This piece was originally posted here on May 16, 2010.
Here’s another truth that I share with students in my body image seminar: You have to find something you love. Notice I didn’t say someone. Nope, we’re pretty good at that. It’s the something to love that is harder, but just as essential.
Early on, I fell in love with reading and writing. I poured myself into words. Whether I was reading under my dinosaur covers (Yep, I had a dinosaur comforter. That I picked out. I was 15.) or filling spiral notebooks at my desk, whether I was cutting words out of magazines and plastering my bedroom wall with them in the world’s largest collage/vision board (God bless my parents and their patience) or pounding out stories on my typewriter and, later, my trusty Brother Word Processor that went to college with me, words were my thing. I had a few other things, too as a girl. I loved volunteering and I loved being involved in organizing events, galvanizing causes, promoting unity. So there you have it. Words, volunteering, organizing were my things. And because I had a thing (or three), I developed a sense of self that didn’t rely on my physical appearance and in many ways that insulated me from the worst possible throws of body insecurity that I could have spiraled into– especially when I arrived at college and realized that I was physically and financially and culturally so very different from everyone around me. The writing, the volunteering, the organizing, as soon as I got back to them, grounded me again and gave me a bit of a protective sheath to minimize the loneliness and pain I could sometimes feel.
Growing up, we often look for our definition from other people. But the people in our lives change, their understanding or appreciation of us changes, and if we are constantly looking for our definition to come from the people in our lives, we aren’t standing on necessarily stable ground.
When we find something to love, when we find an interest that really fills us up and occupies our mind and energy, we often lose the desire to have other people define us or the desire to stare in a mirror and reflect on what’s wrong with us. We have other stuff to do and it’s important. So, no time for the mirror now, no time for lamenting the partner we do or don’t have. There’s a horse to be ridden, a dog to be trained, a painting that needs painting, a story to be written, a dress to design, a garden to plant. You get the picture.
When I was interviewing women for Hijas Americanas, I quickly discovered that the women that were most insulated from the pains and discomforts of coming of age were the women who had found a passion. They were the volunteer, the softball player, the violinist, the writer, the rollerskater (who became a speed skating Olympian), not the blonde, the thin, the pretty. Their self-definitions were so much bigger than the surface and so they never tried to fit into a little box of someone else’s understanding. By falling in love with something, they fell in love with themselves. And that is really the essential truth for self-satisfaction.
What is your thing? What do you love? What do your pour yourself into? What are you doing that allows your identity to come from within? It is only when we find our true voices that we can have a sustainable sense of pride, comfort, and ease in who we are.