The Perfect Body and the Impossible Ideal

I probably haven’t been around long enough to say this with much authority, but America (or maybe the West in general) is more obsessed with dieting and exercise than it’s ever been. And not even for the purpose of health, but just to look like Marie Osmond or some other “success story.” Advertizers tout a product’s “slimming” benefits before it tells you what it does to your body (like how a no-carb diet causes your body to burn protein, which is no bueno.) People want a quick fix – “lose five pounds in ten days!” “You don’t even have to leave your couch!” Healthy? No. Appearance-changing? Yes. In my humble opinion, it’s an issue when society as a whole craves aesthetic over well-being.

“Well, duh, Audrey. You can talk about this subjectively because you’re skinny. You don’t have to worry about pinching yourself in the mirror every morning. No skinny person does. You’re healthy, because thin = healthy.”

I’m gonna stop you right there.

At my lowest, I was 100 pounds. That is not super healthy for a five-foot-five young adult. I’ve always been on the small side, but my weight dipped during my freshman year of college for a number of reasons, mainly because it was a side effect of medicine I was taking. I was also under a huge amount of (mostly self-imposed) stress and was so busy I’d often skip lunch and just eat a granola bar.

“For goodness’ sake, eat a cheeseburger!” is something that more than one person has told me (Haha. So original. Very funny.)

I have never been a health freak. I exercise and try to eat healthy between Hershey bars, but I’m not mega obsessed. But I’ve always been pretty conscious of my body and what it looks like, especially in comparison to other people’s. In my health class in high school, my teacher talked about the dangers of fad diets, especially on young, growing bodies. It made sense when I was that age, hearing it from an older, wiser adult – but it’s amazing how quickly we forget that knowledge when we see pencil thin celebrities – or even just see friends who are smaller than us – and start pinching and prodding ourselves in the mirror. Then we see a commercial for SlimFast or Atkins and we think “It worked for them, so why not for me?

I’ve done my share of poking and prodding in front of the mirror, believe me. I’m reminded almost every day by well-meaning friends that I’m “a stick,” but that doesn’t stop me from doing it. It’s amazing what imperfections we find when we do a thorough examination of ourselves in the mirror. Oh gross. My face looks so swollen. I look like I’m hiding two apples inside my cheeks. My butt is the size of Canada. I’m so freaking fat. (Even skinny people think these things.)

It’s a perception. An ugly one, but a perception nonetheless. Some of us would do anything to look like an Audrey Hepburn or Keira Knightley – cut carbs, do a “juice cleanse” (I still have no idea what that is or what it does), or literally starve ourselves. Just to look like what we percieve as a more “desirable” person.

But guess what? It’s never going to stop.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that skinny people have it awful. I’m really okay with being thin, and I know a lot of people are fairly comfortable and secure with their bodies. The problem is we’ve created an ideal – the ideal body that’s flashing on the cover of every tabloid. An ideal body that most people simply cannot attain.

I’m saying that even as a thin person whose weight has fluctuated fairly drastically in the last few years, that feeling doesn’t stop. When I was 100 pounds, I was still picking at myself in the mirror, sucking in my gut, turning my back to the mirror to see what the south side looked like. I’m back to a (reasonably) healthy weight, and I’m still doing it. Still pinching, pulling, tightening my belt, sucking in, flicking the “grandma flab” on my upper arms.

What I’m trying to say in 600 words is there’s no such thing as an ideal body. Because one person could tell you size double zero is ideal, while another could tell you size 16 is. A Victoria’s Secret angel will tell you something different than your own mother, or grandmother, or aunt. (Note: I’m not excluding guys from this conversation, but I’m not as familiar with your body struggles, for obvious reasons. Feel free to chime in at any time.)

I won’t say that the ambiguous shadow of “society” or the giant blob that is “the media” are feeding us this need for “ideal.” It does play a significant part, but it’s actually feeding something inside us that we already have: Need. A Need to finally feel loved, to finally feel accepted, to finally fit into a size 6, to finally walk into the office and hear your colleague say, “Hey, something’s different about you! Have you lost weight?”

