On Shrinking

A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned off-hand that he was headed to the gym. He jokingly added that his mantra is, “Must get bigger.” I laughed and told him that I have never once in my life had that thought. We talked for a minute about the irony that (in general) men tend to go to the gym to get bigger while women go to get smaller.

This conversation played in my head over the next few weeks, and it occurred to me that my own mantra in so many parts of my life seems to be, “Must get smaller.”

I am talking about my body, of course. A body I have long struggled to love, and in fact, find myself hating more and more each year. But more on that some other time. Because I am also talking about the rest of me.

I’m talking about how much time I spend trying to shrink my too-big, too-wild feelings down to a manageable size. How I constantly fight to curb my too-loud, too-opinionated, too-clumsy, too-anxious self. How I leave most social engagements, and turn to Jonathan to ask, “Was I OK? Was I obnoxious? Did I talk too much? Did I embarrass you? Did I make anyone else uncomfortable?” *

I worry that my decisions are too-selfish. That my desires are too-frivolous. That my dreams are too-big. That my appetite for food, for life, for adventure, is too-much.  I am constantly aware of the space I take up and how often it feels like more than I deserve. And in sharing all of this, I now worry that I am being too-vulnerable. And that maybe all of this is just a product of my being too-selfish and too-whiny.

Of course, I want to cultivate truth in my life and to cut away the things that are not good for myself or for others. I’m not saying I should allow my worst qualities to run free. But how can I expect to grow when I spend so much time intent on shrinking myself down to fit into the limited space I am told I deserve?

I want to live a big life. A life where my love–for my family and friends, for my work, for freedom and justice, for the hurting, for beauty and diversity, and for the work of God in the world–is so expansive that it cannot be contained. I want passion and empathy and joy and grace to flow out of me and into whatever corner of the world I happen to be in.

I am tired of asking for permission to take up space. I am tired of apologizing because I have desires and dreams that don’t always align with other people’s expectations or are outside of their realm of understanding. I am tired of sucking in my stomach all day every day so I can pretend to have a more acceptable amount of belly fat. And I am tired of trying so hard to rein in all that seems unacceptable about me that I’ve been shrinking my soul in the process. I want to come to peace with all of my dimensions–from the circumference of my thighs, to the depth of my sadness, to the volume of my laughter. I want to take up space.

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*I’ve written before here about my social anxiety
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10 comments

  1. Argh i don’t know if my first comment posted. What an intensely vulnerable post. You are perfect just the way you are, in the words of the great philosopher Mr. Bruno Mars. I love all of your guts.

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  2. What a profound statement of our societal development – “… intent on shrinking myself down to fit into the limited space I am told I deserve?”

    It is easy to be so vulnerable that we succumb to all the stereotypes that bombard us daily from newspapers, magazines, tv and billboards. The old concept of selling “refrigerators to eskimos” has been developed so well that, we are not only told what to wear, but to adjust our body if it doesn’t fit. We are told how to be/look successful, and even how to spend our lives in the most beneficial way. They do all this very effectively without knowing who we are, or what makes us “tick” … and it works! They are in fact “selling refrigerators to eskimos”!

    Using myself as an example, Commerce does not know that I could never be a tall man with broad shoulders. That’s just not my skeletal structure. Commerce may want me to buy an expensive (whatever) to appear successful, but that is financially not practical. Commerce may want me to join a gym and “improve my fitness” but, based on the promo, I have to be in pretty good shape first if I am going to fit in! Commerce used to project cigarette smoking as “manly” for men, and “cool” for women (because they can then be up there with the men … well at least in theory!).

    The issue is that businesses want you to support them financially by telling you how to look and how to run your life, without any knowledge whatsoever about who you are. A reality check will confirm that you have a build; a metabolism; an overall health status; a variety of interests; your beliefs about things, and your own dreams and aspirations … that make you unique!

    Celebrate your uniqueness because, as I once heard a speaker say “Be the best you, that you can possibly be, because as sure as hell you can never be anybody else!”

    Lily – Accept who you are, and celebrate yourself. You won’t please everybody, but that was an impossible goal anyway. Regardless of your height, weight and overall build, be yourself. My only proviso is we should care about our overall health and adjust our lifestyle as necessary to achieve a healthy state. To quote another speaker, in the context of making changes to be simply you, and dealing with the inevitable disapproval that will come from some people …. “Those who mind won’t matter, and those who matter won’t mind.” It is worth thinking about! 🙂

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    1. Thank you for this thoughtful and encouraging comment. I agree with you that there is a lot we inadvertently absorb about what our ideals should be from the commercial world who are intent on making a profit.

      I also think we absorb these ideas from our families of origin, our work environment, and our faith communities. Not just how we should look, but how we should act and what our roles should be. But as you said, we cannot make everyone happy. And ultimately, I am the person who has to live with me. And I will never be content with myself if I am always trying to fit inside someone else’s box.

      Like you said, I also believe we should strive to be healthy – in body, mind, and spirit. But I think the key shift for me is wanting to be healthy because of my own sense of self-respect rather than because I think it will make me more acceptable to someone else.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally agree with you Lily re your last paragraph. To do anything to gain acceptance from another is doomed to ultimate failure, because you are not being true to yourself. As I said earlier … realize your own uniqueness, and celebrate it! 🙂

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  3. Thank you for pouring out your loves, hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities in this post, Lily. I needed to hear this today, as a fellow traveller through a bipolar diagnosis. Self-doubt has been eroding my willingness to be “all of me”. I want to embrace the expansiveness of my feelings again. Thank you for writing.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this. Every time I post something like this, I am terrified of what the response will be, but I am consistently humbled by other people’s acceptance and generosity towards me. I am so thankful for other people like you who are brave enough to say, “I’m here too. This is helping.” Thank you for reading and for letting me know.

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