I spend a lot of time working on body-image, self-esteem and external validation as a coach and as a photographer. And yet this morning I notice myself thinking about others more than myself when I got dressed.
It's hot. I don't know if you've noticed. As a fat person, I sweat, I take up a lot of space and the less clothes I wear, the more it seems I am inviting unsolicited reviews from strangers on the street. My body is frequently greeted in public by judgement, but also by disgust. People tell me I'm sweating (as if I wouldn't notice the water running down my face), they tell me that I'm irresponsible (“The NHS is under enough strain” said the person outside my corner shop, talking directly to my stomach), you didn't always look like this (said with some concern by friends. No, honey, I used to eat one egg a day and smell terrible).
So this morning I had to leave the house, something I'm often not capable of these days. And it is hot and I'm thinking about my shoes.
In the old world in my own body, I would have worn sandals or flip-flops, but covid stole my balance, amongst many other things. Are my ankles and no longer to be trusted. But it is baking and to wear ankle braces, sturdy shoes and socks will only end up with me looking like I've swum my way to my hospital appointment. I contemplate some sturdy walking sandals I have which support me well. And to my surprise, I notice my next thought is wondering what other people will think of me, especially to be laughably seen as someone who is clearly no longer capable of a hike.
What other people think of me is not my priority. And my feet are frankly not theirs, but yet still this voice pops up in a very reasonable costume and stands right in front of my actions. And all the disguise is to get me to accept the thought “YOU’RE GOING TO BE REJECTED!”.
It can be easy to reprimand ourselves as ridiculous for contemplating such trivialities. But in truth, and is our brain's oldest survival mechanisms kicking in and checking that we're going to be safe. Rejection used to mean that the tribe would leave us behind, that we would not get food and if we were injured, we will be done for. By simply noticing this old mechanism as something which has served us for thousands of years to quite literally keep us alive we can remove some of the judgement we throw it ourselves for thinking it. Somehow, by placing our reaction in this historical, evolutionary context, it takes the fire out of the frightened little voice, which whispers “there is something wrong with you”.
When I notice my brain telling me other people are going to judge my feet on the Victoria line, I know what's really going on. It is my brain asking if I'm safe. And if I can find a way to acknowledge my brain (either, quite literally, by talking back or taking action) what I signal to the fear receptors is that someone is listening and someone is in charge. And from your brains point of view, what it receives is “Stand down folks, she's got this.”.
So it's just some shoes and just some dusty toes on the underground, navigating British summer and climate change. But when we pay attention to the way that we respond to these little things. We equip our brains for the big stuff in life.
These small things may seem insignificant, but these are the foundation building blocks which create reliable, trustworthy habits. Itis through repetition that our brains learn these tools are available for us for when we need them most.
So when you're out there over this weekend with the sunshine and all those other humans, I invite you with curiosity to observe your brain a little on those times that you're feeling flustered, or you're not quite sure why you're feeling agitated. What thoughts are going on for you? What are the thoughts behind the feelings? See if you can catch yourself and learn anything about the way the your brain operates that is going to serve you in the future. Because it's by not ignoring these little things that we become more resilient.