You Don’t Have To Love Your Body

By Ijeoma Oluo

When it’s only us in the room, only fat women, someone might quietly say, like a guilty confession:

“I’m trying really hard to love my body, but . . . I just can’t.”

And we look at her and nod with sympathy and provide encouraging words like, “You’ll get there! You’re beautiful and deserve to feel beautiful.”

But many of us feel the same way more days than not, and we’re ashamed to admit it.

Most of the world tells us to be ashamed of our bodies. We do not fit the norm established by white patriarchal society. We have not conformed to the standards set by the men for whom our bodies were apparently created. If we cannot do these things, the least we can do is feel horrible about it.

The alternative to hating our bodies, to trying to starve ourselves into being less, to trying to will ourselves invisible, to refusing to enjoy a single outfit or a moment of exposed flesh, is to love our bodies.

Yes, to be free we must love our bodies. We must flaunt our curves and show that belly, and each and every day know that we are fucking beautiful. Anything less than this is proof that the poison of the patriarchy has infected our minds.

Loving our bodies is far preferable to hating our bodies. And if you’ve ever wanted to love your body, to experience that feeling — that movement can be life changing. And if you never love your body, it is comforting to know that it can be done.

But you don’t have to love your body.

I have found myself spending just as much time trying to love my body, trying to force out harmful images and judgmental thoughts, as I used to spend putting together vision boards of a thinner, “hotter” me. I practiced to correct my speech, to weed out any less than glowing words about my form. I worked hard to smile in front of the mirror when I wasn’t feeling it. I had a fashion blog showcasing how fun it can be to be fat in clothes. I carefully applied makeup and curated the perfect selfies to broadcast my confident life. This is how you act if you don’t want to hate your body.

When I moved to full-time freelance writing last year, getting dressed up to take a few selfies, then taking it all off to put my sweatpants back on for a day of writing, seemed like a very unwieldy way to practice self-love. I have deadlines, and I like sweatpants and not combing my hair. As I fell deeper into the slothful world of freelancing, I realized that most days I didn’t love my body — I didn’t anything my body.

As a mother of two boys, I realized that I never once had felt the urge to say to either of them, “Dude, you should love your body more.” This isn’t because boys aren’t subject to body image issues — increasingly they are. It is because our first instinct when talking to boys about their bodies, if it’s ever necessary, is to remind them that their bodies just aren’t a big deal.

And your body isn’t a big deal most of the time. It’s a big deal on those occasions where you look in the mirror and think “damn, this is one sexy vessel.” It’s a big deal when it’s doing very hard things, like running a marathon, birthing a baby, dancing ballet, or pulling someone from a burning building. It’s a big deal when it stops working as designed, when a bone breaks or a heart stops. But most days, your body is your basic container while you live your life. Yes, your body is important, but you don’t have to love it. You don’t have to love your car, or your apartment, or your hair, or anything else you own. Nobody tells you that your only options for car ownership are to drive around ashamed that your car isn’t pretty enough, or spending all day talking about how great your car is because fuck the haters. And just like your car, you do own your body.

I love body positivity. I love any movement which allows people to feel pride and love, especially when the rest of the world tells them that they shouldn’t. I think that people on the forefront of the body positivity movement are doing great and important work.

I also love body neutrality. I love the freedom of slouching and wearing gross sweatpants and not combing my hair and scratching my butt and not giving a rat’s ass about my body whatsoever. I like allowing fleeting moments of body negativity to pass by without so much as a cursory glance as I get back to forgetting my body exists. I like the rare and welcome surprise of occasionally getting dressed up and saying, “hey sexy lady” to myself in the mirror and then once again going back to forgetting my body exists. I like not having to strive for anything regarding my body other than basic maintenance in the hopes of keeping it running a little longer. I like the freedom to ignore even that.

Because my body is mine. It’s mine to adore, and it’s also mine to curse, trash, and outright ignore. The real victory is not in loving your body, or refusing to hate your body. The real victory is owning your body, and letting it be whatever you want it to be.

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