She let herself go. She let her self go. She let her self go!

Such a statement, right?

It can be interpreted in so many ways. Of course, the sentiment usually refers to women “relaxing” about their body image when they age or after they get married. It may imply we don’t take care of ourselves the way we did when we were younger. This generally is an assessment someone makes about another person, and not usually in a kind manner.

But my thoughts relate more to the way we hold ourselves back as women. Society expects us to be polite. It expects us to be kind. We need to not speak out of turn. We need to be quiet and respectful. We can’t be wild.

When I was a new mother in my early thirties, I ventured into a little shop in Palo Alto that had local, handmade items. I saw a poster with an illustration of an old woman dressed in purple accompanied by the first line of Jenny Joseph’s poem “Warning.” It read: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple.”

“Warning” was written in 1961, a time when women were very much thought of as property; an extension of a man. We couldn’t even get a credit card without a husband to cosign for it. That actually happened to me in 1978; I tried to get a Macy’s card in my name but my husband had to sign with me. I thought it was stupid at the time, but I went along with it. I didn’t have a choice. Thank goodness things have and continue to change!

The poem itself is an ode to nonconformity. Being somewhat of a rebel myself, I can completely relate to the idea—except back then I didn’t want to wait until old age. And I didn’t; I’m still a rebel. I like to do things my way, and sometimes my way is something different than expected.

When I think of the phrase “she let herself go,” I think of being free. Letting myself go means releasing the shackles of cultural shame and ideas that hold me back from being completely myself.

The statement would usually mean “she didn’t take care of herself.” But to whose standards? If I want to eat chocolate cake for breakfast, I can. If I want to rest my body all day long and not move, I can. Why should someone be judged for doing something that brings them happiness and doesn’t hurt others?

I’m thinking, too, of when I do not allow myself to indulge in simple pleasures. Why don’t I wear that really special dress I made or a blouse I bought? What am I saving it for?

I want to give myself wings to fly—to soar! We must free ourselves to be ourselves. If the only way we can speak our truths is to speak without judging ourselves, then the only way we can be ourselves is to BE without judging ourselves.

Wear the fancy jewelry to the grocery store. Wear your gorgeous new shoes. Don’t hold back! Travel to a new place. Give yourself an adventure. Make a special dinner during the week instead of only for holidays. Spend time cooking, eating, and savoring the food. Savor the moments. Savor the day.

That’s what life’s about. It’s about being the fullest, biggest, brightest versions of ourselves. And when we do this—when we live our lives to our own joy’s greatest potential—we radiate the fullness of our lives outwards. It becomes a ripple into the cosmos. When we’re joyful, our joy can’t help but rub off on others. We’ll become ambassadors of joy when we let ourselves go.

Isn’t it interesting how such a simple statement—one that’s usually meant in a judgmental, derogatory way—can be so inspiring?

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unsplash-logoCezanne Ali