From the time I was a little (not little) chunkette of an elementary school girl, I've been on a journey of self-improvement. Self improvement also known as a diet. Or a workout fad. Or some crazy juice-herb-supplement concoction.
Yes, for me, my "thing" has always been my weight. My "if only", my "if it wasn't for...", my "if I could change one thing". My weight has defined missed opportunities- "I would have gotten that job if I was skinny!". It's been the catalyst of failed relationships- "I just knew he would never want to date someone like me". It's been the ultimate ability to make excuses for almost everything- "No, I can't hike/dance/do yoga", "I'm sorry- I can't go to that pool party".
Instead, I made promises to myself of the magic that would happen when I reached my "goal weight". Of the active things I would do (skydiving!), of the men that would love me (Ryan Reynolds would sure be knocking down my door!), of the opportunities that would just land at my feet (Record deals! Published books! Successful companies! My own TV show!), and, for a long time I locked myself up until I was ready to be seen. I think it's a strategy and a philosophy many people share. I keep track of my social media newsfeeds and I watch as my virtual friends go through life transitions- breakups, babies, weddings, or just life- and their pictures become fewer and further between. The excitement they used to exude to talk about a vacation or a day at the beach is diminished. The pictures they do post are of their face. On an angle. With a filter. They go into hiding. Hiding until they're ready to be seen, and ready to live.
The problem?: Life goes on. And frankly, life doesn't give a shit if you're not ready to live it. Somebody is ready to live it. Somebody is ready for an opportunity. And that somebody is likely the person that's going to get it. That somebody is going to get the opportunity, whether they're overweight or underweight. Beautiful or ugly. As smart as you, as kind as you, as able as you. Simply because they show up, and they're R.E.A.D.Y.
So, after over 2 decades of being on my mission of self-improvement, here's the secret I've figured out.
If you want to improve yourself, you have to stop focusing on what you suck at.
It's kinda that easy (and that hard). I suck at being skinny. Actually, that's not even fair because I've never been "skinny". Not even after getting beaten up in the gym by celebrity trainers. Being skinny should be someone else's job. Someone who can eat cheetos and cherry garcia and still fit into a size 0 without hitting the gym. They're obviously awesome at it.
I suck at being skinny. But I'm pretty awesome at being strong. I'm awesome at showing up to be part of a group and socialize. Which is why CrossFit is something I've been able to stick with for the past year and a half (longer than ANY physical activity or hobby!). I don't go to CrossFit to lose weight. I do lose weight, because I go to CrossFit, but I go to CrossFit to do things I'm awesome at. That's why I show up. Sometimes I do things I suck at, too, but they're always cushioned by my favorite things, and sometimes, when I realize I suck less at them, those things turn into my favorite things, too.
I suck at starving myself. But I'm really awesome at cooking healthy foods and eating vegetables. So I cook because I love the challenge of making healthy things delicious. Not because it's what I'm supposed to do, but because it's what I love to do. I don't cook healthy foods to lose weight. But I do anyway.
You know what it turns out I don't suck at? Being in relationships. Building businesses. Making music. Making friends. Having fun. Dancing. Hiking. Kayaking. Swimming. Going to pool parties. Getting pictures taken of me.
Because none of those things- (NONE OF THEM)- have absolutely anything to do with how much you weigh.
We all want to be the best version of ourselves, so it amazes me how many of us think we will get there by treating ourselves as the worst version of ourselves. It's not just people who want to lose weight. It's people who want to gain weight. People who want a new job. Or a new relationship. Or a new life. We somehow got it in our heads that by continually telling ourselves how not worthy we are, it would trick our actions into working to get us to a point where we are worthy. What. Are. We. Doing?
