It's hard to keep up with all the health and fitness movements that are constantly cycling in and out of popularity. Yo-yo diets, Thinspo sites, conflicting reports on which foods burn the most fat where on your body.
Diet groups, fitness clubs, television shows coupled with media sensationalized images and stories of extreme weight losses/gains: it's nearly impossible to navigate the path to health without stumbling across something that makes you feel as if you aren't doing it "right."
My favorite thing right now is the Body Image Movement. Loving your body, despite its flaws. Seeing your shape/weight not as something to be changed, but something to be proud of at every stage. The message is a wonderful one: You are worth loving.
And yes, we are. Every single one of us. But it's because we are a person, not because of our body, or our acceptance of it.
For those of us on a path to getting healthier, it can feel like no matter how hard we try, we're doing it wrong. Because if I'm still unsatisfied with those five sticky pounds, I'm not loving myself enough, and that's bad. If I'm struggling to accept and love the stretchmarks my kids gave me, I have to change the way I think. If you think your body isn't good enough, you're wrong. It's your thinking that's not good enough.
And having that burden placed on you by someone that isn't you? Is bullshit.
YES, there is a ton of ridiculous propaganda out there to make people feel like if they don't look a certain way, they're less than worthy.
YES, there is a lot to be said about self respect.
NO, you shouldn't base your self worth on how others perceive you.
But in all of these DOs and DONTs, the implied message that If you don't love yourself, you're doing it wrong, honestly just makes me feel worse.
When I was 35+ pounds overweight and trying to get pregnant with our 2nd child, the words "If you can't love yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?" were devastating. I was head over heels in love with my husband and my life revolved around our daughter. Was my love for them not good enough, because I didn't love myself, too? Was I undeserving of their love because I just. couldn't. find a way to love my self as a whole? And that made me feel worse. How can you get on the train to loving yourself if everything said to motivate you makes you feel like you can't do anything right? I can't even love myself properly...
Properly. That word means different things to everyone.
When I was at my healthiest just before my last pregnancy, properly meant taking time to eat right, dressing in a way that made me feel good, exercising in a form that I felt confident doing. When I was in that dark place before our 2nd baby, taking care of myself properly was just making sure I ate something everyday. Sometimes, that something was cookie dough. I can look back now and see exactly what my problem was then. But back then? I didn't see a body worth caring for. I saw a young woman marked by pregnancy, unable to control her horrible eating habits, dealing with secondary infertility, and incapable of loving herself enough to get on the right track. Yes, I knew what I should do to get healthier, but untreated depression trumps know-how.
Now, as I'm sitting here three months postpartum, 20 of my 50 pregnancy pounds still sitting around my midsection and thighs, all I can think of is getting back into shape. Because, while I love what my body did on the inside, I DON'T LOVE the outside anymore. I loved my body and my self most when I was pregnant, each and every time. Because when we're pregnant, we get a pass. We can eat what we like, dress however is comfortable, and laze around without much judgement. (That is, until Kim Kardashian came along, apparently.)
Comparison is the thief of joy, as the saying goes. Comparing myself now, three months postpartum after my 4th baby, to when I was at my peak of health just a short year ago, isn't fair. But it's what we've been trained to do. Even when we are barely treading the murky waters that are new or renewed parenthood, we are held, not only in the shadow of our pre-pregnant selves, but in the shadows of all the pregnancy weight loss stories that came before us.
Among those shadows are the tales of women who get help in achieving their goals. Surgeries to limit eating, to get rid of fat, to tuck away stretch marks, to enhance breasts. There was a time when I was my least self assured that those practices upset me. I was self righteous to the nth degree, declaring that if my body couldn't do it naturally, then it wasn't meant to be and SHAME on those women for thinking so little of themselves that they need surgery. I hated my body, so every other woman who hated hers just had to wallow in the misery of it with me. And guess what? I felt no better.
On the flip side are the women who scream that we shouldn't feel the need to have these surgeries to feel good about ourselves. And there was a while, when I was healthy, but not necessarily fit, that I was in that camp as well. If your body isn't that way naturally, it wasn't meant to be. And I still do feel that way, to an extent. Barring extensive reconstructive surgeries, I will never look like a runway model. Not from lack of drive or trying, but because of GENETICS. My genes come from workmen. The women in my family are broad, tall, and strong. Petite and fae-like though I'd love to be, it will just never happen, and I've accepted that.
Now that I've been on both sides, hating myself throughout and totally loving myself as a whole, I find myself in a new camp: The "Do Whatever Makes You Feel Good" camp. We surround ourselves daily with the things that attract us: aesthetically and emotionally. I am attracted to things that I find appealing. I can say with confidence that I am not attracted to my body. I do not find it appealing.
So why begrudge myself from being attracted to the one thing that will be with me always: my body? Why is it WRONG to desire having a body that I myself find attractive?
Because of "society?" Because of "self esteem?" Because of "the man?"
Everyone finds different things appealing. Where there are people who love full-figured, curvy women, there are others who prefer slim, willowy women. If my desire to replace my flat, post-nursing breasts with full perky ones puts you in a rage, that's your problem, not mine. If I'd like to get a tummy tuck to get rid of the shelf of skin left behind by four full term pregnancies and you just can't understand why I can't accept and love what my kids did to my body, that's your issue.
If you're happy being a size 24, OWN IT.
If you're satisfied with A cups on your broad figure, CONGRATS.
If you can look past stretchmarks and still find yourself attractive, YOU ARE AWESOME.
But I'm here to tell you that I am okay with not being attracted to my body, and I look forward to changing it.
I owe it to myself, my husband, and my kids to be confident in myself. If I am constantly waging a war with my body and skin, how can I be the wife and mother they need me to be? If my nonacceptance of my body the way it is makes others insist that I need to adjust my thinking, that's one more thing on the plate of issues I have to work through.
YOU are the person on this journey. Not the diet gurus. Not your doctor. Not your mother, your sister, your best friend. Not the motivational speakers. Not the fitness bloggers. YOU. So OWN it.
Own it. Go work out. Find a relationship with food that works for you. Talk to a doctor about getting a lift, or a tuck. But do it for YOU.
No, I don't love my body. You may not love yours, either. And that's okay**. It's inherent in our nature to be dissatisfied. But just because you don't love something doesn't mean you shouldn't be kind to it.
**I am in no-way saying that you should be living with untreated depression or body dysmorphia. If your problems are more than skin deep, and you'll know if they are, please seek help. Just as not loving your body is okay, absolutely hating yourself is not okay. Call someone, send a message, reach out, and ask for help.