“You can’t do sweatpants. Ladies, number one cause of divorce in America, sweatpants, no!” This statement apparently “went viral”, or so the friend who tossed this scanty frivolity across cyberspace into my inbox explained. And the purveyor of this relationship advice? Celebrity Eva Mendes. Unmarried. And presumably wearing sweatpants.
My friend was intrigued. Did this mean women who wear sweatpants “let themselves go? And if so, do women who wear sweatpants deserve to lose their husbands?”
It was this conundrum to wear or not to wear sweatpants that got me thinking today. Not about how the media and social networking sites send our serotonin plummeting. Not about the millions of women on this planet who either cannot afford to buy sweatpants or those who are forbidden to wear them. I thought about how we spend our whole lives in search of our uniqueness and yet as little girls we begin to lop off, dislocate, hide away those parts of ourselves that are different. I thought about how we hard we try to conform.
We talk so glibly about being “goddesses”. The pretty ones with long blonde hair. Not those with ravaged faces and hair as tangled as a mango pip. We talk so glibly about women empowering other women. Yet around boardroom tables, in our schools and universities, in the shaded streets of suburbia and amidst the ceaseless chatter of social networking sites we criticise, complain, control and compare.
We’re hardwired to compare. In western culture this primitive survival default has evolved into competitive comparison. We are initiated in our families of origin by the voices of others who say we are too loud or too big or too greedy. We are told that we must try harder to be more, do more. We endure what Tara Brach calls the “hell realms” of schooling. We learn how to look, how to succeed in certain prescribed ways in order to “fit in”.
As adults we enter the portals of “hell realms” that require us to have certain credentials, to behave in ways that conform to group or company culture. We imbibe injunctions from the world around us and move through our lives in what Tara Brach calls this “Trance of Unworthiness”.
Poet Adrienne Rich once wrote, “Until we know the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves.”
Control. It’s something we are taught early. Our bladders, our anger, our hunger, our fear, our desires… we wrestle with the animal instincts of our bodies, we tame our appetites, we harden the soft roundness of our bellies, flatten ourselves against the struggle of life. We want to belong, so they like us. We try hard, so very hard. And we give it all away.
Author and philosopher, Sam Keen warns, “think of these signs as similar to the warning label on a cigarette package. Caution: these practices may be hazardous to your spiritual heath.”
Most forms of psychotherapy suggest that change is slow and often painful. That it may take us years of silent struggle to untangle the twisted roots of shame and self-loathing that reach through the bleached bones of our ancestors. That we are enslaved by our genetic inheritance.
And yet neuroscience suggests we are growing new neural pathways, re-wiring our brains, continually. We have the ability to visualise outcomes. Change limiting beliefs (and remember that no-one has forced us to believe what hamstrings our joyous movement through life) and chose new beliefs, new stories about our past, our present. Our imaginations are universes of infinite possibility. Metaphysics suggests that change can occur quickly if we revel and delight in the changing circumstances of our lives and befriend our beliefs with kindness and gentleness. If we act “out of character” and embrace our impulses, act as if our beliefs were true in the here and now. Any mantra or affirmation that makes us feel calm and at peace, any thought that feels like an opportunity to learn or experience something new. So, as we journey down this river of life, we dip our school-shaped, society-sculpted oars into the ambiguity of our humanness… perhaps we will see our own reflection and gasp at our own unique magnificence – in sweatpants.
With thanks to Nedra Fetterman for sending me the link to Colbie Caillat’s – Try