Day 12: Why Self-Love is Vital

I’ve heard it a thousand times: learn to love yourself before you try to love someone else.

I always thought it was a prudent game plan, an act of self-protection and diligence, like putting on your knee guards before you step out on the ice. You’re just…supposed to love yourself before giving someone your heart. That’s the order of things.

I didn’t realize loving yourself is how you learn to love others. That without practicing radical self-acceptance, you can’t love other people.

That’s right. Can’t. I don’t believe it’s possible.  Continue reading “Day 12: Why Self-Love is Vital”

How to Love Your Body

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I won’t presume to tell you how you should or can grow to love your body. I don’t know your struggles, your hang-ups, what flaws or beauties you see in the mirror. All I can do is tell you as I’m sure you’ve heard many times by now, you are so beautiful. By virtue of your existence, you are so so very beautiful. It is your birthright.

I guess the title of this post is misleading then, since this isn’t a self-help guide. This is a reminder to myself of all the things I do and have done that help me to love and accept my body, so I can have it to reference on the days I forget.

Smile in the Mirror – Think about it. When you see a friend on the street, what’s the first thing you do? You smile. You wave. You give them a universal human signal to remind them they’re safe, you’re happy to see them. It’s okay, I’m a friend.

Imagine you had a friend who when they saw you leaned in close and wrinkled their forehead as they passed their eyes over your face. If they smoothed your eyebrows and tutted over your zits and pulled at the fat collecting under your upper arms with a quiet “ughh”, how long would you keep that person in your life?

You need to treat yourself as a friend and the way I’ve found it easiest to begin is to greet myself in the morning with a little smile at my reflection. Maybe it signals a primitive part of my brain that I can relax around this person. They’ll be nice to me. It might feel silly at first but now it feels perfectly natural to stumble into the bathroom rubbing my eyes with my hair a thin tangled mess and shoot myself a grin. Hey girl. How’s my buddy today?

Don’t Take It So Seriously – Having a body isn’t just about making it look attractive. It can also be fun. You can tickle your feet, draw a face on your stomach, put stickers all over yourself. You could dye your hair purple, get a tattoo of Julia Roberts’ face, cover yourself in so many piercings you’ll never get through airport security again. Or you could not. The point is, you have the option. It is your right. Have fun with your body, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to make it your own and enjoy it without a care for what you “should” do. It’s just a body, honey. Just blood and flesh and skin like everyone else.

Find Role Models – I don’t have much trouble find body positive activists. I was inspired to write this post after watching interviews with Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence. They are fabulous spokespeople for embracing your body, but after a few videos I remembered I have to be careful. I know that just as much as after watching the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show I am liable to think I need to lose X pounds to be beautiful, after watching Ashley and Iskra I usually start to think I need to gain X pounds in order to be beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever read or heard someone talk about body acceptance and felt “you’re right, my body is great EXACTLY AS IT IS.” Typically I think “you’re right, I just have to look like you, then I can really love myself.”

Body acceptance has a million faces, not just one. I want to practice finding role models and emulating their attitudes, not their waistlines. So I’ll keep watching the videos and reading the articles, but I need to be very observant of my thoughts. I have to catch myself not only in self-body-shaming, but also in the more insidious aspirational-body-love. As in, “I love my body, because I aim to make it look like that.” Or, “I’m going to be sooo gorgeous when…” It feels good at the time because I’m creating a goal and convincing myself I can achieve it. But it’s still saying that at this second, in these clothes, with these glasses, with my hair unbrushed, and having not shaved my legs in X days (or ever), I am not enough. I need to change. So I’ll keep flipping the script and saying the following till I believe it in every cell of my being: My body is perfect exactly like it is.

