In part two of my series on Burnout, which is also the title of a new book by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, we’re discussing why you should stop fighting your “inner critic” (that voice in your head constantly shouting at you, judging you and shaming you). In reality, this “madwoman in the attic” is trying to tell you something valuable about who you are, which can be really helpful in moving forward from BURNOUT because you stop pretending to be who the world wants you to be.
Tune in to learn about the bikini industrial complex (BIC) and why it sucks so bad. More important, what you can do to build resistance to the BIC and reclaim your “new hotness”.
You’ll also learn the value in connecting to something larger than yourself to help move the world closer to what you long envision it to be, even if it doesn’t come true in your lifetime. I’d love to imagine a world free from diets, body shame, the BIC, and BURNOUT.
Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., is a sex educator and author of Come As You Are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Her job is to travel all over the world, training therapists, medical professionals, college students, and the general public about the science of women’s sexual wellbeing.
Amelia Nagoski, D.M.A. (it stands for Doctorate of Musical Arts), is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Music at Western New England University. Her job is to run around waving her arms and making funny noises and generally doing whatever it takes to help singers get in touch with their internal experience.
Listen here to Episode 118 here or read the episode transcript
- Burnout: The secret to solving the stress cycle – book website
- Emily’s previous appearance on Body Kindness: Why Women Fake Orgasms
Emily: [00:00] … and it’s no coincidence, chapter three is about meaning and being part of something larger, because we definitely wanted this book about Burnout and “self care” to be connected to an entire universe of people who are caring for each other, so that when you start to attend to your own needs in a way that that starts to eliminate human giver syndrome and you learn to become a human giver who is surrounded by other givers and is protected from the toxic messages of human beings. As you start to turn toward that internally, it gives you energy and ability to see where it is needed around you. And coincidentally when you feel like you are a part of something larger, that connectedness is actually really good for you and can be a source of Burnout prevention.
Rebecca: [00:51] Yeah, a personal testimonial to that experience. I’ve never felt like that I’ve been a more capable clinician until I actually stopped doing everything weight loss dieting, and became a member of [Asda 00:01:07] and learned about health at every size. And I’m definitely, I’m always going to be learning and growing. But that sense of knowing that there was a better way to do work and to have values and stand for them, it really changes your life for the better, and it’s okay to be uncertain. Well, I just feel like I have so many things, just to be at a place where you can be in an open mind and listening can be one meaningful action that’s going to lead to more.
Emily: [01:42] Absolutely. And once you find that discovery or make that turn towards something larger than yourself, I don’t know anybody who’s found a moment like that where they really felt universally connected and of service to something, where they felt like they were done now. “Oh, I discovered it and now I’m done.” What that leads to is a perspective that increases your curiosity, that increases your interest in what else can I see around me and what more is there that I can do and what other people are there who need help who I can reach out to now that I’m here in this place of capability.
Rebecca: [02:15] And nothing really helps you help others you care about than your own, going through it yourself. Right? Because it’s your best teacher.
Emily: [02:25] Absolutely. There’s a section in chapter … so the whole first section, there’s three sections of the book. And the first section we call What You Take With You, which that’s where Amelia does the Yoda voice.
Amelia: [02:37] Only what you take with you. It’s not a good Yoda voice, but I tried.
Rebecca: [02:41] I love it! I love it. It’s staying in this edit.
Emily: [02:47] Because it’s about the resources that you carry with you into the struggle and one of them is the capacity of your body to complete the stress response cycle, and we don’t just mean physical activity. There’s at least eight evidence based strategies for completing the cycle, only one of which is physical activity. The second one is this thing we call the monitor, which is about the mechanism in your brain that governs your effort toward a goal. And one of the things we say right in the beginning there is that having there be like no gap between the world you live in and the world you want to live in. That’s not the goal. That’s not a natural normal state of being.
[03:25] There will always be a difference between the world you live in and the world you want to live in. What helps us to stay sane and feel satisfied is knowing that that gap is normal, learning to live with it, and in fact the principal social justice leaders of the last 200 years are people who have seen the biggest gap between where we are and what is possible. They knew they would not live to see the ultimate resolution like their vision of what the world could be would never come, and learning to like be comfortable in just taking steps toward that is really important, and the reason why the third resource you bring into this fray is your connection with something larger than yourself.
[04:13] And which something larger that is, is going to vary from person to person. My something larger, this is Emily, my something larger is teaching women to live with confidence and joy inside their bodies. Amelia’s is just art, as simple as that. When you spend time connected with your something larger, then you know that the time you spent engaged in that work was movement toward the world as you know it could be. And you don’t have to feel frustrated that the world isn’t here yet because you know you are doing what your body is able to do to push the world toward what you long and envision it to be.
