WTF is your “best self”?

Dear reader,

Thank you so much for your feedback about Stefanie Bonastia’s guest post last month on how food binging is the voice of your inner advocate!

I’ve decided that from now on, you can look forward to seeing her writing on the first Tuesday of every month. So please enjoy her fabulous new piece below on questioning and re-defining your “best self”!

<3

Jessi



It seems like everyone’s definition of their “best self” is always about 10 pounds lighter.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to matter what size people are to begin with. We’ve seen this over and over again, how body image transcends body size—that it’s an affliction of the very small and the very large, implying that a static size isn’t quite what we’re after. The chase is more about relativity to what we already are.

We always just want to be a little bit smaller.

In speaking to most of my clients (who present at a diverse range of sizes), the conversation centers back to: “Ideally, I’d love to be a size X, but realistically, I’d be happy to lose just another pants size or so.”

I think the key here is “realistically,” because most of us have a sense of what our bodies are actually capable of, and that we might never be a size X no matter what we do. But we think we might be capable of losing ten pounds without immediate biological backlash.

And that’s the key. We’ve all been taught that our “best self” encompasses all the things that we are capable of, especially aesthetically.

The push to be our “best self” is a cultural obsession right now, bordering on toxic positivity. And sure, the idea is innocuous enough—it seems as reasonable as “achieve your goals” and “dream big.” Nothing wrong with wanting that for ourselves. But in the quest to be all we can be, we’ve backed ourselves into a corner.

Thanks to diet culture, beauty culture, and social media, we’ve all learned that living up to our best selves means we have to set aside how we feel in order to focus on how we look.

And it all starts with our weight.

Those ten pounds we think we’d be better off without might be the same ten pounds that makes us human.

Could we buckle down a little harder and shake them off? Maybe. Many of us yes, in the short term, and if we tried really hard. But it would involve getting out of bed on a rainy Saturday morning to hit the gym instead of staying cozy in bed with your partner and maybe having sex or connecting in conversation because you’re available. It would involve passing on the pasta dinner your Grandma makes (and she makes it the best) because it doesn’t fit your macros, and opting out of ice cream dates with your kids even though it’s kind of all they want from you on this sunny afternoon in September. It might even involve an extra dose of yelling at your partner or being mean-sarcastic with a friend on text because you get cranky when you’re hungry and you seem to be always hungry these days.

So yes, maybe we could be a little bit smaller. But I’m wondering why we’ve come to believe that the “best version of ourselves” is one of sacrifice and tough discipline, instead of compromise and flexibility.

Is it a capitalist culture that values productivity over rest, money over experience, and power/dominance over relatability/connection? Is it the media telling us that Adele and Rebel Wilson are now most definitely living their best lives because they’ve lost the weight and hired personal trainers, even if we have no idea how it feels for them to maintain this new and improved lifestyle, or how sustainable it actually is?

In today’s culture, a “glow-up” is the standard for keeping up, and it’s entirely focused on what we have, how we look, and what we did to get there. How we present ourselves to the world is where we learn to “earn” our recognition, respect, applause, and admiration.

But what are we willing to sacrifice in the name of a smaller pants size, more impressive hair and skin, an organic pantry, more brand name bags, or a full social calendar? How much time, energy, money, connection, satisfaction, and comfort do we have to give up in order to “achieve our best selves,” all in the name of appearing a certain way?

In the words of Sarah Landry (of @thebirdspapaya on Instagram), capability is not capacity. Capability is defined as “the power or ability to do something; the extent of someone’s ability.” But capacity is the “maximum amount that something can contain; fully occupying the available area or space.”

So yes, you might have the ability to do it. But does that mean you should?

If we look at living our best life through a diet/wellness/beauty culture lens (which is the push), then we’re spending a lot of time doing in order to look like something, instead of spending the time being more selective about our doing in order to feel likesomething.

  • We’re pushing hard at the gym without considering our body’s need for rest.

  • We’re saying “no” (or feeling like we should say no) to food groups without considering how much we enjoy the experience of eating them.

  • We’re spending vast amounts of money on overpriced detox cleanses instead of cultivating a sense of trust in our bodies to do that for us instead (which they do.)

  • We’re saying “yes” to every obligation to validate our social worth without considering how much we need to say no and slow down.

  • We’re chasing body and beauty ideals at the expense of asking ourselves what it is we really need, how to get it more authentically, and what it will cost to get there.

Living your best life has become a lot of smoke and mirrors. What it looks like and what it feels like have become two completely different things.

Which is not to imply that we shouldn’t have any goals that might resemble respect for aestheticism or productivity. On the contrary, I think that goal-setting in the name of things that make us actually feel more alive is valuable, like choosing the workout on days when it makes sense, buying the clothes that contribute to your self-confidence, eating to nourish your body.

But consider how feeling more alive can be achieved without extremism or self-sacrifice, or a “keeping up” mentality. Sometimes our best moments are achieved by not doing things that yes, we might be capable of—but that also deplete our ability to truly enjoy living.

We can be our best self and rest.
We can be our best self and cry.
We can be our best self and stay in, make less money, say no to the PTA mom.
We can certainly be our best self and not lose 10 pounds.

What would happen if “best-self-ism” was focused more on how we feel instead of what we do/have/look like?

To clarify this for yourself, consider the following questions:

  • How do you currently define your “best self,” and what is the distance between that self and your current self?

  • What behaviors would have to change in order to become that best self? Consider what you would need to add in and what you would need to take out.

  • Assuming that we are always striving to be our best selves, why hasn’t it happened yet? What are the obstacles that continue presenting themselves on that path, and is it possible they serve a purpose?

  • How is your appearance-based best-self different from a feelings-only-based best self? Can they co-exist?

  • Why aren’t you your best self right now? Without the pressure of appearance, would you actually already be your best self?

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