There is this saying I once overheard – no recollection of where, or when, or from whom – that has somehow haunted me more, and more deeply, than any profound segment of prose or stanza of poetry or line of literature that I’ve come across in my many years as a student and a reader: “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” Simple, succinct, unpoetic, and yet a low and searing blow that still makes my soul ache tenfold each time I reflect on how unfulfilled I feel in my life (which is essentially every few minutes, every day.)
Beyoncé, a damn idol, talent, luminary, ostensibly inhuman queen, manages to do all that she does in the same timespan that I manage to do essentially nothing. She probably gets in a killer workout, low-cal healthy smoothie, makeup, hair, interviews, rehearsals, fittings, flights to wherever the hell, performances, second workout, meetings, appointments, and even some mothering/wifing and more in the time it takes me to roll out of bed, haphazardly turn myself into a somewhat presentable-looking human, walk to work (late), and sit at a desk for 8 hours browsing “ways to grow your butt if you’re a white girl” and window shopping on Amazon while writing the odd 300-word newspiece here and there. Hell, even on my days out of the office, doing a load of laundry and tidying the house are real achievements for me. Leaving the house? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And when my daily tidal wave of self-loathing and confusion about WHY THE HELL I AM THE UNPRODUCTIVE HUMAN I AM comes, it’s not just Beyoncé I have to compare myself to, but the millions of celebs and pseudocelebs who tout their glorious lives on social (and in traditional) media, pretending to be normal people.
The thing about it is, just like the models in the magazines we grew up with before the advent of the internet, these people we worship aren’t normal people. Anyone who has the time and resources to devote their entire life to appearances and exceptional – read: unrealistic – accomplishments (platinum albums and the like), whether it be a full-blown celebrity or an “influencer” who was able to quit her job when she hit 80,000 Instagram followers, does not have the same obligations and goals that a “normal” person does or should have. Beyoncé manages to be Beyoncé because she has a team of hundreds behind her every move. Jen Selter’s butt looks like Jen Selter’s butt because she has an entire day to devote to working out her butt. A fitness model has the body of a fitness model – and the beautiful tan and hair and makeup to boot – because that is their fucking job. (I’m sorry to make things so physically focused here, but it’s in my nature as a woman and as someone in ED recovery, because these are the standards I hold myself to the most and feel the guiltiest about not achieving.)
I have felt ashamed of myself and my lack of tangible accomplishment nearly every day of my life in recent memory. My parents taught me that there was no other option than an 85%+ average and a university scholarship and a decent paying high-status job, and so, in my little three-car garage inground pool faction of Canadian white suburbia, that was the life I held myself to, thinking it was the norm (still working on that last bit though…). As is potentially expected given my circumstances, I became somewhat of a perfectionist, which I believe many women can relate to – and though I easily measured up in some ways, I fell short in others.
It is only now, approaching 27, that I’ve realized this is called “the natural damn balance of things” and not “I am a fucking failure.” People have strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, admirable qualities and shortcomings, good luck and bad luck, regardless of whether it seems that way or not. I am learning to trust that the universe, and so people and their lives, have to balance out somewhere.
My prior mode of thinking was obviously the springboard for my more than decade-long issues with eating, as diet and exercise are two things very easily quantified and controlled; even more easily sorted into “success” and “failure” with only myself to congratulate or blame. And though I’m still struggling against the quicksand that is this mindset, I find as of late that I’m more forgiving with myself. Though only a microscopic shift, it’s made all the difference, and I wish that I could impart the same tiny revelatory kernel to others.
I’ve stopped setting myself up for failure by making and reiterating mental lists of things I insist on getting done each day for that day to be a “good” one. Sure, I’ll set my alarm for 6:45 each morning in the hopes that I’ll be inspired to go for a run, but I no longer beat myself up and write the day off as failed from the start if I’m too exhausted to get up and exert myself that early. If I manage to do it once a week, I appreciate myself for that. The same has gone for eating, which is something that seems to have just happened on its own and is so goddamn scary that I’m hesitant to even talk about it… but for the past few weeks, I haven’t really given a shit if I go over 1,000 calories a day, or eat “bad” foods. In the past, these would be classified as “binge” or “no care” days, few and far between, to be separated with “repent” days of guilty abstinence from food and overdoing it on workouts or then continuing to eat, but purging up to ten times a day. Eating healthy is good for health’s sake, but sometimes restrictions and rules aren’t good for an already weakened mental state. Especially for someone who too often falls down the slippery slope from “healthy, positive, yay!” to “restriction, binge/purge, depressed!” If I’m functioning with what I’m doing, I’m going to just keep it up and be fine where I’m at until I feel okay enough to make a change and have it be a positive thing for the right reasons (i.e., not trying to drop 10 pounds in a week because I feel like I can’t live in my body today).
And as far as accomplishments go, I’ve stopped holding myself to everything I think I should be doing, or the things the person I theoretically want to be would do. Yes, there are normal, non-celebrity people who go to the gym for 5am, run errands, go to work and kick ass, meet some friends for dinner and drinks, go home and work on creative projects, and carry on relationships and maintain entire lives on top of that. Statistically, I have no idea how much of the population these types of go-getters make up. And though it’s definitely important to have goals and to aspire to things, after knowing myself for almost three decades, I’ve come to realize I’m just not that kind of person, and wanting to be/hating myself when I can’t be doesn’t get me any closer to it. I won’t accept a day of laying around in bed (come on self, you’re better than that), but I’m more realistic when trying to carve out my day or my week or my life. If I don’t feel up to that social event this evening and my absence isn’t harming anyone, I make the decision to stay home and refuse to guilt myself for what I’m missing out on. If I planned to get to a coffee shop and write for a few hours on the one day I have to myself each week, but didn’t get around to it between working out and errands, I pat myself on the back for getting something done. These things may sound sad and babying of me, but self-care and self-love is so, so fucking important and it’s something most of us have neglected for most of our lives. On the contrary, I know for myself personally, self-hatred and self-punishment have been my norms. I may want to live life at the highest level and the fastest speed, but maybe I’m just not a damn Beyoncé; we can’t all be, right? Or maybe just not right now. I’ll continue to shine in the ways I’ve overlooked my whole life, and will maybe learn some new ones along the way.