That need can cause deep holes that get filled by superficial things. Fads, corsets, binge eating, excessive and dangerous amounts of exercise. But it’s something you can never fill with those things, whether you’re a runway model or a service clerk. There’s no such thing as Ideal, no fast fix to become that.

The only thing that can fill that hole of Need is acceptance, the realization that there is no Ideal to reach, because when you reach it, there will be another one around the corner. You’ll just continue starving yourself physically, mentally, emotionally until there’s nothing of you left. You’ve sacrificed yourself to the Impossible Ideal.

I don’t want to end this on a downer like that. I applaud those of who who fight with self-esteem every day, who feel marginalized or looked down on because of how you look. People are going to say things and do things that hurt because they’ve fallen victim to the Impossible Ideal. When you see those people or hear their berating comments, I hope you feel sorry for them and not for yourself. They’re not confident enough in their own image that they have to compare you to the Impossible. And that’s just sad.

Maybe, one step at a time, we can change the perception and erase that ideal. No fad, food, book, or barbell will be able to do that.

Only you can.

Missing Someone.

 

Sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods.

– Cinderella, Into the Woods

There have been many times in my life when I’ve missed someone. I’m sure that’s happened to you too – missing a person is not a peculiar thing. Maybe they’ve left your city, or just left your life. Or they’ve left this life, which is its own kind of missing someone.

Whatever it may be, they’re not with you anymore. But they’ve left something behind, and that something is usually (ironically) Emptiness. Because there’s a hole in your life now, a gap that used to be filled by moments, moments with that person. But now that the person’s gone, you gotta work on filling that gap.

I’m in a period of life right now where I’m missing someone. I forgot how much it hurts. The last time someone I loved moved away from me, I was in third grade. I remember laying in my mom’s bed crying after I found out my best friend was moving away. I didn’t think it was fair. Why would my best friend leave? How do people leave people they love?

I did the same thing a few months ago, except I was with a different loved one and we cried together. We sat there and hugged each other and cried for a long time. Because parting is hard. Missing someone is hard. I replay the last time I saw them again and again in my mind, wishing I could have held on to that moment just a little bit longer.

I didn’t think it was fair. How do people leave people they love?

And then those memories come, the whispers of the time you spent with that person. You associate things and places with them. I think of my friend every time I see a Pontiac Grand Prix – no joke. Sometimes those memories hit you like a truck. Other times, you wake up with those quiet remembrances in your head.

There’s a certain stretch of busy road that I associate with that loved one. It’s weird how those associations start, isn’t it? We drove through that corridor so many times, after going out to restaurants or watching scary movies, usually accompanied by blaring music. All of those times we drove it, I never thought it would end. I think about it every time I drive down that particular stretch of road. On a bad day, it’ll bring tears to my eyes. On a good day, it’ll make me smile.

That’s the thing with missing someone. You never know how it’s going to hit you. You never know how a memory is going to make you feel. I smile when I think about the time the friendly stray cat followed us around my neighborhood. Until I wish we could do it again. Then I start crying. (I cry easily.)

After I got off a FaceTime conversation with them the other night, I started crying. I started crying because I saw them, but I wasn’t with them. I have it much easier than some people – if you’ve lost a loved one, you can’t see them or be with them. Thank goodness for modern technology.

There’s a little bit of selfishness with missing someone…maybe more than just a little. You want them to be back with you, for them to stay as they were, locked in your memory. But people change and grow and move. To keep them in one place forever would be selfish.

One thing I’ve learned from missing people is that people are perpetual, never static. You, as a human being, have the right to change – and move. And leave, if you think it’s necessary.

I tried moving away once. But I’m a homebody. I still live close to my childhood home. I got so devastatingly homesick that I couldn’t function. My loved one just moved back to his original home. I couldn’t imagine doing what he did – moving so far away for such a long time. It takes a brave person to do that. It takes a brave person to leave. And to go back.