Rebecca: [04:53] Well, I long and envision a world where there is no longer a bikini industrial complex.
Amelia: [05:00] Hallelujah.
Rebecca: [05:01] Let’s blow it up.
Emily: [05:04] Absolutely.
Rebecca: [05:05] So I’d love for you to share, because everyday, we could talk about it everyday and we’re still going to be talking about it because somebody new is going to be coming to the table, and yet, this is going to be the eyeopener. So what is the bikini industrial complex and why is it so bad?
Amelia: [05:23] The bikini industrial complex is a phrase, this is Amelia, that it came pouring out of my mouth in a rehearsal one day because I had a room full of college students, mostly women in their late teens and early twenties, and I could not convince them that they needed to relax their abdominal muscles to allow themselves to breathe. They even consciously knew and kind of wanted to do what I was asking them to do with relaxing their abdomen so they can expand when they inhale and then contract when they exhale, which is how breathing works. They were all really convinced deep down in their muscles that your stomach is supposed to be hard and flat, and that if it’s not, then you’re a failure of a human being. And so when I asked them to breathe, it’s like I was asking them to give up on being a person who deserves love.
[06:10] So I needed to unbrainwash them for a minute, to tell them there’s this bikini industrial complex, this huge conglomeration of corporations, all kinds of businesses and also government lobbyists, which has been successful and so it actually reaches into the government. This is a government sanctioned mind control problem that’s trying to tell you that you’re supposed to have abs of steel, and that’s a fucking lie. I’m sorry, can I swear?
Rebecca: [06:35] Yeah, I love swears.
Amelia: [06:38] Sorry. It’s a lie, and it’s dangerous for you and it stops you from being able to actually breathe. And if you can’t breathe well you sure as hell can’t smash the patriarchy. So the phrase bikini industrial complex came pouring out of my mouth in that context of trying to explain to my students why I need them right now, right here in my classroom to start being aware of what they really believe is true about their bodies and what they have been told by sources that may or may not be credible is supposed to be true about their bodies. And to take this moment to turn their attention to the possibility that maybe their abdominal muscles are supposed to expand and contract and oscillate through the different states of being that they’re capable of. And maybe the more you learn to expand and contract, the more breath you can take in, the more breath you can let out, the more possibility of what you can express with your voice and with your whole self. So that’s where the bikini industrial complex came from.
Rebecca: [07:36] I love the idea that was in a music class and in a singing class about how to work with your body and use your body in a way that it’s designed, and then sort of compare it to … I mean, how many messages today have we seen that is upheld by the beauty industrial complex, right? [crosstalk 00:07:55]
Emily: [07:56] I went to the drugstore, therefore uncountable messages.
Rebecca: [07:59] Yeah.
Amelia: [08:00] Yeah. And I tell my students, singing is a bodily function. It happens in your body. It is your heart and your mind and your spirit and all the art you make. But all the art you make is made of who you are. So we end up talking about their bodies all the time. We begin with a physical warm up that sends their attention to the weight of their bodies pressing into the floor or into their chairs or whatever, however they happened to be in the room that moment. And attending to their muscles and their bones and noticing tension that they can let go of. Absolutely, the process of singing and being in the world are the same. Being a really excellent citizen, being a really powerful social justice advocate. Everything it takes to be good at those things.
Emily: [crosstalk 00:08:42] or a good parent.
Amelia: [08:43] Being a fantastic parent are the same things that are required when you sing: mindfulness and presence and openness and generosity, and also attending to your needs and feeling in a calm, balanced state.
Emily: [08:57] The fourth of our four steps to contradicting the bikini industrial complex which is … [inaudible 00:09:04].
[09:05] Can we talk about solutions? Because I feel like when we talk about the bikini industrial complex it gets real dark-
Rebecca: [09:09] Yeah. It’s not hopeless. [crosstalk 09:11]
Emily: [09:11] We are trapped in it. Our own family of origin reinforced it really strongly in us, and we’ve had to work hard to find strategies. And like I’ve read a bunch of research and we’ve practiced a lot of things and we found four practices that can help you live even in the midst of bikini industrial complex and begin to undo it in your brain and in your family and in your circle of … your bubble of love. The first one we call the new hotness, and Amelia can tell the new hotness story.
Amelia: [09:42] Okay. So as a musician I have actually had a little bit more practice with the sort of body self acceptance than Emily has-
Emily: [crosstalk 09:50] Oh yeah.
