I should have suspected today might turn wonky when I picked up a 25 lb. dumbbell and a 20 lb. dumbbell this morning for a chest press and just thought my left arm was feeling really weak after 2 days without any dedicated upper body work. No, I am just the idiot who did not notice she picked up 2 different weights. In my defense this has never happened before, so how would I suspect such a thing would feel like that? Spinning it, this was a learning experience and I will know better next time.
Yesterday was all about the gym’s marketing campaign. It’s relentless. This morning I was listening to the promotional messages on gym radio and how they pitch the cost of personal training as comparable to a daily cup of coffee for a month. As a training client, I know what J costs (he is worth every single penny) and understand completely that my sessions are a luxury not everyone can afford. I guess it bothers me that in their advertising the gym is manipulating the numbers to make it sound more affordable. If that were truly the case, either the gym’s marketing people drink richly expensive coffee or they are pushing individual training as a couple of hours per month only.
I know I am not alone in my distaste for marketing and advertising, and I always wish businesses could be more straightforward and honest in promoting their products. But would that trend have any impact on us being more honest with ourselves?
This was part of my theme today for meeting with TM, my therapist. Thus far we have made some progress on improving my overall outlook and my feelings of self worth, and today we somehow got onto the subject of authenticity and how much raw truth anyone can truly take in interpersonal relationships. If ever I am looking for food for thought TM does not disappoint.
From my work as an accountant, I have plenty of experience dealing with people and their money habits. Money tracking is prone to just as much elasticity with reality as calorie counting, in that when left to our own devices and not actively tracking our tendency is to spend more and consume more than we realize. There was a time when I tracked our spending as obsessively as I flat out refuse to track calories now. Of course, with debit cards and credit cards and even cash, the inflow and outflow of money is pretty black and white with little room for subjectivity.
While we were climbing out of debt and for a few years after that I very carefully tracked our spending until such time I was sure we could be trusted not to fall back into the credit card debt trap. It was during those years that I learned about myself and the insidiousness of marketing. Of course, it was also during those years that I did quite a bit of work on my emotional and mental health; I went from insanely insecure about almost everything to just insecure about a significantly shorter list of things. The more comfortable I got with my place in the world and accepting that I was not a waste of space (yes, I actually thought and wrote that about myself regularly), the less inclined I was toward overspending to compensate for my blackhole of shortcomings. The less inclined I was toward overspending, the more I started examining what I was reading, listening to, watching, interacting with. The insidiousness of marketing everywhere I went and everything I came into contact with was pretty astonishing. It was, and is, everywhere.
Parenting magazines suggested my child needed this toy, those books, that sort of expensive education to grow up and into decent human beings. There was advice and admonishments about the ways that I needed to step-up my mothering skills to raise emotionally healthy children. General women’s magazines and self-help books offered solutions for any existing relationship problems and prevention for future issues. There were articles on doing my job better, getting promoted, getting a new job, improving my housekeeping skills, making my marriage more vital and passionate, or affair-proof ourselves. On top of all that, there were all the cautionary tales of what happened when you failed your children, were a bad daughter and did not do more for your aging parents, screwed up your job and future employment prospects, and let us not even talk about all the faltering to failing marriages and the consequences of children of divorce.
I found myself not wanting to read anything resembling current affairs or articles that discussed where I was in the current phase of life. I alternated between being alarmed about the state of my relationships and terrified of what could happen if I did not pay enough attention or could not figure out a way to acquire the needed tools. At the very least, I had to stay current and keep my magazine and newspaper subscriptions going or I would somehow miss out and be left behind.
And all this was before the internet with its 24/7 instant updates on everything imaginable.
I finally stopped reading anything that resembled self-help, advice, or described the pitfalls of parenting, marriage, relationships, life in general. And my kids are fine, both independent adults that are fully-functional and productive members of their communities. Having just celebrating an 18th wedding anniversary and still in love and in a happy marriage, I believe we are bumbling along well enough without the advice of experts or the fear-based cautionary tales. Still employed and thriving, although I am still not an organized and efficient housekeeper or cook. But oh well.
Fashion and beauty magazines – do not even get me started. I actually abandoned all make-up products after a brief, really awful couple of tries in my 20s, because the process of applying it correctly engaged my inner perfectionista and I would never get out of the house on time. I take care of my skin – same Clinique line I have used since I was 19 – but other than that, I am not a big cosmetics consumer. My hair care products, probably my biggest personal splurge, are from the salon where my stylist works and I enjoy the effect on my particular type of hair. For me, it is worth the ridiculous amount of money I spend on a liter of shampoo, conditioner, and tube of hair goo every 6 months or so. If my budget got too skinny to afford such indulgences, I would experiment until I found a replacement. But I am not there yet, and while the frugalistas in my midst might scoff at my spendthrift ways in pursuit of good hair days, so be it.