Just like it takes a brave person to change.

Change, like a person, is perpetual. There won’t ever be a facet in your life that isn’t changing. And usually, change hurts. In this case, it can cause you to miss someone. Badly. But keep in mind the oft-quoted words of C.S. Lewis:

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

Sidney Carton also said something similar to this at the end of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – right before he was about to die. That’s what we call Perspective.

Back to that Person. That person who is not with you anymore. Remember that there are far, far better things ahead than what they left behind. Leaving is a hard decision. But just wait. Watch that Person grow and become something incredible, something they could’ve never been if they’d stayed. Continue to cheer for them, to love them, and miss them. It’s okay to miss them. Because eventually the “missing” part becomes less painful, because you look up from your tears and see not only the person they’ve become, but the person you’ve become.

And trust me, it’ll be amazing.

 

Not Good Enough?

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I can taste the salt in my mouth if I think about it hard enough. You know that feeling your face gets when you cry? It feels kind of full of everything – snot, tears, emotions. Your face just kind of turns into a big mess and there’s no way of hiding it. You just have to know that people know you’ve been crying, no matter what you tell them. “Oh, I just decided to wash my makeup off for the day.” Likely story. Nope. Your face is full of emotions. It’s written all over your…face.

You know that feeling your chest gets when you cry? It gets smaller, but your lungs stay the same size. All your breath is squeezed out of you until you’re all but hyperventilating. You start choking on your own sobs, if it gets that bad. (Trust me, I’ve had experience) The best place to cry is in bed, so no one sees you. It’s just you and your emotions staring you in the face. That’s when you’re most vulnerable to them, when all the lights are turned off and it’s quiet and you’re alone.

When was the last time you had a good cry? And what was it about?

I can remember a very specific time that I cried. Really hard. It was last spring, and I’d just gotten back from an event on campus. I was in the shower (another good place to cry) thinking about what had happened that night. It was a dance, so I had watched a lot of dancing happen. I asked my friend to ask a guy to dance with me (that’s the way I am.) He did, but then left immediately afterwards. As I thought about the night and the couples and the dancing, I lost it. Even in that crowd of people, I’d felt alone.

What am I doing wrong? Am I not enough? 

A few nights ago, I was laying in bed feeling totally numb. (Remember, those emotional times happen when you’re quiet and vulnerable, like in the shower or falling asleep.) I’d given up on feeling. I was bitter and I didn’t know why. I still really don’t know why. I cried again, but this time the tears were hot and I was angry. 

I think it was because I was tired of feeling like I wasn’t enough.

We all know people who seem like they’re “enough.” They’re the people we follow on Instagram who don’t follow us back. The people who post cute pictures of themselves with their friends and a neat cliche caption underneath. Who seem so strong in their faith by the way they worship onstage at church or in the pews. The people who make life seem so easy. I’m pretty sure you know who I’m talking about. I’m sure you’re picturing them in your head right now.

For some reason, this quote from The Great Gatsby popped into my head. (Wow, so original. A young adult woman quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald.) It goes like this. If you went to high school, you’ve seen this quote before:

They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their…vast carelessness…and let other people clean up the mess that they had made.

This quote is talking about two rich people who run away from responsibility (like murder, which is not what we’re dealing with here) but I think it can apply to people you think are “enough.” The thing is, those people who seem like they’re “enough” aren’t. They’re just as messy as you are, but they run away from it. They hide it behind a smile, a sheen of fake joy, a Facebook status (FYI, Facebook is an easy platform to run away from things on, for a number of reasons.)

Maybe the reason I was crying a week ago was because I was done with trying to be fake. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s hard to determine the real from the fake in people. I feel bad for people who are trying so hard to be “authentic” but all the while are as fake as store-brand Coke. And pandering to fake people is like buying the fake stuff when real Coke is right there on the shelf.