Amelia: [09:50] struggle with it more than I do, even now. One of the first things I had to do when I started studying conducting was video myself standing and waving my arms around and making faces at my choir and watching these videos back and reflecting on what a good job I did or what things I want to do better next time. So I’ve been watching myself on video for decades and that’s mere exposure to my own body sort of desensitized me to what I might have perceived as flaws, and made it easier for me to watch myself in the mirror or on television or wherever. So when I was shopping one day for a gown to wear for a performance, I found one and I took a picture in the dressing room and sent it to Emily, and I texted a paraphrase from Men in Black II that Will Smith says, “I am the new hotness.” He says, “I’m the new hotness,” and Tommy Lee Jones is old and busted.
[10:43] Anyway, I said, “I’m the new hotness,” and it made Emily laugh and so she started trying it too, like looking in the mirror and going, “New hotness.” Okay, new hotness.
Emily: [10:54] In my pajamas.
Amelia: [crosstalk 00:10:56] shorthand for redefining beauty. That does not have reference from the culturally constructed ideal. We’re not saying that hot is what bodies ought to be, but that hot is what bodies already are. They’re beautiful the day they’re born and that beauty does not go away no matter what changes occur. The body itself is still beautiful, and learning to see it takes practice. So new hotness is a game we play to practice.
Rebecca: [11:24] Yeah, I love that because it is like our frames for how we see ourselves are also culturally constructed. They’re familial, right? Same, the beauty, going on and off diets with my mom was definitely a hobby that I had developed in my lifetime as well.
Amelia: [11:43] Can I? Since you’ve never interviewed twins before, I’ll also add that one of the culturally constructed things around twins is the idea of the fat twin.
Emily: [11:50] Fat twin.
Amelia: [11:52] Yeah.
Rebecca: [11:52] Really? Tell me more.
Amelia: [11:55] That’s just a thing that exists in the world, and I guess when you’re twins you pay attention to which one of you is the fat twin. And if you looked at us now, I think you’d actually be hard pressed to tell like if there was one of us that was the fat twin. But for most of our lives, I was the fat twin, and I was the one who ended up watching myself on video and unlearning the self critical automatic response to my appearance, even though I had actually learned it even more deeply than Emily did.
Rebecca: [12:22] Yeah, so it was just put there, like in addition to everything else, it was put there in front of your face [crosstalk 00:12:31]. We’re going to put a judgment on one of you.
Amelia: [12:33] Yeah. It’s like walking around in the world with I’m the before picture and she’s the after.
Rebecca: [12:38] Man.
Amelia: [12:39] Except of course my experience wasn’t that. There’s always like labeling that happens even if it only happens in your own body. For all I know this happens with regular siblings too, but when you’re twins it’s like one of you is the smart one, one of you is the pretty one. One of you is the arty one, one of you is the sporty one. One of you is the feminine one, one of you is the masculine one. You get sort of casting these roles, and as an adolescent it’s hard not to like feed into those and buy into them and make them even more true. So we’ve had a whole lot of unlearning the ways that we got cast.
Rebecca: [crosstalk 00:13:16] What it sounds like to me is like labels suck, right? The labels suck. And so when I say I’m the new hotness, what I’m doing is I’m reclaiming. Where it’s like I get to label this, I get to say what I want to resist and how I see myself.
Emily: [13:36] Exactly. Lindy West talks about it in Shrill, just asking yourself the question, what if I just decided that I am worthy as I am, that I’m beautiful as I am, that I deserve love just as I am. She says it maybe more expressively and articulately than I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
Amelia: [13:52] And she also talks about deliberately exposing herself to images of bodies that she has been taught to reject. And that that mere exposure, just seeing those images, she says, “Expose yourself to these images until they don’t make you uncomfortable anymore. Just look at different kinds of bodies until it feels normal.” This is our step two is everybody is the new hotness. When you notice that reflexive judgment that happens in your body, when you see a person out in the world, notice that and just be like, “Oh, right. That was the brainwashing of the bikini industrial complex and she is the new hotness. She is beautiful exactly as she is. She was beautiful on the day she was born and some loving adult held her body and called her perfect and beautiful. That was all true about her body then, and it’s all true about her body right now. Just as it’s true about my body right now, I’m the new hotness. She is the new hotness. You’re the new hotness. We are all the new hotness.”
[14:45] This takes a lot of practice. I still get those reflexive flashes of judgment, and I just notice them like that, “Oh, hello brainwashing, you are not yet completely undone. That person is the new hotness.”