Here's what I say: Do whatever the heck you want. Seriously. Do what you want. The only caveat: It has to make you feel good. And you don't get to use the consequences (being fat, being skinny, being jobless, etc) as an excuse to not do ANYTHING. EVER. Making excuses for why you're not living fully is the surest sign that you're unhappy with something and you're NOT doing whatever the heck you want, or whatever the heck you want isn't making you feel good. I eat tater tots. And milk shakes. But only when I'm not going to feel crappy about it (like, after a hard workout on a cheat night). That decision occasionally makes me happy and feel good. If I did it every night, it wouldn't. And I would gain weight and probably make excuses about not being able to dance or go to a pool party. And that is unacceptable. The result of NOT LIVING is the part that's unacceptable, not wearing a size 12 instead of a size 6.
Be unwilling to have your weakness make you its bitch. The things you want to change about yourself, contrary to traditional "self improvement" beliefs, should be the things that stay out of focus. Your focus should be on falling in love with yourself and your strengths. It doesn't mean you'll love everything about yourself (you won't. I promise), but it means that the things you don't love about yourself will seem to pale in comparison to the things you do. And once you start doing and being what you love, the insecurities will either work themselves out, disappear, or seem like such not a big deal.
Right now, at this moment, wherever you are in your life, and whatever you're doing, you have the capacity to do anything you could do at your best, even if you feel like you're at your worst. Decide what you actually want (hint: my actual wants have NOTHING to do with sky diving or Ryan Reynolds) and then, along with all the love you can muster up for your beautiful, imperfect, impactful self, keep THAT at the forefront of all you do. Because you can have it all, as you are and you should. Because if you don't go for it NOW, and you wait until you're ready, well... you might just be waiting forever. Come out of hiding, own your awesome, and stop telling yourself how much you suck. You'll be amazed at how much falls into place.
So last night it happened. Someone's "after" reflected, on the outside, what so many of us "Losers" have safely and dangerously harbored on the inside, standing on a confetti-covered stage in all our spray-tanned, bleached-teeth glory.
Let me preface with this: Rachel (the winner of this season of "The Biggest Loser"), is not someone I know personally, and I clearly have no idea what her medical records say, as far as whether or not she is "healthy". Maybe she is. Maybe 105 lbs is the ideal weight for her, she's not dehydrated or exhausted, or mentally and physically drained. I really don't know, nor will I speculate.
Because this isn't about Rachel. This is about what Rachel, unfortunately for her, now represents.
I appeared on "The Biggest Loser" 7 years ago. It was a season of change- Alison Sweeney's first season hosting it, the first season with 3 trainers (Jillian, Bob and Kim), the first season NOT on a swanky ranch (nope- we were on a mosquito-ridden mental institution-turned-college-campus....not joking), and the season of Jillian's triumphant return. It was special, and it felt like it.
I was 21 years old, and had graduated college and moved 1300 miles away from all of my family and most of my friends to start a new life in Nashville. I was sad, homesick, and bored...disillusioned. Biggest Loser was an opportunity to escape that, and maybe create something new.
Prior to Biggest Loser, I actually felt pretty great about myself. I had ALWAYS struggled with my weight, and had had some temporary successes in years past, but never anything I was able to maintain. Despite being big, and knowing it, I also knew a lot of other important things about me: I was pretty (or at least "had a pretty face"...ugh. Hate that phrase), I was talented, I was smart, dynamic, interesting, loving, kind, generous. In short, my weight didn't define me. It was a small (pun intended) piece of who I was.
When I got to LA, I knew my weight would have to, by nature of the show, come to the forefront of my attributes. Yes, the casting directors were looking for someone who was all of the GREAT things I was, but first and foremost, they wanted to dig into the corners of my psyche and figure out WHY I was how I was (as in, overweight) and what physical and seemingly emotional transformation I could make in front of their cameras. I braced myself, knowing that insecurities, very private stories and emotions would undoubtedly be exposed to quite literally MILLIONS of people. "I'm strong enough" is what I'd repeat to myself. I'm strong enough to be exposed. I'm strong enough to be broken down, because at the end, I will be built back up. Surely I will.