There have been a lot of times in my life when I’ve tried to be as “enough” as these people seem to be. I’ve done really stupid things that the real Audrey wouldn’t do. I turned into a social chameleon, blending in whenever it was convenient. I admit that sometimes I become that chameleon again. Because I’m not enough.

I don’t have to be.

I’m a good writer, but I’m not a great writer. I don’t have enough money to get my own website with cool pictures and put all of my work on it – but if I had that, maybe then I’d be enough.

I’m pretty good at taking pictures, but I’m not great at it. My Instagram is full of pictures of trees and ironic selfies, usually with fewer than ten hashtags (I have standards.) I don’t have a DSLR camera, I don’t have a VSCO account, I don’t even go on cute little photoshoots with my friends. I don’t have 1,000 followers. I probably average 15 likes per picture, which to me is mind-blowing…until I see an “enough” person with 180 likes on theirs. If I had that, maybe then I’d be enough. 

I’m a good singer, but I’m not a great singer. I don’t have awesome equipment or a SoundCloud account or even the confidence to record myself. And when I do record myself, it’s full of mistakes and awkward pauses because that’s who I am as a person. I know two chords on my guitar. I can’t just sit at a piano and jam with my friends or spontaneously worship like “enough” people do. But if I could, maybe then I’d be enough. 

Maybe then. 

But do I really want to live a life of maybes? Of course not. If I did, I’d never accomplish anything. Sometimes I think I rely on that word too much. Maybe I will. Maybe someday I’ll actually be enough. “Maybe” equals waiting, and it’s foolish to live a life spent waiting.

The thing is, I never will be. Ever. No one will ever be enough. There will always be an unattainable standard, whether it’s one you’ve set for yourself or one you think others have for you. It hurts to feel like you’re not enough. It causes those choking sobs.

I’m going to bring out our good friend, the Bible, to help you understand what it means to be “not enough.” You probably understand already, because you’ve felt it, but I’ll put it in words (a seamless segway from Fitzgerald to Scripture):

But he said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9, ESV) 

Audrey, I’ve heard this before. Blah blah blah Jesus is enough for you. But it doesn’t feel like it, does it? It’s not supposed to. Because Paul was asking God to take his weakness away. God wasn’t gonna. They were going to stay put for Paul to wrestle with. And that is a blessing.

Our weakness, our pain is a blessing. Someone once said, “There’s nothing memorable about a good night’s sleep.” Or something like that. We remember painful, draining times because they taught us something. Our “not-enough”-ness can teach us something. It taught me that fake people exist, and they need help more than anyone else, even if they look like they have it all together. Don’t lie about your “not-enough”-ness. Wear it proudly on your sleeve. I’m a human. I’m broken. I’m hurting.

But I’m learning and I’m growing.

One last literary quote for you. I recently watched the film version of The Little Prince (I’m not crying, you’re crying) and this specific quote spoke to me:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Your struggles are mostly invisible to those around you, but they’re essential. Your unseen “not-enough”-ness is essential. It’s essential so that the love of Christ can be made perfect in your weakness. He is planning unseen, essential things within you every day. And sometimes those things aren’t so clear. They may not be clear in this world.

Pain is essential. Emptiness is essential.

It’s true – you’re not enough. But you’re essential. Boast it so everyone knows. Because they won’t see your mess – they will see rightly.

Things that Bring Us Together.

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If you haven’t noticed, this week hasn’t been great. For anyone. For various reasons. And if you thought I wasn’t going to talk about it, you’re wrong. Things don’t change unless you talk about it.

If we don’t talk, we become islands and we become bitter and overprotective of ourselves. If we don’t remind ourselves of what we have in common, we’ll become fixated on what we don’t. If we don’t realize we’re more alike than we think, we’ll spend our entire lives believing everyone is out to get us.

