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The Toxic Phrase That Has To Die

When did this 'saying' get to be the norm?

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Mother whispering something to her daughter
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My father’s spiral into end-stage congestive heart failure was not pretty — in a lot of ways.

The more time I spent at his house and was consumed with his care, the less time I spent worrying about my own — my roots, my wrinkles, my waistline. The time and money I spent maintaining those things were spent on fall-prevention products and reading articles on easing the myriad functions that shut down slowly, and painfully, in CHF patients.

My brisk, healthy walks listening to a podcast or audiobook were shortened dramatically or abandoned altogether because all I could think about was how much farther I was from my car if I had to drive quickly to his house. The pounds crept on, and the sadness and fatigue etched deeper into my face. I didn’t even notice at the time, these things paled so dramatically compared to the looming loss I knew was coming. My father was my whole world, my cheerleader and my sounding board. Why bother with mascara?

How I looked at the end of my dad’s life didn’t matter to me, and it most certainly didn’t matter to him. Every time I showed up, regardless of how god-awful I looked, I was greeted with a smile, a flicker of joy and his reminder, “I just love it when you’re here sitting next to me on the couch.”

The first time I did a real head-to-toe in the mirror was when I was trying to figure out what to wear to his funeral — and nothing fit. Even still, I couldn’t bring myself to care that much. I don’t regret a second of the time I spent with him, nor do I begrudge myself the lazy, mindless, calorie-rich indulgences afterward that I considered self-care.

A few months ago, I joined friends — some old, some new — for lunch. Restaurants were easing up on mask mandates, and we could finally see full faces. About halfway through our meal, a woman we hadn’t seen in a few years walked from the bathroom to the exit on the far side of the room. Someone at my table leaned in and said: “She really let herself go.”

I’m not too proud to say there was a time I would have swiveled for a better look. But I didn’t. I was instantly protective of her. Maybe she was going through something horrible? Or, just maybe, her priorities shifted and now she uses her time and resources to pursue a new passion, an old hobby, anything. It doesn’t matter.

There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing your appearance, but why does that get to be the norm? Why is anything south of that perceived as defeat? Just because someone stops blow-drying their hair or putting on lipstick before they leave the house, it doesn’t mean they’ve given up. I think it’s a conscious choice to let go.

That woman who walked by in the restaurant? We should be hugging her or applauding her, certainly not judging her!

She let herself go? We should all let ourselves go — whether it’s to the dermatologist for filler or deep within ourselves to heal. It’s time to bury that phrase or, better still, repurpose it. “She really let herself go.”

Good for her! Go wherever you need to in order to take care of yourself. Go to the gym! Go to the mountains! Go to bed early and don’t wash your face! Go to a therapist! Go to your car and cry in the garage! Go find out who you are and what you’re made of! Go with grace. Who’s with me?