I am a long collector of quotes. I like words. Words soothe me sometimes, which I think might be partly due to being an Enneagram 5, where I know that research and information soothe me. I digress.
I recently read a quote by Henri Nouwen. He said that there are three lies around our identity: I am what I have; I am what I do; I am what other people say or think of me.
I know that we are all evolving as we learn and grow, especially with self-reflection and discovery. It is certainly interesting to see ourselves evolve. As a therapist, I get to see others go through the process of letting go of these lies. And I know it can be so hard to defuse our minds from the lie, believing those lies to be absolute truths. But I would like to consider a fourth lie—I am what I look like.
Some might argue that “I am what I look like” falls into the third lie that Henri Nouwen discussed. While that is true, the identify of what I look like can take on a life of its own beyond what others say or think. We start to believe this of ourselves, in our images in our mind, regardless of what others say. It can change what we see in the mirror. What we see is not reality. The lie of “I am what I look like” was conditioned in us, often by society. This conditioning included defining an ideal way to look. That ideal is beyond reasonable and achievable. The images portrayed in the media are altered by makeup, software, camera angles, and tricks. Those individuals in the pictures don’t even look like what we see on the screen.
Who benefits from us not being alright with the way we look? Follow the dollar bills, y’all! Diet products and programs, beauty products and businesses make BILLIONS of dollars when we work endlessly to change how we look. Sadly, the cost is beyond money. We lose our relationship with ourselves, with food, with friends and family. We can lose our well-being. We can lose our mental health (and physical health, which is another blog for another time, as the lies have many believing they are pursuing health). As my fellow eating disorder therapists know, many lose their lives.
Let’s start to unravel the lies we believe, especially those lies about our identities. It can be a difficult unraveling. It might need the assistance of a professional. But I believe in my bones that it is best done in community. We need a community that supports us in finding the truth. If we can’t find a community, let’s start one.