shocked, and I laughed and laughed and laughed. I texted my friends and laughed. I could not get it together for the first five minutes of my class. The day had not been off to a great start even before this, in fact the past couple of weeks have not been especially great for me. But somehow, instead of defeating me, this comment completely lifted my mood, because what can you do with something like that besides laugh?

 Several years ago hearing something like this would have devastated me. I am talking a full out, emotional meltdown that would have likely included crying and an attempt at crash dieting (that would have lasted 2 days). I would have been truly upset and convinced that I looked terrible. But fortunately I have gained some perspective over the past few years and these are some things I know with certainty:  1. There are worse things in the world than gaining a little weight. MUCH worse things. 2. If the worst thing that happens to me in a day is that an acquaintance speculates that perhaps I’ve gained some weight, then I’m doing ok. 3. Just because someone says something or thinks something about me does not automatically make it true. 

 I do have memories of people saying hurtful things to me during elementary school, high school, and college. However, I have always had really great friends, so I spent the majority of my time around people who made me feel good about myself instead of bad. It wasn’t until after college that I had some experiences with people that really shook me. By that point I was able to handle people commenting on my appearance (after 22 years I felt pretty clear on what I looked like), but I was in no way prepared to handle being attacked in areas that really mattered to me-my work ethic, my integrity, and my relationship with God. Those comments people made turned into thoughts inside my head, and the thoughts very nearly turned into beliefs. It took me a long time to sort out what was true and what was not. 

 Unfortunately, the world is full of unpleasant people and unpleasant words. I like to think that there are still a lot of kind people around, but eventually you will run into that one person who does their best to bring you down--a classmate, a teacher, a co-worker, a boss, a bad relationship. I have worked with so many clients, particularly women, who have been wounded or developed some beliefs about themselves based on other peoples words.   These words can come in different forms--bullying, emotional abuse, passive aggressive comments, I’m-just-kidding-but-I’m-really-being-terrible comments. The words can make you feel fat, dumb, selfish, irresponsible, uptight, inadequate, insecure,  or a number of other negative things.    I don’t know the lady who feels I have become thick very well at all, and in all honesty she wasn’t being anything but sweet and friendly. But it’s a whole different story when words are meant to be hurtful, or when they come from someone who is important to us.  So how do we get control of our feelings and thoughts? It’s not easy, but I think there are a few things we can do:

-Make a choice. Think about the comment one time, see if there is anything constructive about it, and if not, choose not to think about it anymore. Intentionally let it go. Our minds get us into trouble when we think….and think…and think about something. What did she mean? Why would she have said that? That’s not even true! Or maybe it is true…I wish I would have said…Our minds can get stuck on something and run from there. A verse that I have to remind myself of often is Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” It takes work, but God has given us the ability to have control over our thoughts. My pastor preached a great sermon with some true and relevant thoughts on this topic this past Sunday, and you can listen here

-Know who you are. Know the things that you are good at and own them. Know that the best things about you are things that are on the inside of you, not things that are superficial. Know that you are not perfect and that you will mess up sometimes. Do not get your security or your satisfaction from what other people say or think about you.  Know that you will never please everyone, and that is ok.  

-Surround yourself with positive people.  This one is simple.  If you are regularly around someone who makes you feel terrible about yourself, it is time to make some big changes in that relationship.  When you can help it, surround yourself with people who make you feel good and not bad.   People who are positive, fun, and remind you of your strengths.  We ultimately can't always control who we spend time with, but make the most of it when you can!

Hurtful words are always going to be a part of life, but with some practice we can get better at managing them in a way that doesn't bring us down.

And as for my thickness--once upon a time when I was on my high school's dance team we received an unusual shipment of dance tights.  We were all appalled because we had to wear a larger size in these tights than we did in regular clothes, to the point that some of my friends formed the "Thicky Thick Club" in representation of their tight size.  The girls told me that my tight size did not qualify me for membership.  Well ladies, my day has arrived! I will accept my membership card via U.S. Postal Service or electronic device.


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