by: E.B. Johnson
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been waging a war against my body. Scars and stretch marks trace it, evidence of years of violent rage meant to stretch and stress, tighten and diminish. I’ve flogged and starved every inch of my body and still I find myself hating her. Why? The answer is a little more complicated than I thought.
A few months ago, I made the commitment to love my body full-time — to incredible and surprising results.
Don’t get me wrong; going from a self-loathing wreck to a woman who is finally starting to form the image of who she is meant to be has been a long and difficult journey. It’s been one of the most worthwhile things I’ve ever done, though, and it can be for you as well.
The roots of body hatred.
Like many others, the roots of my body hatred ran deep and started early.
I became very aware of the dangers my body posed at an early age and I became very aware that it could be used as a weapon against me. I knew fear of my body before I even knew the name of all its parts, and that fear only increased over time as — over and over again — it violated me in ways that were so contrary to who I thought I was.
Fear turned to shame, turned to self-loathing and before I knew what was happening, I was doing anything I could to punish this horrendous person I saw myself as. I was obsessed with the outside. By the age of ten I was a masterful bully, by the age of fifteen I had become the judge, jury and executioner of my own flesh.
“You’re so fat,” I would tell myself.
“You’re so ugly,” I would quickly counter.
I fed this cycle of shame, ridicule and humiliation for decades. I made it the bread of my body. It became the focal point of my life and every waking moment was a battle for control and constant, unforgiving dominance.
I ran myself ragged. I ran myself dry; but when life spilled me right into the bottom of the barrel, I was forced to stop and take an honest look at what the real issue was.
Learning the intricate art of self-acceptance.
The fact of the matter is that the root of our self-hatred comes down to self-acceptance.
Self-acceptance is hard to come by and even harder to cultivate — especially when you‘re living in a delusional state.
Basically, self-acceptance is this radical idea of extending the compassion you extend to others to yourself. It’s simply accepting that you’re human and you’re going to get emotional, and you’re going to make mistakes.
Accepting ourselves is the core affirmation of self. It’s embracing our flaws alongside our perfections and working hard to see the silver lining in them. It’s unconditional. It’s free from any qualification and it is absolute.
Self-acceptance is self-love, but finding it is a hard thing to do when you’re caught up in the endless barrage of self-talk.
Learning self-acceptance takes work. You must set an intention and stick with it, celebrating your success and strengths when you can and shutting up the inner critic (thus forgiving yourself) when you can’t.
Acceptance is not resignation, but rather a letting go of the things we can’t realistically control. Self-acceptance allows us to speak to a higher self and empower ourselves to do greater things simply by getting out of our own way.
Compassion is a natural state but — like all natural things — will die if it doesn’t receive the care it needs.
In order to love myself, I realized, I need to accept myself. Unconditionally.
Peeling back the layers.
Beneath the inability to accept myself was, I realized, a tyrannical voice that seemed to dominate everything going on inside of me.
It was the voice that said things like:
He didn’t call you back because of how fat you are.
You aren’t successful because you’re not attractive enough.
You’ll never have what they have because you’re so disgusting.
The funny thing about lies is that the more we tell them, the more we start to believe them. No matter how delusional these things were, I took them as gospel and used them to feed the fire that was burning me up from the inside out.
We all have that negative voice or critic inside of us, but it can quickly become a toxic tyrant if you don’t keep it under check.
Negative self-talk takes many forms (like the devil) and — like a gaslighting abusive lover — keeps us coming back over and over again for more. It catastrophizes and blames; it sheds any accountability and leaves you stranded scared and alone in a darkness that can leave you feeling hopeless and devoid of any outward happiness at all.
Your inner saboteur: explained.
This negative internal narrative is the biggest saboteur in our lives and diminishes our ability to make any positive changes in our futures. It leads to depression, stress, anxiety; it alienates us from the people that matter most and can even destroy the passions .
I came to realize that my self-talk was coming from a place of hurt, a place of misunderstanding.
My thinking had become so limited by my pain that I was obsessed with a static, two-dimensional plan of perfectionism that was unattainable (thereby reinforcing all the negative beliefs I already had about myself.)
I set myself up for failure daily and I was always ready to swoop in with a good, “See, I knew you’d fail, you garbage person,” when I messed up. It made me depressed. It made me angry. My negative self-talk was calling all the shots and it was destroying my relationships along the way.
Shut up, Brenda.
As I became committed to loving my body I realized: the critic had to be stopped.
If I was ever going to accept myself, I had to learn how to play nice with myself. I discovered that I could catch my critic before she fired and remembered that my thoughts and feelings were not actually reality. I gave my inner saboteur a nickname (Brenda) and caged her negativity by putting her in the pocket whenever things got tough.
Over time, I came to cross examine the damaging aspects of this constant negativity. I became more aware of myself and how wrong I was about all the assumptions I was making.
I began to think of myself as a friend, rather than an enemy, and before I knew what was happening I had shifted from a place of pure negativity to sturdy neutrality.
Slowly, I was able to replace the bad thoughts with good ones and I was able to stop the negative thoughts before they happened. I was shifting my perspective and with it the way I saw myself when I looked into the mirror.
I was learning to love my body again. I was learning to stand up for myself again.
The journey continues.
Just like hating my body took time, learning to love my body is taking time too. I struggle every day to extend the same basic compassion I would extend to a friend to myself, but it’s a battle I’m determined to win and it’s one that will make me better for the fighting.
