Trigger Warning: Negative Body Image
“Seeing children play is a joyous moment in itself—we are often brought back to a simpler time, when life was about having fun and enjoying ourselves”--Michael Forman, “The Importance of Play in Adulthood.
As adults, we take life too seriously sometimes. Everything needs to happen now for us to enjoy the rewards we already have. In order to achieve happiness maybe you need to be at the peak of your career, in a loving relationship or marriage, or the perfect kids who are becoming more independent. We wait to live our life in the present. The future is where our happiness will bear fruit.
Before I fully accepted play into my life, I had a lot of healing to do with my inner child. I abused and neglected her for so long I thought I’d never recover. A good friend of mine has reminded me throughout the years that I need to learn how to play again. Scoffing and putting the advice on the back burner, it wasn’t until this year that I started to put her advice to the test. Maybe it’s because I have a child of my own that I am able to see how important it is to be a kid. Or maybe I didn’t want to leave my inner child so wounded and locked up that she couldn’t come out to guide my son through his play.
Too Much Yet Not Enough
Like my toddler, I crawled, stumbled, and fell trying to reach that little girl who needed saving. It took me a long time to realize I was the one responsible for saving myself. I held onto a lot of resentment, anger, and pain for who I was. I let words and other people’s insecurities influence me. I was too sensitive, emotional, and dramatic. I was too much yet not enough.
For instance, in elementary, I was heavier than most kids. I was picked on for not being pretty because of my weight by both the boys and girls in my grade. I stewed in silence and waited until I was in my bedroom to cry about the ridicule. Then my brother and I were put on a diet and made to exercise, which is fine, but I didn’t learn to have a healthy relationship with food. I was never taught how to maintain weight after weight loss. Once the weight was gone, I was treated differently. Boys now thought I was pretty enough and some of the girls were jealous–of what I don’t know.
There is one memory that really stuck with me. I was twelve years old, home from school, and admiring myself in the mirror. Finally, I was skinny. I should be pretty enough now. I should be enough now. I weighed myself and hit a new low. One hundred pounds. Mind you, I was getting close to 5’4 in height. Deciding to share my enthusiasm, I told my dad. He was the one teaching me and my brother all about weight loss anyway so he should be proud of me too, right? He wasn’t proud, “I should be striving to lose more.” I don’t think he meant to say what he did or have any idea how much his words would hurt me. As a woman now looking back on this memory, I know he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. I know there are a lot of generational cycles I have to break myself. I know he was trying to grow up too.
Those feelings turned into a need for validation from others due to my looks. That little girl didn’t know how to be enough, especially if her own parent couldn’t tell her that she was enough. The need for validation turned into low self esteem. I was too self-conscious to be myself. So, how does a woman learning how to play overcome the idea that people could be watching? If she lets out her inner child, how does she quell the embarrassment swelling within her chest?
It wasn’t an overnight process. Like everything else in life, it takes practice. It will also never be perfect, but you know what, it isn’t supposed to be. I tried to recall what it was I enjoyed doing when I was preteen that maybe others judged me for as being childish. Taking my first baby step, I started howling my favorite song in my car. It helped ease my embarrassment in case anyone caught me through their rear view mirror.
I bought some of my favorite board games as a child, challenging my friends and husband to a battle of wits. I joke with my childhood friends about forever abstaining from playing Monopoly with them since they always liked to cheat and tease. But when it comes down to it, my inner child will always want to play with them so I won’t stop her from joining the fun. My dear best friend and I try to make game nights with others so we can play the newer games like Cards Against Humanity or 5 Second Rule. If I can only get one other person to play I like to challenge them to a game of Life or round of Clue.
I’ll tell silly lame jokes because that’s just what kids do. For example: where do spiders seek health advice? WebMD! Yes, I know it’s alright to cringe, but it had to have made you chuckle at least a little.
I started coloring in adult coloring books; sometimes, I don’t even color in the lines. I love taking paint and sip classes but it can get a bit expensive, so I got my own supplies and watched YouTube videos. I write whenever I feel the urge. I challenged myself to start reading again. I used to devour novels like it was my favorite ice cream. This year alone, I have already read 45 books. They are what I want to read, and I don’t criticize the genre, or the content, because they are exactly what my inner child needs.
This summer I plan to go to Disneyland and ride as many rides as I can in one day. Play is different for everyone, you just need to find what's right for you.
Dancing on the Edge
Now that my son is tumbling into his toddler stage, he likes to be chased and roars at us daily. So, I chase him all around the house and growl back at him. I do it with all of my heart. At the park, we go down slides and swing on the swings. My husband will take him back to the jungle gym, and I will stay on the swing for a short while. I pump and kick my legs with all my might, letting the air push and pull my hair back and forth. The air whizzes past my ears. Closing my eyes, I let the soft rise and fall of the swing be my guide.
Another favorite play of mine is dancing. I used to dance everywhere and no store was safe from my moves. I danced instead of walked. Over the years, I forgot about my love of dance. Now, I dance in my living room or garage. I dance like no one is watching. I’m learning to play like no one is watching.
Little by little, I’m finding my roots through play. I’m healing my inner child so she can enjoy the play I robbed from her. I’ll practice my gaming (video and board) skills so I can play with my son when he’s old enough. I’ll keep dancing so I can teach him all of my moves. I’ll keep playing so he eventually learns that keeping his inner child is just as important as growing up.
Can you remember the last time your inner child came out to play? What about the last time you were able to dance and not care about what others thought?
It’s easy to let adulthood get in the way. When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to grow up. Automatically, I thought my life would be more sophisticated and put together. Boy was I wrong. A lot of us were. I wished and wished for the years to go by quickly only for me to wish time would slow down so I can enjoy the present. As a kid, I planned out my entire future; career, marriage, family. Now, I reminisce by looking back on old photos, social media feeds and posts. I wasted a lot of time resenting the fact I wasn’t an adult yet. I grew up too fast and let my childhood slip through my fingers.
It’s too late for me to wish on the second star on the right like Peter Pan.
Or maybe it isn’t too late for me. Peter Pan wanted to stay a child on the outside, so what if I took that concept and flipped it. What if I cherish my inner child and let her come out to play every now and then?
In preparation for this month’s theme, I read an article on the importance of adult play. Michael Forman brings a key point to his readers that as adults we push play out of our minds completely. We are so caught up in our careers, relationships, and family, which he also points out are just as critical, but it isn’t any wonder why adults stress out so much. We stopped playing. We stopped the endorphins that happen when we play.
When life tries to bring you down, pick a form of play. Turn off the adult part of your brain and let the heart of your inner child out. Get dirty by playing in some dirt. Be silly by singing the wrong lyrics to your favorite song. Challenge a friend to a game of wits. Anything to just get those endorphins pumping through your veins.
So, reader, when was the last time you let your inner child out to play? When was the last time you played as if no one is watching?
About the Author
Selina Wells is an undergraduate at UNLV and aspiring author. She is interning at The Love Yourself Foundation as a Blog Contributor and Editor. Her work “That Girl” can be found in the creative arts journal Beyond Thought. When she isn’t reading and writing, she is chasing after her two year old son with her husband, Alan. Currently, Selina is working on her first novel. Follow her journey on Instagram @thatgirl_selinas