The wonderful Brené Brown has recently released her newest book, Daring Greatly, which I am eagerly reading cover to cover. As always, it sparks new motivation in me to continue analysis of all the messages we receive about worthiness.
Recently I’ve discovered part of my mental health involved not feeling worthy, or like a worthwhile person. I think this is linked to our culture of achievement, the one that tells us we are what we do, the one that pushes us to believe what we do is never enough, the one that expects us to be perfect but not with effort, not with the work it takes to try and reach that (unattainable) level of “right.”
Weight loss is an obvious place we see this model writ large in our culture. I’ve talked about the Biggest Loser, but it’s not only on reality television. We hear it day in and day out, in tabloids, at our workplaces, at our gyms, with our families. Almost without exception, it’s a congratulatory tone, praising willpower, praising the “finally made” decision to be thinner.
When one is faced with cultural values that do not fit with personal values, there are generally three big options. You can ignore it, and pretend it isn’t there. You can accept it, and strive to fit your values into the cultural framework. You can reject it, creating values of your own (punk rock, amirite? amirite, ladies?!).
The problem with creating your own unique value system is the kernel of positive focus in some of these cultural standards. Achievement is a worthy goal – it’s at the top of the Maslow hierarchy of needs, it’s an essential part of Erikson’s developmental stages, and I know I personally feel validated and positive when I have concrete accomplishments to look at. When my worth as a person is in question, because of failure or performing at a mediocre level, that becomes a problem.
If we’re only good for what we achieve, and weight loss is an achievement, no wonder we always feel worthless. Most people who lose weight gain it back. Adding healthy habits to a routine does not always add up to weight loss – our bodies are created to survive, and to hang on to fuel if there’s food scarcity. Adding muscle can add to weight, or at least keep weight the same.
To be healthy and at a “non-ideal” weight is, in itself, vulnerable. Constantly playing defense with the hours you exercise or the vegetables you eat does not lead to acceptance and peace – the need to prove yourself healthy can be discouraging, and keep that angry furnace alive and well. Let’s start building up our shame resilience today; we know ourselves. What other people know will always be incomplete and inaccurate.