Fernside Center for Grieving Children is a gift to the Cincinnati community, offering an array of programs, retreats and individual support for children who have faced the loss of a loved one. When a tragic event happens to a student, Fernside is onsite at the school to provide support for faculty and counseling for the kids. Group meeting sites are spread across the city so everyone can access them. (If you would like to learn more about this gem, you can check it out at www.fernside.org.)
Fernside helps kids explore and express how they feel through activities. My favorite is when they paint very plain, ceramic masks. The kids paint the outside of their masks as they believe the world sees them. They paint the inside of their masks as well, showing without words how they see themselves. The results are both beautiful and poignant, revealing how much the children hide their struggle with grief. Outside: rainbows, dancing feet, happy smiles. Inside: tears, broken toys, a fence with a child on one side and his friends on the other.
I think it would be a helpful exercise for all of us to do. What would your outside and inside mask look like? What emotions would it hold?
When I was fat, I’m pretty sure my outside mask would have been an ugly, blubbery mound of flesh. I believed that no one could see me past my fat, that it was the first damning filter people absorbed when they met me. Since I’ve gotten fit, I have had several people tell me that they could always see me, see who I was. Those assertions are comforting—but the fact of the matter is, a lot of people can’t see past a fat person’s fatness. I could hardly blame them when I couldn’t see past my fatness.
Inside, I suspect I would have painted a very small, dark me in a small corner. Almost unnoticeable. Head and shoulders slumped over. Ashamed. Unworthy. A friend remarked to me just yesterday that the number one source of shame is body image. Well, I can attest.
I have had a wonderful life in many ways, and I will not discount that—but that outside mask has been the filter through which I experienced the world, and that inside mask pressed harshly against my mind and heart. Physically, my obesity kept me in pain most of the time, unable to participate in anything the least bit strenuous. Emotionally, I completely believed my body size made me inferior to everyone else.
So, what does my mask look like now? I suspect that outside, I would be able to “right-size” myself. (Ever committed to telling the truth, though, I would likely add a lot of wrinkles and loose skin!) Inside—now that’s where the biggest change is. The inside would be filled with light and color. It would show the outside world pouring in to me without a filter; just filling me with its light.
One of the reasons I don’t write strictly about losing weight or fitness is because, ultimately, those are just tools. Once they became ingrained into habit, they became part of my every day, but they didn’t become my every day. They enabled me to see everything going on around me with new appreciation, with humor, with a light heart. Without having my thoughts and emotions nailed to my over-weighted, shameful self, I could experience life in all its beauty and comedy and poignancy. That has been the real gift for me. That has been my miracle.
So won’t you take a moment? Think about the mask you show the world, and the mask revealed only to yourself. If you have someone with whom you’re close, do it together and talk about it. It is a way to both feel and give the gift of intimacy and trust. As Fernside has given that gift to so many hurting children, I pass along that gift to you.