Silencing the critical voice…

This afternoon, we have a post that is honest, meaty and powerfully thought provoking, from a legendary writer, Anna K. Many of you will already know her via Any Other Woman, but if you don’t and you enjoy what you read here, go on over and check it out. It’s like medicine for the mind with refreshing, sometimes challenging and always life affirming essays from a host of intelligent and brilliant women. Thanks for sharing your story here today Anna and I’ll be looking forward to landing and reading the comments later this afternoon.

For a long time, I was undecided about what to write for my guest post for Florence Finds.  I write a lot about feelings and being a woman and about people’s stories for Any Other Woman, and I wanted to take the chance to write something different, to try something new, to push myself.

So I wrote a post about makeup.  But Rebecca could do it better.  I wrote a post about dressing for anything above a D cup.  It sounded hollow and I got bored.  I’m not good at style, fashion, beauty.

Sod it, I thought.  The best blog posts are the ones you have to pull out from inside of you, kicking and screaming because they don’t want to come out.  I’m going to do what I do best, and tell you all a story.

A story about who we are and what we stand for irrespective of style, fashion and beauty.

It’s about me, because that’s what I know best.  It’s not particularly remarkable, but it’s mine.

When I was younger I was a competitive swimmer. I trained every day and competed most weekends. It was all I knew.  When I was 14 I was diagnosed with a severe form of scoliosis. I underwent major spinal surgery.  This pulled me out of training for many months and subsequently ended my intended career as a competitive swimmer.  I have no idea if I’d ever have made it professional; statistics say probably not, but I’ll never know.

I went from training an extortionate amount of hours every week to training not at all.  And here’s the mistake I made: upon stopping training, I ate the same amount as I always had done.  I ate the same because I had no concept of the amount of fuel needed to power that kind of strict training regime – I just thought everyone ate what I did.  I whacked on stones and stones of weight and the consequences of that weight gain defined me and who I was for the next seven years of my life.

 

How I looked overshadowed who I was and what I stood for.  It influenced the decisions I made, the places I went, the people I loved.  I looked at other women in the park ,on the tube, in work, and I compared myself to them.  I avoided places with mirrors.  I dressed in black, to blend in.  I carefully orchestrated a social life that avoided any attention on my body. 

I developed the strongest of the strong political stances because no-one would think about how I looked if I could capture their attention in another way; with my mind, with my beliefs, with my convictions.

I thought constantly about what it would be like to be thinner.  It’s so hard to describe what that crippling obsession is like if you’re one of the lucky ones, who doesn’t live with this particular demon.  You live for an impossible dream and it dissolves all that you are inside but you don’t know it.  Next week I’ll stop eating junk food.  Next week I’ll be a better person.  People will love me more if I’m thinner, once I’m more beautiful.
People will know I’m not lazy if I could just lose weight.

You get sucked into a cycle of feeling like crap about how you look so you eat to make yourself feel better and then you look even worse so you eat more and it’s a never-ending spin cycle which mangles up your self-esteem and hell, even your sense of self, and spits it out into the utility room floor, unrecognisable.

When I was 22 I lost (most of) the weight.  Over the subsequent years I reached the stage where I could get through the day without thinking about my body and what everyone else thought of it.  It was joyous.  Still is.  I still count myself lucky that I climbed out of that spin cycle relatively unscathed.

But the point of this post is not to talk about body hang-ups.  We’ve talked about this previously on Florence Finds, and we’ve said what we can.  It’s to point out my real regret of this whole situation.  This is what my subconscious whispers in my ear when I’m feeling down, when I’ve had a bad day, when things look bleak.  Just think, it says, just think what you could have achieved in those seven years, if you hadn’t been thinking about what you look like.

You could have written a novel.

You could have travelled the world.

You could have been someone, someone who changed the world, rather than someone who hid in the shadows because you believed beauty was a judgement upon women.

The sheer time, effort and blind commitment that went into caring what I looked like breaks my heart.

And this is the crux of the matter, isn’t it.  We are so, so lucky.  We are, and I mean this in all sincerity, phenomenally talented woman with opportunities of which those that came before us simply could never have dreamed.  We forget what mountains we could climb if we just tried, if we just ignored the everyday noise and our inner critical voice.

