I Love My Body (Seriously!)

I Love My Body (Seriously!)

Growing up as a cis woman in 21st century America, I have had my fair share of body issues. I actually didn't notice or start worrying about my weight until I was 14, which I think makes me one of the lucky ones (I know an elementary schooler on a self-imposed diet). 

I distinctly remember looking in the mirror at age 12, and thinking how pretty I was. Being perfect exactly the way I am has always been the basis of my self-perception (thank you, Language of Listening!), but high school and college were still difficult for me. I had a very specific idea of the "right" way to look, and since I didn't match it, I often felt unattractive and unhappy. I remember describing it once to an ex by saying, "I think I'm just not my type."

The conventional wisdom is to simply "love your body." Everyone knows that it's a good idea, but it feels nearly impossible to most women I know. It certainly did to me. How could I love my body when it was wrong? I knew that loving my body would be easy, as soon as it looked the way I wanted. Then I would look in the mirror and just love what I saw. Boom! Easy. The problem was getting there.

I was never very good at dieting—self-deprivation never felt right, and certainly felt unsustainable for very long. Plus, the minute I mentally put restrictions on what I could eat, I would go into "scarcity mode" and start eating things I didn't even want because I felt anxious about not being supposed to eat. I also had an issue with exercise. To me, exercise was exhausting, painful, time-consuming, and not at all fun. I loved to dance but never really considered it exercise. It certainly didn't fit my ideas of being painful and un-fun! So I did it occasionally, but not enough to make a difference, because then it would become...exercise. Interestingly, a strict diet and exercise regimen are essential to the body type I was trying to achieve, but I couldn't stand either of them.

I think my biggest problem was my own personal resistance to accepting my body, exactly the way it was. Deep down, I was afraid that I actually was capable of loving myself, no matter how I looked. But then if I let myself love my body, which was wrong, I would be WRONG! And not even realize it! So I actively avoided loving my body for many years of my life.

Luckily, I really have always loved myself, so I was working towards self-acceptance the whole time. I made friends and dated boys who were not shy in their praise of my appearance, I actively sought out realistic health advice, and I avidly read anything I could find on the topic of body acceptance, even though I was still too scared to apply it to myself. Those of you familiar with the Language of Listening philosophy will recognize this as the "backing up" part of my running leap to self-acceptance.

The tipping point for me was when I discerned that I had attractiveness collapsed with self-worth (attractiveness=self-worth). I realized that I had always perceived attractive people as more important, "worth" more than other people. The inverse was true of "unattractive" people. I was surprised when people I had identified as less attractive spoke their minds in class, or in particular, spoke to attractive people as though they were equals! Didn't they know they had a WRONG body, like me, and therefore they were wrong as a person?? Or, conversely, when an attractive person would be nice to someone less attractive, I was amazed at their magnanimity.

You can probably see how this perception precluded my ability to really love my body. What if I embarrassed myself by acting like I was worth more than I "actually" was? Thankfully, by identifying this collapse, I was able to separate attractiveness and personal worth into the very different concepts they are. This enabled me to come to my final realization:

Loving your body is not the same as loving the way it looks.

But the funny thing is, when I began to love my body, just the way it was, I started to take care of it, and pretty soon, that manifested in a healthy appearance that was much closer to my original "ideal" body. I started thinking of my body as this amazing, miraculous thing that does so much for me, and it became second nature for me to choose food and activities that fuel and support it. I eat healthy because I like the way I feel when I have energy with no crash. I dance and take beautiful hikes because I enjoy those things and I like how my body feels when it's strong and active. Now I'm happy, much healthier, and I actually love my body, no matter what it looks like.

So really, the secret to loving your body isn't looking good first. The secret is loving it first, and the rest will follow.

P.S. If you're still feeling unsure about your body and the way it looks, I find this flowchart from Huffington Post to be very informative and helpful.

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