setting up shop in your own skin

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It’s rare that you’ll find a photo of me around these parts, much less one of me wearing an outfit, as that’s not the sort of thing I’m into, however, I was really happy yesterday and I wanted someone to capture that happiness. Two friends paid me the kindest of compliments; they said that I was one of the good ones, while at the same time acknowledging that we rarely compliment one another’s character. We might remark on a piece of fabric a friend wears or the way in which they’ve styled their hair, but do we pause and tell someone that they’re kind? Do we ever sit across from the ones we love and tell them that they’re good people? Or do we take our friendships for granted, tacitly seeing the irony in this because we’re all too often besieged by so many who lack grace, humility, kindness and compassion?

You should know that I debated for hours whether to publish this photo online. I hate being photographed (I once told Marion Ettlinger that she needn’t bother asking me to smile for my author portrait) because it’s easy for me to dissect my every flaw. I guess it’s true that we are cruelest to ourselves, and while I’d like to say that I’m completely at home in my own skin, I’d be lying. I’d be telling a half-truth, because part of me will always (will I, always, I wonder?) look at photos like this one, and think: wow, I was small.

I also have to remind myself that when that photo was taken I was one year sober and white-knuckling it. But sometimes the reality gets crowded out by an image of who we used to be. Funny how time rearranges itself.

I read something today, which put my heart on pause:

You are enough. Without covering your face. Without starving yourself or obsessing over one too many cookies. Without Nair and a never-ending series of disposable razors. Without pinching at muffin tops or squeezing into pants one size too small. Your worth is not found in the un-clumped application of mascara or the bold swoop of eyeliner across a lid pulled taunt. You wonโ€™t find it behind the Spanx at Macyโ€™s or on a shelf at Sephora. Instead, it is tucked gently inside of your humanity, waiting to be discovered.

The author was responding to a woman who told her that she’d be prettier if she’d use makeup to cover up her lines. And I think about the a priori justifications we make for ourselves with regard to our state of being–thin is beautiful, painting makeup on ourselves to hide, rather than to pronounce, is beautiful, etc, etc–and I’m exhausted.

I’m exhausted. I’m a 38-year-old achieved woman and I’m exhausted thinking about my body. I’ve published a book, will likely publish another, was a partner in a company, is a successful consultant, but still. I hold a master’s degree, but still. I’m present for the people whom I love, but still. I bake, cook, and share this love with others, but still. Over the past decade, I’ve tried to be self-aware and be a better human being, but still. I’d been sober for seven years, relapsed for two months, and didn’t beat myself up because of it, and haven’t drank in a year, but still. But still the whole of myself, my character, is weighed against the weight of me, and I’m aware of it (no really, I get it), and I’m trying every single day to focus on the intangible weight on one side of the scale versus the physical weight on the other.

I try to focus on the fact that after this photo was taken, I spent time with a woman whom I adore, and another woman who’s going through a tough time professionally, and I made her laugh.

I focus on the happiness that leaves marks all over my skin, gets buried there, climbs its way in.

20 thoughts on “setting up shop in your own skin

  1. I think you made the right choice to post this photo. Your happiness shines through and this posting is an affirmation of that happiness that compliments the writing. And your outfit is awesome! Happy Friday!

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  2. This photo made me click through from feedly to comment. You look beautiful and bright. And I’m thankful for what you shared because I too am exhausted thinking about my body. I cling to the fleeting moments when I realize I wasn’t thinking about my appearance and how free it feels. The notion that I will only be successful when I am all that I already am AND thin is so deeply ingrained in me that it causes a huge conflict with my intellectual self. Basically I feel like a failure for looking the way I do (and my own self-image is much crueler than other’s image of me) and then beat myself up for letting it matter so much. I find myself asking ‘why does it matter so much? We’re all so beautiful. ALL of us.’ but I still don’t include myself in that ‘all’.

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    1. Samantha – You’ve managed to articulate everything I’ve been thinking so beautifully. It’s weird to have this dissonance between what I know logically to be truth and what I see in the mirror. Logically, I know that we are all beautiful, and without oddities and individually and some degree of ugliness, we wouldn’t understand beauty in its depth and complexity, which is way more than what our photoshop culture would suggest.

      I think if we spent more time (and I say this in the collective we) redirecting our energy toward our bodies to creating, loving, being, who knows what we’d be capable of.

      Then again, this is all a journey….

      Thank you for your comment. -f

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  3. Felicia: I’ve thought this so many times when i read your posts, but I don’t think I have ever mentioned this to you: I hope one of your future books is about the themes that you explore often in your blog–the deeply personal essays about selfhood, perception, growth, challenges, the evolution of priorities professoinally and personally, friendship, focusing on what you love, letting go/embracing, etc. What an inspiring book that would be…and we invitations for others to think about these same topics in their own hearts and minds. I always look forward to reading your writing–on your blog and your next book(s).

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  4. I have been in pursuit of the fitness I left behind years ago and it was actually this kind of thinking that finally allowed it to manifest. I had to quit sulking in and drowning in my failures. Love what I could do and then do it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. i love this photograph, it’s like you’re wearing a true smile. i call them that because it’s one of those smiles i have come to recognise in my son’s photographs where i can tell in the moment he is the happiest he has ever been.

    and thank you for sharing that quote. i’ve come to find your tweets and blog posts very reassuring as i try to get to know myself again after going through some serious burnout. keep going ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Felicia you look fabulous in this photo! Truly.

    I really loved the comment above, and your response, about how LOGICALLY we know we should be happy with ourselves but we just can’t seem to get there. I can’t. My recent post on where I’m at in my fitness journey didn’t quite hit home on this point, but it’s completely where I am. I used to put so much pressure on myself to exercise and I wasn’t as happy then as I should have been with my body. Now that I’m trying to be happier (and I completely am in other areas) I now find that I’m beating myself up over how I look. I KNOW it doesn’t matter, that I should be completely fine, but it’s such a struggle.

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  7. Another GREAT post. Such a good point about complimenting people for who they are rather than what they look like, for being a good a person… And a great point about how deceiving pictures can be and how tough it is to be comfortable in our own skin.

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