My story played out on national TV, so I don't need to tell you the ins and outs of my Biggest Loser experience, which, for the record, was positive. The people that worked with us truly became friends. They cheered for us. They cried for us. But they didn't HELP us. Because...they were production assistants. Casting coordinators. People handlers. Producers. They were NOT therapists, family, nutritionists, caretakers. They were there to do a job, and truthfully, for them to NOT do their job would have been irresponsible.
But equally as irresponsible is the truth that now NBC and "The Biggest Loser" cannot escape. Contestants are broken down- their most revealing truths and deeply-seeded fears exposed, in the interest of making them "stronger". But strength, for some, is not always born in the wreckage. Contestants are trusting that they are being broken to be rebuilt, but the building doesn't come. Not from the show. Not from the way you expect it to.
I finished Biggest Loser at the thinnest I had ever been in my adult life. With an estimated 30(ish) lbs of extra skin, I went from 298 lbs to 185 lbs, from over 55% body fat to 24% body fat. I ran races for the first time. People stopped telling me I had a "pretty face" and started just telling me I was "pretty", or better yet "hot". I wore a size 10 dress and could shop wherever I wanted. I should have been flying high, and man, did I fake it well.
But while I'd been working my butt off on getting skinny (really- weight loss was my ONLY goal), I hadn't even thought about what the internal ramifications might be, and how drastically I was changing on the inside.
I knew as I got deep into the production of the show that my self esteem was rapidly diminishing. I sat for hours a week doing interviews or having filmed conversations about how "awful" it must feel to be the "black sheep" of my overly fit family. I had never felt THAT out of place until it was reinforced regularly that I *should*. I remember one day one of the people on production sat down with a group of us (pretty early on in the process) and said, "I just don't get it. Like...what do you even DO when you're overweight?". She/He literally didn't even view us as human. He/She had no inkling that I grew up climbing mountains, swimming competitively, took 7 years of dance lessons, and played for my high school soccer team. Conversations stirred up deeply personal issues- how the abandonment of my biological father "must have" been the cause of my never-ending struggles with my weight, how I "must have" used food to self-medicate through bad breakups or relationships, or struggles. How it "must have" been so hard to be SO close to being a "catch", but still be so "undesirable" because of the shape and size of my body. Internet message boards picked apart my every feature and action, and like a train wreck, I couldn't look away. I remember reading after the finale, "Isabeau looks like Portia De Rossi....only....bigger". AFTER the finale. Strangers would follow me around the grocery store and sometimes even stop me to tell me why I shouldn't put "that" in my cart.
I sucked it all up because I could see the finish line. I could see where I would be all of these things I was told I should want to be. "Limitless"-any opportunity I wanted or imagined would flow to me once I lost weight. I would finally "fit in" with my family that I had never felt like I didn't fit in with until I was told maybe I should. I would be "desirable". I would be whole, and complete and gloriously confident.
But that confidence never came. It never came because I didn't work on it. I felt like a failure standing on the stage at the finale because that's all I had been told I was, and I started believing it. It wasn't anyone's fault but my own. It was my own fault for allowing myself to believe the lies I was being told about myself, my fault for perpetuating them, and my fault for not getting help in dealing with them. What was demonstrated last night at The Biggest Loser finale, is nothing new. It's just the physical manifestation of what so much of us have felt internally- that we can never do, or be, enough. That we can never work too hard. Or lose too much. Or be too extreme. Because we seek and crave the resolution of all our dreams come true, that are seemingly hinged on whether or not we're skinny.
So, here's the truth, dear whoever-you-are. The only thing holding you back from anything is YOU. It is not your weight. It is not your finances. It is not your appearance. Well, actually, maybe it is. But not in the way you believe. Ambition and Success stem from the same root, and it has nothing to do with a number on the scale or any other "circumstance" in your life. It has to do with how you FEEL about life. How you FEEL about yourself. Are you worthy of being ambitious? Successful? Desired? Sexy? Strong? You are. You are at 300 lbs. You are at 100 lbs. You are $20,000 in debt. You are at 21 or 78 years old. You are worthy of all of those things the moment you believe you are.
