Have you ever experienced a breakthrough while also feeling confusion and overwhelming emotion? I left the house yesterday with shorts on. Yep, that’s what started the tumbleweed of emotion rolling. I looked down at my legs. My athletic calves had become pasty due to the long winter and they had become covered in long curly hair due to my desire to run an experiment. No, I hadn’t just shaved a buffalo or a curly-haired dog and draped my legs with the trimmings. I had taken a break from shaving my legs.
The day had shifted from a chilly morning to a hot afternoon and the kids and I were finally venturing out-of-doors to enjoy the day. I pulled off my jeans and hesitated as I reached for a pair of shorts. I looked at my legs and thought, ‘Do I really want to leave the house like this? I’m not sure I want to deal with how other people might experience a woman wearing shorts with hair curling out from her legs.’ I knew that I was taking a risk of making people uncomfortable. The thought of making others uncomfortable made me uncomfortable. The thought of feeling judged brought me back to stories I told myself when I was little. When I was young I experienced feedback as meaning that I needed to change myself to meet the approval of others, that my best was not good enough for me to be accepted and loveable to the people I cared about. I imagined feeling judged while getting dressed, but I was in for a bigger treat.
I congratulated myself as I courageously left the house wearing shorts. It was less bravery and self acceptance, and more, me thinking that no one would notice. I headed in the direction of our local park, dog on the leash and the kids on bicycles. We met up with my in-laws at the park. The kids were excited to show off their recent graduation to bicycles without training wheels. The grandparents were excited to cheer on their grandkids. We stood together as the kids cycled around us, I decided to sit in the grass instead of stand. That is when my mother-in-law gasped. I knew what it was about even before she added words to her audible inhale. “Andrea, look at your legs! What? I mean, you’re not shaving your legs!” gasped my mother-in-law.
“What does your husband think of you not shaving your legs?” she asked. Later on, during our hangout, instead of saying my name, she called me “Hairy”. This is the moment where my growth showed up. My experience of her was disapproving, judgmental, unkind and inconsiderate, and yet, maybe she was just surprised about my willingness to go against a societal norm. Maybe she was being loving, playful and supportive. I chose to rewind my life and slap the old story of “I’m not good enough” onto her words. I chose to experience her as unkind instead of experiencing her as funny, or genuinely surprised and confused and authentically expressing herself.
Even as my body told me that I was triggered by her response, I was able to stay calm and allow her to have her own experience of my unshaven legs. I knew in that moment that my words were not necessary. I knew in that moment that I didn’t need to explain or defend myself. I knew in that moment that how she was experiencing me was none of my business. Her experience had nothing to do with me. Let me repeat that. Her experience had nothing to do with me.
I am not yet sure how I feel about my hairy legs. I have some unlearning to do regarding what society deems acceptable and unacceptable, but I am in it. I am in the ring with my limiting beliefs about myself and the world. I get to be curious about the feelings that bubble up inside me when I am in situations like what I have shared with you today. I get to practice who I want to be and how I want to see others and the world. I erected the walls which blocked my growth in the past. Now, I get to dismantle them.
I’d love to share with you how I’m moving beyond my story of self-judgment and criticism. I am here to share these 10 micro-steps so that you can peel back the voice of criticism and launch forward into a life of compassion, optimism and leadership.
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