And it’s true. We’re more alike than we are different. Only a few strands of DNA separate us, but those strands carry traits that make us each unique – our hair, our skin, our laugh, our talents. And that’s beautiful. But, as you probably can tell, it’s also not sometimes. Because people forget that, other than those few strands of DNA, we are equal. We are all humans.

And for the sake of humanness, I want to remind everyone that we’re not all that different. That there are universal experiences that bind us together. We all experience happiness, sadness, joy, pain. These are all things that every human on earth can relate to. But I also think there are things beyond static emotions that unite us.

I’m going to list a few human experiences that I hope relate to most people. I hope you can relate to at least a few of these, and realize that we can relate through shared experience.

  1.  The quiet that comes right before the sunrise. When it’s cool and still smells like nighttime, when everything feels clean and new, when the world is just starting to wake up.
  2.  The smell of an old house. The feeling that people have been there before you. The mystery of what they might have been like.
  3.  Your best friend’s laugh.
  4.  The point in autumn where the leaves fall all by themselves, like nature’s confetti. And when you look down, the ground is carpeted in color.
  5.  Warm summer rain. The smell and the warm dampness afterwards. The distant thunder that gives you a little thrill every time you hear it.
  6.  When you sit and cry with someone you love. No words exchanged, only hands held, prayers whispered, support given. A beautiful kind of pain.
  7.  A hug from your favorite person in the world.
  8.  A kiss from your favorite person in the world.
  9.  A summer evening after the sun has just gone down, the world is warm and drowsy. A few birds are still singing, and the sky is slowly turning dark blue, insects beginning to hum a lullaby.
  10.  The touch of a toddler’s small, soft hand in yours. The way they look up at you with so much trust and hope.
  11.  A conversation that you didn’t expect to be long, but went on for hours and left you feeling enlightened and refreshed. The connection that’s made. The mutual understanding.
  12.  Sitting in a room full of people singing a cappella.
  13. The pearly glow of a cloudy sky on a winter evening. Everything is gray, but it’s a luminous gray, not dull or dragging. It’s so gray it’s almost silver.
  14. A warm shower or bath after a long day.
  15. The sound of lapping waves on a beach. The smell of wet sand, of leftover campfires, of coffee. The feeling of memories made.
  16. The sound of your mother’s voice.
  17.  A blanket straight out of the dryer, or straight from the clothesline. The way it feels like the warmest thing you’ve ever felt.
  18.  Cloudy, windy days where the cloud patterns are more beautiful than a blue sky.
  19.  Getting a compliment. Not just “nice shoes” or “I like your haircut,” but “I love your confidence” or “you are just such an amazing person.”
  20.  Hearing someone’s heartbeat. Whether it’s that of an unborn baby, your father’s as you snuggled up to his chest as a child, your lover’s as you lean on them for support. That reminder that there’s Life.

And where there’s life, there’s love. And where there’s love, there’s hope.

Trying to Make a Difference

Hello, blog family. I can call you family, right? I feel like if you’ve come this far on this very strange, very new journey with me, I have the right to call you family. You can call me Mom. (Just kidding. Don’t. That’s awkward.)

Anyway, as I have promised before, this is where I spew out ideas about nothing in particular. Or something extremely particular. (Like socks. I’ve talked about socks before and that’s pretty particular.) I’ve been wracking my brain for something pithy to write here, since I’m taking a digital media class right now and it’s making my blogging skills feel inadequate. I don’t post enough media (like podcasts, pictures, etc.) I just post the same, boring longform every time. Which I guess is okay for all fourteen of you who follow this blog.

(Speaking of that class, I have started a new blog about redemptive art. Check it out if you’d like. That’s the first and the last time I’ll shamelessly plug myself. That’s a lie.)

Anyhow, back to spilling my brains. (Gross.) I have noticed something brewing in society at large lately. *Sits back pensively and takes a sip of tea* That sounds a lot more sophisticated than it is. It’s literally just something I’m noticing on Facebook primarily.

What I mean is, people are Avoiding. I could give you a comprehensive list of things going on in the world right now that people aren’t talking about. Things that need to be addressed.

