Because I am the sort of neurotic person who lives in North London, I have occasionally visited therapists. Some were better than others. One who I thought was great, gave me a brilliant piece of advice – to ‘turn off the negative soundtrack’. I’ll explain what this means in a moment. But first, let me tell you a story.
Yesterday I was trundling about my daily business when I bumped into another mum in a park. Let’s call her Lizzie. I know her to say hello to but had never had what I’d call a proper conversation with her before. This time she needed to talk and I was there. So she talked and I listened.
Basically this woman was very upset because a family member had criticized her personal appearance. To my eyes there is absolutely nothing wrong with Lizzie at all. She looks perfectly fit and healthy. She is about my age and has two little kids (same age as my younger ones). She is a normal woman with a normal body – ie one that still bears the marks of pregnancy. Not much, but a little bit. As does mine. As does everyone I know who has had children in the past few years. Unless you have surgery or devote your every waking hour to working out, you will not have a perfectly flat stomach.
I had a bit of a rant to Lizzie about this and I think this made her feel better. I totally, totally, totally understood where she was coming from – I’ve written before about this subject and described how I paid a personal trainer to torture me in an attempt to recapture some mythical ideal of a perfect body. As it happens I actually feel pretty good about my body at the moment – I’ve been cutting back on carbs and it really works – but even though the skinny jeans now slip on comfortably, I still have bits that will never be the same again. Because I’ve had children and haven’t had surgery.
Which made this all the more timely:
I posted it on Facebook last night and was deluged with a flurry of comments from women, angry about how the media expects us to look. I know men also feel some of the same pressures but obviously they don’t have to endure the physical punishment that is pregnancy.
Which brings me back to the negative sound track.
In the past I’ve had periods where I’ve been prone to anxiety – strangely, the older I get, the less it seems to be the case. Maybe it’s because I’m better at recognizing the triggers and dealing with them more promptly. Perhaps I just care less what people think? Anyway, according to the therapist, anxiety and depression can be caused by what he termed a ‘negative soundtrack’. By this he meant that all the nasty things said to you by your family, people at school, psycho bosses, mean ex boyfriends, nasty neighbours – you name it – are constantly playing in your head and creating feelings of worthlessness or low self esteem. Because he was a therapist and focused on how things relate to you as an individual, he saw this as largely to do with family members or people in your immediate environment.
I would like to move things outwards a bit and make – as I often like to do – the personal into the political. I think it is very hard not to develop a negative soundtrack in the world we live in because we are constantly forced to compare ourselves with digitally altered images of amazing looking uber people. People who are very, very rich and do nothing but work on their appearance (and that’s before the Photoshop).
This relates directly to the economic realities of our world. We are bombarded with pictures of momshells as capitalism wants us to feel crap so we will BUY things to make us feel less bad. This could be plastic surgery costing thousands of pounds,
gym membership costing hundreds or a tub of ice cream costing two quid that will make the problem worse but make us feel better for a few minutes (and then obviously worse again). The negative soundtrack is capitalism’s best friend – how would advertising worm its way into our lives so easily if we all felt great? Which is why we see celebrity momshells in our magazines rather than pictures of what even a healthy woman looks like after having kids. We need to make people neurotic and miserable in order to make them consume more; has there ever been a more preposterous expression than retail therapy? OK, I had fun prowling the charity shops of Crouch End today
– that’s Autumn/Winter 12/13 sorted thank you very much – but I don’t think that’s what is usually meant by the term. I think spending a tenner on a couple of nice dresses is actually quite therapeutic, but the insecurities promoted by our culture demand serious money. Which leads to debt. Which leads to depression and feelings of powerlessness. And so it goes.
I want to end this rant by asking anyone who reads this to promise me something. Turn off the negative soundtrack. At least some of the time. And stick two fingers to the culture that demands we medicate our feelings of worthlessness – which it created – by spending money on crap. Eat well, exercise, wear nice clothes, have fun – but try to look past the price tag. You’ll feel a lot better for it, trust me xxx