There’s a passage in Tina Fey’s Bossypants that has been repurposed about 16 gajillion times. It’s the one in which she outlines the basic rules of improv. Let’s review the pertinent rule:
The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.
If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill.
But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.*
I’ve seen this – and her other three improv rules – applied to career advice, weight loss motivation, training your mind to be more innovative, and many other topics. But as you might’ve guessed, I intend to bend and warp it until it applies to body image. Let me tell you how. Using an assortment of completely unscientific assumptions and observations.
Our brains are obsessed with scarcity. I imagine this is partially due to our collective hunter-gatherer past: If Sheila over there hoards all the berries there will be fewer for us and we’ll go hungry. Actually, hangry. But to continue superimposing this family of worry over just about everything in our lives NOW? An imprudent waste of energy. I’m thinking specifically of intangibles like success and love and intelligence. When we see others who have these things in abundance, we feel jealousy fueled by the misguided belief that their having of something means there is less of it available overall. That there is a finite amount of success or love or intelligence in the universe, and when Sheila over there proves that she’s got some of it, that means less for the rest of us.
Based on the ways I’ve witnessed women get catty about other women, I think we may subconsciously experience scarcity worry about beauty. We see women around us that are wrinkle-free or tall or marvelously curvy, and we resent them. We want what they have because we think it gives them advantages, but this assumes that what they have isn’t available to us, too. That just because they’re beautiful, we are not. That their specific group of traits works, but our specific group of traits is broken.
Which is bullshit, of course. And my suggestion is this: Next time you catch yourself thinking, “Wow, she sure is beautiful,” tack on a “Yes, and so am I.” Force your brain to realize that there’s no mutual exclusion at play here. Even if you don’t think you’re scarcity-motivated, even if you don’t feel jealousy acutely, even if you are convinced that everything I’ve just said is utterly ludicrous, I urge you to give this a try. Because I believe that completing a thought about someone else’s beauty with, “yes, and so am I” will prove beneficial in the long-run. When you actively compare yourself to someone else, it’s frequently because you view them as being superior to you in some way, right? Well this little phrase – “yes, and” – does two marvelous things at once: It acknowledges that someone else is good/beautiful/in possession of something valuable, and it reminds us that we are also good/beautiful/in possession of valuable things. It creates a circuit of kindness and acceptance, preventing us from falling victim to the scarcity fallacy.
Not exactly what Tina Fey was talking about in her improv rules, I know – she’s focusing on agreeing and adding to the conversation. But the phrase is so perfect for this purpose. And she’s the one who taught it to me. So I hope she doesn’t mind me appropriating it for my own uses.
And for yours.
*Somewhere around this part of the book she’s giving further improv examples and pens the line that may have made me laugh hardest of anything I’ve ever read: “Here we are in Spain, Dracula!”
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