This is How to Love Your Body More
When I was a teenager, I hated my body. I thought that everybody would eventually love me if only I could look the way I was supposed to.
I had the worst skin you can imagine. There was a time when there was not one spot on my face that was not covered in acne. I wore makeup every single day, never let anyone see me without it, and I cried constantly and obsessively researched about it.
I was comparatively skinny, but I still thought I was too heavy. I bought cellulite creams and tanning oils and restricted what I ate.
How to fix myself? How to make my body better, more attractive, more loveable?
It turned out that what I really needed wasn’t a new skin cream or the latest workout routine or the perfect diet.
What I needed was to be able to love myself.
My body and I are friends now. I love her so much. I genuinely feel love for every bit of wrinkling and cellulite and bloating and her general messiness (99.9% of the time!). I try to give her total self-approval, and I trust her judgement most. I listen to her.
But that doesn’t mean it came easily, or quickly - so I want to share with you the 7 things I learned along the way that have been most helpful to me.
1. We have been taught to hate our bodies
If you don’t like some things about your body (or you hate it entirely), guess what? That makes total, complete sense - because nothing around us teaches us to love our bodies, ever.
Ads showing people who don’t look like us in the media (this is extra hard for bigger-bodied people and people of color). Parents who tell us we need to be skinnier, or more fit. Parents who tell us to love our bodies but constantly show by example how much they hate their own. Friends who complain about their own bodies. Ads that say: your body is dirty. it is not enough. you must fix it.
What we find beautiful and attractive is learned. If we had been told heavier bodies were the ideal our whole lives, that’s what most of us would find beautiful.
I made a post showing the hair on my bikini line the other day and people freaked out (in both good and bad ways). I don’t know about you, but I was told that the most ideal way for a woman to be was bare and clean-shaven. Up until a couple years ago, I would have been incredibly embarrassed for anyone to see my escaping pubic hair. I shaved before dates until my skin bled. I was mean to my body.
If we were shown that hair on our bodies was beautiful, we would accept that hair was beautiful. If I had been told that acne was okay and didn’t mean my skin was dirty or disgusting or that there was something inherently wrong with me, I wouldn’t have obsessed over it so much.
So if you hate your body, congratulations! Your brain has done a really good job at keeping you protected from what it feels is the imminent danger of society rejecting you forever.
You don’t need that protection anymore - but thank that piece of you for existing, because it thinks it’s doing a really great job, and it has been.
2. Since it’s a learned behavior, you can unlearn it
You are allowed to take back control over what you allow into your space. If your brain has only ever been exposed to seeing skinny fit white shaven girls as the epitome of beauty, that’s what it’s going to think is the ideal.
So fill your social media accounts with a huge range of bodies and people. Unfollow the people whose fitness accounts make you feel bad about yourself (they are probably insecure in their bodies, too!). Just a few of the accounts I follow on Instagram are @the.vulva.gallery, @shooglet, @bodyposipanda, @tessholliday, and @iharterika.
The more I am exposed to beautiful images of bodies of all shapes and colors and sizes, the more it shows my brain that these things are pretty, acceptable, and allowed - and it’s made me completely adore my own body, too.
When I was younger, I read a lot of books about girls who had perfect bodies and perfect lives, or who were always striving to fix their bodies to be more perfect. Don’t read books like this! One book I’ve been reading lately is Jen Pastiloff’s On Being Human - it chronicles her earlier struggles with anorexia and how she learned to love her body more (among other wonderful topics). Movies, too. I liked Dumplin’ - though I’ve heard it critiqued a bit, I still think it’s a big step forward.
3. Do the things that make you uncomfortable
The way that I healed from spending every minute of my life hating my skin so much was from waking up one day and deciding I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to do my 45-minute-long routine, I didn’t want to obsess over my makeup all day long, I didn’t want to even wash my face.
I had been teaching yoga and was preaching a lot about loving ourselves and as I kept saying it out loud, I kept being reminded of how I did not do this - I did not accept myself completely.
So one day, after 9 years of putting on makeup every single fucking day of my life, I was just like: I am not going to do it today.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, if not the hardest. I walked around that day feeling like all anybody was going to do was stare at my skin. I thought they would think, “Ew, she is so ugly.”
I walked around having thoughts that I didn’t know I even had, buried so deeply in my subconscious. A woman smiled at me and I thought, “She just smiled at me even though I don’t look pretty,” and then I couldn’t believe that was what my mind believed - that I had to look pretty in order to deserve a smile.
