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Why do we seek external validation?

I occasionally receive messages on Instagram in which someone is seeking validation about their body. Interestingly, so far, it’s only been men.

Someone connected with me who had a lot of anxiety and hoped that my meditation class would help him. I welcomed him and gave him directions to purchase a ticket for the meditation. He then confided that he was nervous about it being nude and what others might think of his body. I reminded him that there were clothed meditations he could attend that might ease the pressure. He wanted to do it nude though. Ok. So I let him know that we come together, all shapes and sizes, all walks of life for a common goal: to find some peace. I assured him that he would be welcome no matter what the body type. He stressed several times that he’s very skinny. And I continued that it didn’t mater. He wanted to send me a photo of himself. I said, “Don’t send me a photo!” He said that he feels that if I saw him and thought he looked ok, that would give him confidence to attend. I stayed the course and didn’t indulge him. 

I had a different Instagram chat with someone which eventually led to him sending a random clothed photo of himself. My reaction was simply: I see you’ve sent a photo. I received another photo hours later in the same position but this time with his lower half bare. Truly, I feel no emotion about that other than curiosity, which is why I asked him, “I wonder why you decided to do that?” When I tell this story to friends, the men laugh and shake their heads, and women get mad, as if it’s an attack. I’m just genuinely curious about what goes through people’s heads sometimes. He answered my question first being very unforgiving about his physical appearance and then letting me know that he hoped for some validation from me about his appearance (not using those words of course) because he respects me, and it would mean a lot if I thought he was ok. Fascinating. Handing their power and self-esteem over like that. It’s not a power I wish to hold. My answer to him was that he’s fine, because everybody is fine.

It’s challenging because I’m a kind person who likes it when people feel good. But I’m very conscious to not give a compliment in these scenarios because it shouldn’t matter what I think, or anyone for that matter…maybe your doctor if you’re not caring for yourself, but to fit into society, no one deserves to say whether you’re a good fit or not. If you have a body and you’d like to take part, you’ve got all you need, especially if it’s a naturist activity. Yes, for my readers who aren’t naturists, the place where you can’t hide behind your clothes is the place where I’m sure that you’ll be welcomed. Funny, isn’t it?

Just to be clear, I’m not making fun of these fellows I mentioned. It makes me sad that they’re seeking validation from exterior sources. I don’t know how common it is to have chats like these, but seeking validation on physical appearance seems to be one of the main reasons for Instagram and platforms like it. Why else do women post photos of themselves at certain angles after applying make-up and getting their hair done for hours? It’s likely they’ve looked through several shots, choosing the best one, adding a filter, maybe enhancing it. It’d be one thing if somehow she was using the photo to express something, but often the tagline is something like: #TuesdayVibes or #postworkoutglow. ie. I think I look good today, but then somehow that thought alone isn’t enough, let’s see who else thinks that I look good. And with every “looking good” comment or fire emoji she feels validated that she was right, she did look pretty. But does it still feel good knowing how doctored the photo is? And what happens if she doesn’t get the response she was hoping for? Uh-oh, maybe she was wrong. Maybe she was stupid about posting that. She didn’t really look that great. Anxiety, self-loathing. 

We might hear any of these stories and experience a variety of emotions: we understand, we don’t, we empathize, we relate, we judge. A good thing to ask is: Why the need for this exterior validation? Where does it come from? For some it may be a matter of not seeing themselves represented in the images that they drink in. Which leads to feeling different and we wonder if that could be lovable too? Everybody just wants to know they’re lovable. Here’s another question: should what you look like have anything to do with your “lovability”? I don’t think so. In a romantic relationship it’s fairly important to be attracted to your partner, so if you’re single and hoping to find a mate, I see how they’re related. But outside romantic situations, what you look like shouldn’t matter. What you look like is the least interesting thing about you. 

Our culture is obsessed with our need for validation for our physical appearance; gently shaming us with each tagline: “A healthier you, wherever you are”, “there is a safe effective alternative to liposuction”, “turn back the clock on the Signs of Aging”. They sound positive but listen carefully to what they’re really saying: “Pssst, I hear you’re sensitive about __________, perfect, we’d sure like your money and faith. Here are some pictures of happy people; you want that for yourself, don’t you? We thought you might. Change is the key, you’re not good enough as you are. Lucky for you we’ve got the product to help.” It’s cruel and I hate to think of the marketing teams sittng around a table discussing how to use psychology to hit us where it hurts.

Imagine how good it would feel to say, “F*ck you!” when an ad almost gets you. Then turn on your favourite song and look in the mirror and say, “You rock!” I’m presently making a practice of saying, “that’s not real!” whenever I see something being sold to me that’s been doctored. There’s a billboard close to my home advertising a gym. The picture they’ve used is an extremely toned and tanned female butt and top of leg wearing spandex shorts. It looks gorgeous; I sure like the idea of looking like that. It’s also bogus and no doubt makes hundreds of people feel badly about themselves everyday. Maybe they should have someone wearing shorts with some midriff hanging over the top, or without the bubble butt, just a flat bottom with extra space around the hem? Then maybe we’d feel a little better represented and all agree that shorts kinda suck and we should just be naked. 

I’m very conscious when I post a picture of myself; I always check in about why I’m posting it. Mostly I’ve come to learn that pictures are more interesting with people in them. I like seeing my friends smiling faces, it helps me to feel in touch, so I post my face too. When I post a blog about going through moments where I lack some body positivity, I’m not looking for a “chin up, you look great” comment. I actually feel weird receiving it because I didn’t mean to make it seem like I needed that from anyone, especially people I don’t know. I just write honestly about ups and downs in hopes that You, the reader, may recognize a little of yourself in my experience and know that you have company in those feelings. 

I love that I’m not seeking validation for the way I look…anymore. Naturism has been a huge help as has dating amazing men and marrying one of them. I started working at Bare Oaks in my early twenties and it was the first time seeing people, as a collective, being themselves and not posturing. It was the first place that I experienced talking about whatever comes to mind without censor, from good poos, to sex, to insecurities. We could ask anything, we could share stories. We saw each other for who we were. I remember my first trips into town for groceries since settling into the naturist lifestyle. I noticed what everyone was wearing and wondered what they were trying to portray about themselves through their choices. It was around that time that I recognized that I didn’t look at the magazines in the check out the same way. I knew they weren’t representative of reality, and I no longer felt drawn in. Dating a few good men was a grounding experience; being loved for who I am entirely. I’d been saving off and on through the years for a nose job. I’d been teased about my large nose and felt that it was holding me back from my beauty. I finally put that notion to rest. $7,000 can pay for some beautiful memories and I’d much sooner do that. In fact, the desire to travel and serve others has become my priority in life. Looking a particular way doesn’t have anything to do with enjoying those things.

On my most blah days I remember that my value as a person doesn’t change based on what I look like, nor does it bar me from participating in life. Imagine how amazing it would feel to receive a positive or negative comment about your appearance and your response was simply: “who asked you?” What would it be like to never hand that power over to someone else and just feel fiercely awesome on your own? Cultivating this could be our greatest life’s work.

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