Openness, honesty and t-shirts

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me whether I was the ‘real me’ on Twitter and on my blog – I’m not entirely sure how or why this came up, but it prompted an interesting discussion. The bottom line is that it is the real me exists – here, on Twitter and on Facebook.

No, not every single detail of my life is documented [though one friend at the weekend suggested I did just that on Twitter, with the exception of dating activities – though as I go on very few of those, it’s not exactly a massive omission], but the highs and lows are both in evidence. While I don’t necessarily blog about moments of heartbreak in the public sphere, I do mention the days when life isn’t quite as great as it might be. I’m more likely to rant on Twitter than Facebook; my blog dwells on the quirkier side of life; and Facebook is day to day stuff with real friends. I have boundaries and make conscious decisions about what to share and when (except when under the influence…).

I wonder sometimes at the ability of others to be so candid in their online activities, those that ponder deep philosophical thoughts, document the harsh realities of life, or tell the world just how much they’re hurting right at that moment. I’m not that kind of person, I keep my messy stuff anonymised and highly inaccessible. But openness is also important. Like many a good Christian, I belong to a small group which requires me to be honest and accountable about even the difficult areas of life. It’s scary, but utterly worth the feelings of vulnerability it brings with it – like on Sunday when I shared something incredibly personal and very scary.

In a bizarre coincidence, this concept was the main thrust of this week’s Glee, kind of. At the end of the programme they appeared singing Born This Way (Lady Gaga) wearing t-shirts on which words or phrases were printed that summed up their deep secrets or insecurities – Kurt’s said ‘likes boys’, Santana’s read ‘Lebanese’ (i.e. lesbian, it’s an in-joke), Emma’s admitted her OCD. Within seconds, Twitter was abuzz with people contemplating what their own t-shirts would say.

What about mine? Well, that leads me to the main point of this ridiculously long and honest post…

One of the things I’m particularly in awe of are people who write about their experiences of food, weight and diets in a public forum and use that context to stay accountable. A Facebook friend posts their weight updates every week – good for them, but you wouldn’t catch me doing that. (Partly because it would be so hard in the weeks when things don’t go your way; partly because I wouldn’t want people to know my actual weight; partly because it’s such a bloody hard journey that only the most supportive friends should be involved. Plus, I have a paranoid fear that people will think I’m attention seeking.) However, I came across something a little while ago that I wanted to share, and this seems the logical place to do it.

You see the thing is, my t-shirt would probably read ‘Fat’ or ‘Used to be Fat’ (though people have such varied definitions of the word than in many contexts, like the Daily Mail, I still would be fat). Yes, I used to be fat. Not just ‘could do with losing a stone’ fat, but almost Monica in Friends fat. In my late teens/early 20s I would watch episodes in which her diet was mentioned and think “Wow! If only I could do that…” [though obviously Courtney Cox never was fat so it was a slightly unrealistic ambition]. There were moments when she’d make the throwaway comment “oh, I used to be fat” to explain her attitude to cheese or cookies – a phrase that I’ve actually found myself using recently in pastoral contexts where food issues have cropped up.

Aged 21 I began a journey that saw me lose 5 stone in just over a year. Over the following years I put some of the weight back on and two years ago I began over again with a new attitude and lost another 4 stone. Some people know about both these times, having known me way back when; others know about the last two years; while lots of you have never met me in the flesh and have little idea of what I actually look like.

While I may not put those words on a t-shirt and wear it in public when we go and watch Glee Live in June, there is something I can share publicly that’s just as honest. The photo below was taken on my 21st birthday, while on a walk with the family that lived next door (it’s desperately depressing that the baby in the backpack is now 9, Doris needs to stop growing up!) – today, I honestly don’t recognise myself.

The point of this post is to draw a line under the photo, to stop the past being what identifies me. I’ve put a lot of time and energy into getting out of that mindset and improving my quality of life – it isn’t who I am any more.  I appreciate that it sounds awfully cheesy, but it’s an important idea. Emma’s t-shirt doesn’t need to say ‘OCD’ once she’s dealt with it; you – and I – don’t need to be defined by our pasts once we’ve moved on. Whether it’s a t-shirt that reads ‘Fat’, ‘Divorced’, ‘Self-harmer’, ‘Single’ or whatever, we don’t need to keep wearing it. 

Comments

  1. Blogspot is apt to delete comments which are more hyperlink than text, I have found, but I’ll try these:
    http://nooma.com/nooma-name-018-rob-bell.php

  2. Thanks Phil – good old Rob Bell!

    Incidentally, my name means ‘God’s promise’, which is a great thing.

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