After Biggest Loser, I spent several years trying to fill the void that was left when my confidence and self esteem was diminished. I sought that feeling of fullness in money and what money could buy, relationships that were inauthentic, and in choices that were guided by my mind, over my heart. I forgot who I was, and because of that, made decisions I never would have made.
There wasn't a day that things shifted, but things did. I felt like I was perpetually MISSING not just something, but someONE. And at some point, I woke up and realized that that someone was me. I missed me. I missed who I was, and all those wonderful things I had known about myself before weight became the most important thing in my world.
It's been a long journey to get back to me, and it's meant learning to trust people again. I was taught once that opening up and being "broken" will NOT always result in being rebuilt. I've had to start believing that that is the EXCEPTION and not the rule, and that, when you surround yourself with the right people, "tough love" truly is based in love, and is meant to expand you, not diminish you.
I would be lying to say that weight isn't something I still actively work on, worry about, and allow to define certain things in my mind. But I know now that it is a paper dragon. My weight, although something I work on now for longevity and health, is back to being just one, teeny, tiny part of a crazy, wonderful person. And lucky for me, it's a piece I can (and do) work on and change. My weight may be the most challenging thing for me, but how awesome is that? It's a lot harder to undo jealousy, or stinginess, or stupidity, or irresponsibility, or complacency than it is to take off a few pounds. If my weight is the worst thing someone can say about me, then I consider myself pretty lucky.
We need to stop believing and perpetuating the myth *someone* came up with that we all must be or do or look a certain way in order to be successful. Weight loss is one of the BEST examples of this because literally EVERYONE has a different opinion and experience about what works, what doesn't, what should, what shouldn't, etc. Every conversation about our body is laced with judgement. When will enough be enough?
The only answer is that you will have to put your foot down. I remember the night before my Biggest Loser finale weigh in, I had talked my "handler" into letting me go to the gym. I worked out for 2 hours and then went to sit in the sauna with my clothes on, to burn just a few more calories. My head spun and I felt weak, dizzy, awful. Sick. I got out. Enough was enough. I remember, conversely, gaining weight with my son and beating myself up that I was such a "failure" that even after having an opportunity to lose weight on national television, I couldn't keep it together. I knew I couldn't allow myself to live like that anymore. Enough, again, was enough.
Productivity starts where shame ends. I started seeing a therapist. I surrounded myself in people that (shockingly) ALREADY think I'm fun, and interesting, smart, pretty (as a whole), desirable, talented, strong and capable. I'm allowing myself to hear when someone says "You're a badass" or "Seriously... you're so good at xyz" or "Wow, you look great", instead of hearing "You're a badass (except for your weight)" or "Seriously...you're so good (except for your weight)" or "Wow, you look great (except for your weight)". Because it's not about my weight. In a size 10, I still heard the "ps" to every compliment I received, so I know it's not hinged on what people see... it's hinged on what *I* see.
My hope for Rachel, for every other BL contestant (past, present and future) and anyone else who is struggling (with weight- with anything) is that they start mining for their strength, instead of magnifying their weaknesses. That they can silence the "ps" in their mind that tells them they won't be enough "until this...", "until this...", "until this...". The word "until" is a vicious beast that will eat your dreams and stop you from achieving anything. You know what's on the other side of massive weight loss? Nothing. It's not about the weight. It's about the permission you give yourself to LIVE. To be worthy of a career you love, or a relationship that lights you up, or a path you've always wanted to explore.
