Jamie Varon is like the Seth Godin of feelings. She observes things, names them and then writes about it in a way that brings fresh perspective to the rest of us.
She is a writer and designer (she’s the genius who designed my website, ya’ll) currently living in Los Angeles.
Jamie is a full-time business owner; has a print shop; runs workshops once a month; and is never not listening to music. (Except when she’s recording a podcast episode with moi.)
She writes a letter every Friday to her email list. Her letter about this episode’s theme of GUILT is below. Give it a read if you’re hungry for more after listening to our conversation on this topic.
In our conversation, Jamie talks about…
- that the language of guilt is for women
- the contradictory role guilt plays between wanting more and getting more
- why the terms like “guilt free” and “guilty pleasure” annoy the hell out of her
- how marketing messages are infused with guilt in order to get us (mainly women) to buy stuff
- the ways guilt plays in your own patterns and how to notice and remove it from your life
Let’s burn some bullshit! 🔥🐃💩
Jamie’s “Friday Letter” About Guilt
My first experience with guilt came from hunger. I loved food and the shared experience of eating together at a restaurant or at home. But, at a young age, I learned that my hunger was unruly, something to be controlled, something to feel guilty about. Nevermind that my body wasn’t bony and small like the other girls. Eat less. Leave food on your plate. Want less. Be less. I was as young as 12 years old when I understood that having a small body and a small appetite and suppressed needs was a positive thing. Girls were as good as what they could abstain from. And, self-control was currency.
It started with food and weaved its way into every other area of my life. I felt guilty when I’d be singled out in a classroom for doing well on a test or writing a good paper. I felt guilty when I didn’t want to be friends with someone. I felt guilty when I was complimented. I felt guilty when I wanted something, anything. I felt guilty when I wanted sex. I felt guilty when I wanted money. I felt guilty when I achieved. I felt guilty when I felt special. I felt guilty when I couldn’t appease everyone. I felt guilty when my actions would in any small way affect someone else. There was an undercurrent of guilt all the time as ubiquitous as air, so essential to my being that I hardly noticed its existence.
Every choice I made, every good thing that happened to me—felt like it had to be first filtered through a wall of guilt, squeezed out and made flimsier. I can’t think of one time in my past where I had a purely proud moment of accomplishment that was not, even in the smallest way, tainted by a feeling of guilt.
Women are taught that the pie we get is so small that we must compete with each other for a sliver. We are not told there is a never-ending abundance of pies, that we can have our own pie, that we are allowed to want and strive and achieve without worrying about how our actions affect other women. We feel guilty if we underachieve on our potential and then we feel guilty if we do achieve. We feel guilty if we don’t and guilty if we do. We keep ourselves small and feel guilty for doing so, thinking that nobody could dislike us if we never shine our brightest. We make ourselves big and we shine, and then we feel guilty for taking attention away from others.
Women inherit guilt—and this idea that we should feel guilty about any choice we make and any good thing that happens to us is enforced a hundred times over through magazines, casual conversations, and media. Throughout history, we have been given so little opportunity, so little ways to mobilize—and the best way to silence us, keep us smaller than ever, and distract us from how brilliant we are is to make us feel guilty for everything, small, tiny, large, and expansive, that we could ever be or want. Do you see how contained it has kept us? Do you see how controllable and controlled we are?
I felt guilty when I went to France in March 2018. Guilty that I had the means and ways to get there. Guilty that I could support myself and Houssem while there. Guilty that it might make someone feel bad about their own life situation in contrast with mine. Guilty that I might make someone feel envious. Guilty when women would tell me, ‘I wish I could do that.’ Guilty that my life felt really good and really happy and really right after nearly two decades of searching for that feeling in lots of different places and people. I felt the need to explain to others that living abroad had a ‘con’ for every ‘pro.’ I think it’s good to be conscientious of other people’s situations. There are many people who do not have the means or freedom to travel the way we did. I know I am privileged. That’s why I didn’t start talking about how ANYONE can travel and EVERYONE SHOULD. I let my experience be mine and the answer to my privilege was to feel immense gratitude and to never take it for granted.
