Quite possibly, you don’t remember the details of Coleridge’s spooky “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from your high school English class. I didn’t. Aside from a general warning that shooting the bird that helps you and your shipmates out of danger is a bad idea, and if you do kill said bird, said shipmates will force you to wear it around your neck as a really humiliating fashion statement, I couldn’t tell you much of what happened without sneaking a peak at Wikipedia. Turns out, everyone on the ship, except for the guy wearing the dead albatross around his neck, eventually goes crazy or dies.
What does a poem about a crossbow-wielding, morally deficient sailor and the sea bird who stalks him from the grave have to do with loving your body?
Turns out, the albatross around your neck, that part of your body you can’t stand, might be driving the people around you crazy, and killing your relationships.
Think about it. Suppose you hate your belly and wear clothes that hide it from the world… the minute your best friend suggests going shopping for a swimsuit and a weekend trip to the beach, what do you do? Do you say, “Sure, I’m totally there”? Or do you snap at her for being a insensitive jerk who obviously doesn’t care about your feelings and if she wants someone to go swimsuit shopping with, she better stop by the Best Friend store and get a new one of those, too?
When a colleague at work says, “That dress is great on you,” do you pretend to gag and launch into a diatribe about your belly? “What, with this spare tire? If I weren’t so fat, it would look a lot better. I’m so sick of this stupid muffin top.” You’ve almost guaranteed that person will never wade into the land-mined terrain of giving you a compliment ever again.
An unnamed woman in my life, we’ll call her Bea, can’t take a compliment without complaining about her “back fat” (I swear I have no idea what she’s talking about---it looks like lovely skin to me) and, surprise, her belly. Sometimes I forget how sensitive she is about her body, and then BOOM, one stray compliment and I find myself surrounded by body-hating-grenade-induced carnage. Seriously, all you can do is duck, cover, and hope you don’t get taken out by shrapnel. Nursing my wounds, I walk around her triggers more carefully for a while--- until I forget again.
Then sometimes the worst happens. Our friends start to avoid not only our landmines, but the whole DMZ. Our best friend really does find a friend to go swimsuit shopping and swimming at the beach with. Uh-oh. Now we’re pissed. Excluded, angry, frustrated as hell. Our friends stop inviting us to things they think will trigger us, and of course that only triggers us more.
We don’t go out dancing, we won’t wear shorts, and we certainly will not take off our long sleeves, even if we’re absolutely melting for hours in an endless line in the blazing hot sun at the amusement park we are not amused by… all because we don’t want anyone to see our albatross. We give up the freshness of air on our skin, the cool buoyancy of water, the warmth of sand between our toes, never to be enjoyed by us ever again…all because of our albatross. We can feel like we’re going a little crazy ourselves.
Your albatross is not worth losing your friends or your sanity over.
Don’t let it kill your enjoyment of life. A friend of mine tried on eighty swimsuits one day… 80. She told her friend sitting in the dressing room with her that she hated them all. Her friend looked stunned for a moment and said, “I see nothing here but beauty.” Her friend (demonstrating the patience of Mother Teresa) finally convinced her to take one, and when she arrived at the beach, she looked around and saw women of all ages and shapes and sizes--- lumpy, slender, soft, tall--- playing, swimming, sunning, building sandcastles with their kids, and generally not caring about what anyone else thought of them.
Anyone who cares enough to comment about your weight or size should go back to junior high where they can smack their gum and bully each other to their heart’s content.
Most people have better things to do; you can’t tell by looking at them, but mostly they’re thinking about whether they’ll have to change their toddler’s swim diaper before they can claim the last beer in the cooler. So relax and enjoy yourself. No one cares as much as you think they do.
Guess what lifts the sailor’s curse in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and causes the zombie albatross to drop from his neck…. He’s freed only when he learns to see beauty in the ugly things he was formerly disgusted by, offering them love and blessings from his heart. His dead crewmates? They rise up out of the waves, full of good spirits, and sail on to friendly climes. Invite in the possibility of offering love and blessings to that part of yourself you find most ugly. Tomorrow I’ll share with you some practices to do just that.
Next post: Make nice with Mr. Albatross