“I’d rather be dead than red on the head” was a chant I heard regularly as a kid growing up in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Carrot Top” became an unwelcome nickname.
I hated my red hair. As far as I was concerned, it did not serve me well and I dreamed of the day that I could march into the beauty salon and be handed a chart that gave me the ability to choose a color, any color that did not have ridicule and shame attached to it.
Shame; my shame was associated with a part of my body that had been with me since birth. I was stuck with it and would regularly look in the mirror and dream of being a blonde so carefree and pretty.
But the mirror told me the truth. My red hair was my nemesis, and it brought me feelings of shame.
Shame can be Debilitating
Brené Brown is a shame researcher who states:
If you put shame in a Petri dish and douse it with secrecy, silence and judgment, shame grows exponentially.
And it can be debilitating.
The main issue with it is the feeling that there is something wrong with me. And it is merciless; knowing no boundaries, is no respecter of persons, race, culture or creed.
How do people experience shame?
One of the markers begins in our bodies.
Sometimes your head might drop down, or your mouth feels dry. Your heart can beat faster, and your cheeks turn red. Not everyone has the same symptoms, so it is important to tune into the signals your body is giving regarding shame. Once you start to notice the feelings of shame, you are in a better position to address it and begin to turn it around to self-love.
As I grew up and began to learn the importance of self-acceptance, I began the journey by embracing that part of me that had brought such hurt. I decided to work on accepting my red hair and would now look at myself in the mirror and say:
I love and accept you.
And words like:
You are a good person and you are beautiful.
The mirror was no longer an enemy but became a friend.
Therefore, one of the assignments I give to my clients who struggle with self-image is called “mirror therapy”. There is a handheld mirror in my office, and I ask them to pick it up, look themselves in the eye and state: “I am beginning to love you.” Of course, I am happy to show them what it looks like and I reassure them that I am not asking anything of them that I do not do for myself.
The journey of self-love begins with knowing where you have been judging or condemning yourself and determining to change your self-talk with compassion and love.
Brené Brown ends her previous statement on shame with these words:
But, if shame is doused with empathy, it cannot grow. Empathy is a hostile environment for shame.
It is my hope that each of us can walk a life of loving our bodies in a healthy way. It can be hard. And it is done one step at a time. Take the journey of learning to love that part of you that has been your enemy.
I am no longer that little girl in elementary school looking for a beauty shop to erase a part of me. Instead, when I wake up and take that first look at myself, I am anticipating a good day because it will be filled with self-love and acceptance. That truly is the key to relinquishing shame and embracing who you are.