I stupidly didn’t realize that weight issues are probably right up there with politics and religion when it comes to sensitivity, feather-rustling and strong opinions. (This is probably not the time to mention how much I hate musicals. Yes, I even hate Rent. Yeah, I know. Is anyone still reading?) And while I think it’s okay to talk about these hot-button issues (probably even vital to communicate these issues to one another) a blog probably isn’t the best place to do so – certainly no where near as good as talking to people face to face.

And doing just that this morning with my cube-mate Liz, we had a pretty great conversation about how the best way to express your opinions on touchy subjects is to talk from your own experience (and also about how depressing basement gyms can be).

So – I’m going to drop the weight part of the issue and talk a little about something that I feel strongly about that I don’t think I expressed well yesterday, this time talking a bit more about myself.

I’m very wary of self-love and confidence and acceptance. I know that sounds weird. Nannying over the last eight years or so, I’ve seen a trend of telling kids, especially girls, to love themselves no matter what, to be confident, to trust your feelings. To laugh at all of their jokes, to praise and support everything they do. I’ve also read it on a lot of magazine racks – be yourself! Love yourself!

And, to a point, this is great. So often, our culture tells us that we aren’t perfect and not good enough and women are being asked more and more to be everything – have children, have a career, still look perfect, etc. It’s a lot of pressure and, besides that, it’s just plain impossible to be everything to everyone.

But has the pendulum swung too far? Sometimes I think so – that the line between loving and valuing who we are (and we should all, down to the very last one of us, be loved and valued) and knowing when there are parts of you that you don’t love and that you can change.

As corny as it sounds, I think this goes back to the framed needlework art that probably hangs in one of your aunt’s bathrooms: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

My own struggle has been with shyness and social anxiety. It’s in my genes, it’s something wrong with my brain, it probably had a bit to do with my environment growing up, and it’s part of my personality. Now, while I can’t change the way my brain works, for whatever varied reasons it works that way, I can change the way I think about it and the way I act. Just like any other struggle, it never ends or gets easier – I can only understand it better and work with it.

My mom helped me with this a lot growing up (when I was younger I couldn’t even make phone calls) and as I’ve gotten older I’ve read a lot about it and gotten some help. I still have to force myself to do things (call people, attend parties, act normal in meetings, meet the parents) but the experiences and relationships I get from pushing myself and deciding to simply be uncomfortable have been more than worth it.

So is my social anxiety something I can’t change and should accept, or is it something I can work on? I say, even if I’ll never be “normal,” even if it means I might cry a little before I can ask someone to the movies, I’d rather end up in the movies with a new friend than alone in my house, not crying, having “accepted myself.” Just because shyness is an innate part of me doesn’t mean I have to like it. If anything I hope it’s made me more outspoken than someone who doesn’t worry constantly about social situations.

On the other hand, there are things I can’t change, like my diminutive height or laughable breast size. In these cases, I have to put away any dreams I had of being a basketball center or a successful stripper and come to terms with it. I mean, at least I can jog without a sports bra.  

But going back to the original argument, I wonder what would have happened if, while I was growing up, my mom (who also struggles with shyness, although you’d never be able to tell) taught me to love myself exactly as I was. Would I still have forced myself to join the improv troupe in college or try out for a spot in the opinion section of the newspaper – two things that I truly valued and enjoyed? Would I even have been able to follow my dream of becoming a writer?

And I think this links back to self-criticism and self-doubt. I think they are integral in being open-minded and improving yourself. It was hard reading some of the responses I got yesterday, but a lot of them had good points in them. Yes, it wasn’t any fun to beat myself up about what I had written or to admit to myself that I had not considered certain aspects of my argument, but it’s a lot better than blocking out the criticism and saying “I believe what I believe and I love myself.”

Perhaps it’s just as important to teach our daughters to listen to others as well as listening to their own hearts and to teach them that it’s just as important to accept the constants in life as it is to fight for anything they wish if they have any kind of a fighting chance.

Ben and I often talk about how it will be important in our futures to always be a little uncomfortable. To keep pushing ourselves and to question everything.

Settling with every aspect of who you are today is a very comforting thing to do. And here I am filled with a lot of self-doubt and even more self-criticism. But it’s these doubts and criticisms that will, hopefully, keep me thinking, keep me refining the way I see the world, and keep me moving forward.

And, I swear to God, my next post will be a light-hearted collection of humorous observations about life.