When Jokes Attack

So, earlier this week I turned 35. I can now run for president in this country, check a new and exciting demographic box on forms, and refer to high school students as "those damn kids". (Get off my lawn.) One of the things that reportedly comes with advancing age is wisdom. And I think I might've gained some recently along with leveling up. It has to do with humor. It has to do with those pesky voices in my head that I'd rather bind, gag and shoot into orbit. It has to do with re-writing 35 years of programming.

So meet me after the jump and listen to the story of how Jamie realized she needs to be kinder to herself. 

Now, being good to yourself might seem like a no-brainer. Well duh! *shakes head* It's not for me. It's something I'm still learning. I've been unpacking a lot of old baggage recently (hooray major life changes making you sift through your shit, and forcing you to chuck it!) and I've discovered roots to current behaviors.

One thing you should know about me is my humor. I often use self-deprecation for comedic effect. In fact, I do this so often, it used to be a tagline on this site (and it still is on my business cards): 1010131511I've used self-effacing humor for decades at this point. At first it was a defense mechanism. You see, I was a fat kid. Look at this picture:

me, circa 1987

I'm sitting here trying to type the next line and it's killing me not to make some wisecrack. But that's part of it, isn't it? For years I've made jokes about my body because, as the logic went, if I said it first, that meant that the bullies wouldn't get the chance. Yeah, I was bullied a lot because of my body. I was taller than the other kids, that's for damn sure. And I was bigger. I was a perfect target, and kids are fucking cruel sometimes. So "beached whale" was a popular one. Pig, hog, fatso, fatty, thunder thighs, cow, heifer, chunky, chubby, Jabba.... I heard them all.

So, I did what I did best: I made jokes. I started putting myself down before the others could. I started talking smack to preempt their attacks. And even after the attacks stopped, I kept on doing it. Just a few months back, I started jokingly referring to my physique as comparable to a "harpoon-scarred manatee".

Funny, right?

*shakes head*

No.

It's hard to be nice to myself. So that picture up there? I was 7. When this picture was taken, I'd already started trying to diet and had very conscious thoughts of literally cutting off my fat.

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1986. First grade. I think this is when things ramped up in terms of my "education". I don't know exactly when it began, but I was taught at an early age to dislike my body. I was taught that my body was flawed, gross. Something to be hidden. Something to be improved. ("You'd be so pretty if you just....") Something to be ashamed of. And this wasn't just society telling me this. It wasn't magazines or television. It wasn't media. It was personal. Friends, peers, teachers, family members. I was trained to believe that this body of mine was inherently wrong.

As I looked through pictures today for this post, trying to find one that was the best example of how terrible I am, I kept saying, "There's nothing wrong with her. Nor her. Nor her. Why did I think I was so fat? Why did I think I was so ugly? And why the fuck did everyone tell me that?!"

To be fair, I say "everyone", but it wasn't "everyone". However, when some of the most important female role models in your family keep spouting off "You'd be pretty if..." or "you lose X amount of weight, I'll give you $25".... no shit, my grandmother tried to bribe me. And it wasn't just weight loss. I had warts on my hands when I was younger. They went away on their own, but she would always say, "If you get rid of them, I'll give you money." (For the record, freezing warts FUCKING HURT!) Later it was plucking my eyebrows. And it was always $25. So that's the going rate of acceptance, apparently. (sorry, that was a little dark.)

Thing is... other people put such importance on my looks, I started feeling like that's all I was My worth was in my body, in my appearance. And it wasn't good enough. So I couldn't be good enough. I learned better over the years, but sometimes, those old tapes start playing when my voices are nostalgic for the old days.

me at 35

Point is...those voices have been around for a very long time. Those jokes, those reactions... they're ingrained. And I've always thought that the jokes were harmless because they were self-inflicted and I didn't really mean it, right? I was just joining the crowd or getting one in before anyone else could. So calling myself a "harpoon-scarred manatee" is harmless! Wrong.

Recently, I was having an intimate encounter with my beloved when his hand slid up under the hem of my shirt. Just a little so that it rested on my belly.

Every single one of those voices began shouting 'HARPOON-SCARRED MANATEE!!!'

And thus began the awkward mental tango of self-loathing and trying not to wilt on the spot.

Since then, the phrase "harpoon-scarred manatee" has been banned. Sean has put his foot down on the matter and gets quite cross with me if I make jokes about myself. Friends are calling me out when I make other self-deprecating wisecracks. But as I said above, it's kneejerk. It's reflex. And I'm learning that. I'm trying to undo that. I'm trying to stop, which means not only re-wiring my humor, but it means unlearning lessons that have been in place since before I was in first grade. It means undoing a lot of damage that others started, but that I carried on.

And it doesn't mean that I need compliments or approval or acceptance from others. It doesn't mean I post selfies looking for gratification. No, that's not it at all. In fact, I don't want that. It doesn't mean that I post this blog and get sympathy or apologies. I don't want that either. All of the acceptance and apologies need to come from ME to ME.

It means looking at pictures of little Jamie and saying, "There was nothing wrong with her at all." And it means looking at a picture of me at 35 and saying, "There is nothing wrong with her. Not at all." Most importantly, it means never teaching my child to hate her body. Teaching her instead that she is a work in progress, that she is beautiful and loved and never has to jump through hoops for love or money. There is no, "if you did this, you'd be better".

Self-loathing is learned behavior. So is self-love.

And I'm working on it.

And I think I'm going to need new business cards.

 

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