How to Love Your Body When it Doesn’t Love You Back
The week of my senior prom, I felt like my body had betrayed me. It had filled my days with hours of nausea, acid reflux and lack of appetite. It had suddenly shed nearly 10 pounds in three months from its already slender frame. And, now, I knew the reason: celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which ingesting gluten damages one’s intestines.
Three years have passed since my celiac diagnosis and, while the road back to health hasn’t been linear or easy, I finally can say that I’m starting to love my body. How? Here are my five tips for loving a body that doesn’t seem to love you back — whether because of a chronic illness, a cold, difficulty losing or gaining weight or any of the above.
1. Be honest — and vocal — about what you don’t like.
I know it seems bizarre — say what you hate to love yourself? But, at least in my experience, lying to yourself that you “absolutely love every part” of your body will only keep you from reaching an honest feeling of self love.
Now, what I don’t mean by being honest and vocal is pointing out every flaw in front of the mirror each day or complaining to friends about your “fat thighs” so much that they start avoiding talking altogether. What I do mean? When you have a bad body image day, accept it. I accept that, some days, I’ll hate my bloating, temperamental belly. When I lose weight from stress or being glutened (accidentally ingesting gluten), I may hate my body for being or looking weak.
But, when that day ends and I’ve vented my feelings — to myself, in a journal or to a trusted friend — those negative feelings can end too. And you can move from saying what you don’t like to saying what you do.
2. Focus on what your body can do.
When trying to love a body that doesn’t function as “normal” bodies do, it’s important to remember what your body can do. I can’t eat gluten, but I can still rock a hot yoga class or an 8 mile hike up to Potato Chip Rock. My stomach may not be flat like some teens’ constantly seem to be, but I can eat food again without pain.
Remind yourself what your body is capable of. Can it play a sport? Draw stunning portraits? At the very least, get you out of bed every morning? Because all of that — and the body that can do them — is pretty dang beautiful.
3. Find people who can relate and support you.
Now, there’s a trend among women — at least from what I’ve noticed — that if someone complains about some part of their body, others confess their own “flaws” to relate. That’s not the kind of support and friendship you want. Sure, you should find people to exchange vents with. I personally am part of several online celiac support groups. With them, I don’t have to worry that no one will understand my complaints about being too skinny or feeling like a zombie after being glutened.
However, the goal shouldn’t be to only share personal flaws. You should also provide and receive encouragement that your body is rockin’ no matter what, tips on how to cope and plenty of (virtual or physical) hugs. It’s also great to find supporters of different ages and lifestyles. I know that two of my closest body confident amigos are my roommate and my mom. We all share similar diagnoses — fibromyalgia and several other conditions — but we each provide unique perspectives on self love.
From my mom, I learn that loving a “broken” body isn’t easy — but you can still be a gorgeous, confident and successful woman in the end. From my roommate, I learn to be grateful for the conditions I don’t have — like she is grateful to not be affected by celiac disease — and to rock what I got. When you have supporters from all walks of life, you’ll never be walking down a hard path of body positivity alone.
4. Find clothes that make you feel like a supermodel — even on “uncooperative” body days.
What’s your “outfit”? The one outfit that, when asked on a last minute date, you would immediately think of. The outfit that, when you wear it, you swagger like you’re Kate Upton or Miranda Kerr — even on days your body feels less than glamorous.
If you wake up with a head cold, stuffy nose and huge bags under your eyes, maybe sweatpants sound like the best idea. But you never know what throwing on that cute sundress could do for your confidence. As for me, I have stocked my wardrobe with plenty of secret weapons like high waisted skirts, flowy dresses and leggings that pass as pants. When my stomach isn’t cooperating or I feel bloated, I know exactly which items to turn to.
As my roommate once said (in less PG-13 terms): “If I feel like crud, I dress to the 10’s to balance it out.” Reverse psychology at its finest? I think so!
5. Stop comparing — and realize each body has its flaws.
People say that comparison is the thief of joy — but I think it snatches a good bit of your body confidence too. It’s hard, as a teenage girl, to not gaze jealously at the beautiful girls around my college. I often catch myself thinking that it isn’t fair that they can eat gluten-filled burgers and French fries and still pull off a crop top while I’m eating healthier and still battling my body.
In the end, though, I’ve starting realizing that everyone has a flaw. This hit me especially hard when I was on Facebook the other day (cliche, I know!). Scrolling down my feed, I suddenly stopped at a picture of a friend’s foot. She recently had it tattooed with the words “wonderfully made” — a reminder that, even though her feet were medically “deformed,” God designed them that way on purpose.
I never knew about her toes before, or her insecurity about them. Instead, I only saw a beautiful girl with clear skin and a “normal” body. But she, like everyone, has her own insecurities and her own “flaws” — real or imagined. And if we’re all equally flawed — even models who earn a living off their seemingly perfect bodies — what is the point of comparison and jealousy anyway?
6. Realize body positivity is a journey and ride the waves.
Finally, realize that your feelings about your body will change with time. So will your body. Do you ever look at old pictures of yourself and think, “Why did I ever worry about *enter insecurities A through Z*? I looked beautiful.” Our perspectives and the traits we value in ourselves and others will adapt to our personal experiences, beliefs and relationships at the time.
I can’t say that I totally love my body today. But I love many aspects of it — and different aspects than I have previously. When I was at a heavier weight, I loved the curves that filled my bathing suit and the muscular legs that pedaled miles on a bike. At a lighter weight, I love that I can surprise people with my strength during yoga.
When trying to love your body — whether it works perfectly or has a few quirks — don’t wear a mindset of perfection. The goal shouldn’t be to love your body in the “proper” way, however that is defined by magazines, friends or your own beliefs. It should instead be to love yourself each day — maybe more, maybe less than the day before — and to be happy with your body more often than not.
Because my body and I have been on a heck of a trip. We’ve been through medical diagnoses, a hospitalization, dozens of pounds lost and gained and plenty of tears shed along the way. But, looking back, I don’t see my history as successes or failures in self love. I just see it as part of a very complicated love story — a story that is totally worth all the hard work.
*This post first appeared as a guest post at Where The Pretty Things Are*
What are your tips for self love with a chronic illness? Thoughts? Comment below!
Originally published at caseythecollegeceliac.blogspot.com on July 6, 2016.