It’s kind of like we’re all in a house, and that house is on fire, but we’re all in the living room pretending everything is okay, showing each other funny cat pictures on our phones.

I think most people agree that 2016 has been a rough year – just look at the memes it’s generated. People have come to a point in this year where they think it’s simpler to lay down and die.

But that’s not what we should do. We need to step up now more than ever.

“But Audrey,” you say, “Have you seen the way people act on the Internet?”

Yes, I have. People are incredibly rude on the Internet. They say things that they would never say in public (or at least I hope not.) They insult people’s intelligence when they disagree with them. That dreaded Comments Section.

“So Audrey,” you say, “It would just be better not to spout off on the Internet, right?”

Well, yes. I would not advise you to go trolling a comments section, unless you enjoy casual strolls through the outer circles of Hell (and bad grammar…and Caps Lock). But at the same time, don’t Avoid.

Engage.

Believe me, I’ve been struggling with this the past few weeks, especially with all of the drama surrounding the presidential race in the US. Everyone has an opinion, but somehow everyone manages to disagree with everyone else. If you vote for one of them, you’re labeled as unintelligent, anti-feminist, anti-gay, and anti-pretty much everything else. If you vote for the other, you’re labeled as a traitor, a liar, a baby-killer, and so on.

Both of them are telling you, “This is the right answer! If you vote for the other one, you’re an (insert colorful insult).” Still others are telling you that both candidates are stupid (which, at this point, I’m rather inclined to agree with) and you should vote for a third party candidate. “This is the right answer! Just look at all of this biased information I found about the Other Guy!”

You probably feel like giving up at this point, right? I certainly do. I cringe whenever I see a political post on Facebook – “here we go again. I’m just going to get criticized for my beliefs or see someone else’s beliefs get criticized.”

A lot of people are content to simply disappear into their Netflix accounts, checking social media only to see the latest memes or engagement announcements.

I’m not going to stand on a pedestal and preach at you, because I do this too. I get so fed up with the mudslinging that I just want to hide. I don’t want to tell anyone what my opinions are because I feel like it won’t matter, it’ll just be more Noise. The other day I was talking to my mom about how I wanted to stand on a soapbox high enough for everyone to see me and shout “Calm down!

To which she replied, “You are the new media, darling…step up.”

Think about that. You are the new media. Small though you may feel, you can make a difference just by stepping up. I’ve been thinking about that ever since my mom texted that to me.

You do know you can take control of your life, right? There is not one single person on this earth who can tell you what to do if you don’t want them to. If someone tells you one way is right and you disagree, that’s okay. They might call you stupid, especially if they’re in a comments section. They might insult your intelligence. But they are not in control of your life. 

No news syndicate, celebrity, presidential candidate, or grizzly bear has the right to tell you who to believe, why to believe it, and, in this case, who to vote for. Remember that the next time a blaring headline comes across your computer screen.

You’ve got a great brain that discerns millions of things every day. Discern for yourself. Don’t let someone else do it for you.

I’ll put it this way: If you say something, it will change something. If you don’t, nothing ever will.

 

 

Feeling Uncomfortable.

Have you ever had a sock slip down your ankle while you were wearing a shoe? If you are a human being, you answered yes to this question. Everyone who has ever worn a shoe has encountered this problem.

It’s a small problem – it’s literally a piece of cloth sliding down your foot for one reason or another (it’s probably because it’s an anklet. Anklets are the worst.) but it affects you. You’re always somewhat conscious of it, you can always feel it. It might even change the way you walk – I mean, part of your foot is stepping on soft, cushy, socky goodness, and the other one is just pounding on the cold sole of your shoe. (Maybe your soles are comfortable, but in my experience, they’re cold and kind of rubbery feeling under my heel.)

