This week, I want to tell you a story about a fence.
I can already hear you saying, What in the world does this have to do with losing weight?
Well . . . everything.
But before you think that this will be the most boring post of all time, I want to give my disclaimer: Not only will it not be boring, it might be downright offensive, especially if you’re not a fan of the F word. (Don’t worry, I restrained myself. There’s only one F bomb.)
Because this post isn’t really about a fence — it’s about death. Death to my people-pleasing self.
And trust me, that version of me needed to die.
So here goes.
I just moved into a townhouse — the most gorgeous townhouse of all time (in my opinion). I carefully chose this particular townhouse because it had a yard, which most townhomes do not have.
I looked for a house with a fenced-in yard but couldn’t find one I liked in my price range. I had never considered townhomes since they don’t have yards.
But when I found this one, I was so excited. Now my children would get to live in a beautiful home and, just as importantly, my precious dogs would finally have a place to run free with no leashes.
The yard, unfortunately, had no fence. So it was actually a big shared space out back for me and the two neighbors on either side of me.
The very first question I asked my real estate agent was, “Can I build a fence?” She investigated, and since there is no HOA, I could. Yay!
However, I found out from the previous owner at the closing that one of my neighbors wasn’t exactly happy about this.
So, upon moving in, I did what any good Southern girl would do. I got his number and texted him to introduce myself — and to ask him if he’d like to go out back and discuss my plans and give me any input on the design.
The very first thing he said after I introduced myself and gushed about how happy I was to meet him and how excited I was to live there was, “I was a little taken aback to hear that you’re going to build a fence the first week you move in.”
I immediately went into people-pleasing mode and started blurting out all the reasons I had for wanting to build the fence and justifying my need for it.
I was talking a mile a minute, feeling like a high-school student who’d broken curfew and was in trouble with her dad. (Oh yeah, he’s about six feet tall and I’m five-foot-two.)
Instead of participating in the design, he helpfully gave me other options. Why couldn’t I just walk my dogs outside on a leash to “do their business”? That’s what the other neighbors did. And had I considered an electric fence?
Finally, he grudgingly admitted that it was my yard and I could do whatever I wanted and that he couldn’t really stop me. So my red-faced, flustered self said “Thanks so much, nice to meet you” and went back inside, filled with rage.
Which of course I promptly shoved down.
I told myself that I could see where he was coming from, having his neighbor and good friend of five years move out. How nervous he must be about a new person moving in who wants to build a fence in a previously shared back yard — which also had a “shared” patio (ie, my back patio) — where they used to get together and drink wine. How his tranquil life was being blasted away by a single mom with two kids and two dogs.
And once again, like the good girl I am, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to see his side.
Fast forward a few weeks. The fence parts were back-ordered, so the installation was scheduled for six weeks after my move in. I got to know my new neighbor somewhat, and we had established a decently friendly rapport.
On installation day, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t let him know that today was the day. How could I be so selfish not to have alerted him?
So I texted him to very kindly let him know. And he texted this back: I was hoping you’d changed your mind.
But like the compliant, inoffensive girl that I am, I texted him that, no, I hadn’t changed my mind. And I even put in a sad-faced emoji to let him know that I was sorry that I hadn’t.
Then I got these three texts in rapid succession:
Make sure the builders walk down the other path and not through my yard.
Make sure you have a good idea of the property line.
Make sure they don’t damage the sprinkler systems.
My rage started boiling. How about make sure you don’t talk to me like I’m your wife?
Of course, I didn’t let my authentic, rageful self reply. I summoned my inner Good Girl and let her speak for (the real) me. She promised him that I would definitely make sure of those things.
I also made sure to tell him that I had instructed the fence company to build the fence on the inside of some trees that lay on the property line between the two homes, to make sure I didn’t destroy any of the landscaping he and the previous owner had so painstakingly created and run the risk of pissing him off even more.
Yes, you heard that right. I erred on the side of giving up several feet of my property to make sure he felt super warm and fuzzy about the whole thing.
Now I need to mention a critical part of the story: The plans called for the fence company to erect the fence inside my property to bypass the trees, but then to take a sharp left at the end of them and another sharp right to continue down the actual property line. (Like you’re looking at a high-backed bar stool from the side.)
Unfortunately, the builders were super-fast, and no sooner had I unloaded my dishwasher than they had already finished that section. And they hadn’t made the left turn, so the fence continued all the way to the back of the yard, inside the property line.
It looked crazy.
I stared at that fence for a week, hating how it looked. And hating myself even more — because I was terrified to rock the boat and fix it.
The last thing I wanted to do was call the fence company and complain. I mean, who does that?
I’m the kind of girl who says no problem, I’ll just take the chicken off the pasta and deal with the nasty carcass juice, even though I’m a vegetarian.
I’m the kind of girl who would rather have my teeth pulled than go to a cocktail party but who not only goes, but wears herself out for two straight hours, being the most vivacious, friendly person in the room.
I’m the kind of girl who stays in a 17-year marriage, feeling about as small as you could ever feel, putting on her game face and pretending to be happy.
And apparently, I’m the kind of girl who would give up two feet of her own property just to avoid upsetting a neighbor who couldn’t be bothered to say thank you for being so generous in the first place.
I said that the last thing I wanted to do was tell the fence company they had made a mistake, but the dead last thing I wanted to do was to tell my neighbor that the fence he hated needed to be moved.
