I was in my early twenties, blowing my crazy, curly hair out as straight as I could with the relatively limited skills I had coupled by my general impatience for beauty (in general, my face was always in a book while I was trying to do my hair). Finally, after an hour under the hot, misdirected blasts of air, I would look in the mirror, deem my triangle of hair as good as it was going to get and head out into the wicked North Carolina humidity that always boosted my hair from triangle shape to half-circle, the widest part fanning out over my shoulders, within minutes (my hour bent over a book while directing heat in the general direction of my hair rendered totally useless).
One day with my arm awkwardly contorted over me as I tried to yet again read with one hand and dry with the other, a thought came to me. If I did this five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, well, then I was putting more than 10 days a year into doing my hair (badly, I might add.). Extrapolate that out to five more years of this pattern, and I was going to lose about 55 days of my life to doing my hair. If I kept going with this pattern, fighting my natural texture, then when I died, it would be just as fair to put “she spent one year of her life doing her hair” as just about anything else.
To say that realization shocked my system is an understatement. Next, I pulled open the drawer that held my hair supplies and quickly did the math. I had well over $150 dollars worth of product in there. My spending money each month for meals, movies, the like? $150. More than one month of my expendable income was in that drawer.
Both those realizations railed against what I would have strongly insisted my values were. What better things could I be doing with that daily hour of hair doing? What better use did I have for that money? Put that way, I had to see my truth, see the incongruency, and DECIDE to change.
Rule # 1: my hair could get 90 minutes of attention a week. So that basically meant that if I wanted to blow it out once a week, I could. But other than that, the remaining hair minutes– those precious thirty minutes– were basically for putting a comb through it, putting in some product, and lightly diffusing so I didn’t walk out the house with sopping wet hair that took hours and hours to air dry.
Rule # 2: I had to finish every product in my drawer before I could get anything else.
Those rules were game changers for me. I became less and less fixated on my hair. I quit looking for the latest hair products. A particularly frizzy day was just that- a particularly frizzy day. It said nothing about me, my worth, my ability.
Now, hair, to this day, tends to be my thing. I still don’t spend much time doing mine, but I am just a little bit of self-awareness away from grabbing all the hair products in a big box store aisle and saying “One of these has to work.” I still don’t have a favorite product for my hair but I still try to finish what I buy before I get anything else.
Many of us have our thing– our body image/ beauty standard thing that we get a little obsessive about… maybe it’s weight or eye lashes or being tan or not tanning or blush or lipstick or manicures or you get the picture. We usually have a thing that we have a little (or a lot) heightened awareness about and, if we aren’t careful, can trigger us into a body/self bashing free for all.
Yet, we don’t really need any of those things. We’ve just been taught that we need those things by the media that surrounds us because if we buy into that myth, then we literally buy things and make someone else some money. We’re exploited because someone else wants a vacation house or seven.
And if we aren’t particularly careful, our “thing” becomes something more ominous, it becomes an obsession. And our obsessions paralyze us. They keep us oppressed. They divert our energy and attention and resources away from the things that we think matter and onto the things that others tell us we should make matter. We begin to play someone else’s game instead of our own.
The truth is that there is no amount of time that we can spend in the mirror that will touch, heal, or soothe our souls (or anyone else’s). The work of our lives IS not a body project- a body project that is almost never obtainable because the images that inspired it in us are not even real.
If we choose our standards for ourselves based on a general malaise or dissatisfaction, our effort is not going to satisfy because it is not our body that needs changing. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a woman say that “I lost x pounds. Why aren’t I happy?” Our bodies have never been our vehicles to happiness. It is not our bodies that need changing for us to find happiness, confidence, purpose.A body project is not our purpose. Each one of us is meant for something greater.
Today, I want to encourage you to become hyper-aware of what your obsessions are when it comes to body image and beauty standards. What are the messages that you have bought into? What are the messages you are maybe even giving? In our mission to set ourselves free from the thoughts and ideas that constrain us, our first step must be seeing and accepting what we have been telling ourselves and what we have been driving ourselves to do. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll look at thoughts and practices that can push forward towards self-acceptance and intentional living and away from the stuff that oppresses us.