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