I have my own reality show. At least it feels that way when I look on the interwebs. I have promo shots all over the place…Instagram, Twitter, Pintrest. I have videos on Youtube and Facebook.
If it was sixty years ago and I had this many pictures and films in the media I would obviously be a movie star.
This reality show comes chock full with all my opinions, all the things that I think make me valuable, all the things that make me laugh, and all the things that make me cry. Where I go, what I believe, who I love, is all plastered everywhere for the world to see. People who don’t know me personally often think they know who I am by looking at those images.
This would make me seem super famous to an alien who landed on earth and studied only me, but the truth is, my reality show is not all that special since there are so many reality shows out there.
In 2005, only 6% of the US was on at least one social media platform. As of 2019, that statistic drastically rose to 90%.
Because everyone’s images are everywhere all the time, I often compare myself to other people’s reality shows. All those beautiful spouses! All those beautiful children! So far, I have had neither.
So I try to paint my reality show stellar enough with my trips to different countries and the music and writing that I create that you might even be a tad bit jealous. That way, I can feel better after my comparison hangover.
I am a little bit ashamed to admit that now that I have an awesome super handsome boyfriend after ten years without one picture of me on the arm of a man, I feel like my someone-else-will-think-I-have-my-life-together meter has gone up drastically.
But there is one part of my reality show that is secretly really difficult for me.
I don’t like most of the images of the main character in my reality show.
This is a major problem because I am expected to have so many images. (One of the reasons that I am only slowly using Instgram is that you have to post a picture like, every freaking time.) As someone who creates things that I want to put into the world, it is almost a rite of passage to plaster my image as much as humanly possible.
This has been especially difficult for me in the last five years or so. Because of a miraculous medication that let me sleep after four traumatic years of chronic insomnia from Lyme disease, I have gained quite a bit of weight as a side effect. No matter how hard I try, this weight doesn’t want to come off. Insomnia was the most traumatizing thing I have ever been through, and yet, I have at times pondered if I should go back to that torturous life by getting off my medication so that the weight could come off. I always have to tell myself that sleep is more important than the slim.
Also, heaven forbid! I am getting older. I am starting to really look different than my profile picture that was taken twelve years ago. I can’t get up the nerve to change it to a more current picture because I am afraid of what people might think if they see the extra pounds of weight and the new wisdom lines.
As they say, time marches on. All over your face.
The truth is, If I was on the outside of myself, it seems as though I would like me more. If I was friends with the actually pretty amazing person that is Kate, I might notice her weight gain and her getting older. But only for a moment. Mostly I would think of her as a kind, creative, passionate person who loves the people in her life well and tries to bring beauty to the world whenever she can. And I would think she is beautiful.
Unfortunately, I am on the inside of myself, and for some mysterious reason, that can change everything. I have a bad case of inside-itis. That strange disease that makes me feel like everyone in the world is worthy of love and belonging…except me. That ailment that makes me a really good friend to other people, granting all kinds of compassion and grace to the people on the outside, but seldom turning that kindness on myself. That illness that makes me think that everything in nature is lovely, that people are gorgeous and colorful and amazing even if they aren’t traditionally “beautiful”…except me.
I don’t think I am alone in this struggle. An article I read said that women experience an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day, and 97% of women admit to having at least one “I hate my body” thought each day.
Because I have been pondering this image dilemma, I have been thinking about mirrors. For most of history, mirrors were not something everyone had, and even if they did have them, they were usually only hand mirrors.
Mary Silverman, the random pioneer lady who lived in a cabin in Kansas, probably only looked in a piece of polished glass every once in a while. Even then, she was looking at her face, not her body. Maybe her calico dress got tighter at times , but she would just sew it to make it fit again. Plus she probably was more worried about eating at all than what her body looked like. I can translate that even now, because as soon as I have major problems like loneliness or awareness of my childlessness or health problems, my weight is not as important to me. It’s when everything is all good that I think about it more. Maybe that’s because I always need a problem to solve?
Also, Mary Silverman had like a hundred other women in her small town to compare herself to. Now we have millions. Mary probably had a lot of problems on her plate, but comparing the way she looked to other women was most likely not that high on her list.
Similarly, the camera was invented in 1815. For nearly a century and a half after that, it was uncommon to have your picture taken. Maybe you would have a few in your lifetime captured, but mirrors and pictures were for mostly wealthy people. The average person throughout all of history did not see images of themselves even a fraction of the times that we see ourselves now.
All to say, we are more aware of our bodies and the changes in them than any other group has in all of history. And it would be safe to recognize that because our culture is so image conscious, we have more pressure to look good than almost any other culture ever has.
The models that are on our runways have bodies similar to adolescents, as if anyone that doesn’t look like a tall skinny 13 year old isn’t worthy to be called attractive. This points to our culture’s obsession with youth.
We chase after our fountain of youth with our diets and our plastic surgery and our temptation to lie about our age. In ages past, cultures did not admire youth or skinniness so much. They looked up to and learned from the older people in their tribes or villages. Their wisdom was held in higher regard than the naïveté of youth or a skinny body.
Those cultures held onto this truth: your outside may morph and change as the years go by. Perhaps the world doesn’t see you as attractive as you once were. But on the inside, if you are growing and learning and loving deeper day by day, you are becoming more and more beautiful.
Those wrinkles that you wince at when you look in the mirror tell a hundred stories of the pain you endured, the mountains you climbed, the people you held, the mundane moments you learned from, and the thousand times you came out on the other side stronger. Those smile lines came from laughing with children, and those wrinkles around your eyes were etched as you watched your story unfold before you.
Those marks are not ugly. They are gilded with gold.
Even those extra pounds of weight can tell a story of a life that is not full of the worry of when the next meal will come from. Can we be grateful that we have enough to eat instead of bitter that our body is not the way we want it to look?
Culture has told us the lie that our young face or our perfect body or our flawless skin is what makes us beautiful. That is not the truth. The unrelenting strength that it took to walk every difficult step to become who you are right now, even as you read these words, is what makes you beautiful.
Yes, you are getting older. Perhaps you have gained weight or look different than you had hoped you would. But is that really what matters? There is something more important: the story that you have lived through, the legacy that you earned every time you kept taking the next step and the step.
Your beauty is not running and out and running out and running out. It is filling up and filling up and filling up. Your life is not running out and running out and running out. It is filling up and filling up and filling up.
Stop for a moment and think about this: do you attach your value to something as shallow as how much you weigh or the clothes that you wear or your youth? I don’t shame you if you do…it is obvious from this post that I do it, too. It is ingrained in our culture to place value on those things. But maybe, together as a family, we can become counterculture by valuing instead the love that has written our days, the mercy that has been in every line, the beauty that is found on every page.
I have grown weary of this watching my own reality show and not liking the main character scenario.
Perhaps it is time for us to start a revolution.
A revolution that starts when we believe that our unsurrending spirit is what always has and always will make us ravishing.