Treat It As Your Home – Right now I’m hitting the stage of the holiday season where I’m thinking, maybe I should stop eating chocolate for breakfast. While I love and completely agree with the phrase “your body is your temple”, I emotionally resonate more with the idea of the body as a home. Because you live in it. In fact, you’ll never live anywhere else. So it’s probably a good idea to look after it. Feed yourself things that make you feel good, give you energy. Listen to your body’s wisdom and trust it. It will never, ever lie to you. This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge or that you should guilt yourself for following a double helping of mac and cheese with a slice of cheesecake. You’re only human and life is for living, but it doesn’t hurt to eat your veggies too. Help your body feel like somewhere you would want to live, and show it you care.

Remember It’s YOURS – your body doesn’t belong to the media, your culture, your family, your friends, your partner, to anyone but you. Stand proud in it, sweetheart, because you’re the only one who can.

Remember It’s NOT yours – your body is made of the earth, from the air you breathe and the water you drink, from the plants and animals you feed it, from the elements that thousands and thousands of years ago were the building blocks of stars. It is part of your inheritance and your legacy, and belongs to your ancestors and your descendants. You are its caretaker. It’s a divine and lovely responsibility.

I used to feel embarrassed by my nose, how pale my skin is, how big and goofy I thought my smile was. Now when I look in the mirror I see my dad’s smile, my mum’s nose. I see my families, my heritage in my reflection, and I’m thankful for it. After all, it’s thanks to them I have a body in the first place.

Move It In a Fun Way – I love exercising. Not all exercise, mind you. I love yoga, dancing, cycling, among other things. And when I do these activities it makes me so glad I have a body that lets me do them, that lets me enjoy myself in this physical world. What a privilege. Exercise doesn’t have to be about dropping dress sizes or getting in your obligatory 60 minutes (or whatever they’re recommending these days). It can (and I think should) be about expressing yourself in ways that you can only do because you have a body. Get your heart pumping because God and your parents gave you one, and it’s a luxury.

Pamper It – Every few days when I wash my hair, I take five minutes after I get out of the shower and put lotion over my whole body. It’s just five minutes, maybe twice a week, but it’s enough to show my body I know it’s there and I love it. It’s only been a couple of years that I’ve really known I have a body, really tuned into it and started to learn to take care of it and partner with it. And now I love giving myself treats like that. Get a massage, paint your toenails, braid your hair into tiny little strings; again, find a way to make having a body fun, if only for a minute.

Your Body Houses Someone to Be Proud Of – Body acceptance in my experience is often a by-product of acceptance of yourself in general. If you’re cultivating your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses, making efforts to grow into someone you’re proud to be, then it’ll be easier to love your body because you’ll know a wonderful person lives in it. Again, I can’t tell you how to love yourself (an even bigger topic to tackle than body positivity), I don’t know your story or your obstacles. But I will say I think in a lot of cases they go hand in hand. And if you don’t love yourself as a person, I don’t know if you can really love your body.

 

Love is a verb, and self-love is no different. If you were dating someone who claimed to love you, but then ignored you, criticized you, abused you, belittled you, or all of the above, how long would you stay with them? My hope is, not long. If you want to love your body and you claim to love it, then put that love into action. Protect it. Care for it. Nourish it. Sometimes you just have to start and let the feelings follow.

I made a commitment at the beginning of this year to make the care of my body, mind and soul a priority, after getting to a point where I was very unhappy and wasn’t treating myself particularly well. I started a 30 day yoga challenge on YouTube, I read books on how to eat and live more healthfully. That was how it began for me. I stepped out and did the first thing that came to mind to look after myself – exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables. After that I got back into my meditation practice, I was able to start writing again. I nurtured friendships and found new ones. I took a trip. I learned not to compromise myself or my dreams. Now I’m at a point where, not every day but often, I’m able to celebrate what’s unique about my appearance. I love my thick eyebrows, my round butt, my wide feet. In a year I’ve come full circle, from the body to the soul and back again. And I’ve learned in the end, it’s all the same thing.

“Empowerment begins in the muscles.”

– Gloria Steinem

Growing Out My Hair and Falling in Love

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt of having gorgeous, thick, wavy hair down to my butt. Princess hair. Rapunzel hair. I would run my fingers through my wispy blonde bob cut by my mother, and imagine curls cascading behind me, brushing over my shoulders like a blanket, or a superhero cape.

