The Weight of Words

It was definitely up there on my list of bad decisions.

Probably in the top 10, come to think of it, somewhere between the crimping iron incident of 1988, and the time that I allowed my obviously drunk friend Cathy to pluck my eyebrows in a public restroom during a Violent Femmes concert.

And sometimes, you bounce back from these unfortunate forays into adulthood, and sometimes…not so much.

It’s hard to know why some of these things roll off your back and leave you wounded, but not changed. And why some, stick into your core like pins in a voodoo doll radiating echos of pain that manipulate the very fabric of your being.

Well this one, was one of those…

It was my first time using a self tanning cream. I thought it would add a sun kissed glow to my pale complexion.

Everyone had wanted to go out to the beach party, and it was too late to hit the tanning bed, so I reached for the sunless tanner.

I was feeling pretty good about myself that day, and I had my swagger going on-

My Austin Powers mojo was in full “bow chicka wow wow” mode, and my inner badassery was blasting the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack right in time with my strut of awesomeness.

And then, out of the blue, some ridiculously insensitive person wielding a mouthful of unnecessary word daggers, hurled an offhanded comment in my direction, and without warning, I was flattened with insecurity and self doubt.

When this happens, you’re often left feeling exposed and vulnerable to wild speculations within your own unchecked imagination as to the source of their malicious intent. 

And unless you take decisive action to stop the oncoming freight train of emotional damage, you could be left calculating how far down the tracks you’re willing to let it go, before pulling the emergency break.

Why do we let these things bother us so much?

Why do negative comments from other people that we barely know, matter?

Why do we wear their words like truths, and allow anything incendiary to stick with us long after they have forgotten about it?

The short answer is…

We are human beings. 

We are both fragile and strong, and have the capacity to be both supportive and critical to a fault.

And like it or not, we can resemble those remarks.

When someone tells you that you look beautiful, it’s likely that you will feel more beautiful. 

And when someone tells you that you look fat, you may walk around like you just gained 20 pounds. 

Its easy to allow it in, but harder to stave it off.

I have noticed, that over the years, no matter what I have tried to tell myself, if something negative is said to reinforce it, I absorb it as validation of its truth. And instead of deflecting it, I end up wearing it like a scarlet letter.

Words have power, words have weight. 

And when you take on all those negative words from other people, you add all of that emotional weight to yourself. And the more you absorb, the harder it becomes to take a sincere compliment. 

Even if you outwardly put on a brave face, deep inside, it sinks in, it takes root, and starts to harden into indifference. 

Be aware of your words to yourself AND to others, since those are the threads that make up the fabric of the vulnerabilities that we wear.

Like that fateful day, when I was feeling so good, walking out to the beach party after using the sunless tanning cream for the very first time. 

I was only 20, and had my first huge crush on a boy. He was at the party, and my friend had told me, that if I used the self tanner, I would give me a “beachy glow”.

So I put the ‘Sun In’ spray in my hair, and the sunless tanner on my skin, and went to that party to rock my new “beachy” look.

Looking back now, I realize that the self tanning industry was still in its infancy, and it took a few hours for the color to set in, which, about an hour into the party, became a lovely shade of orange.

I looked like an Oompa Loompa.

There were uneven streaks, and blotches on my knees, elbows and heels, as well as a delightful shade of burnt orange on the palms of my hands.

Now, 26 years later, I can see the humor in the situation, but back then, the word “devastating” comes to mind, when the boy that I had a crush on, had looked away from me, while his friends giggled and pointed in my direction, and one of them sang the Oompa Loompa song from Willy Wonka, as I walked by. 

And in an instant, my posture changed, I deflated on the inside, and just like that, I went from a beauty to a beast.

I think that might have been the first time I remember emotionally eating to excess in an effort to numb the pain and embarrassment of my exposed insecurities. 

Even though I was overweight back then, I had never felt ugly, until that day, when I was blindsided by the unwelcome opinion of an unkind stranger, and had absorbed its ugliness as part of me.

Words have power.

Words have weight.

And those words eventually weighed more than I did.

Allowing that feeling to alter me, to take root, and to take up space inside me, had sent me spiraling into a pattern that eventually led me down the road to morbid obesity, where I could hide under all those layers of protective padding.

Finally shedding those layers of armor with my weight loss, allowed the “me” that was buried for so long to finally feel the sunlight again. To expose the damage and give it an opportunity to heal. 

It was the scariest thing I have ever done.

And after learning to equip myself instead, with a strength of character and a sense of accomplishment, I know now, how to deflect such things.

I know now, that those unkind words from others, had actually said more about those people, than they had ever said about me.

They resembled their own ugly remarks, and by taking those words to heart, I was as well.

I know these things….now, but knowing, and feeling are two different burdens.

I have discovered that choosing my burdens has made them lighter.

Being older and wiser, has not only allowed me to be more conscious, but also to be less self-conscious.

Three years ago, when a woman approached me outside of my Kickboxing class to marvel at the fact that I was still attending class in “my condition”, I was at first confused, and then completely crushed when I realized that she thought that I was pregnant.

I took it to imply that I still had a noticeably large gut.

And even though I wanted to tell her that she was mistaken, and that actually I had recently lost 50 pounds…

The reminder was enough to silence me, suck all the wind out of my sails, and leave me too embarrassed to correct her.

So when she inquired about the baby’s gender, I panicked and played along to save face. And then, I never went back to that particular class for fear of having to explain why “the food baby” I was carrying was never going to materialize.

Silly, I know, but at the time I didn’t know what to say.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and I do wish I could have a do over for that day.

Because now, instead of absorbing her comment as a negative observation, and carrying it around with me like I did, I would simply hand it back to her, politely, with my own spin on the truth.

And when she asked,

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

I would just simply smile,

rub my belly, and say,

“It’s a burrito”.

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