Bland and long-winded analogy aside, sometimes a situation in life can feel like a sock slipping down your foot. Sometimes, you can have a situation that’s like stepping in something wet when you’re wearing a sock (which is worse. I save that analogy for really bad situations.) But a lot of situations are just like that – slightly uncomfortable, something you’re constantly aware of that’s nagging at the back of your brain, something that you can’t readily fix until you get a good moment (usually in privacy, because it’s kind of weird to dig into your shoe in public.)

Second bland and long-winded analogy aside, life is sometimes uncomfortable. More specifically, situations in life are often uncomfortable. Life as a whole is pretty all right, wouldn’t you say? But sometimes there are things or situations or conflicts that just mess with you. They’re not pressing, they’re not urgent, but they’re there. And you know they’re there, but you can’t readily do anything about it – or you’re putting it off for later, constantly pushing it back. And it’s uncomfortable.

In which case, it will only get worse. Your whole sock will end up bunched up by your toes the more you walk. Which feels like someone jammed a couple oversized cottonballs between your toes. In other words, not a great feeling.

All of these extended analogies to say: there’s probably something like that in your life right now. (There usually is, unless you’re a Disney princess after the credits have rolled, in which case everything’s fine and also you’re not real.) It could be something really small, like calling the doctor to make an appointment. It could be something really big, like buying a house, or something adult-y like that. It could be something emotional that you’ve set aside, but you still have to work through. You have a sock slipping somewhere. You might even have two socks slipping. That’s two more slipping socks than anyone needs. But still, there they are. And they are bunching at your toes.

“So Audrey,” you ask, maybe, “what do I do? You seem to know a lot about footwear. Do I just unravel everything? Pull off my shoes and make the strangely satisfying adjustment to my sock? But that means I have to pause. That means people might realize how bad my feet smell.”

Well, gross. I wasn’t going that direction, but you’re probably right. You’re going to have to stop and fix your sock, and yes, people might smell your feet. That was the most awkward sentence I’ve ever written.

I’m putting the feet analogy away now. Yes. You are going to have to stop and fix your problem eventually. And people might notice that you have problems. I’m not saying press pause on everything (Hey look, an analogy!)

But what I am saying is, you have to deal with it. Before it gets all bunched up and complicated. Then it will just take longer to unravel. It will be more uncomfortable.

And people are going to notice your problems anyway. Congratulations! You’re a human with problems! You are normal! You are not a robot that tags people in Ray-Ban ads on Facebook!

If necessary, peel those socks off. Run barefoot. It will make you more sensitive and you might step on something uncomfortable, but it will also make you more free.

All of this to say: You’re going to feel uncomfortable eventually. It’s all in how you deal with it. You might be a stoic and stick it out – just let that sock bunch up until you lose circulation. (Literally and figuratively would not recommend. But it’s your decision.)

Your sock might be small, like a bootie that people put on babies (the most unnecessary thing I’ve ever seen), or it could be a nice hearty crew sock like your grandpa wears. Whatever kind of sock you’re dealing with, you have to grab hold of it while you still can. It’ll be uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.

So hike up your socks and go on an adventure.

Brownie points if they don’t match.

 

Retail Workers Are People Too: A Memoir

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

Have you ever worn a red shirt to Target? No? You’re lucky. People automatically assume you work there. Since Target employees have the freedom to wear whatever the heck red shirt they want, innocent bystanders are targeted (no pun intended) and sought out by curious customers.

On one particular day, I happened to be wearing a red shirt to Target. A red dress shirt. Who does that? Apparently I do.

And of course, someone thought I worked there. So she said those six words that every retail worker has heard:

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

The next time I heard this phrase, I was a retail worker myself. Innocent, young, red-shirt-wearing me had no idea what the typical retail worker went through on a daily basis. It wasn’t until I started working at Meijer, a local grocery store, that I understood what it truly meant to be an underpayed, overworked individual.

I was wearing a navy-blue shirt that everyone at Meijer had to wear. I was wearing my name tag that said “Audrey – happy to serve you! :D” And khakis. And black, durable shoes in case I dropped glass or hydrochloric acid or whatever all those OSHA videos warned me about. On that particular day, I was walking back to the breakroom.