I remember one day I went up to my purple bedroom about a dozen times, got on my knees and prayed for God to give me long hair. My family didn’t go to church so I knew little about God or praying, and treated it as more of a business negotiation.

“God,” I whispered, “if I wake up tomorrow with hair down to my butt, I promise I will go abroad and spend the rest of my life as a missionary.”

I had no idea what a missionary was, but I figured it had something to do with hacking through the jungle. Small price to pay for a fabulous ‘do, anyway. At five or six, the only thing I held in equal regard to long hair was the idea of being in love.

They were both things I assumed would happen one day, and they would be perfect, and when they did I would be complete and happy. When I was old enough. For the time being, my mum still cut my hair, and she kept it short, easy to manage.

I let it grow through junior high past my shoulders and had my first brush with romance. I sat next to him in class, held his hand, even let him kiss me a couple of times. But I was way too shy, too confused, still a baby, and the following year the boy was gone and my hair was back up to my ears.

In high school I tried to grow it out for a while, but I still didn’t really know how to take care of it and there was so much else to worry about and navigate. None of the boys noticed me anyway. At the end of tenth grade, I shaved my head and had a pixie cut until graduation. I told myself I didn’t need to look like the other girls or get the attention they did, and while that was true, I was also full of fear. So scared of rejection that I mentally and emotionally took myself out of the game. My hair became a symbol: can’t tie me down so don’t even try. That way when nobody tried, I could convince myself I’d chosen it. This is not to say that short hair isn’t beautiful. It absolutely is. Authenticity is beautiful. Confidence is beautiful. But a lot of the time, when I had short hair, I wore it like a suit of armour.

I started to grow it again when I went to university, and to my great shock a boy took interest in me. He made me laugh and I liked hanging out with him. But something wasn’t right. I should like him, what’s wrong with me? Someone finally wants me and I’m going to screw it up? I shut down, started ignoring him, he found someone else. Surprise, surprise, next year off came the hair. I was so afraid. Afraid of my femininity and my sexuality. Afraid it wouldn’t attract anyone. Afraid it would and I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Afraid of my own power and all the things that were out of my control.

After university, I was letting it grow again, filled with fresh hope, when one night I was having some drinks with my roommates, and two of us shared a brief kiss. The dam burst instantly. I knew I loved her, and some of my fears started to make a whole lot more sense. We started dating.

She liked my hair short, fun and easy, something she could ruffle like a puppy’s fur, no tangles, no upkeep. And for a while I liked it too, I would have done anything to make her happy. But then I skipped a couple of haircuts, let my pixie get overgrown, and things got more complicated. I was in the awkward growing stage, not really knowing how to style it or take care of it, but willing to learn, willing to wait it out. I was ready for the commitment of longer hair, and I bought leave-in conditioner, elastics and a wooden brush. I wanted to put in the effort even though we were already exhausted. We both missed short, fun, and easy. For our own personal myriad of reasons, we broke up.

Now I’m growing it out again, solo this time, and while of course it doesn’t really matter what my hair looks like, it’s become something of a personal challenge for me. I want to prove to myself I can do the work, that I can see something through to the end, that commitment isn’t just a pipe dream. I want to learn how to manage something I’m not familiar with, instead of defaulting to what I know. I want to accept things even when they don’t look how I’d like and see the beauty in them, to show up and gently tease out the tangles instead of allowing them to become rats’ nests. I want to remind myself every day why I’m growing it longer and be grateful for it, especially now when I’m in the thick of the Shoulder-Length Itch.

I know it might seem superficial, it is just hair after all, but that little time of grooming each day is a marker of the time I must put into my most important relationship: the one with myself. That will always be my most important and grounding commitment, and in learning to love, honour, and forgive myself, I learn how to do the same with others. After all it is winter, and even when my hair’s misbehaving, static, flat or in my way –

it keeps me warm.