This morning in reading the articles and seeing the pictures, I was sad for Rachel, who seemingly got lost in her "untils". Again, I don't know her, or this, but the physical sure looks depleted, so I would imagine the emotional would likely mirror that. But in my sadness for her, came gratitude to the people in my life. There has been one group of people that have more profoundly changed my outlook on fitness than any other: Crossfit Vector at Nashville Barbell. Joining this community was far and above the best decision (with the exception of having Beckham) that I've made in the past 5 years. This group of athletes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities, but share the consistent thread of unconditional support, true friendship and the ongoing pursuit of excellence in all things. Being in a healthy environment that promotes fitness and strength over purposeless, manic effort is the most refreshing experience I've had, and has shifted EVERYTHING in my life, but most importantly, my relationship and my value of my body- as it is, as it was, and as it will be. Pretty freaking amazing.
Beyond my hope for Rebecca is my hope for US. Can we learn from this? Can we start understanding that reality tv is not, in fact, reality? Can we stop exploiting peoples' weaknesses for entertainment? Can we stop being so darn judge-y and just kinda love each other for what we are, as is? I think in allowing that, and by just accepting and loving, we create the opportunity for people to feel what THEY really want for themselves, instead of projecting what they THINK someone else wants FOR them.
There is no gift more precious than giving yourself and others permission to live how they see fit. To be beautiful in their own skin. To love who and what they love. To be worthy and enough. I hope we all can take this bittersweet lesson that simply exposed truths, and turn it into a revolution of caring about more than a number on the scale.
First of all, a VERY Happy New Year to you all. New Years is one of my favorite times. By the time December 26th rolls around, I've had my dose of holiday stress and I'm ready to move on. Although I strongly believe in continuously making goals and "resetting", there is something special about a universal permission to "start over".
I hope (and know) this year is going to bring all kinds of amazing adventures to my life, and yours. I will be making a concerted effort to share my journey with you, and hope you'll do the same with me. (Stuff is so much more fun when shared!). I'll be doing a LOT of blogging about fitness, crossfit, food, and my continuing journey of wellness. I'll be filling you in on lots of music stuff as I venture into the studio this winter. And of course, I'll be sharing anecdotes, thoughts and weird, introspective stuff with you.
Which leads me to today's blog:
Growing up, I never lacked self confidence. My mom would and does say I would look in the mirror and see Marilyn Monroe staring back at me. Despite being the "chubby" girl, and going through more than my fair share of far-past-awkward stages, I could always find that "pinup in the mirror".
Through (literally) hundreds of pounds gained and lost and gained and lost, I always thought I was a pretty girl. I always thought I was special and capable and smart and destined to do big things.
Here's the kicker: I've also always been insecure.
How is this? Didn't I JUST get done saying how awesome I think I am? Yeah.... kinda. But insecurity, for me, isn't about what I see. It's about wondering what everyone ELSE sees.
Confidence and insecurity can, and I think, often DO, coexist. How often do we, as children, feel GREAT about a report we did, but can't wait to get our grade back to make sure our teacher felt the same way? How many of us as adults feel gorgeous when we get dressed up for a night out, but ultimately gauge whether or not we wear an outfit again based on whether or not we were complimented on it?
More importantly- is insecurity really such a bad thing?
I know this: My insecurity annoys people who are around me a lot. It annoys only them because I feel comfortable enough to TELL them that I'm basing a portion of my confidence on whether or not they approve of something I'm doing, saying, wearing, etc, and let's face it- that's a lot of unfair pressure that they didn't ask for. But other than that, isn't insecurity helpful?
Think about it: Insecurity is our way of acknowledging that (even when we really like ourselves) we're open to improving, and ultimately, know we have to, to stay relevant, and in some cases, survive. And further- isn't being "totally secure" just another way of saying we're "totally ignorant"- Unaffected in choice and circumstance by the opinions of others?
First of all- I challenge you to show me ONE person who truly doesn't give a flying you-know-what what other people think. Doesn't. Exist. Humans, by nature, are communal-tribal- and we look to each other for guidance- guidance that can come in the form of affirmation and compliments, criticism or jest... Not every life lesson is a big sit-down-and-discuss-the-universe moment. In fact, they almost never are.
