Playing What If
How do you separate your self worth from your self image? Ever since Gym Buddy Candice asked me this question, it’s been rolling around in my mind. The thing is, I have no good answer for her. Because I’m not very good at it. There are lots of things I’m not very good at (volleyball, pingpong, and fiery baton juggling, to name just a few) but this one actually bothers me. I want to be able to say that my body doesn’t define who I am. That I am more than the sum of my skin and muscle and bone. But what if I am not beautiful?
The next step up is to define yourself by what your body can do. A lot of health and fitness bloggers like to take this tack: it’s not about achieving a certain look but rather about completing a triathlon or being able to lift a heavier weight or some other measurable goal. But what if I could do nothing?
What if I were ugly and unable to do even the simplest things? Would my life still be of value? I think everyone would immediately answer “of course!” Human life is valuable in all of its many forms. So there is the distinction: I was born with intrinsic worth (as were all of you) and yet I continue to allow the media, our culture, and worst of all, myself, to obscure that with messages about looks and achievement being the most important aspects of a person.
But Then What?
It’s easy to see how this happens. You can’t see a person’s soul. You can immediately see their body however, and quite often their achievements. But there is a core inside every person, a divine spark if you will, that is the essence of who they are and is wholly unrelated to what we first notice about them.
Beauty is our cultural currency. Achievement is power. A life is measured in these terms. How else to quantify success?
Surely there is a different way. I know for myself that the times I feel most like “Charlotte” are the times I’m thinking the least about myself. Like when I took a group of teenage girls to volunteer at the local food bank. Watching them helping others who had so much less made me feel so much more of myself than an entire day of navel gazing could have done. Or when I help a student figure out the simple symmetry in nature that completely demystifies the periodic table. Watching their face light up with understanding, I am more myself than before I taught them (or they taught me?).
A drop in bodyfat percentage feels great – but not nearly as good as the time I helped an elderly woman suffering from dementia who was lost and wandering around in the rain with no jacket. Despite having all my children with me, I stayed with her for over an hour until we could locate a family member. And then I drove her back to her home. When my second son asked “Why are we still heeeeerrrrreeee?” my first son answered, “It’s what we do. We help people.” As I delivered my fragile cargo, I asked her son what her name was. His answer? “Charlotte.”
So help me answer Candice – how do you separate your self image from your self worth?
“What are we here for, if not to make life easier for each other?”