That voice is there, it whispers in your ear every day. You can be the most savvy, together, self-confident woman in the world and the whisper may be more hushed, but it’s still there. It’s fed every day by images of impossible beauty and stories of women who achieved so much more than you did, are doing, could ever do.

And it stops us. It stops us achieving greatness. It tells us we can’t, we won’t. It says “never”. And we listen.

This is a call to silence that critical voice. Why should we listen to it?

Isn’t life hard enough? Isn’t it hard enough to find beauty without that voice on our shoulder chipping away at our sense of self? That voice isn’t in our blood, under our skin, in our DNA. It is not part of us. We choose to listen to it. We make that choice.

You may not be able to drown out the voice completely, but you Can refuse to listen.

You can choose how you spend your time. You can waste the one life you have criticising yourself, and worrying about how you look or are or should be.

Or you could change the world. Your world, the world of those around you.

Take a deep breath.  You are the most phenomenal human being.  Rip it up. Let it go. Be proud. Strive further. Live harder.

Don’t let what you could be drown out who you are.

Going back to my original point. Clothes, makeup, beauty. It’s all meaningless if you don’t genuinely, truly believe you have the power to change yourself, each other, your world.

You do. You can. Make that choice. Who’s with me?

Read more from Anna at Any Other Woman and follow @AnyOtherWoman and @AnyOtherAnnaK
*image via here

31 thoughts on “Silencing the critical voice…

  1. Thank you for posting this, strangely it’s something i needed to hear today. I’ve printed it out to keep as a reminder,

  2. Such an inspiring piece, thank you Anna K. I’ve been practising not listening to my inner critical voice with great results. As well as feeling happier, I’m enjoying every aspect of life so much more and have just got a new job. Only wish I’d done it sooner!

  3. I think I might print this out and stick it to my door. And on my mirror. In fact I might wallpaper my flat with it. Or tattoo it on the insides of my eyelids.

    It’s just, simply, brilliant.

    K x

  4. Anna you gorgeous woman you, you always find just the right words at just the right moment. Fab post for the start of a sun-kissed week!

    xx

  5. This post makes me wish I knew you in real life and was lucky enough to call you my friend. What an inspiring piece of writing Anna, thank you! x

  6. Anna, you are inspiring, beautiful, funny and sit proudly on my list of “real life girl crushes”… you know, that list that I’m not supposed to talk about for fear of sounding like a stalker. Celeb girl crushes are fine though! ;-) You have a jaw-dropping career, a “good lord” pout, an accent and figure to kill for and a radiant personality. Enough – I sound scary…

    Anyway I had this ballet teacher (that ended up buying and being the principal of the whole school) who once said the sentence:

    “it doesn’t matter what shape and size you are, but if you can do the steps and you can do them well, you get to stand in the front row”…

    those words were nigh on heresy in the ballet community. But when you’re faced with a room full of impressionable girls in figure-exposing uniforms/costumes, about to enter a world where anorexia is virtually encouraged and you are told to “breathe your sickness bug germs on other girls to help them lose a few pounds before audition season” what she said broke the mould. A girl with double D-cup breasts (at age 14), a seriously sensual figure, and the face of an angel was picked to dance the main solos….. BECAUSE SHE DANCED THE STEPS THE BEST! Not because of what she looked like. Not because she was a teacher’s pet. Not because her mum put in the most hours back-stage. Not because her dad donated the most to the school’s coffers. Because she worked hard, listened, learned, practised, had a talent and worked with it. I still know, and love, that girl today.

    For some reason, those words Miss Swan said, and the things that that girl did, have ALWAYS been in my head… she probably won’t even remember saying them and the girl won’t remember being the subject of them. But they’ve formed my life mantra.