The days and moments that have shaped me, or instilled something in me, were rarely meant to be substantial. I remember being in 7th grade and a girl I thought was pretty told me I should curl my eyelashes before I put on mascara because I'd look more awake. I have ever since. I remember my 6th grade English teacher's comment on a short story I'd written: "You are a natural writer. I can't wait to read your first novel", which has given me the confidence and vision to continue to write (in all forms). A boy when I was 15 sat and watched a concert with me- particularly uninhibitedly- and inspired me to never temper the freedom to express my appreciation for the arts. The same boy told me that night that I needed to write songs forever because they would "change the world", and to this day, when I wonder whether or not my songs can "make the cut", I think of that. At band camp, a girl I knew for 2 weeks sat in the lounge of the boys' dormitory, saying "hi" to every stranger, and taught me to do the same. By the end of the 2 weeks, we were friends with more people than anyone else there (some of which I still have), and she taught me the most important social skill I've ever learned: No one is going to say no to making a new friend....Conversely, my brothers teased me mercilessly for being high maintenance. It's one of my continuous goals to NOT be. My first boyfriend (when I was 11) told me I wasn't "cool" or "pretty" enough to date, and- despite multiple OPPOSITE experiences and 17 years- I still find myself questioning whether the people I'm around feel like I'm "cool" or "pretty" enough to be hanging out with them.
It goes on. I've had some monumental, hours-long conversations with some of my best friends and perfect strangers. But unequivocally, across-the-board, the most earth-shifting interactions I've ever had with any and all of them come quite unexpectedly. And they're earth shifting because they either solidify something good, or they break something bad. They're "tell-the-truth" moments- ones that you don't see coming, and couldn't if you tried, but that are so meant-to-be that you also couldn't possibly avoid them. They're the moments that make or break your insecurity. And the only reason they're ALLOWED or ABLE to happen is because you allow yourself to be vulnerable, to be open, to be- yes- insecure.
To me, insecurity is not a brokenness. It's an openness. It's about allowing your heart to have doubt that you know yourself and the impact you do or could or will make on the world. It's an openness to be guided because maybe you CAN'T see that you're heading for disaster, and you need to be averted, or you're headed for your ultimate dream life, and you need to be encouraged. It's an openness to be infiltrated by the truth that the world sees you differently than you see yourself.
Because, the world doesn't see me as Marilyn Monroe. Even if I do. the world sees me as Isabeau Miller. And the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable and insecure, the more, in my experience, you find that being yourself is SO much better than being the model of someone else.
I'm not "confident" in spite of my insecurities. I'm confident BECAUSE of them. I'm confident because I really seek out and hear when people tell me good things, and I really work hard on myself when I feel like I'm disappointing someone or not living up to the potential someone sees in me, In a perfect world should those things not matter? Maybe? Maybe not? But I'm not so sure. Because the truth is, we all coexist. Relationships matter. Opinions matter. Perception matters. It doesn't mean those things have to define us, but they certainly pull a weight of their own. If I love being around me, but nobody else does, what's the point?
2013 brought me face to face with a LOT of insecurities, and made me question what the heck I was gonna do about it. Despite all of those insecurities being varied- my weight, sharing my music, looking "stupid" at Crossfit, not being able to make new friends, going out more, not being "relevant", doing the right thing for my son, being a good "fill-in-the-blank", they all led me back to one universal step one: Tell the truth.
So that's what I'm doing, and that's what I think ultimately overcoming "insecurities" is about: Being truthful. Allowing certain things to suck, without it breaking your entire spirit. Allowing peoples' opinions of you to penetrate even the thickest of skins without it knocking you off your course, and maybe even allowing it to build you up. Telling the truth about who you are, and why that is (or maybe isn't) ok, and then doing something about it.
Because ultimately, you have to be able to live with yourself, yes, but you also have to be willing to acknowledge that you "live" with a lot of other people, too, and allowing yourself to be affected by their opinions is not weakness- not at all... It's strength.