Today’s post is as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s. I have found myself bogged down in expectations lately, almost all of them self-imposed, and am trying to codify my approach to confronting these sorts of issues; basically, it all boils down to asking the irritating kids’ question, “Says who?”. Hopefully it can help me talk myself through the minor crises that occasionally prevent me from throwing caution to the wind and living the life I want regardless of implicit social expectations; if nothing else, maybe it’ll make me think a little more critically about my knee-jerk, “I can’t do that because dear god, what would people think?!?” responses (in this case, it came up partly because Moon Man suggested going to an all-inclusive resort for our better-late-than-never honeymoon, and I went into full meltdown at the thought of the Beautiful People(TM) seeing me in all my hippo-in-a-bathing-suit splendor).
Here’s how the “Says Who?” Though Exercise looks:
1. Identify the speaker. In other words, ask, “Says who?” Who is it that is telling you that you have to live a certain way, or act a certain way, or do certain things? Is it the nebulous “They” that speaks for social conventions, as in “they say you shouldn’t eat cake for breakfast”? Is it someone specific, as in “The Queen of England told me to use the outermost spoon first”? A good starting rule might be to ignore advice that doesn’t come from someone who knows your last name–if the advice is aimed scattershot at the world at large, it really might not apply to your life. (Exceptions can be made for advice coming from experts, though it’s always a good idea to verify whether those experts are working from a secret secondary agenda–who paid for the study they’re quoting? Was it a corporation? If so, the results might be slightly skewed.) If it came from someone who really does know you and really is motivated by helping you live your best life, then it’s worth consideration.
2. Truth-check everything. Run it through your Morality Filter: “Does this adhere to my spiritual/religious/other moral code?”. Then run it through your Ethics Filter: “Will this action cause any real harm to anyone else? If so, is that within tolerance?” (example: the argument could be made that sending that get-well-soon card to your ailing grandmother would contribute to her mail carrier’s shoulder strain. I’d send the card anyway.). Finally, run it through your Truth Filter: “If it’s morally and ethically ok for me to do this, does it just plain make sense? Does the argument for it seem valid?” If it fails any of those filters, it’s probably not a great idea.
3. Consider your lifestyle. Does the advice mesh well with the way you want to live your life? If this was going to be your only chance to make this decision ever in life, could you happily live with your decision until the day you die? Most decisions aren’t that black-and-white–you almost always get the chance for a do-over later. But it helps to think about it; for example, the Diet People say cake is a no-no most of the time, and you’re never allowed to “pig out” on it. To the Diet People, I say, “Well, then, since you won’t be using your helping of cake, I’ll just take that for you”. A lifestyle that prohibits cake is right out of the question for me, and if I can never lose my mind and have a cakefest again, then I might actually throw myself off a bridge. Mmm, cake.
Let’s work through a couple of examples.
A. The Makeup Debate. It seems to be the case that women are expected to wear makeup these days, particularly in professional settings.
Says Who? I dunno, everybody? Most of my friends seem to wear makeup regularly, but I don’t remember anyone specifically saying, “Mama BW, if you want people to take you seriously, you need some eyeliner”. Mostly I hear it from the makeup ads, now that I think about it, and they’ve definitely got an agenda.
Morality: I don’t think my spiritual side cares one way or another about whether I wear lipstick.
Ethics: Animal testing is bad. Smearing chemicals on my head “just because” is bad (though I do moisturize, so I acknowledge my hypocrisy).
Truth: I’m frankly unconvinced of the Makeup = Good argument. It has never yet prevented me from getting a promotion to a supervisory/managerial role.
Lifestyle: I see no reason to feel obligated to wear makeup every blessed day. That’s a lot of effort for exactly zero return, as far as I can tell. However, I reserve the right to wear it on days when I want to feel extra fancy, in the same way that I have certain clothes that I wear on fancy days.
Decision: The makeup stays on the shelf unless I want to play with it. Screw the social expectation.
B. No Fat Chicks at the Fancy Resort.
Says Who? The brochures, which show only the Beautiful People(TM). Of course, they also show only beds that have been made, so either there’s also a “no rumpled linens” rule or they’re not showing the whole picture. This is definitely not something I heard from anyone who actually knows my last name.
Morality: I can’t imagine going to a fancy resort would offend my spiritual side. If necessary, I can do extra prayers at sunrise or something to appease it.
Ethics: I balk a bit at the idea of spending that much money on a vacation when I could be using to help someone else, though I also acknowledge the “you must also nurture yourself” argument. Ethics check fails, but within tolerance.
Truth: I cannot imagine I’d be the first fatchick to ever set foot on their pristine shores. And if I am, then they are apparently very, very new to this industry. Fat people are everywhere. I’m just one of ’em.
Lifestyle: It wouldn’t break my heart at all if I never went to a fancy resort–I’m more of a bed-and-breakfast fan–but it’s definitely dangerous to start restricting myself from certain activities based just on presumably doctored and definitely staged photographs.
Decision: The resort is fair game at a conceptual level, even for fatchicks like me. Whether we actually go to one remains to be seen.
…See how that works? I’m certainly not recommending that every single decision in life goes through this big long internal-debate process. But it does seem to me that if I think about expectations in that way, it might help me silence some of the inner demons, who are all too happy to freak out if I try to leave the house in workout clothes (“Fatchicks cannot be seen in workout clothes! It shows off how fat you are!!”) or go to a fancy restaurant (“Everyone will know that you’re not cool enough to be here! Run away!!”).
Because really, while the inner demons know my last name, they almost certainly have a secret agenda, and I can pretty much guarantee that it does not support my desire to live my best, most fulfilling life.