Rebecca: [14:58] Right, and that’s [inaudible 00:15:00], I know you also have the madwoman in the attic from the book, The Inner Critic, which yes, we all have, but can we counter the mad woman in the attic with new hotness response?
Emily: [15:11] The madwoman in the attic is the voice of the inner critic. Her job is to bridge the gap, nay, chasm, between what the world expects us to be, who the world expects us to be, and who we actually are. So if it’s one of the things that the world expects us to be is Finn, then the mad woman in the attic, yeah, her job is to say if you are not thin, you will not fit in and no one will ever love you and you will die alone. That’s what the mad woman in the attic says, and she is a mad woman and she is wrong, but she is trying to protect you. And that self critical voice, there’s a lot of sort of general advice in the world that says you should shut that down and ignore that place.
[15:55] But can you imagine if you were trying to yell at someone to keep them safe because you really believed they were in danger and they just ignored you, that would be enraging. So what we suggest is what you would want someone to do if you were yelling at them because you thought they were in danger, which is to turn to that voice and say, “Hey, why are you yelling at me? You think I’m in danger? I hear you. Thank you for trying to protect me. I understand that you think this is true, but guess what? Nope, we don’t have to conform to the culturally constructed ideal. We can be safe and we can be loved and we can be healthy and happy just as we are. Thanks for trying to keep me safe, but actually I’m the grown adult here and I am taking care of myself and I’m going to be fine.”
Rebecca: [16:38] Yeah. And I think so many people when they’re just starting to practice self compassion and kindness, that to even differentiate like your inner caregiver voice from your inner critic voice is a step. So how you’re talking about identifying her as a person who really cares about your wellbeing, but isn’t really saying the helpful stuff. It’s so important to create that separation because otherwise it feels like your identity, right? And like you’re fighting with yourself and that feels hard for people.
Emily: [17:13] That’s actually why we recommend people really sit and think about like a persona for this mean voice in their head, this inner critic. Turn her into a madwoman. Find out where she came from. When did you first hear from her? I think I was probably around 11 when she popped up in my head. What’s her origin story? What is she afraid of? Like what does she need? Because when we figure out who our mad women are, they’re these unpleasant people nearly always. But underneath the unpleasantness is this vulnerability and sadness and fear and usually exhaustion, because she does care and she is trying and she has an impossible job of trying to close the gap between who you actually are and who the world expects you to be.
[18:04] That gap cannot be closed and her job is to close it. You’d be crazy too if that were your job, right? So no wonder. I can have compassion and empathy for her situation. That doesn’t mean I have to believe her, but I can … So okay. So here’s my example. I had this conference in my calendar for Sunday morning. It was in my calendar, and then Saturday morning I get a text, “Hey, Emily, are you upstairs? We’re ready to get started.”
Rebecca: [18:31] Ah, no! That’s a nightmare! Oh my God. Did that happen?
Amelia: [18:36] Yes. And she made that sound. Yes, that’s exactly it.
Emily: [18:39] Amelia was in the room when this happened. I was easily an hour away from where I needed to be in order to get there. It was just not going to happen. I fucked up very badly in like a nightmare kind of way. And of course my madwoman starts like … my madwoman is Te Kā from Moana, the lava monster. So she starts throwing lava balls at me like, “You have failed.” So I take my own advice from the book. I sit quietly. I turned toward the lava monster who was enraged at me and I ask her like, “Talk to me, tell me what’s going on for you.”
Amelia: [19:20] I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name.
Emily: [19:25] Moana does this too. She’s like, “I’m not afraid of you.”
Amelia: [19:28] They have stolen the heart from inside you.
Emily: [19:31] It’s not her fault that she’s crazy-
Amelia: [19:32] But this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are.
Emily: [19:43] That was less than 15 seconds. Absolutely fair use. So I turned toward her and she starts telling me how like when I make these errors, people are going to hate me and resent me and realize I’m not a professional, I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m going to die alone literally. And when I can listen with kindness and compassion in this way, literally like Moana turning toward Te Kā holding … she’s holding Te Kā’s heart in the palm of her hand. We hold the heart of our own worst enemy right there in the palm of our hand. And if we can turn toward her with kindness and compassion, she will start telling us, like what my lava monster started telling me, which is not just that I was going to die alone, but how afraid she was for me.
