One of the privileges of working in a clothing store is being able to witness women in a sometimes-vulnerable state.
What is happening when we interact with clothing in front of strangers? There are issues of class, issues of "fitting in", of presenting the right image, of how we perceive our bodies, of trying to delicately support one another in this context without being overly personal, without being overly impersonal.
All of these interactions is a dance, and believe you me, if you are really trying to follow The Four Agreements, or if you are going through a shift that makes you sensitive, you will unearth a lot of information about yourself in these interactions.
The other day someone tried something on, and afterwards she said, "Maybe I'll come back when I don't look like a big fat monster." I told her, "I have days where I feel that way, too, but it's just a feeling." And I believe that. No bullshit. Maybe your weight fluctuates in a range of 20 lbs like mine has for my entire life since I turned eleven years old, but where do we learn to talk to ourselves like this? I actually asked this particular person that question. She looked at me and sort of snapped out of her automatic way of talking to herself and said, "I don't know."
Yesterday I was searching the internet to find out how to make the words in your Instagram stories move. This youtube video came up. A girl who was about 10-14 years-old with the sweetest voice, started to explain the information I was seeking in simple terms. In the video, to show her example, she took a photo of herself. After saying "This one is ugly, let me take another one," She then says, "Say you're trying to type, I look like trash, because I do, I look like trash," and she then scribbles her face out and continues her demo using a photo with her face scribbled out to demonstrate this technology feature to the world.
This broke my heart. This little girl was putting herself out there in the world to teach people something. Inherently, she knows she has something to offer. And it actually seems like she is having fun with the video. She says it's her first tutorial at some point and says, "I hope you enjoyed this."
This amatuer tutorial had 9,000 views and it actually was really helpful to me, and I found what I was looking for.
I was heartened and relieved to see that several of the comments were from other strangers who felt the way I did, they told her, "You're beautiful, don't ever talk about yourself like that."
This nonchalant, sweetly-spoken self abuse is something I hear everyday. I hear women vocalize their body dysmorphia all of the time. I hear older women in their sixties talk about their bodies in hurtful harmful ways. I hear myself do it all of the time. What is this?
I have never seen a cat or a dog or a flower or a tree or a child and thought to myself, "I would like you better if.... or You're okay, but you would be beautiful if.... "
Whenever I talk to people before a reiki session, one of the most common patterns (and I am currently working on this too) is the level of judgment and harshness we have on ourselves that causes us to talk in a way to ourselves we would never speak to a friend, a sister or a stranger.
I would never look at another three year-old business and say, "You don't know what you're doing. At this point in time you should be doing three times better than you are." I would never look at another woman and say, "Why do you work so hard to exercise if you're going to eat that." I tire as I write this. Just thinking of it drains me. It makes me sad to my core to hear how we talk about ourselves as women. I know this isn't specific to any one gender, but I bear witness to women the most and every little dig is harmful. It gets stored in us like a muscle memory.
How do we address this? What do we do to stop, what I believe, is actual madness?
For me, there are three things that really help.
1. The Breath: When I am overwhelmed, running from one task to another, and start muttering to myself, why are you being slow, what's wrong with- I just stop. I pretend to be a computer just closing all the windows. And in the blank space, I take three deep breaths. (I have written about this before, and I am ecstatic that they teach children these things in Sesame Street videos.)
2. Talking Back To It: When I am trying something on and it doesn't look like I wanted it to, or when I am cooking and I over salt something, or when I do anything I begin to judge myself harshly for, when I hear the voice saying, "Why do you look like that? or Did you seriously do this same mistake again?" If I am alone, I will actually say out loud "SHUT UP." If am in the shop or in public, I will say it silently. This sounds silly, but what it trains you to do is to stop yourself from abusing yourself. This is a big deal. It's difficult. It requires patience and pause. It's an everyday practice for me, so be easy of yourself if you have to do this every day a few times an hour. It's okay.
3. I Ask Who It Belongs To: When I hear a voice that is derogatory and mean, whether it's directed at someone else, or directed at myself, I will ask it, "Whose is this?" I decided recently that there is no way that this belongs to me. This comes from years of trying to fit in with cool kids in middle school, trying to act like I am different "than a regular person" in my early twenties, and years and years of emotional and self-worth challenges that occur when you work in the service industry. Learning to "other" customers and to treat your fellow/sister staff members as "inside the club" is an old habit I picked up because the capitalist system we live in often made me feel "less than" because I was "serving" others. This idea is just an idea. This does not come from inside of us. I don't know any little kid who thinks about certain people having more value than others. They're guided by a compass that searches for what is most joyful to them. And yes, they're not good at sharing sometimes, but it does not come from a place of needing status and power, and to put others down to elevate themselves. It comes from a place of knowing they deserve joy. These ideas of status and power are not not ours. So next time you hear that dark, mean entity, just be like, Sorry, you have to go somewhere else.
Most importantly, when you hear these voices, don't demonize them, and in turn, demonize a part of yourself. Speak to these shadowy energies without judgment. Because they aren't yours. They are harmless if you "decharge" their meaning.
Do we all have darkness, anxieties, fears? I imagine so. But we don't have to hate ourselves for being complex, for being sad, for having shadows. Make space to feel the feelings and they just pass. Notice if you're holding your breath or if your muscles are contracting and give them a second to relax. What also really helps me is just crying my eyes out. I can literally feel the toxins flowing out of me when I cry. And I feel totally cleansed after letting myself be vulnerable in that way. I don't totally understand it, but I know it works and it feels so good that sometimes I just start laughing afterwards, feeling so much lighter.
It sounds super corny, and I find that it's really hard to find ways to express the simplest truths without reiterating someone else's words, but whenever I feel really irritable and unsafe, and I'm working in the store or out in the world, I just remember, every single person out here was a child, and has a soul. And what this means is that whenever you send out a harsh word or a harsh judgment, you're just saying it to the collective, and whatever harmful intentions you put out to the collective, you're ingesting yourself.
Plus, no one know what anyone else is really thinking, so in the mental sphere, it's really you experiencing the toxicity the most. When you judge someone for "showing off" you're saying that to your inner child who wants to sing and belt out songs and wear 18 colors and doesn't even know HOW to give a f*ck. If you're saying "Why can't you move over for these other people on the subway, you have no manners." You are yelling at the part of yourself that wants to take up space, and be comfortable, that has the survival instinct to want things in a visceral way.
Yes you have to protect yourself. You can't give all of yourself away all of the time. (Kaypacha says, in order to bloom, a flower has to take in enough water and light to be something that gives back to the world.) Understand that it is not selfish to take what you need to blossom. And understand that everyone around you has the power to blossom too, if only we would give ourselves and one another, the chance, and take the first step of noticing how we treat ourselves and one another.