Perception is reality. We know that. Or do we? Recently, I had occasion to remind myself of a lesson I learned a while back. Yep, this is one of my weight loss stories, but the lesson itself can be applied to all kinds of situations. So, even if you’re not interested in losing weight, keep reading. I think you’ll find it’s worth it.
A little story from my fat days
So there I was, walking down the street one day, having lost about half the weight that I wanted to. I was feeling pretty good about myself. Mostly. I’d swing back and forth between feeling thinner (I could often feel myself shrinking), and defaulting to those horrible fat thoughts. When I was feeling good, I’d catch a glimpse of myself in a store window and think “Wow. Not too bad!” I’d notice which areas of my body were showing the most improvement. I’d focus on my small waist, my collarbone which was just starting to make an appearance, my knees which were looking much less squishy… I’d see a woman who was chubby, but no longer fat, who carried herself with confidence, who was dressed well, who looked nice, and who didn’t have to be ashamed of herself. I saw a woman who was quite attractive.
But when I was feeling fat, I’d catch that same glimpse and suddenly the whole picture would change. I’d see my fat, bulging stomach, my dimply thighs, the bit of a double chin that was still there, how my cheeks looks inflated, how even my hands looked kind of meaty. I saw a fat, bumbling woman who’d squeezed herself into some sophisticated clothing, slapped on some makeup and had done her hair in a pathetic attempt to hide her grotesqueness.
Here’s the thing: I could see both women on the same day. My feelings about myself determined what I saw, not the other way around. This became crystal clear, since I couldn’t possibly have gained 100 extra pounds within minutes. And my makeup and hair, which were generally immaculate, had not suddenly been destroyed. But in those moments of despair, I looked like a caricature. I felt like somebody’s put makeup and a wig on a pig. And yet, just minutes before, I could’ve seen beautiful, shrinking me in the mirror or random reflective surface.
I had a bit of an epiphany
The day I discovered this phenomenon – that my perception was completely determined by my mood and thoughts at the time – I had a thought: We each have an image of what we look like in our heads. We can adjust that image, if we want to, but it takes time and effort. For some time after I’d lost my weight (close to 100 pounds), I’d often be surprised by how thin I appeared in the mirror or in pictures. I expected to see a fatter version of myself, since in my head, I was still fatter. It took some work to reconcile the two pictures.
We think that this image is shaped by our experiences – how others reacted to us during childhood and adolescence, our first sexual encounters, and how we rank against others in the looks department. But, since our experiences (how people treat us) are shaped entirely by our beliefs, we can see that this image we have ourselves isn’t determined by how many men have told us we’re beautiful, or how many women have called us handsome, but rather by what we’ve decided about ourselves. And that decision, that belief, determines what experiences and complements we let through even today.
How did you decide what you look like?
So, you might have decided (as I did at one point) that since no one ever tells you that you’re gorgeous, that you’re clearly ugly (or not pretty, just average, etc.). But if you don’t believe that you’re gorgeous, or worthy of the complement, those who would tell you that can’t even find you. Consider this: What if you’re wrong about what you look like? What if you’ve been perceiving yourself through an ugly, inadequate, homely, just average, so-so, or whatever filter? What if you’re a lot more beautiful than you think you are?
When I pondered this question, it stopped me in my tracks. There had been those in my life you’d always insisted that I was pretty. But I’d never believed them. I always thought they were humoring me, the way one humors the slow cousin who has to wear a helmet – “You’re so smart! Yes you are! Who’s the smart one? That’s right! You are!” They were being kind at best, and secretly smirking behind my back at worst. But what if they weren’t? What if they were telling the truth?
I guarantee that there have been people in your life you have given you complements that you immediately dismissed. And if questioned, you might not even remember the last time you received praise about your looks (or – insert area you’re feeling insecure about here). You might even insist that no one has EVER given you a genuine complement, but that would be untrue. You just couldn’t hear them, because you’d decided that you looked a certain way, and only information that matched your view could get through to you.
Even now, with everything I know, I can look in the mirror and suddenly look old. I don’t even have any wrinkles, but I’ll suddenly look all jowly and my face turns into an old shoe. If I look in the mirror immediately after my meditation, though, I appear like a shining Goddess. I’m almost ethereal. I’m seeing myself through the eyes of my inner being. And when seen through that filter, hoo mamma!
Change the filter
Why not change the filter on what you THINK you look like? Just give the idea, that perhaps you’ve been mislabeling yourself as much less good looking than you are, a few minutes. Does it feel good to consider it? If it does, it means that your inner being is in agreement with this thought. And it if it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong. Because you are beautiful. And I don’t mean that in a “we’re all beautiful, even if we look like bridge trolls” kind of way, although I’m going to give that a bit of credence, too. I mean, when you take away all the Hollywood comparisons, and look at people as they really are, there are very few truly ugly people in the world (speaking purely materialistically). But most of us have, at one time or another, felt as though we should be ashamed to leave the house, looking as we do.
And now, the bit about the bridge trolls
The human body is not perfect and it was never meant to be. But it’s magnificent. We come in all different shapes and sizes, with different skin, hair and eye colors. The variety that nature has come up with is staggering. Our bodies can lift, grasp, walk, run, jump, squat, and dance. Our bodies allow us to experience the physical – what it’s like to sing, to shout, to speak, to ride a bike, to squish fresh grass between our toes, to sit, to breathe in a huge breath of fresh air, to feel the salty ocean water against our skin, to smell flowers, to feel the rain on our faces, to taste gorgeous food, to catch snowflakes with our tongues and to have sex (that one alone makes the whole argument, really).
A woman’s body has the ability to grow a whole new human being and give birth. It’s soft and round, warm and comforting, and wonderful to hug. A man’s body is strong when necessary and gentle when called for. It can wrestle danger to the ground or become a climbing gym for his little ones. It has the power to evoke a feeling of safety with a simple embrace. And somehow, inexplicably, it never seems to get cold. How can we ever look at these bodies of ours and not call them beautiful? Just because we don’t look like plastic, airbrushed, photo shopped freaks… We are wonders of nature. Wobbly bits and all.