comments 15

Judging Amy, By Amy

tuenight judgy amy barr

Yesterday, I saw of picture of myself in a sleeveless outfit and realized that my triceps are a disappointment to me. My upper arms look like hotdog buns.

As for the outfit – a silky black jumpsuit – I liked it in the store. The saleswoman, fresh out of college, assured me I looked fabulous. But here’s the thing: If you are in your fifties and want to feel chic and slim, do not hang around with women in their twenties. Because no matter how great that jumpsuit looked in the dressing room, it’s no match for an impeccable midriff or the fashion fearlessness that comes with knowing you can throw on a mini dress with a pair of white Adidas and look effortlessly sexy.

This was apparent when we hosted a 25th birthday weekend for my son’s girlfriend. Over the course of a day, she and her pals moved through duffel bags full of cute clothes, from clingy yoga pants at breakfast to teeny bikinis at lunch to wispy slip dresses by cocktail time. At that point, I considered drowning myself in a sea of self-recrimination and tequila due to an acute case of frumpiness but decided not to be a party pooper. Instead, I forged on in my black jumpsuit, which I now hate.

Judging ourselves by the standard of how we compare to others encompasses multiple issues beyond body image and fashionability. Everyone has their own vulnerable spots; for me, creativity and productivity are open wounds when it comes to self-reflection. Recently I found myself cringing when one of my closest friends posted a photo from a California writers’ colony where he spent a spectacularly productive week making groovy new friends and knocking out a book proposal in the process. I stopped short of silently wishing him writer’s block, instead turning the knife on myself for the shockingly unproductive month I had spent doing anything – anything – but writing.

On a crappy day, there’s no convincing me I’m a not a failure by any and every standard. On those days, I’m a hack, a fraud, a weakling, a bore with bad hair.

Without a doubt, judging one’s self on a regular basis sucks the joy out of life. On a crappy day, there’s no convincing me I’m a not a failure by any and every standard. It’s then that I wonder how anyone, including my children, could find me loveable or even tolerable. On those days, I’m a hack, a fraud, a weakling, a bore with bad hair. I fully expect my husband to walk through the door and announce his permanent departure due to an overdue epiphany that his wife is the most unsatisfying spouse on the planet.

Recently, Facebook reminded me that I hadn’t updated my profile picture in a while. In fact, it’d been almost six years and it seemed criminal to continue to fool my FB friends into thinking I hadn’t aged a bit. So I switched the picture to one taken just a few months ago…then tried to hide the update from my timeline so as not to draw attention to the change. Evidently, I failed. More than 100 people “liked” or commented on the new photo with the kindest of compliments. Yet, in the whirlpool of negativity in which I was spinning that week, I couldn’t enjoy their words. In my mind, my friends were either liars or legally blind.

What a waste to deprive myself of the pleasure of those compliments. They were given freely in good faith, so why not accept them as such? Perhaps that barrier is a result of my particular psychology or the way I was raised or some deep-seated notion that society rewards the humble and punishes the proud. Most likely, it’s a combination of all those things and more.

But here’s the really scary part: I’ve read that, for people like me, self-judgment is actually an addiction. It’s a habitual behavior intended to protect ourselves against pain. Self-judgers believe that if they judge themselves first, they’ll be safe from the judgment of others or they’ll be motivated to do better.

This doesn’t work. Anyone who has ever raised a child (or been one, for that matter) knows that people respond better to encouragement than to criticism. Rather than spurring us on to greatness, self-judgement creates so much anxiety that we freeze up and that immobility leads to even more judgement. The result: We end up feeling paralyzed and miserable.

When I consider my addiction, I feel a little crazy because my life is good and I have much to be proud of. But I’m not alone. Plenty of people with mostly happy lives throw a private pity party now and then, some more often than others. I also know that for many women in their fifties, the ways in which we define ourselves undergo seismic shifts as we contemplate new or ending careers, empty nests, aging parents and changing bodies, not to mention mortality. Any one of those things can knock your world off its axis; a combo platter can be a total confidence killer.

