Real Women. Real Stories. Is a weekly series we are doing here at Real Health. This series focuses on hearing from many different women in their fight to find REAL Health. Elizabeth is bringing us into her journey today. I love how she encourages women to FIGHT like HELL to believe how valuable and worthy they are. Thanks for sharing with us, Elizabeth. xo, Jenn
I am laughing as I type this. If you had told me two years ago that I would be writing my fitness and health story out, I would have said, “what story?” I don’t like to exercise and my two favorite food groups are macaroni and cheese. Something changed inside me two years ago though and as I pause to reflect on why and how it all began, I’ve realized that it all comes down to one woman, Joan Cusack.
Allow me to explain. Back in the 90’s when all of us now 30-something women were shaping our identity and sense of self, I discovered a big part of how I defined womanhood was through movies, more specifically, romantic comedies. This is a faulty approach on almost every level, no doubt, but as a 16 year old, I felt the method was pretty much fool proof: beautiful woman with charming quirks hooks super attractive man then they make out and live happily ever after. Sign me up. Julia Roberts, Molly Ringwald, Meg Ryan, Kate Hudson, they all had that special charm on screen that I planned to embody once I became a woman. Ha!! Again, I laugh. The more I watched romantic comedies though, the more I realized, I couldn’t identify with these women. They were just too beautiful, too perfect.
Then one day, someone said to me, “You remind me of Joan Cusack.”
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Oh you know, she always plays the awkward best friend in movies.”
Bingo. That was me. All of my friends seemed to be the Julia’s and I was the Joan. It was a hard reality for my teenaged self to accept but I bought into it. Mostly because my girlfriends managed to make life’s little problems look adorable while I’d be in the corner all…
So, I accepted my role. As I grew up, I didn’t find any need or reason to fight it. Besides, I liked Joan. She was witty, she made people laugh, and there was very little pressure to stay fit or “be pretty” when the attention was always on the Julia. Somewhere along the way though, this stopped working for me. For one thing, I became a mother of daughters and I knew that I would be playing a huge role in shaping them as women. It felt overwhelming. Can you imagine me saying to them, “Girls, there’s two types of women out there, the leading ladies and the awkward best friend. Know your role.”
Ummmmm, no. I knew that wasn’t true for them. My girls are these miraculously made creatures, living in a world that is broken and mysterious but also full of hope and light. I want to fight like hell for them to cling to that hope, to know how deeply loved they are. I want them to be rooted in the true source of their worth, humble and confident in the miracles they are. I realized that this fight was going to be hard and that it had to start with me reshaping my own sense of worth. If I could see my daughters’ true beauty so clearly, why did I believe a lie about my own?
Well, like any over-thinker and over-feeler, I could have sat on that question for the rest of my life without finding ultimate peace in it. Instead of sitting on it though, I actually chose to act. I started moving, going on walks, weeding the junk out of my life, eating whole foods, stretching, trying to protect my sleep… it all felt really, really difficult at first.
It was difficult for me in two ways. The first was that I was confronted with having to make small choices every few hours amidst the mess of my own thoughts and life:
“Elizabeth, are you going to eat the bagel and cream cheese or bake yourself a sweet potato? “
“Elizabeth, are you going to go do a 30 minute yoga video or drink too much wine before bed tonight?”
and just to clarify, nearly every time an “either/or” scenario presents itself, I feel compelled to choose the indulgence. Every. Time. Indulgence. Yes, please and thank you. I am not the rules person. I am not the self-controlled person. I am not the organized person. So it seemed a pretty hopeless endeavor right out of the gate.
Which led me to the second challenge this journey held for me- I had to figure out why moving and eating well mattered to me. Sure, motherhood had wreaked havoc on my body and I knew I felt terrible but that still didn’t seem reason enough to change anything. I thought it was a part of life. I accepted backaches, acne, post partum depression and a devastatingly low energy level as the adulthood experience and since I was a “Joan and not a Julia” I compensated my discomfort with this reality by consuming more wine and telling more jokes (which isn’t always a bad thing, I might add). The cycle, though, was ultimately hurting me and I knew that if I wanted my perspective to change, it had to start with me caring for my body.
So at the beginning, every choice became a mini-therapy session. In my head I’d have to say, “Elizabeth, you choose the sweet potato and the yoga because you are beautiful and have worth, and loving your body by nourishing it honors that.”
The process felt redundant and even cheesy at times but it was the beginning of real change for me. I discovered that these simple choices became easier to make the more I reminded myself why I was making them. My eyes were being opened to a broader, deeper understanding of beauty as bad habits were being replaced with new life giving ones. I’m not saying it’s an easy or consistent journey. I still have to reorient myself, and set goals and resist those insecurities that flare up and tell me that I don’t fit the physical mold of our country’s definition of beauty. But the difference is that now, these are battles I finally feel equipped to fight.
I find myself asking if these lessons I’ve learned will translate to my daughters one day. The truth is, I have no idea what challenges they will face as they grow into their own women or even what part I’ll be invited to play as they face them. I do know though that because there’s hope, it’s worth the fight. I can show up everyday in my life and in theirs and make the small choices necessary to honor the lives we are living this very minute and that even when I fail, I know I am loved and can remind them they are too. That’s the best any of us can do, is to remind one another and ourselves of our worth. So, to my “Joan’s” out there who may be reading this and thinking, they aren’t worth it, that’s a lie. You are. Now go fight like hell.