But every single time I glance at a women’s magazine, I feel inadequate and like a failure on some level. Because I fail to look like the skinny models. Because not using this, that, the other thing makes me less attractive and my marriage vulnerable. Because the workouts prescribed are typically way beyond my current abilities, and when they do not produce the promised results in 30 days I feel like a failure yet again. Because 90% of the food on the recommended diets are things I would barf back up if I tried to eat them.
Because because because.
Because those publications end up making me feel so badly about myself I stopped even looking at the covers when I’m in line at the grocery store. I have no issue making myself feel badly about myself all on my own, thank you very much.
I feel as if I am a realist about who I am, what is possible for me, my body, my life. I do my time at the gym and thus far I am satisfied with my efforts and my results. It’s extremely personal, though. If I wanted something different – bigger, stronger, faster body in X number of weeks or months – I would likely be asking J for more specific make-it-happen type advice and to write programs that would do that for me on a particular timeline. J, in turn, would have to sit me down and be real with about whether or not such changes are even possible for me as well as what else it will take in terms of diet and time in the gym.
It would be such an uncomfortable conversation it gives me the willies just thinking about it.
There is room for improvement in my thinking and self-esteem, so I am exploring my options there with TM. It’s not always easy; he challenges my thinking and assumptions and acceptance of the status quo. But if it were easy everyone would have a healthy outlook and be completely confident. That said, I already notice that I am more assured than I was a few months ago.
From the glitz and gloss I see everywhere else, rarely is anyone that realistic about what it takes for the average person to get as close as they can being the best versions of themselves, whether it is an attempt to achieve to the fitness model body and lovely face/skin/features gracing the covers of fashion and fitness magazines. The dream of turning a plain Jane into a supermodel exists on some level for many, or advertising would be targeting and directing their campaigns in a different way.
And because I am picking on the fitness industry and it marketing machinery, gyms are unlikely to sell memberships if they were brutally honest about how much sweat equity and eating discipline is required to achieve and maintain the thinnest, fittest versions of ourselves. Or to bulk up and get the muscle cuts that may be desired. All those men and women proudly baring their hard-won pretty, muscles and promoting their books, their workouts, their eating plans and promising if you work out like they do, eat like they do, you too can look like them are there to make a profit, not enhance your life out of the goodness of their their hearts. I cannot blame them at all for trying to make an honest buck, and I suppose they are not really lying to us, more like not really explaining all the realities of the differences in body shapes and sizes. But those are things that we as consumers should know about ourselves; we could do our research and make honest assessments based on all the available facts and assumptions used.
For the average person, it is unlikely to happen. Because few are willing to put in the hours of exercise or deny themselves foods they like for extended periods of time to look like the pictures in glossy magazines. But that does not stop marketing machines from churning out reams and reams of pages with advice and assurances that it could happen for you.
It makes me feel kind of ill.
J and I have had many conversations about training and goals and everything in between. I would be a terrible client for a lot of trainers, in my resistance to setting goals and tracking progress and high maintenance quirks. Would any of them say that, though? Would any of them say to me “if you are not willing to follow the program and procedures we set for you to the letter, you will not succeed and will be wasting your money.” Probably not. Of course, the training program and diet may be unhealthy for me, but maybe that is in the fine print no one ever reads. It is truly up to me to do my research for best possible outcomes.
To be fair to the marketing masses, J is unlikely to say that either. Because he is a practical man and has a viable service to sell and he definitely can help guide and create a map for most people to reach their personal fitness goals. I absolutely believe he is smart enough, savvy enough to parse it out in far more diplomatic, kinder and gentler terms than “do it my way or you’re going to fail.”
What does all that have to do with TM and self-esteem? Everything and nothing. I am sensitive to the onslaught of information all around me, much of the time my curious mind is seeking it out whether I am aware of it or not. When I was 10, I told my mother than the newspaper and television reports could not be trusted, that they were not impartial observers and that bias colored their reporting whether they realized it or not. Her bias was that I, her peculiar child who asked too many questions about everything, had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe I did not really know what I was saying, but I had my own evaluation system that said no one should be completely taken at face value or on faith, especially if my instincts said otherwise.
The odd thing about my mother was she had great respect for my instincts about people. If I did not like someone, said she should not hire them, she generally listened. The one time she overrode my pronouncement – a roofer for their home, the lowest bid – turned into a disaster that had to be repaired repeatedly after his firm declared bankruptcy and went under. My reasons for rejecting him? He smelled bad, a combination of sweat and cigars and liquor … and sex.
At 12 I knew more about men and sex than any child ever should. My mother just felt like I was gifted with a sixth sense about people. How I wish that had been completely true.
