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I decided to stop caring about how I looked — and it changed my life

As women, we're constantly editing our life experiences in order to live up to self-imposed standards. Here's how to change that.
Image: Boy diving underwater with his mum, swimming pool
The threat of looking messy or not "put together" keeps many women on the sidelines. Westend61 / Getty Images

It was a bright winter Sunday morning and my seven-year-old twins and I were at Great Wolf Lodge in the Poconos. With a sprawling indoor water park, it’s basically kid heaven, and my son and daughter were up early ready to hit the water slides. Since my husband was working, it was left to me to supervise this day of wet and wild fun. Admittedly, I was not thrilled by the prospect of putting on a bathing suit in the middle of February and running around half naked in a park full of strangers. I think most moms can relate — when your bathing suit hasn’t seen the light of day in months, hair removal has become a sporadic endeavor and your skin texture has been so ravaged by the steadily dipping wind chills, who in their right mind would opt to do this? Yet, without thinking twice, I pulled on my swimsuit, slapped on a wristband and led the way toward something called the Double Barrel Drop.

A long time ago I made the decision to not let worrying about how I look get in the way of a good time. As women, I think a lot of us are afraid of looking fat, gross, stupid — basically insert whatever negative adjective plays through your mind — and it actually stops us from having some of the best experiences in life.

Wet hair don't care! Koenig and her son last summer enjoying the day at the local pool.
Wet hair don't care! Koenig and her son last summer enjoying the day at the local pool.

So even though it wasn’t my best look, within minutes, the three of us were soaking wet and climbing the stairs to the next ride. Yep, I was running around a water park barefoot with a wedgie and there was no one who could stop me!

Because we are raised on a diet of complying to external standards of beauty, achievement and perfection ... we limit our capacity to live lives of self-acceptance.

“The reason we women feel constrained by how we look is because we have been conditioned to base our worth on our outer appearance and, more importantly, how others view us,” says Shefali Tsabary, PhD, clinical psychologist and wisdom teacher. “It is because we are raised on a diet of complying to external standards of beauty, achievement and perfection, that we tether ourselves to these and in doing so, limit our capacity to live lives of self-acceptance, endless bliss and undying purpose.”

Okay, so I’m not sure I’d call making 450-degree spins in an inner tube with flashing LED lights around me “endless bliss,” but if I had forgone the experience, I would have missed out on what turned out to be a day of fun and laughter with my kids. From the mom who won’t get in a swimsuit to play in the water with her kids because she’s overweight to the gal on a date who won’t order the messy food for fear of looking like a pig, women are constantly editing their life experiences in order to live up to these self-imposed standards. As a person who puts a lot of effort into her hair (it’s curly, so there are special products and methods for achieving the right look), I won’t hesitate to swim underwater. Yet I see so many women sitting by the side of the pool, literally afraid to jump in. Your hair may look great later, but you can never get back those missed games of Marco Polo.

The same thing goes for dancing or exercising or partaking in any type of physical activity that we’re not sure if we look good doing. For all the self-consciousness we experience in these moments, the truth is that the people around us aren’t watching. Okay, maybe they are for a second or two, but everyone is more worried about themselves than what another person is doing. Yet so many of us will stay seated at the table instead of dancing at a friend’s wedding or skip that Zumba class (I mean, does anyone look cool doing this?) all because we’re worried about how it might look.

Dr. Shefali says that until women change their way of thinking about themselves, the problem will continue.

“For women to overcome their conditioning, they need to first be aware of it and then, be daring to break free of it,” she says. “Once they realize that they have been living their lives tethered to impossible and external standards of infallibility, they can extricate from them, realize their insidious enslavement to them, and begin to cultivate the courage to transcend these patterns.”

This weekend, let’s take the first step. Roll up your sleeves and order those ribs, do the Electric Slide like you own the dance floor, or be like me and go charging into the Raccoon Lagoon like no one’s watching (even though my mascara is running, and I may have accidentally flashed a 13-year-old and his entire extended family). The experience (and bank of memories you'll build) is worth the first few moments of internal panic, trust me.


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