When I was in the thick of my calorie-counting, exercise tracking, scale obsessing days, I remember running into women who were not anything like me. Women who were not calorie counting, not exercising for the sole purpose of weight loss, and who actually were really happy with the way they looked. None of these women were extremely thin. None of them looked like models. And this fact was deeply distressing to me. At the time I probably wouldn’t have admitted my distress. Instead I would probably say something like “I can’t believe she thinks she looks so good!” Yeah, I was a real gem. But the truth was, that self-confidence, that lack of self-disgust, the lack of desire to be more perfect, it was incredibly threatening to me. It rocked my world view. It shook me up and rather than look at why it upset me so much that I had to verbally declare that these women did not look great to me, (see, women? I don’t think you look great. Even if you think you do, I don’t. So are you back on my level of self-hatred now, or do I need to be more forceful?) I chose to believe there must be something wrong with them. Instead of being even remotely introspective and realizing there just might be something wrong with me.
I am a rule-follower to a fault. I was a color-inside-the-lines kid, a teenager who didn’t lie to her parents, and one of those pregnant women who didn’t break a single pregnancy “rule”. I can also let guilt and anxiety in frighteningly easily. I have started trying to take notice of when I have big reactions to things that maybe don’t seem so big on the outside. Women who truly don’t care what other people think tend to get big reactions out of me. Why aren’t you following the rules??? You are SUPPOSED TO CARE. Why don’t you care?? Why aren’t you as miserable as the rest of us?? YOU MUST BE AS MISERABLE AS THE REST OF US. ITS IN THE RULES. WHY AREN’T YOU FOLLOWING THE RULES????
And I know its not just me. I have had plenty of conversations with fellow women about these “outliers”. Mindy Kaling writes in her soon-to-be-released book “Why Not Me?”, “People’s reaction to me is sometimes “Uch, I just don’t like her. I hate how she thinks she is so great.” But it’s not that I think I’m so great. I just don’t hate myself. I do idiotic things all the time and I say crazy stuff I regret, but I don’t let everything traumatize me. And the scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.”
Why are we so uncomfortable with women who don’t hate themselves? Is it because its hard to identify with them? We often bond over the hard stuff, over insecurities and struggles. Do women who love themselves just not feel relatable? Are we uncomfortable because that’s what we do as women? Those are the unspoken rules we follow, and anyone who doesn’t play by the rules is not to be trusted?
I often find I have a strong negative reaction to women like this, the kind who seem to be lacking the “self-hatred” gene. And this is a problem, you guys. A big one. What does it mean if we as a culture are uncomfortable with women who don’t hate themselves? What does it mean if this belief that we should hate ourselves has run so deep that we instinctively dislike women who don’t follow this rule?
I ask these questions, but I don’t have the answers. I just know when I step outside of myself to examine the situation, I don’t like what I see. I don’t want to be the woman who dislikes the confident, happy woman. I don’t want to be the woman who wants everyone on my level of self-loathing just so I can be more comfortable. In fact, I want more women around me who aren’t just like me, women who didn’t get that “self-hatred” gene, or who learned to grow out of it. Women who don’t ruminate on negative comments for weeks. Women who don’t obsess over the number on the scale or their jeans. Women who can let themselves make mistakes and give themselves grace. I need to be stretched outside my comfort zone on this issue. We know that those who are hard on others are often hardest on themselves. I think I’ve given the “hard on myself” thing a good run. I’m ready for something new.