It struck me the other day, as I sat blogging, that for a blog about self-acceptance, I sure write a lot about self-improvement. For a little while I thought, “Hmm, I guess this experiment isn’t really working. I still haven’t learned to like myself at all, and I’m constantly looking at ways to fix myself.”
Then I remembered a lesson I learned in high school. I was a dancer as a child. I took jazz, tap, ballet and modern classes, and I was actually pretty good at jazz and tap. I struggled with ballet, which is kind of a big deal for an aspiring dancer, because ballet is the foundation to all dance. The dance studio owner, Miss Karen, was a ballerina herself, and she loved students that loved and excelled at ballet. I felt like she always ignored me and I wanted that to change. I decided to do something about it. The summer after my freshman year in high school, I checked out dozens of books about ballet from our local library. I learned everything I could about Giselle and Swan Lake and the history of ballet. I started listening to classical music at home and doing barre work in my hallway every day. I also took to wearing my pointe shoes around the house so I could strengthen my ankles and get my feet used to the discomfort of the shoes. (Side note: your feet never really get used to pointe shoes. They would, in fact, be excellent to use during government interrogations).
When my sophomore year began, I entered my first ballet class with nervous anticipation. I put my best effort out for Miss Karen, stretching my toes and straightening my legs and working diligently on my port de bras (AKA: arm movements). I felt like my extensions were higher and my muscles were stronger. I felt like a ballerina!
“Carrie!” shouted Miss Karen, “Look at those feet! Work on your turn-out! I don’t want to see your feet sickled!”
That was one of the first things she said to me, and it crushed me. Didn’t she see how hard I was working? She followed it up with many more instructions. By the end of the hour I had been told to lower my shoulders, hold in my ribcage, work on my head movements and, for goodness sakes, to work on that turn out. She singled me out many times, which was odd. I had never had that kind of attention from Miss Karen before. I was humiliated. I felt like all my hard work over the summer had gone unnoticed and was wasted effort. I felt like I let myself down and I’d never amount to anything in ballet.
As the weeks passed, I felt more and more discouraged, though I was still trying my very best and practicing at home as well as in class to be the ballerina Miss Karen wanted. Then one night at dinner, I happened to tell my mom that Miss Karen had been pretty rough on me in class and I was having a hard time.
“She’s just being hard on you because she knows you’re good,” my mom said. “If she didn’t think you had potential she wouldn’t waste her time on you.”
Ah. Light bulb moment. Miss Karen wasn’t ignoring me anymore, and that was the sign I should have been looking for. She was being critical, perhaps, but that meant I was on her radar. Her criticism meant I had value. She thought I was finally worthy of her critiques.
Two years later, I was cast as Clara in our studio’s production of The Nutcracker.
My mom is very wise. She was also very wise when she told me that Brian Graber was only pulling my pigtails on the playground because he liked me. (He turned out to be my first kiss). Attention matters, even if it’s negative attention. (I have a feeling my two preschoolers understand this.)
This brings me back to my initial question. Why have I been blogging about self-improvement when I am striving for self-acceptance? I realize now that I’ve reached a critical junction with my quest, and without even being aware of it I have crossed over an invisible line in the sand. Instead of ignoring my feelings of inadequacy and pretending they don’t exist, I’m actually addressing them and working on them. I’ve made the decision to look at myself with loving eyes instead of disgust, and that means I’m willing to truly and honestly work on myself.
For many years I’ve buried the traits I don’t like about myself in layers of self-deprecating humor, sarcasm, defiance and denial. I’ve used wine and reality TV to numb my feelings. I’ve used constant busy-ness to avoid the issues I’ve really needed to tackle.
I’m not doing that anymore.
I heard it said once that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. I’m on the path to self-acceptance, and I’m no longer indifferent to me. The process involves some growing pains and a lot of self-reflection, but the simple fact that I’m finding things to work on shows that I’m on the right path.
I see myself more clearly now. I’m not being overly critical of myself. I’m starting to accept myself as I am. I actually like myself enough now to work on myself. I’m striving for self-improvement because I know that I have worth.
I have worth. It’s taken me a while to be able to write that and believe it.
But I think I finally do.