So, like a good girl, I decided to suck it up.
It’s really not that bad.
It just looks weird from the window.
It’s not worth it.
That last one really did me in.
I couldn’t stop thinking that week about that one sentence. And I realized something truly life-changing.
No, it wasn’t worth it.
It wasn’t worth selling my soul, yet again, to keep everyone else happy. It wasn’t worth it to go along and get along at the expense of my wants and needs. And it wasn’t worth it to my health — emotionally, mentally, and physically — to keep shoving down my rage.
So I forced myself to pick up the phone. I called the fence company and told them they had made a mistake.
I’m embarrassed to say that it took everything in me to make that call. I was afraid my voice would start shaking just having to say the words, “I need you to fix it.”
But I did it.
That battle being won and the repair having been scheduled, I now I had to face the possibility of a confrontation with my new neighbor.
On the day of the repair, I had to sweat it out, waiting for him to leave and the chance that the fence people would show up before he did. But thank God, he left before they got there.
I grabbed some kitchen knives and went out back to mark off the area for the placement of the new fence. I wanted to make absolutely certain that they built it right on the property line without going over, not even a centimeter.
I stood out there for about ten whole minutes, eyeballing the line from the back of my yard, determining with absolute precision where the fence should go.
And then as I stood there with a bunch of butter knives in my hand, the rage finally boiled over.
I took those knives and I stabbed them one by one into the ground, each one representing its own good-girl death.
No more people-pleasing.
No more saying sorry.
No more putting on my game face.
No more pretending to be happy when I’m not.
No more putting makeup on just to walk my dogs.
No more RSVPing yes when I have no desire to go.
No more deferring to anyone. (Especially a man.)
No more letting anyone put me in my place.
No more justifying, explaining, or asking permission.
I realized with absolute clarity how absurd it was to be afraid to build a fence I was entitled to build, in the exact style I wanted to build it, on the property that I own — just because some neighbor didn’t like it.
It felt so good to finally let the rage out.
And it felt amazing to finally get that I don’t even have to have a confrontation with him — because there’s nothing to discuss. He can walk up to me and start in on me, and you know what I can do? Walk away without saying a word.
Ladies, this is how emotional eating is born. (See, it is about weight.)
This is how we end up shoving ourselves full of food — because the rage we shove down builds and we have to make it go away.
We go overboard being nice to everyone, saying yes when we don’t want to, bending over backwards to make everyone else happy, and it’s eating us alive.
And then what do we do? We eat ourselves to death.
And we gain weight and we hate our bodies. And we hate ourselves for not having enough willpower. And we feel weak and worthless. And we waste our lives dieting for years on end and never reaching our potential.
We end up having to work incessantly to shrink our bodies because we’ve shrunken ourselves for so long.
Weight-loss tip number one: Be fully and completely you.
Be totally authentic, even if it means people don’t think you’re nice. Tell people what you think, even if they don’t like it. Do whatever you want to do, even if someone else will be inconvenienced.
Don’t feel the need to explain yourself — and by all means don’t apologize for anything, unless it’s something that requires a heartfelt apology.
That way, you won’t have to find yourself at the bottom of a carton of Ben and Jerry’s or a bottle of chardonnay at the end of a long, hard day of being a people-pleaser.
I mean, don’t we have enough to do without dying a slow death every day, rearranging our lives so everybody has exactly what they need and feels totally comfortable? So everyone likes us?
I realized after the fact that this whole episode has nothing to do with my neighbor and everything to do with me. I mean, he’s probably not even aware that it was even a thing. He’s just being a guy — who gets to offend and upset people all day long without so much as a backward glance.
Why can’t women do this?
Well, we can. And maybe if we practice getting good at it, we won’t need the South Beach Diet, or the Whole 30, or the Eat Right for Your Blood Type.
Maybe if we practice allowing ourselves to be fully ourselves, we can look and feel like our best selves.
And maybe when we’re busy being our best selves, setting and achieving goals left and right, we won’t care so much about what we look like.
I don’t know if my inner Good Girl is fully dead. I can still feel some of her tentacles hanging on for dear life.
Will my neighbor read this and hate me? Maybe, but it’s not like he even cares what I think. (Because clearly he doesn’t.)
Will my mom recoil in horror at that F-bomb on her screen? I’m certain of it.
Will you unsubscribe because you’re offended by this post? You might, but that just means it doesn’t resonate with you, in which case you’re not a people pleaser, and good for you.
But even if these things happen, the most important thing is that I be brave and go ahead and hit “Publish,” because doing so is a small part of living the authentic life I’m committed to living.
I love writing posts where I give you practical weight-loss tips and the motivation to live a healthy life. But I hope you will seriously consider that our health doesn’t start with what we eat or how often we move.
Our health starts with who we are — or more specifically, who we believe ourselves to be.
And I’m here to tell you that you are way more powerful than you give yourself credit for.
So start taking up space. Say what you think. Don’t shrink or hold back. Stop silencing yourself and shoving down your rage.
Start expressing your inner power. Let people feel the full force of who you truly are.
That way you’ll have no need to binge eat. And you’ll be much too busy doing powerful things (regardless of what anyone thinks) to count calories or obsess about how much you weigh.
Allow your inner power to radiate outward. And your body will to transform to match.
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