Last week I talked about what to do when you don’t love your body or yourself. Today, I’d like to continue the conversation. This is a post I wrote last year on why it makes zero sense for us to believe that we have to change our bodies — or attain some ridiculous ideal — in order to accept, appreciate and love them (or really ourselves).
I used to think that in order to love my body or really just tolerate it, I had to be thin. I had to have a flat stomach, small hips and sky-high cheekbones.
And I had to earn this love, this tolerance. I had to earn it at the gym — punitively pounding the pavement of a treadmill — and at the dinner table — carefully, nervously watching what I ate.
I used to think that I didn’t deserve to feel good about my body or myself overall because my figure didn’t fit the above criteria. Instead, there was softness and curves and rounder cheeks. And so I wondered and worried, how could I love a body that supposedly didn’t deserve it?
I wanted to, but I truly believed — with all of my being — that I wasn’t allowed to. I’m not sure where these prescriptions came from. It was probably a mix of society’s stringent physical standards and my own perspective, a lens colored for so long by a shaky sense of self.
But either way, I felt that I couldn’t enjoy my body until I’d lost weight. Until I did what I came to believe was the exclusive path to body love.
“So today, on Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love, I celebrate my love for you: for better for worse, in health and happiness, in creaky joints and achy knees, laughter lines and all, this life, this moment, this earth, until my spirit departs from you.”
The part about the creaky joints and achy knees really gave me pause because it refers to loving your body through it all. Through running for miles and through lying on the couch sidelined by sickness. Through losing weight and through gaining it back. Through the roller-coaster of emotional and physical ups and downs.
Without conditions. Without specific criteria.
And it makes so much sense. It’s what we do for others. When we love someone — a boyfriend, a best friend, our parents, our kids — we love them unconditionally. We don’t keep track of random criteria that the person must fulfill.
We don’t think about them earning our love — whether at the gym or at the dinner table. We don’t think about their qualities, especially their physical traits, as currency.
Our loved ones don’t need a six-pack to gain our respect. They don’t need muscular legs, thinner thighs or chiseled cheekbones to have our appreciation and utmost love.
So why wait to respect our bodies based on a singular, random ideal? A standard essentially set by the very companies that profit from our insecurities, hang-ups and regular body-bashing?
Our bodies are intricate and complex machines and breathtaking works of art. They work behind the scenes on the bare essentials — like breathing, moving, seeing, hearing, touching — so we can go after our dreams.
So we can make our art. So we can make babies. So we can give love. Give hugs. Cook a delicious meal. Savor that meal, bite by tasty bite. Dance. Learn something new. Laugh.
Our bodies are vehicles that take us to amazing places, whether we get there through our feet or our hands. Whether we physically arrive at a destination, are able to read about it or compose a story.
We don’t need to wait until we have blemish-free, wrinkle-free skin to respect, appreciate and love ourselves. We don’t need to wait until we shed X amount of pounds. We don’t need to wait until we have a muscular stomach or a tinny tiny waist.
And we don’t need to stop respecting, appreciating or loving our bodies when we can’t do a certain exercise, or when we’re sick or tired or bloated.
Perfection — whatever that means to you, whether it’s continuously performing at your peak or having a sculpted stomach — isn’t a prerequisite for a positive body image, and it’s certainly not a prerequisite for appreciating and loving ourselves as a whole.
If it were, no one would love. No one would be loved.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Love, of course, exists. And it exists in all shapes, sizes, colors, forms and flavors.