Under the Skin: Who are you Really?

Back in the day, when I was young and naïve...just kidding, I am still both of those things, but stay with me for a second—back in the day, when I was younger but probably just as naïve, I was in a therapy group that focused on body image.  It was, how should I put it, brutal. One afternoon, however, our group leader led us through an activity that I still think about to this day; one that I want to keep remembering and reevaluating.  She asked us to make an identity pie. She gave us each a piece of paper that held a big, menacing, blank circle staring at us. Sorry, make that two pieces of paper with two big, menacing, blank circles GLARING at us.  

But I digress.

The goal was to fill in the circles with what we believed made up our identity.  One circle was for who we were in terms of our bodies; the other was supposed to be who we wanted to be outside of our bodies, and frankly, outside of our crappy body image.  We could fill it up any way we wanted and that was terrifying. What were we? Who was I?

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At the time, I had no idea.  Well, that’s a lie, the body one was freakishly easy, think: tall… girl… not enough, and so on.  But the other one? Not so much. I put in the obvious ones like, friend, sibling, daughter. Those were facts, ones that you couldn’t deny.  The classifications I struggled with were more like….writer, and kayaker, and reader. I was also those things, but for some reason, I didn’t feel like I had the authority to put them in my circle.  I read, but I didn’t feel like that made me a reader. I am graduating in May and plan to become a writer, but am I actually a writer now? Eh.  I taught kayaking over the summers, but to say I was a kayaker felt like a disgrace to actual kayakers out there.

I read, but I didn’t feel like that made me a reader. I am graduating in May and plan to become a writer, but am I actually a writer now? Eh.

I try to redo this exercise to keep reminding myself that not only am I more than my body, I have the right to claim my own identity.

I run, and have for a while.  It’s a very big part of my life, and extremely necessary for my mental health.  But am I a runner? I struggle to think so. My physical therapist once commented on the structure of my foot, and when I asked if that was normal, she responded: "well you’re a runner so it makes sense."

I wanted to correct her, but what was I supposed to say considering I was seeing her due to an injury from running? I kept my mouth shut, chewing on the thought.

I don’t know if I will ever reach a point where I can confidently state, “I am…” I feel like if I ran a marathon, then I could call myself a runner.  But here are two caveats: if I ever did run a marathon, I’m sure my litmus test for “being a runner” would shift.  And, honestly, I don’t want to run a marathon. So if that's the only way for me to actually be a runner, I don’t think anyone should hold their breath.

So many of us refrain from crediting ourselves with the positions we deserve, afraid to recognize our greatest assets. I don’t know what sort of writer I want to be, but surely if I wrote a book then I'd be a writer. But then what would it take? Two books? Three books and a Pulitzer Prize? Oprah’s Book Club?

I don’t want to turn something I love into something that causes me stress, and I truly think setting these “goals” will do nothing but harm.  But let me be clear—I don’t believe these are arbitrary goals; it’s the intent that’s problematic. If I want to run a marathon because I want to run a marathon, that’s one thing.  If I want to do it simply because I don’t feel like a runner, I feel like that’s setting me up for some pretty harsh failure.  

So far, these thoughts haven’t affected my behavior.  Not feeling like a runner hasn’t stopped me from running.  Not considering myself a writer doesn’t mean I don’t write.  But there is a dissonance there that I would like to change: to feel confident in my ability, and certain in my identity.  

You too, perhaps?