That being said, the guilt was something else. The guilt was a legacy left over from generations of women before me. I learned a lot about my guilt in 2018. I had an onslaught of guilty feelings whenever I allowed myself to be happy. It helped me to realize that guilt had prevented me from experiencing a lot of joy in my past. It had tainted a lot of my best moments. It had managed to dull out the shine on nearly every proud moment. What would other people think? How will they perceive me now?
Women are taught that we must mold our image to be more likable and palatable to others. We use guilt as the tool to mold. Guilt about hunger, so that we may mold our bodies into a more acceptable size and shape. Guilt about our desires, so that we may never go outside the boundary lines of what we’re allowed to have. Guilt about sex, so that we may never have an appetite too unruly that it leads us ‘astray.’ Guilt about every choice, so that we may never fully rise to the full extent of our power.
‘Guilt-free’ foods and ‘guilty pleasures’ and don’t you see how the language of guilt is woven into marketing for women? How we are taught the language and action and feeling of guilt?
Guilt is a sedative. It tamps us down. It keeps us circling the same drain, wondering about whether we’re worthy of whatever we desire. It keeps us questioning ourselves. It keeps us proving ourselves to others. It keeps us debating whether others like us. It keeps us hungry for social approval. It keeps us molding our images, trying to extract the most favorable response from the largest subset of people. It keeps us worried with our eyes fixated on the ground beneath us. It keeps us from expecting more from the world and from ourselves. It keeps us nervous. It keeps us from wanting. It keeps us from being hungry. It keeps us controlled and contained. It keeps us in tight, small boxes.
I’ve been thinking about what to do with my open space, both the mental and physical. I spent 2016 and 2017 getting my mental health in a manageable place and finally getting out of debt. I spent 2018 learning how to be grateful, happy, and beyond just ‘surviving’ my way through life. I see 2019 as a time of contentment, a slower and more steadied pace. And, I’ve started to vision my life more, thinking about what kind of big dreams I’ve put on the backburner. I tried for many years to achieve my way into wellness. The ‘I’ll be happy when…’ syndrome in full effect. I thought life circumstances determined emotional health.
When I focused on being happy regardless of life circumstances, to radically accept myself and my life at exactly what stage it was in, a lot of my dreams had to leave. Expectations and future accomplishments that were meant to bring me some future happiness no longer had a place in my life. I had to let go of thinking my emotional well-being was somewhere out there, just waiting for me to luck or achieve my way into it. I let go of a lot of ideas I had for my life and career.
Now, I’m in a good place with my emotional and mental health. I feel stronger and more resilient than ever. Which means, I am starting to dream again. The ‘what if’ part of myself is coming back. And, as I start to bring these questions up with myself, the guilt is coming with it. The guilt that has kept me more concerned with how others perceive me than how my life actually feels to the only person who has to live it: me.
And so, as I start to ‘what if’ again, I am letting go of guilt, one thought string at a time. I know that guilt has tried to make me more acceptable and accepted. I know that guilt is inherited. I know that guilt has tried to make me a more lovable woman to others. But, I am learning to let go of guilt that has kept me from wanting, that has kept me from my hunger.
I am allowed to want more from this one life I get to live. The guilt isn’t gone entirely. I am not there yet. But, it has been named and recognized. I am aware of it. I am slowly and patiently extracting its power over my decisions and life. It is no longer going to sneak its way into every joyful moment.
I am going to keep asking myself ‘what if’ and when the guilt starts snaking its way into my thoughts, I am going to dream bigger. Larger. More expansive. And, I encourage you all to do the same. No more ‘shoulds.’ No more holding yourself back in those small and large ways. Guilt is a part of our daily conversation, but it doesn’t need to be.
We can break the cycle within ourselves. It starts with awareness. This is mine. And this can be yours.
Let’s rid ourselves of guilt and be uncontrollable, hungry, and desiring. It’s our time.
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