Someone stopped me and asked,

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

I looked incredulously down at my nametag, my khakis, and my oversized blue shirt which I was apparently just wearing for fun. Every ounce of my being wanted to give the customer a surly look and say, “Duh.” But every retail worker has been meticulously trained to do exactly the opposite no matter what the circumstance. Because we’re not working to serve ourselves. Retail is about grinning and bearing it.

“Yes, I do. How may I help you?”

I have said this before (not on the Internet), but I’ll say it again: everyone should work retail at some point, even if only for a day. Because a day would be plenty for some people. It’s not easy, and that’s probably why some people are demanding retail workers get paid more (I won’t spout my opinion on that; that’s not necessary for this post).

Like the title of this post says: Retail workers are people too. “What?!” exclaims thousands of suburbanites, falling out of their chairs. “Retail workers are actual people?!” Hopefully it’s not that much of a surprise to anyone that the person who is scanning your groceries, pulling the hangers off your clothes, or handing you your mall pretzel is an actual human being, not a weird robot from one of those modern dystopian robot movies. You look in their face and you see that they’re a person.

But do you acknowledge them as a person?

I’m not going to rip on everyone, I promise. Most people are incredibly kind and cordial to retail workers, because they acknowledge that person as a human being with emotions and problems, just like them. I’m addressing the people who are the exact opposite. And usually, these people are like this to everyone they encounter, not just cashiers or service clerks. You probably know someone who works in retail who comes home every night with story after story. Who knew someone would get so hung up over saving fifty cents on a can of soup? People, right??

Right. People.

I  could tell you stories. Customer stories are to cashiers as war stories are to veterans. You never forget them. You tell them to your grandchildren. I’ve watched a couple make out in front of me as I scanned their groceries. I’ve been cussed out over a few coupons. People have had incredibly private conversations right in front of me.

It’s as if when someone puts on a uniform, their humanness becomes invisible, and they become a mere commodity. People don’t see past the nametag to see a person who is struggling through life just as much as they themselves are.

I know that it’s a retail worker’s job to serve a customer, no matter who they are or what they say or how they treat people. It’s their job. But that still leaves room for making connections, for being kind to one another.

The next time you come into contact with a retail worker, look them in the eye. Acknowledge them as a human being first and an employee second. If they’re in a bad mood, empathize with them. Step into their shoes for just one second. Don’t cuss them out. Hopefully they are kind to you in return (they should be; it’s their job no matter what mood they’re in). If something goes wrong, there’s a 90% chance it’s not their fault. Just remember that. They’ll probably (hopefully) apologize all over themselves. Maybe they’re new. Maybe it’s just an off day. Take the time to recognize that. The world’s not going to pass you by if you stop for one second and acknowledge another human.

I hope I’m not preaching. I’m just trying to give you a little perspective. Like I said before, I know most people are empathetic. But some people can’t see past themselves, and those people become the subject of Customer Stories.

And to retail workers (myself included), I say this: remember the people you interact with daily are humans too. You only encounter them for a few minutes or even just a few seconds, but acknowledge their humanness too. And be nice. Being rude or stand-offish doesn’t help anyone. Those people aren’t commodities either. They might only say three words to you and handle money, but Customers are people too, rude or otherwise. Take a moment to see the world from their perspective too. And maybe you’ll make a connection.

If all else fails, smile. (“Happy to serve you! :D”)

TL;DR version of this post: be nice to everyone you meet, whether they’re a cashier or Albert Einstein (I hope you don’t meet Albert Einstein; if you do you’d be graverobbing and that’s not very cool). We’re all humans first. Even if we’re wearing a red dress shirt and khakis. Even if we have a nametag that says “Happy to serve you :D” but we have a face that might not say that.

And please, don’t make out in grocery stores. Just don’t. I don’t care who you are.