I had just finished running the mile fitness test.
Panting at my last ditch effort to beat my goal time, I hunched over, hands on my knees, for a moment, before asking my time.
No longer quite so breathless, I looked up, my eyes catching my teacher’s.
“How’d I do,” I gasped. I had a goal of running that mile in under 7 minutes. I had been practicing most days after school.
She stared at me, distracted by something other than my time.
“You know what, Rosie? You need to wear eyeliner.”
I’d like to say that at the time I had the wherewithal to just ignore that non-sequitor. But I didn’t. Instead, I went out and bought enough Revlon eyeliner to kohl-rim a gaggle of raccoons. If you ever see a photo of me from high school, you now know why the eyeliner was oh so obvious.
For years, I forgot that story, and, eventually, I put the eyeliner away. But, once, when I was talking about ceding our power to others, that memory flashed back: my fourteen year old self, sweating and panting, just wanting to know if I’d met the goal I’d set for myself. As it turns out, I did. But that’s not what I heard that day. What I heard, instead, was that something was wrong with me, and I needed to fix it. It would be many years before I found joy in running again. It would take just hours to become consumed in eyeliner.
Now, here is what I know to be unequivocally true. When someone comments on your physicality, your way of being in the world, it is never ever about you. It is about that person and what he or she has going on in his or her life around that issue. A comment about your weight is really not about your weight. It is about the commenter’s weight, how much importance he or she gives to weight, how he or she feels about it. A comment about your hair isn’t really about your hair. It’s about the commenter’s hair. And a comment about your eyes isn’t really about your eyes at all. It’s about the commenter’s issue with eyes, about the way she has fixated there for herself and, hence, how she can’t think of anything else, even when she should be calling out times for the mile.
And while that comment about my eyes wasn’t really about my eyes at all, what I did with that comment is all on me. I could have recognized the absurdness of the situation. I could have ignored it. I could have, instead, fixated on my time, fixated on the fact that I had the makings to become a good runner. Sadly, I didn’t. I bought eyeliner. I practiced applying it with a steady hand instead of practicing my sprints. I gave way too much power to one person.
Have you ever found yourself listening to just one person, just one person who happens not to be you? Have you ever given credence to someone’s comments about your physicality? Consider a whole new way of thinking. Commit to really knowing in your heart that those comments are not about about you and that if you are going to give just one person’s opinion that much weight, that person needs to be you.