‘Society Tells Us We Need To Improve And Get Better – But It’s Wrong’

From childhood, we're taught that we need to do things quicker, faster, better - but what if we're good enough just the way we are, asks Shannon Hodge

Last year, a man shouted out of the top window of a half-way house “you fucking fat c*nt” as I walked down the street.

Now, a few years back, I would have burst into tears at that remark. Hell, a boy said “look at the state of her” to me in year seven and I ran all the way home crying uncontrollably. But thanks to wonderfully strong women in my life like my mother and empowering females aplenty on the Internet, I’m a lot more sure of myself now – and although we may not see it at the time, these horrible humans who use words to degrade others, actually end up helping us.

I’ve always thought I was fat. Whether it was when I was eight years old getting changed in the toilets at primary school, when I first considered making myself sick at 14 years old and even now at 21 years old. Needless to say, when I look at older photos: I wasn’t fat. At all.

For the record, I’m a UK size 12, five-foot-nine and probably weigh a little more than the BMI scale would like me to, but hey! I’ve got 34E boobs and a bottom that could house a small town.

Fair enough, I’ve been and probably still am a bit chunky – happy, easy relationships and too many nights out at university followed by pizza does that to you. I’ve always had a baby face complete with chubby cheeks. I’ve always had a “duck-arse” and thick thighs (cheers nanna) and there’s no doubt that I’ll always find faults with myself. But who doesn’t? We’re our own worst critics.

So why do we do it? Why do we tell ourselves we’re not good enough? We get jealous of Sally down the street who has a brand new car, does her weekly shop at Waitrose and speaks four languages fluently. We ask ourselves why we haven’t got our lives together like Sally. But the fact is, Sally probably doesn’t have her life together either.

Inner discontent gets to us all at some point. We’re always thinking we should be better, smarter, prettier, faster, more organised. We have high standards for ourselves and hate it when we don’t achieve the unattainable goals we set. We ignore the amazing qualities we already have to try and be more like Sally. We watch TV and read blogs wishing our own lives away for someone else’s.

Seen or unseen, most people are on a journey to self-improvement, hoping that with just a little bit of work, they’ll miraculously feel better about themselves: naïve to the fact that they’ll just find something else they want to change almost instantly.

Now, I’m not saying change is bad: if you want to learn to run, you run until you can’t run no more. If you want to lose weight: I’m behind you every step of the way. If you want to learn a language: go for it girl. But just know, that if you don’t do it, you haven’t failed. (And remember, there’s a whole alphabet left if plan A doesn’t work out.)

From childhood we’re bombarded with the message that we need to be better. Our teachers comment on our lack of progress, kids at school are baffled if you wear Velcro shoes because it means you can’t tie your shoe laces yet, your parents point out the one D on your report card before congratulating you on the nine As. Even as we grow up, society tells us that if we’ve got shiny hair, a small waist, no cellulite and a pretty face, we’ll get everywhere. But that’s not how it works. Not everyone is so lucky.

As a result, many of us forget about our own needs and try developing ourselves into someone else’s ideal image. We crave the love from others and forget self-love: accepting ourselves unconditionally. In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert ends her marriage and leaves everything behind to travel the world. A poignant quote that stands out to me is when she’s sat on a tiny beach alone and tells herself aloud: “I love you, I will never leave you and I will always take care of you.” When was the last time you said that to yourself?

We need to accept that you can’t do everything perfectly, because nothing is perfect. And deep inside of us, we all know when enough is enough. I realised that when the pleasant gentleman at the half way house called me a “fucking fat c*nt.” Rather than letting him defeat me, I reminded myself that in fact, I’m doing a whole lot better than him in life.

And I think that’s what we need: to be good to ourselves.

Build on what you’re good at and the rest will come.

And remember, you are always good enough.

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