The challenge is how to get this monkey off my back. What would it mean to say: “Yes, I do look pretty in that Facebook picture”? Or to accept positive feedback on something I’ve written by acknowledging rather than denying the worth of my words? Would lightning strike me if I took pleasure in recognizing my positive attributes rather than focusing on how I’m not measuring up? What might a day without judgement feel like?

To find out, I am embarking on an experiment. For the next month, every time I catch myself judging myself negatively, I will make a concerted effort to stop and redirect those thoughts in an effort to break the cycle. So this morning during yoga, I reconsidered those hotdog buns, which were, in fact, supporting my body quite nicely. (Maybe that traumatic tricep photo was just taken from an unfortunate angle.) When I took a catnap in the late afternoon, I labeled myself tired instead of lazy. And I wrote an honest essay that might even help someone else. That’s progress.

P.S. If you like this essay, let me know. I promise I’ll believe you.


Filed under: Self


Amy Barr

Amy Barr is a veteran magazine editor. She started her career as an editorial assistant at Working Mother magazine and rose through the ranks to become Executive Editor before joining Time Inc. to launch the online edition of Parenting, where she served as managing editor. Amy was also part of the online launch teams for, What to Expect When You're Expecting, The South Beach Diet and Everyday Health. You can find Amy on Twitter at @amylbarr.


  1. Jill Tompkins says

    This piece was written with so much truth. You are an amazing wife, mother and I’m sure great friend. Beautiful❤️❤️❤️

  2. Susan says

    I love everything you write but particularly enjoyed this. Frumpy? You? Not a chance!!

  3. Lynn says

    I don’t know you, but you know me! Thanks for this great, honest piece. I am going to try to join you in your resolution, though that may mean I need to cloak my triceps for a few weeks.

    • Amy Barr
      amy barr says

      Lynn, it’s been very tough to redirect those negative thoughts but I think it might be working…a little. Try it and let me know how you do. And set those triceps free!

  4. Bbarbara says

    You are one of the most beautiful woman I know. both inside and out. You always were but have grown into very special person. Everyone who knows you loves you for the very special qualities you have. Rejoice in that. Nothing will help your unfounded deprecation of you body. Most of the women you know would kill to be you!!

  5. Susan says

    Thank you for writing this. As an overweight 50 something, I am trying to find a new way to love my body. It feels like everyone around me is lean and strong and I am frozen by the enormity of what I need to do (and want to do).

    • Amy Barr
      amy barr says

      There will always be someone leaner and stronger, even for me. And there will always be someone heavier and weaker. I think you and I need to keep that in mind every day as we each endeavor to be a better “me” but only as compared to ourself and not to others. Someone shared this link with me — you might like it too:

  6. Andrea Davis says

    Thank you for an honest and eloquent article. A few years ago, I saw the reflection of an older woman in a shop window and thought to myself, “Ooh. I love her purse. She’s really rocking it.” Then I realized, it was my own reflection, and I was admiring my own purse. So, I look older than I think I do. But at least I have a groovy purse.

    • Amy Barr
      amy barr says

      Andrea, that’s the exactly the destination I’m hoping to arrive at: self-acceptance with a smile.

  7. Susan Pate says

    Great Essay!! 59! Thank you! Wonderful to know I am not alone!! Definately my own worst enemy!! You writing is terrific!!

  8. Kristin says

    I was part of a cognitive therapy group where we practiced exactly what you’re talking about. Every time you say something negative to yourself, replace it with a more positive statement. EX: ” I feel fat in this dress”– replace with “this dress doesn’t flatter my curvy body” Now it’s the dresses fault and not yours! And that just makes me feel better just thinking of it like that. And I also have a self imposed ban on the words f-a-t, s-t-u-p-I-d, and u-g-l-y. It’s worked wonders for me!

  9. Paul says

    Amy, I very much enjoyed your essay and can confirm that the from the perspective of the outside looking in, you look vey good in every way, shape and form. I am hopeful and confident that your 30 day experiment will convince you that you still got the goods and much to be proud of!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.