I know my peculiar sensitivity to the information inflow makes me have to take a break from reading the news and doing little other than reading emails from close friends or looking at cute pet videos. The tragedy and negative press causes anxiety and crankiness and adds a dark and sinister tinge to my worldview.
So in about half our time today, TM and I discussed all that … 2000 words condensed into 25 minutes of a 50 minute conversation. No wonder I feel stressured sometimes.
But then TM asked me about my interpersonal relationships – my friendships, my communications, the people I see and choose to invest time with on a regular basis. Most of that seems fine; none of my friends are currently having drama-trauma that impacts me, a couple are having genuine problems that inspire me to send good ju-ju their way.
That said … my radar for bullshit has been amping up in intensity lately. I cannot quite put my finger on it or what is happening with it, but I have been on higher alert. Anyone who knows me even a brief time knows I prefer that we always be honest with one another, even if it is something I do not want to hear or would prefer not to state out loud unless it truly is necessary or constructive somehow to one or both of us. Whatever our relationship, please just tell me the truth rather than try to spin it to something softer. I am pretty direct much of the time; ask me and more likely than not I will express what I truly think. I am not a mean girl (most of the time) or one who enjoys being deliberately cruel or hurtful, but lying by omission or outright is not my way either.
And as I said my tolerance for bullshit is pretty low under normal circumstances. But the drama – oh my the DRAMA – from what I am reading or following is wearing me down. As our world and many relationships are more and more online based, the level of fake and inauthentic and manufactured drama nearly makes me cynical. And I am among the less jaded of folks I know; I am almost Pollyannaish in my hope for my fellow man.
I cannot really pinpoint what it is that is bothering me, but I sense some inauthenticity in my midst yet no real way to discover it. The only choice is to step back and away, try to discern if this is me being overly saturated in glitz and gloss or if there is genuinely something amiss in my little world.
TM brought this back to me and my sense of self. If learned someone is being inauthentic with me, perhaps ratcheting up the drama in their lives for a greater share of my or other people’s time and attention, what would I do? Gave me pause, because no one likes to be lied to or spun in that way. I said it would likely depend upon how close I felt to the person, how much I care for and about them, but most likely the first step would be to step back and distance myself from the person and the situation. I certainly do not need someone yanking the chain of my emotions for attention.
Would this constitute a violation of trust? To a degree, I suppose; it would depend upon the degree of deceit. But the whole line of discussion started to make me vaguely uncomfortable.
He brought it back to J and to the dietician, since both men are looming large in my reconfiguring my health at the moment. If J blew smoke at me about my present progress and how far I could advance in 3 months, 6 months, however many more months my next re-up of sessions, would I feel more inclined to believe and trust him? My immediate response – would not happen, period; J does not need to fan my ego to get me to re-sign with him for the next block of sessions when it is time. With the dietician, when I submit my food tracking sheet, if he suggests I did in fact omit or outright mislead about my food consumption, would I be inclined to confess (if I had in fact done that) or merely walk away from the relationship? Since I do not lie, I would be inclined walk, because ours is a relatively new relationship and should be at least based on professional benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
And why would I lie in the first place? This man is there to help me, and the only way he can is for me to be completely honest and transparent in feedback and discussions. If I am telling him on paper that I am eating nothing but steamed broccoli and chicken yet have gained 25 lbs. and have cookie crumbs on my face when we meet, yes, there might be a problem and he should be calling me out. Same with J. If I do not practice between sessions I say so; there is no point in trying to conceal it, because (1) he will know, just by my performance, and (2) it demonstrates lack of respect for his professionalism and should result in loss of credibility. At that point I may as well be reduced to merely cha-ching in their paychecks.
TM points out I would likely never truly understand anyone’s motivation in misleading me, because I myself do not lie about big stuff that matters. I am kind, have a good heart, and would likely indulge in a little white lie if no one was directly harmed by it. But I am unlikely to directly lie to anyone for any reason, because honesty is part of my identity and what I value.
However, if I allow others to mislead and manipulate my emotions for whatever reasons they choose that path, it seems I do not see myself as worthy of the same levels of respect and honesty as I provide. Are they sparing my feelings somehow by being inauthentic? Or are they serving their own needs by inciting my sympathy and compassion? And how do I feel when the inauthentic behavior is exposed and cannot be denied?
And with that our time was concluded, leaving me with lots to think about.
I see where he is going with this – I have been far too tolerant with many in the past until I reach some breaking point and either all sorts of Hell breaks loose and I end up feeling shredded and depressed. Maybe self esteem truly begins with self-respect? Establishing and enforcing boundaries on acceptable behavior toward me?
I always think I do these things, then things blow up in my face and I realize no, I did not, have not. I already see it happening to some small degree with friends about the exercise. What to do about it, however, is another issue to think about, explore, discuss. Oh boy. It is going to be an interesting week of thoughtful perking on our discussions today and my thinking of the last couple of days.