Not yet measuring, not yet comparing

The other day, Melissa was talking about her daughter River, and how she can accept compliments, how she is so much more free than the rest of us. I notice that at work sometimes, too: the girls who aren’t old enough to be self-conscious, who don’t care about eyebrows or holding their stomach in, whose hair is beautiful without trying. There’s such a beauty to them, something I have lost in my quest for magazine perfection. When I see them, it always reminds me of something from Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies (which I know I quote too much):

Iguanas watched with unblinking eyes from boulders that lined the walkway, and the three girls were fearless, unself-conscious and so lovely. At nine or ten, girls still get to be fine. They’ve still got a couple of years before they totally forget what they do have and start obsessing about what they don’t. These girls had legs like baby egrets, probably not much changed when they were seven and eight. They were still of an age when they could play without wearing the glasses of puberty that would make them see all their flaws. Not yet measuring, not yet comparing, still able to get caught up in crabs, in iguanas and currents, lost in what is right in front of them.

I always watch for that in little girls, seeing how free they are. I think that I was pretty unself-conscious about some things even on into college, but it got worse after that. And my friends seem to be similar – some worse, some better, but we’re all afflicted with it. I wish there was a way to go back, but maybe, as Anne Lamott says later on in that chapter, it’s one of those things that just comes with time. We’ll stop caring quite so much and be more comfortable in our own skin.

There’s a scene in The Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood movie (which was not very good, read the book instead) in which a woman takes off her lipstick, hears the doorbell ring, and puts her lipstick back on before she goes downstairs. I’m a bit like that myself, and I came by it honestly. There are women in my life who are not like that, though, and they often seem like foreign creatures to me – I can hear what they are saying, but I can’t really understand it. As much as fixing myself up is ingrained in me, they’ve started rubbing off on me just a little bit. I’ve been a bit more relaxed about some of those things. As it is, Mike’s probably the only one who regularly catches me in my most unself-conscious moments. And he’s sworn to secrecy. Having him around has helped, too, someone who’s on my team. It’s definitely made me feel more secure, which is ultimately what being unself-conscious is about.

I just googled “self-consciousness is the enemy of,” and a lot of things came up: art, inspiration, creativity, love. I remember a book or a sermon that talked about how self-consciousness is an enemy of the Christian life, of faith and prayer belief, because all you are doing is focusing on yourself, not on God or what he is doing. I am pretty sure it was a sermon, because I remember hearing it when I was in a phase in which I really struggled with what people thought, so much so that I was easily distracted during church by those around me, what they must be thinking of me. Obviously it was a much-needed message. I think it also resonated because it’s a message in many of Madeleine L’Engle’s books (Anne Lamott and Madeleine L’Engle in one post!) – that we need to get out of the way in order to pray. And that art and music and poetry are the same way – they’re so much better if we’ll just get out of the way.

It’s interesting that we come into this world so unself-conscious and we develop those tendencies as we are growing up, then spend the rest of our lives trying to get rid of them. The sermon, the people, the books that encourage unself-consciousness – all those things have combined to give me the confidence to say no, not to put myself in situations where I feel so worried about everyone else, and have combined to give me the confidence to deal with those situations better when they do arise. At least some of the time.

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