One summer on the Coney Island Boardwalk, I saw two Hispanic ladies in swimsuits dancing to salsa music blaring from a portable radio. Since it was New York at least 40 years ago–and salsa–they were probably Puerto Rican. These ladies were a lovely shade of tan that glowed in the sun. Both were older, maybe in their 50s–but I was just a kid, so hey, maybe 30s. Neither was “pretty.” Neither had a “good” figure–one had a big round belly and skinny little legs and arms. Both were saggy and lined.
Unabashed by the hundreds of other people strolling the boardwalk, they laughed and danced in the sun, completely engaged with their pleasure. They were relaxed, confident, and present. They were radiantly beautiful.
Hotness has nothing to do with looks. We have been told all our lives, in ways both explicit and implicit, that as women, our value is all in our physical attractiveness. We are encouraged to compare ourselves to unattainable models and work incessantly on our face and figure. We pity and despise anyone who doesn’t measure up, even as we are secretly delighted to scratch out the name (if not the eyes), of one more competitor in the big contest of attraction. No wonder so many women are so angry.
And then we get old.
That first grey hair. That line. Someone calls us ma’am. Some hot new property appears on our horizon. Our days are numbered. Somewhere we realize this is all a shuck and a sham. That our value is deeper than than our skin. But it’s a rough road, people. Even if we are not “pretty,” youth conveys a certain dewy hormonal veil of attraction. When we base our worth on youth, beauty, even athletic ability, we build our house upon the sand. Once that’s gone, we are pretty much washed up.
All of us over 40 have been there. Some of us live there. All of us are going there. Aging is no cakewalk, my friends. Take some notes now, so you, too, can be a beach-dancing beauty in your so-called “golden” years. If you are already there, listen up. There’s no time like the present. The three keys are Self-Compassion, Confidence, and Personal Pleasure. Today we will look at Compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
Compassion is generally defined as Loving Kindness. Compassion exists outside of the duality of good and bad. In this case, we are looking at Self-Compassion, extending loving kindness to the self.
Most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. As we age, we have even more opportunities to hate on ourselves. Every glance in the mirror is an ordeal. We attempt to shame ourselves into doing better. This keeps us in a state of perpetual unhappiness. We never feel good enough. We fear that simply loving ourselves is suspect, a short slide to a slovenly satisfaction with our crappy lives. It’s not.
Self-Compassion IS treating ourselves kindly. It is how we might treat a good friend. It is mindful, honest, and kind. It does not involve evaluation. We are no better (or worse), than anyone else. We are all humans, each with our own challenges. It doesn’t depend upon our failure or success, if we are beautiful or not. We are all beautiful, we are all unique, and we are all deserving of kindness and love.
Self-Compassion means having our best interests at heart–we want ourselves to be well, and we are willing to help. We can look at negatives from a place of love. It provides all the benefits of self esteem without the narcissistic downsides.
Self-Compassion is key in releasing trauma. We give to ourselves the love and comfort that we needed in the past. The sooner we start loving ourselves, the sooner we can let go of shame and fear.
How do we develop Self-Compassion? Part of it is a mindset shift. Accepting that we are worthy of love and kindness is a big step for many of us. We re-write our inner scripts–we replace scathing put-downs with understanding such as we might offer a suffering friend. We forgive ourselves for having been hurt, and for hurting ourselves. We hold ourselves close in our own hearts.
Kristin Neff is a pioneer researcher of self compassion. She has put together a quiz to help folks see just how self-compassionate they are–and a compendium of exercises to help develop it. So let’s get to it!
Self-Compassion is key to our development of Confidence. And confidence is key to presenting ourselves as more than a pretty face. We’ll take a look at that next time.
Lots of love,