Monday, July 20, 2009

Semi-deep thought, by me

Anybody remember those Saturday Night Live spots called Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey? I used to love those, because they were deeply absurd, but also sometimes absurdly deep.

In case you don't remember or are not familiar with them, here's an example. It's a little bit crude, but happens to fit in exactly with where I was going with my thinking today.

If you'll indulge me now, I'm going to offer a sort of semi-deep thought of my own:

What if we had no access to visual cues about what we looked like, other than what we could see with our own eyes — no mirrors, no photos, no video, no reflections in a pond. How would we feel about our bodies?

This thought came to me after reading a story in Slate about a woman who thought she was too short and took the extraordinary step of having both of her legs surgically broken so she could be "stretched." It seems she had been taunted at school — hey, who wasn't? — and in adulthood felt that people didn't take her seriously because of her stature. You can read the story here.

The surgery — which increased the woman's height from 5'1" to 5'4"— could have resulted in a host of debilitating complications. But it didn't, and the woman went on to become a city councilwoman.

Now even without being able to catch a glimpse of herself, this woman would have been able to surmise that she was perhaps a bit shorter than "average." But would it have mattered so much to her? Would it have mattered — or in reality, did it matter — to anyone else?

I think a lot of us think too critically about our appearances, but what is it that we're comparing ourselves with when we wish our hair were straighter or curlier or fuller, our bodies thinner or more muscular, our height taller or shorter?

Is it our friends? Our coworkers? Strangers we see on the street? I doubt that. Think about that the next time you're at the supermarket or gas station, or just about any public place. Take a good look around.

No, I have to believe we're constantly sizing ourselves up against something more insidious and damaging, that notion of the "perfect" or "desirable" that's foisted on us daily by advertisers and Hollywood and has become so ingrained we're not even aware of its impact on our self-image.

So we find ourselves coming up short, so to speak, when we compare ourselves with this unattainable ideal.

And in assessing our looks, the mirror is our co-conspirator in negative self-talk.

In a recent post I shared my favorite quotation, from Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." It's a great line that I've used quite successfully to deflect the criticism of others.

But what happens when we are our own tormentors?

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Janet Jackson says "In the dark we are all the same" at the start of one of her songs. Same principle. I just need to remember these things when I'm feeling inferior next time.