Photo cred (left): Jeff Bell
Mad Positivity cont’d - Clyde-o-scope: Reflections of Clyde.
We all started out like this: we didn’t care!
Oof. Where to begin?
First, I must acknowledge the incredible Mad Positivity pieces by Jessica and Shana. These authors have given me so much more understanding and awareness of self-confidence, feminism and body image issues. They cannot possible appreciate how much I appreciate them. I want to go back to university now and devour every course on feminist theory. In my day, there were courses called “Women’s Studies” that a science student like myself scoffed at. Today UBC has the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ). Damn. I have so much more to learn.
But I digress.
My history with negative self-image goes back as far as I can remember.
Like most girls growing up in an unchecked patriarchy, I was brainwashed to believe I was ugly and not worthy of a boy’s love unless I ate less, exercised more, and applied make-up. Did you notice that? The foremost measure of my “worth” was a boy’s love. When I think about my teenage and 20-something self, I want to smack her. And then I want to give her a hug.
I never looked at photos of myself because I would cringe. I told myself my Mom was lying to me when she said I was pretty. (Moms are supposed to say that *eye roll*.) I remember doing about 1 million ab crunches while watching Saved by the Bell after school most days.
Sports helped me to avoid looking at myself. When I played sports, I simply had to do the sport. I didn’t have to dress up, go shopping, or read magazines. I never needed to look in a mirror. I only needed to check my cleats were tied up and that I remembered my hair band. Validation was if I scored the try, or made the tackle. Sports taught me that I need food to perform. I count myself incredibly lucky to have had that perspective early. Despite the constant negative self-image, I maintained a pretty healthy relationship with food because of sports.
But what to do about poor self-image? That hideous, big-chinned, fat monstrosity that I was forced to see when I brushed my teeth every morning?
Fast forward to 2009 (age 30) when I found Madlab.
Here, I experienced physical and emotional growth that was unfathomable in my early years. Push-ups, pull-ups, cleans, muscle-ups…things I never dreamed of accomplishing before MadLab. Every new thing I could DO with my body was another positive tally on the chart of my self-worth. I was also able to add incredible friendships, and a community that I could always turn to in times of stress or joy or loss, to that tally.
Then in 2011, I was suddenly responsible for another little girl’s self-image.
My first draft of this post didn’t mention Justine. And then I realized that she is literally the reason I became attuned to my inner dialog, the negative thoughts, and the skewed perception of what I see in the mirror. Because in her I see what I used to be. (And what I believe we all used to be.) We didn’t care what others thought. We didn’t hear constant messaging that we were not enough. We ran, jumped and played with abandon. Belly, legs, arms, cheeks and hair and all of it. We didn’t care! (...until we did.)
So, in Madlab I also found a community in which my daughter flourishes. Together, we have joined a family of amazing women who, unbeknownst to them, help us understand that everyone struggles, and yet everyone is absolutely, stunningly, perfect. “You are, literally, everything.” (Shana Johnstone. For. The. WIN!)
Justine sees us using and rocking our bodies...doing amazing shit…and fighting through adversity. I see her watching us. Justine hears us talking to one another with support and honesty. I see her listening. I cannot imagine a better place for her to grow up.
Today, I can truthfully say that I do not care what others think about my appearance. Appearance as a value is a social construct, after all. I view every magazine cover or advertisement through a skeptical and pragmatic lens. Who is paying for this? What are they trying to sell me? For my daughter’s sake, I have to not care. Don’t get me wrong: I still have a long way to go towards actively loving myself and that is going to take a lot more work. But I have MadLab to thank for moving me significantly forward in the right direction.
“In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act. Loving yourself is anything but naive. If you don’t become your best friend, who else will? If you don’t convey confidence in what you do, don’t expect others to trust you. We are what we believe we are. When you embrace your true identity, there’s no room for self-doubt. The shadow of self-doubt might show up unexpected. It’s up to you to move from darkness to light.” —Caroline Caldwell