Most days my gym workouts are physically and socially revitalizing. I enjoy the feeling of exercising my muscles and love being a “social butterfly”, flitting from equipment to equipment, sharing my smile and gentle encouragement with the many acquaintances I’ve made over the years. Every few weeks, though, I have a day where my inner critic won’t shut up. Today was one of those days.
It all started with a new girl. A new girl who turned heads. I noticed her. Or, rather, she was noticed by that insidious voice of disordered eating and distorted body image that exists within me in a world of all-or-nothing. It was that voice that said this morning, “Ugh! A zit on your chin. That’s disgusting. You’re so ugly.” It was the same voice that added, “Look at that fat roll around your middle. You’ve really let yourself go.” Well, with that voice ringing in my head, it was no surprise that I felt distracted and defeated when the new girl walked up the stairs, started working out like a demon, doing new and interesting moves on each piece of equipment…AND HEADS TURNED. My inner critic saw how she gained the attention of dozens of men (and women), even if just for an instant before they went back to their own pursuits of health and happiness.
My critic said, “She turns heads. No wonder! Look at her X! It’s perfectly sculpted. Look at her Y! So round! She’s the total package! You’re so ugly compared to her.” I proceeded to turn inward, to withdraw from others, even from the hard-to-resist smile of my friend and the wry humor of my workout partner. I was no longer engaged in my workout, no longer listening to my body, no longer present with my friends.
Twenty minutes before the end of my workout, I heard a small voice whisper, “turning hearts”. What?! I’m almost shouted it out loud in response to the whispering voice. “Is it better to turn heads or to turn hearts?” was the reply. I pondered this. The small gentle voice continued: “You may think that she turns heads, but YOU TURN HEARTS. Every day, you come in here sharing your smile with others, being open about your experiences with disordered eating, promoting body positivity in the locker room, and asking others how they’re doing. Again, she may turn heads today, for one moment. But YOU TURN HEARTS. And that’s much more lasting.”
I was stunned. And SO grateful for that still small voice of self-compassion. I plan to ponder those words every time my inner critic takes over and tells me that the measure of my success is how others perceive my physical appearance. I’m ready.
Next time I’ll say, “I turn hearts.”
Peace, joy, and health,