A few weeks ago, I was listening to a recording from the “stop fighting food” class I loved, and the coach said something that really changed things for me. Because she was so, so, totally wrong.
She said something like, “The premise of pretty much every religion is this: How do I feel okay, just as I am, now? How do I know, in every moment, that I’m okay?”
And I thought, “What kind of religion did you grow up in?! Were you raised by Richard Gere or Buddhist monks or The Dude?”
Don’t get me wrong, I was raised in a loving family that was closely tied to a (mostly) supportive church family. But the whole church culture—while it gave me many things—did not teach me that I was fine, just as I was. It taught me that I was a horrible sinner, and I needed saving.
Thank goodness Jesus could save me, as long as I did all the right things—got baptized, knew I was saved by grace, and kept up the good works. And I’d also have to behave. Like ALL. THE. TIME. I’d have to spend half my week at church, and not have sex out of wedlock, and memorize my Bible, and not be gay, and do well in school, and did I mention not having sex?
Luckily for me, I was pretty good at behaving, but I was also very good and knowing what everyone else should be doing, and shoulding myself to death in the process.
This is when I learned a skill that I like to call, “Hustling for worth,” which is the exact opposite of knowing you’re fine.
Hustling for Worth
Since I was bad and needed saving, I needed a ruler of some sort—some kind of measuring device to make sure I was okay, making progress, on the path. I mean, I talked to Jesus all the time, but I couldn’t hear him in return, so I needed something else.
Therefore, I developed an intricate, subconscious rating system. I was okay as long as I:
- Didn’t get pregnant (Luckily, I’m still winning at this one),
- Was attractive but not slutty
- Conformed to expectations about what to wear, what to look like, what to say, how to be, etc.
- Was thought of well by everyone else
- Had the right friends
- Did well in school
- Conformed to cultural expectations about what my body should look like
- Went to the RIGHT church 3 times a week (or more)
- Spoke up for myself but wasn’t bossy
- Was perceived as smart
- Chose the right career
- Made a lot of money but gave a good amount of it to the poor
- Was amazing but humble
- Agreed with major forms of authority
- Gained enough weight to have boobs and a not-so-flat butt, but not enough that I got a tummy
- Was feminine but not so girly that I was whiny
- Married the right guy
- Had a personal relationship with God
- Was never wrong
- Could express emotion without really feeling it
- Was witty but not too funny
- Never learned to curse
- Sponsored a child in a third-world country and wrote her a letter every week
This is the highly abbreviated list; I’m sure you can think of plenty of your own. And just reading this brief selection makes it clear that I have lived most of my life outside of myself—trying to decide what some other person wanted me to be and then just subtly leaning that way a bit. (Not in major ways, because those girls are hella needy.)
Unfortunately, I think this is the case for most women, but it stops here for me.
I’m not exactly sure what the answer to this issue is, but I’m trying some experiments that might help us out here. Some of them involve liberal applications of ice cream, while others involve not trying so effing hard.
So stay tuned, and maybe I’ll manage to create my very own measurement system that actually works.