I don’t know if it’s ever truly possible to know how we are seen by the people who love us the most. The people we don’t know well are almost easier; I think many of us have a working understanding of the images we project outward and can grasp, somewhat, what People In General tend to see.
But those closest to us- or maybe I shouldn’t distance myself so much; those closest to me- I don’t always know what they see. Beyond images and projections, facades and personas, which parts of me come through, and how are they interpreted from the lens of someone else’s experience?
I spent time yesterday in the company of two people who are very dear to me: a unique and unusual (and perhaps, in some ways, unexpected) friend; and someone for whom I hold a great deal of affection that, thus far, has not found its way to descriptive language. They each made innocuous comments at various points that gave me pause, forced my brain to a full-stop to turn their words over and try to digest them.
“You say you have such a logical mind,” she said, “but I’ve only ever seen you exuding emotion. The logic, the analytical, it’s significantly more rare.”
I’ve always loved being a logic-oriented person. When I was working on my degree, I loved the ways that patterns would begin to emerge and build and flow. I loved the process of working through equations longhand to understand and sink into the clean, ordered steps building toward a solution. When I find my emotions getting overwhelming, I still pull out proof-heavy textbooks and start to work through them to help me ground and recenter.
Beyond math, though, it’s the only way my brain knows how to tackle complex emotional processing: deconstruct, analyze, try to understand why and where something comes from, process through it, and move on. It feels like a much more productive process than just “feel the feels,” something I chronically struggle with (how can you feel what you don’t understand?).
So it was interesting and unusual to be seen as someone who operates from a more emotionally-based place because it is so contrary to how I view myself (and emotion in particular makes me nervous, partially because it does not inherently adhere to any kind of well-ordered, logical process. Emotion comes from somewhere, but the “why’s” behind the scenes are more often than not rooted in nonsensical and warped perceptions).
As the three of us were talking outside, he scoops me up in a fireman’s carry and walks a few steps down the path. Laughing as he sets me down, I say, “You know, there are about three people in the world I feel comfortable just…picking me up, and you’re one of them.”
We banter back and forth for a moment, and he comments that I’m a pretty small human. Certain that he’s joking, I point out that I’m pretty solid. Perplexed, he looks over his shoulder at me.
“But…” he says, “…you’re the same size she is.”
“She,” in this moment, is someone that I think would be described as “classically beautiful,” in the sense that her body type bears similarities with those that are deemed beautiful in a particular social construct (the phrasing is awkward here because social ideas of beauty are inherently problematic in a lot of ways, and I’m relying on an archetype to give a broad-stroke idea of this person. I think she is beautiful for a myriad of reasons, very few of which have to do with genetic makeup, but I digress). I’m not sure how to physically describe her without leaning on archetypical concepts that leave much to be desired, but she is roughly my height, slender, athletic. Smaller- at least, in width- than I am.
Maybe I struggle with this description of her because I am framing it in the context of me: small(er than I am). Because she is not “small” in many of the ways that adjective can be applied- she holds her own space gracefully and respectfully, but it is hers and she fills it. And in pausing briefly to measure the height differential between us, I am forced to quantifiably acknowledge that the difference is miniscule, at best. We are fairly similarly sized.
(In fairness, she is often standing next to him, and he is so tall and broad-shouldered that he makes most people look small by comparison.)
Anyway. Being compared to her- or rather, having someone who is built like her be an appropriate comparison class for me- rocked something in my brain (because, in my mind, I’m much closer to his size; it confuses me every time I see him because he is just so much bigger than I remember. Translation: he is just so much bigger than me.).
I don’t know how to explain the disconnect I have between my perspective of myself and the perspective other people have of me. I am not colorblind, but the way I view myself and my body feels a bit like what I imagine being colorblind feels like. It’s like looking at the sky and seeing red, only everyone else is adamant that it’s blue. Periodically, I am reminded that the rest of the world sees something I don’t, and it’s jarring. Not bad, just…disconcerting.
That’s how I feel about my body, and how I see my body. I look in the mirror and what I see is vastly discordant with what other people see. It’s not that I think they are lying or wrong; it’s that, no matter how I turn and squint, I am still seeing red when everyone else is seeing blue. For me, it’s not a gender thing; it’s a size thing. I cannot tell the difference between 140 pounds and 180 pounds; they look identical to me. The only way I can tell if my weight has fluctuated is by what pants fit and which notch on my belt I use.
The way my thoughts are structured and ordered has shifted lately. Not “lately” in the past couple weeks, but a culmination of a series of slow, methodical changes that have manifested throughout this past year. I am learning to sink into emotional processes more, but I am still leaning on a way of viewing myself that may need to be revisited, and it’s jarring when someone else sees what I haven’t been able to name. My relationship with my body and it’s capacities has shifted, and I’m beginning to slowly see blue: see the strength, appreciate my actual size (and not the grossly misconstrued internal image that I have in my head). That being said, though, I’m so used to seeing red that I can’t tell what’s habit and what’s really there. What I am seeing because that is what I am used to seeing and what I am seeing because that’s what I actually see (because this whole processes really needed another level of disconnection, just to keep it interesting).
Sometimes, it takes other people pointing things out to me for me to see the ways in which I have shifted in thought and action and perspective, but haven’t shifted in my language to recognize those things. Sometimes it takes realizing that I am allowing old language to color my vision, rather than allowing the growth I’ve done to manifest into a new perspective. I was blindsided by both of these statements, not because they are inaccurate, but specifically because they are not. I am still catching up with the shifting and growing and changing that has come out of this year, and recognizing what others see in me and allowing those things to resonate with what I see in myself is a part of that catching up process.
I’m grateful for both of those comments because it forces me to look more objectively at the ways in which I move through the world. The space I take up, both in emotion and in physical space. It points out the places where I am still clinging to old ideas of who I am and how I function in the world, and gives me the ability to dig through those. It’s jarring, but necessary; sometimes, a little shaking up is the only way to get me out of my own head (and often, out of my own way).