I’m coming to realize that my body is a tool and a teammate; not an enemy. Slowly, I’m coming to realize that this flesh I wear is powerful gift and that by beating it up I am only diminishing a much needed light in an already dark world.
Will I come to absolute self-acceptance tomorrow? No. Will Brenda be silenced once and for all next week? Probably not.
I’m pushing forward, though, and that’s what counts.
The Habits That Will Help You Learn to Love Your Body
You didn’t think I was just going to leave you hanging there, did you?
Of course not.
Learning to love your body is all great in theory, but what about practice? Well, I’m not a scientist (nor have I ever played one on TV) but I know from experience that there are some pretty solid ways to go about changing the way you view yourself and your body.
Take these steps to give yourself a push in the right direction.
1. Drop the blame game.
Our body is an easy punching bad when it comes to taking the blame for all the poor choices or damaging behaviors we take part in over our lifetime.
If you want to learn how to love your body — all of it — stop using your body as the scape goat and start taking responsibility for the things you’ve done in your life that have led you to where you are.
2. Stop using your size or looks as an excuse.
Life is hard and it only seems to get rougher as the years go by. We get beat down by our daily battles and it can make us look for any excuse to drop ourselves out of the race…but that’s a deadly mistake to make.
Stop using your weight or your appearance as an excuse for not fighting hard for the life you want. Everyone has dreams, no matter how big or small they may be, but you have to fight for them if you want to reach them.
3. Water off a duck’s back.
For any chance at ever loving the body you were born with, you’ve got to learn how to let the opinions, looks and comments of others flow off you like water off a duck’s back.
People judge. We’re a judgey bunch. But that doesn’t mean those judgements are correct and it sure as hell doesn’t mean that those judgements have any bearing on reality.
Instead of taking the side-eyes and snarky comments of the people around you as gospel, channel that inner mother inside yourself and say, “I love you. You’re beautiful.”
4. Let go of that number on the scale.
We’ve worked hard to stuff ourselves into as many boxes as possible and that includes that powerful little box: the scale.
Tell yourself that you are more than any number on a scale and repeat that mantra until you believe it. Realize that these ideas of size and weight are modern inventions and they change with the times as radically as fashion and political opinion.
What matters most is how you feel, not what you weigh. As long as you are healthy in emotion, body and spirit — what else could you possibly need?
5. Stop the comparisons.
Living in the Instagram age, we’ve become masters of constantly comparing ourselves against the projected lives of those around us. We compare ourselves to friends, family, movie stars and our neighbors; we long for bodies that aren’t real and for holidays and lifestyles that are staged beyond imagination.
If you want to love your body stop the comparisons. Stop obsessing over an idea of perfect and who “has it” and who “doesn’t”. Let go of the constant need to be as good as the person sitting next to you and stop joining in when your friends start up a body-bashing session.
6. Celebrate the things you love.
Learning to love yourself is about 30% reshaping your assumptions and 70% learning how to live inside an entirely new perspective.
Kickstart these changes by learning how to celebrate the things you love about yourself or the things you do well.
We spend a lot of time focusing on what we can’t do or the body parts we don’t love, but what would happen if we started focusing on the things we did love? I’ll tell you what. Confidence that radiates from the inside out.
7. Stop being mean.
What’s the first thing you say to yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning? Chances are it’s something negative.
Rather than letting the negativity set in as soon as you’ve rolled out of bed, make a conscious effort to say something nice to yourself when you look into the mirror each morning.
If you love your eyes, tell yourself that. Love your smile? Say that too. Take a few minutes each morning being kind to yourself and the effort will pay off in spades.
8. Try enjoying yourself instead of waiting around.
Whether we like it or not, life is happening right now and it’s not going to wait until we can fit into those jeans or get that lighting just right on our collarbones.
You have to choose to love yourself and choose the engage in life rather than waiting for some standard that you may never reach. Often, this waiting around goes hand-in-hand with our excuse making and no matter how you shake it, it results in big losses on your end.
Waiting around for the perfect body to enjoy life in is like waiting for the “perfect swimsuit” to exist before you ever visit a pool or the beach.
It’s not going to happen, so you might as well enjoy it with what you have.
9. Realize that looking good isn’t as important as feeling good.
A lot of the crazy ways we try to control our bodies is actually detrimental to our health. From starving ourselves to surgically modifying ourselves, we’re desperate to reach these ridiculous beauty standards and we’d do almost anything to get there.
You have to realize that looking good isn’t nearly as important as feeling good. Your health is not determined by your size, but your size can most definitely be determined by your health — so get to know your body and fuel her with what she needs to succeed.
10. Learn to love the only flesh you’ll ever have.
When we’re unhappy with our bodies, we can become hyper focused on it and detach from it in a way that’s both brutal and unhealthy. While there are those out there who genuinely were not born in the correct body (I see you trans sisters) the majority of us are in the perfect body for us.
Let your body be your teacher and let her guide you through life with the understanding that she is the only one you will ever get. While she may change a little over time, she’ll always be there for you; an admirable feat in today’s world.
Putting it all together…
Learning to love your body is ultimately about learning to love yourself. When we learn to love and care for the person we are on the inside, the outside follows. Once you begin to treat yourself with respect your entire perspective changes and with that your energy and your passion for life.
Each day on this journey, I’m confronted with new challenges as I attempt to undo years of horrendous self-talk and internal brutalization. By making some honest assessments, I’m finding myself again and through that my voice and my spirit.
The going isn’t easy, but the transformation is beautiful and the lesson is clear: if you want to love your body, love yourself first.