[20:32] How important it was for me that she keep me safe and how tired she was from working so hard all the time to make the world think that I am perfect. Not that the world thinks that, but like working so hard to put on a show to make it seem like I never make mistakes. And I had this sense of like I am turning towards you with your heart, and it does turn out, if you haven’t seen Moana, I am about to spoil it. She turns into Te Fiti, the goddess of life itself. If we can turn with kindness and compassion toward our inner critic, it turns out she is the ultimate source of abundance and creativity and power and love. Ultimately, that’s my relationship with my madwoman, and it takes work and it’s not like I do this 100% of the time, but when you can manage it, it’s incredibly powerful. Amelia’s experience of her madwoman is totally different from mine though.
Rebecca: [21:36] Well, now I have to ask.
Amelia: [21:38] Yeah. My madwoman is, I see an image of two sort of like throbbing black dust bunnies. Like a big giant one that’s sort of looming over the little one, and there’s a kind of vertiginous pole and I experience in my body a sense of vertigo, of like my size changing relative to the space that I’m in. Sort of like the … what’s it called? The pool zoom that Alfred Hitchcock does.
Emily: [22:05] Dolly zoom.
Amelia: [22:05] Dolly zoom, where he zooms in, at the same time he’s pulling the camera away so the person stays the same size, but the background changes relatively differently. I have that physical sensation and sort of a vision of that, of these two little squiggles. So what I do when I experience that is it’s information to me, and that’s what tells me that I need to sit down and pay attention to what’s happening around me.
Rebecca: [22:33] Yeah. But you’re able to neutralize it as information, right? So to take it from a judgment to, “Hey, this is information that I think could help me.”
Amelia: [22:42] Yes. Before I understood it in terms of it being this sort of madwoman experience, it would shut me down. I would make me feel physically ill and I would feel like I couldn’t do anymore things. And now that I know that it’s not … oh, so now when I’ve experienced that sensation, I consciously turn toward it and I say, “Oh, that’s the madwoman. That’s the information that my failure means that I’m going to die alone, and that’s actually not true.” And the physical sensation stops. I feel better right away. I go from a state of feeling like achy and exhausted to being completely fine again instantly.
Rebecca: [23:23] That’s amazing. Well, I want to try to sum up my understanding of what we discussed and of course all the listeners are going to go and buy Burnout and work on the tools and go through the whole experience themselves. That is really the most important next step. But ultimately burnout is real. There was a lot of historical and cultural construct for what makes us struggle with burnout. And often in today’s society, we just feel that it’s a personal responsibility thing and you should be able to handle it. And that creates a whole other level of shame.
[24:01] And what we’re trying to do is help people understand that we can take an action on the stress cycle by committing to completing it. And those are the things that we might think about as self care, which is totally new for me to find out the origins of the word self care. So thank you for that. And that’s also a part of privilege. That mean that everybody shares that just overly simplifies that. Like you don’t do that in Burnout. You tell it like it is and you talk about big complicated issues, but also wonderful stories. I relate it, I forget her name now, but the Squatty Potty friend who had to bowel train herself, I had to do that.
Amelia: [24:47] Julie.
Rebecca: [24:49] Yes, Julie. I did. I… [crosstalk 00:24:52]
Emily: [24:52] The reason that story is there is because of how many women we know have gone through a similar experience.
Rebecca: [24:57] Totally. Yup.
Emily: [24:57] Yeah.
Rebecca: [24:58] I love my Squatty Potty now, but I had the bathroom practice 10 minutes, three times a day. Anyway, it really is, so there’s that story and many other good ones. But just what I want listeners to get out of this conversation and to expect with the book is that you are going to hear from intelligent writers. The topic is very well researched. It is. I’m a science nerd too. This is science-based and it still gives you practical stuff that you can take meaningful action on, and it’s not going to sell you short on the, okay, this is hard and then just smile and wash your face and it’ll all be fine. Right.
[25:41] This is not that kind of a book. It really goes there in the things that we can and can’t control, but also does give you a better sense of meaning and purpose. And even how we ended on of how to deal with our madwoman, I think it’s almost relating to kind of where we’re at and what is sort of typical manageable stress and rolling with it, so that we can better know ourselves, right, when it gets overwhelming, that we have better tools of dealing with it.
Emily: [26:13] Exactly.
Rebecca: [26:14] Awesome. Any other remaining tips or motivations or anything that we may have not covered?
Emily: [26:21] No. We’re just totally in love with you. I want to marry you now because you explained our book so perfectly.
Rebecca: [26:27] I accept! I accept this proposal. There’ll be singing and orgasms. This is a perfect marriage. All right, well, Burnout’s available everywhere books are sold, and thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Emily: [26:43] Thank you so much.
Amelia: [26:43] Thank you so much. We did not plan that.
Rebecca: [26:47] It’s a twin thing.