This was taken after my MMA video shoot with the hilarious and talented Jen Sinkler for Lifetime Fitness. She brought me squash which is pretty much the best gift ever. Plus it makes a great weapon.
Vegetables are easy to love. They’re crunchy and colorful and full of yummy nutrients. They’re especially easy to love when you lack the gene that makes them taste bad, like I do. (I think lacking the sulphur-tasting gene makes up for my trigger-happy sneezing gene. Because bargaining with science is exactly how genetics works. Whatever, I’m totally bragging.) But you know what is not as easy to love? Myself. So this last Sunday when I ended up with four giant zucchinis at my door and the opportunity to talk about myself in church, you can guess which one I was more excited about. Delicious squash for the win!
Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about myself. (Thiswholeblog. Ahem.) But what I don’t love is the 5-minute introduce-yourself type of talking. This is because the combination of time pressure and my blabby mouth always makes me say something idiotic. Like the time I told a group of strangers that the best I’ve ever felt in my whole life was when I had my colonoscopy, thanks to the awesome narcotics they gave me. (A really graphic visual is one heck of a mneumonic device, by the way. I’m sure I’m now colonoscopy-drug-addict girl to that whole group. But I bet they didn’t forget my name!) I am the queen of bad first impressions.
I immediately knew what I wanted to do with the zucchini – I have an amazing chocolate whole-wheat pretty-healthified zucchini bread recipe** (chocolate hides a host of sins, er, veggies!) plus I freeze some for zucchini boats and minestrone. But as I sat grating the squash by hand (best way to do it – my food processor is cheap-o and turns the whole lot into baby food), all I could think about were all the things I didn’t want to say in my church introduction. After all, all of the things that have really defined my life – birthing babies, being sexually assaulted, losing a baby, eating disorder(s), mental illness – really aren’t first date material, you know?
In the past I’ve generally resorted to simplifying the whole mess by sticking my hand out and saying, “Hi! I’m Charlotte! I’m crazy!” (Oh yes, I do!) But I’m trying to do better. Crazy is certainly part of who I am but it’s not all of who I am (and honestly I have you guys to thank for helping me see that over the past few years). So instead, as I stood in front of the group of Church Ladies in my done-to-the-point-of-overdone dress, makeup and hair, what came out was this: “True story: When I was a teen, my friends paid a boy to kiss me for the first time because apparently I was never going to lose my VL card without a financial incentive. I’d like to say that’s the source of my abysmal self-esteem but in all honesty I’ve always kinda hated myself.”
Oy. (Which, by the way, explains the perfectly put together dress/hair/makeup. It isn’t because I’m vain. It’s because I’m horribly insecure and I hope that by distracting people with all the sparkly stuff on the outside they won’t notice what I’m lacking underneath. Oh, and it’s also because I freaking love vintage dresses. That too.)
In my defense, it came after this: “Hi! I’m Charlotte. A few things you should know about me: I love spicy food. The spicier the better. I’m obsessed with fuzzy and/or glittery socks. And lip balm. I’ve lost 10 IQ points with each kid and since I’ve had five of them that doesn’t bode well for any of you that will want me to remember your phone number or shoe size. And also? I have really low self esteem.” Which is the point where I launched into the story. I didn’t add that since I’ve moved I’ve been really really struggling with feeling down about who I am. I hate everything – my weight, my looks, my housekeeping abilities, even my writing (it all comes out of my fingers like… crap). My knee-jerk reaction lately to whenever anything goes wrong is to whisper “I hate me” under my breath.
As part of the assignment, I was supposed to bring a few objects that represent me and since I couldn’t find a colonoscopy tube (or drugs) on such short notice, I instead grabbed a little placard given to me by my wonderful friends in Minnesota that read, “I may not be perfect but parts of me are pretty awesome!”
The first time I read that saying my initial reaction wasn’t much. It was just another trite aphorism that people like to paint on wood or slap on Instagram photos. (Instagram = the modern evolution of tole painting. Mind blown.) But then one day, as I sat watching my kids do something that wasn’t annoying, destructive or embarrassing – which of course I can’t remember since apparently I only hang onto the bad stuff – I realized that they are beautiful and smart and talented and every good thing. In short, they are pretty awesome. And they are parts of me. As I mused out loud to the church ladies (whom I’m sure were more than sorry by that point they’d given me the friendship basket*), “Having kids has really helped me see myself better. Because they are amazing and how could I not love the mother who helped create them?”
I’ve long been afraid to love myself. Part of it is the fear of unfulfilled expectations – what if I truly have this amazing potential but I’m not living up to it? It’s easier to say I’m lame and then any little thing I do seems like a bonus. But part of it, I think, is fear of what I’d have to change if I did truly love who I am. I’d have to take care of me. I’d have to stop staying up half the night working and I’d have to stop gossiping and I’d have to eat better and I’d have to start folding my clean laundry instead of just stuffing it into drawers. What would I do differently if I really cared about me? I’d have to stop calling me crazy.
That’s a tall order. And I wasn’t sure where to start with all of that until the girl sitting next to me in our little church room raised her hand to answer a question posed during the lesson on service we were having. (Yes, I eventually stopped talking and sat my butt down.) The girl was gorgeous and talented and sweet and conscientious – I’ve hung out with her so I can say these things definitively – and so I was surprised when she started out, “Sometimes I get really down on myself. Like, really down. In a dark place and I can’t see the way out.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. If covering body image for 7 years has taught me anything it’s that most of us really struggle with our self image, no matter what we look like on the outside. Sadly self-hate has become a near-universal constant.
She continued, “But I’ve found the best way to get out of that is to do something for someone else. I know that sounds like a really selfish motivation to do service – because it makes me feel better! – but it really helps. I always feel better about myself.”
It wasn’t selfish at all, at least not from where I was sitting. It was beautiful. And exactly what I needed to hear. So when I got home from church, I took off the fancy dress and pearls and set to work baking six huge zucchini sheet cakes. Then I put them on plates. (And sprinkled them with powdered sugar to disguise the fact that they still looked like turds. Because everything I cook ends up look scatalogical, I swear.) I wrote some overdue thank-you notes. Then I piled the family into the car and we drove them around to people until we ran out of plates. And then we invited people over to help us eat the rest of it.
It worked. I feel better. About myself. About everything.
The funny part is that not a thing changed. I still weigh the same and look the same. I still feel stuck in my career place. I still get frustrated with my kids. And yet everything feels better. It’s not the first time I’ve had to learn this lesson. (Or written about it.) And I’m sure it won’t be the last either. But because of the constant barrage of negativity we encounter, I think some good things just need repeating. Forgive? This is one lesson that I’ll hopefully be repeating many, many times in my life. Squash optional.
Do you love veggies? What’s your fave thing to do with a giant zucchini?? What little acts of service do you like to do that help you feel better?
*Probably not. LDS church ladies are super duper nice. Especially the ones at my church!
** For those of you who want the recipe:
Mix, bake at 350 until done (about 30 minutes for a 9X13 cake or 15 minutes for muffins), enjoy!