    Those words and actions hit home at a crucial point in my adolescence and I’ve lived my life by them ever since. I’ve always been lucky enough to have, largely, positive body image and I attribute most of the reasons to those two females. Don’t get me wrong… I’m not arrogant, I MORE than see my faults, and have them highlighted for me regularly, I just choose to work around them, deal with them or, mostly, ignore them and move on, rather than let them define me. My hips are too big for those trousers? I’ll buy a bigger size, or choose to find something that suits my shape. My tummy pokes out? I’ll wear a belt. My skin is bad? I’ll wear my hair down, industrial strength concealer and a pair of over-sized sunnies! I was teased (and more like bullied for a long time) for being flat-chested until, well, probably two years ago? I bought a padded bra and have worn nothing but, ever since! I was bullied for the scars I had on my face? I learned to defend myself with my tongue and walk away! My husband encouragingly mentioned I might like to join a gym when I (“mysteriously”) put on two stone and was miffed that I couldn’t fit in any of my clothes (totally inconvenient for last minute weddings)? I told him that although his opinions were always welcome, but would go largely ignored on this matter. My mum and dad for pointing out my flaws in a “helpful” way so I don’t “embarrass” myself in public: your bum looks big in that (I wasn’t asking!)/what’s that on your face (acne!)/you can’t carry that look off (watch me!)? Walk straight past and turn my walkman up louder! She’s skinnier/cleverer/prettier/funnier/more popular/more flexible/etc than me? So what, I was born this way, and this is who I am. Best get on with it, make the most of what I have been blessed with and be happy about it. Focus on the things you can change and not the things you can’t.

    I am my harshest critic, but the only time someone gets to judge me on the basis of what I look like is if I suddenly take up International Super-modelling as a career, and even then, not really. But that’s not going to happen, and so no one gets to make me feel down about my body… ESPECIALLY not me.

    Sometimes I want to call her up and tell her she can’t retire until I’ve had babies and sent them all to her for life training… sod the ballet lessons!

    Who will join me in a round of Lady Gaga’s Born this way or anything by Jessie J??

  7. I think I’m going to start a campaign for Anna to become the person in charge of all things little girls are ever taught.

  8. this really strikes a chord with me, I was totally happy with the way I looked until I took part in a photo shoot and was publically described as being curvy, something I never would have said about myself at all. It made me totally paranoid and ive spend the last year worrying about the way I look for the first time, its not just young girls that are impressionable its adults too!

      • I’ve just put 2 and 2 together and realised who you are Jules. I agree with Rebecca – you looked fab in those photos!

        • I agree with the two comments above Jules. I know the wedding photoshoot you are referring to, on a wedding blog I used to read.

          You are gorgeous and petite, but that’s not the point. The point is to stop worrying because it is hindering you doing something wonderful with your time my lovely.

          If it’s any consolation, I went off the tone of that blog little under a year ago!

    • Jules there is a video of that shoot too, and in it you look absolutely gorgeous. I remember thinking so at the time when I saw the shoot and the photos, and I still think so now. Isn’t it funny though, how one comment which we interpret as criticism or which makes us feel insecure or whatever, can stick in our head and negate all the positive ones that might come before or after it? I’m guilty of this too… fixating on things that no one else would probably notice or think…

      • I used to read that blog too, I thought you looked stunning and to be honest I didn’t even read that particular post I just looked at the pictures….x

  9. Brilliant post Anna as always and thank you for helping me out when I know you’re snowed under yourself, it’s much appreciated :)

    I can only echo Victoria here in that I have never been much of a one for self critique, due in one part to being too busy to think about it, one part completely ignoring what I look like and one part dismissing it as one of the less important things in life. That may sound odd as someone who posts pictures of themselves in various outfits or make up, but once I’ve put together an outfit, the bit I enjoy incidentally and the reason I choose to share them, I don’t really give it much thought throughout the day, much less check my face in the mirror. I don’t know where this confidence came from, I was just born that way I guess and that terrifies me in a way because I don’t know how you install that in your own children when you’re fighting the media and silly impressionable little girls who have already bought into it.

    I can however empathise with Jules, in that nearly every post I’ve written on here about body image and dieting has been triggered by these very what-to-wear posts. Editing photos of yourself and having to scrutinise them for the one where you have remembered to breathe in, turned your head so that massive spot isn’t showing and my thighs don’t look massive (to me) isn’t great for ones self esteem. You could say well don’t post them then, but I feel strongly that women should see normal women in clothes they like. I see it as a way of balancing the usual models we are all exposed to.

    Great to hear all your thoughts as always :)

    xo

  10. Love this post…I know you didn’t really write it for blokes but it strikes a cord with me and what I try to do for my clients and so I’ve shared it on my Facebook page. :o )

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