And you know what? I promise you my skin was absolutely awful (I didn’t get, like, little breakouts - they were cystic and everywhere) … and nobody said a word. Nobody stared at my skin while I was talking. People were nice to me.
I got to feel the sun on my bare face, which is still a feeling that I relish to this day - it feels so free.
It took a few months for me to feel comfortable. But that feeling of freedom was enough to keep me going. Every time I saw someone I hadn’t seen in a while, I felt like this would surely be the time someone found me disgusting.
But they never did. And gradually I realized that anybody who cared about my skin was actually not somebody I wanted to be around at all.
(Weirdly, after that was when my skin started to heal. To this day I think my skin responds to stress - and all I had been doing was constantly stressing it out).
So do the hard things. It’s the best way to teach your brain that you will survive it. Wear the outfit. Wear the bikini. Don’t shave your body. Do shave your body. Dye your hair. Stop dyeing your hair. Post the photo. Do whatever your body thinks will make the world ultimately reject you.
That behavior was learned, and it doesn’t have to be true anymore.
*do judge your own safety. for example, if your mother always tells you how ugly you look, maybe the first time you wear the outfit won’t be in front of her. if you’re around people who hate queer people and you identify as queer, maybe the first people you tell won’t be them. you know? and that’s okay.
4. Talk about it
I do not know one person who doesn’t have something they dislike about their own body. Sharing these things with other supportive people whose job is only to listen (instead of saying “no you’re not fat!!!”) can be incredibly soothing and supportive.
Some of my most healing times have been in women’s circles. Speaking out loud, “This thing makes me really insecure.” And just having everybody hear you and accept you in it. Those spaces exist. You may not have found them yet, but they exist.
5. You don’t have to be beautiful
I think that a really damaging thing that happens to us as children (especially if we are raised female) is that we get taught our beauty equals our worth.
If you say to anyone around you, “I feel ugly today…”
…. chances are they are going to be like “no!!!! You are so pretty!!!!”
Which is fine… but I think there is something in learning to accept as true that we can be gross and ugly and still be just as lovable.
Beautiful is a hard word because so often it speaks to things so much deeper than outside appearance - I feel like the entire world is beautiful, pain is beautiful, etc.
So in a sense, I think you are always beautiful - AND, even if you do look ugly and your body is growing disgusting things or you gain or lose a bunch of weight or whatever it is… you are STILL LOVABLE.
If my skin has a horrible breakout, I no longer try to say, “I think this is so beautiful!!!!”
I just say… “I love you and approve of you anyway, body.”
6. Set boundaries
As I wrote above, you get to choose what you allow into your space.
You also get to choose how you are spoken to, and what you will accept (this might be more difficult if you’re under 18, but you can do your best).
If you have a friend who is always saying how much she hates her own body when she’s around you, you are allowed to say, “Hey, when you talk about your body like that it makes me feel bad.”
If you have a parent who constantly criticizes your appearance, you can say, “When you say those things it hurts me. Can you please not say them anymore? I am not open to hearing them.”
If you have a partner who gets annoyed at your body, you can say, “When you get annoyed at my body, I feel hurt. I approve of these things about myself, and I hope you can, too.”
If you have a partner who thinks your body should be different, you can say, “I am not interested in hearing your opinions about my body. Please do not comment on how you think my body should appease you anymore.”
If anybody does not adhere to your boundary, you have every right to remove them from your life.
7. Trust your body
A lot of the time, what happens is that we are taught to have no boundaries and to overrule what our bodies are telling us all the time.
This makes it really hard to start connecting with and listening to our bodies again.
Eventually, you can check in with different parts of your body to see what they are saying and how they are physically feeling, and ask them what they need. That may not make sense right now - I often have clients to whom this initially makes no sense, until they learn to do it.
But you can start by giving your body the authority.
Your body is not a 100% yes to having sex? Then it’s a no. Start saying no.
Your body does not want to eat that food or go for a run or have dinner with that person? Then don’t.
I believe that our bodies want to thrive. If we force ourselves to go to the gym every day because we hate our bodies, we are sending a daily signal to our bodies that says “I am doing this because I hate you.”
So start saying no. Your body doesn’t want to go? Don’t go. Your body wants to eat a billion cookies? Eat a billion cookies.
I healed from orthorexia (an eating disorder where you become obsessed with eating purely and cutting foods out of your diet) by approving of everything my body wanted to eat. That meant that for a month or two, I ate a shitload of junk food and I gained 5 lbs. But I stayed approving, and I trusted that my body would balance itself out when it trusted me again, too.
And it did.
Sometimes we have to say no a lot so that we can find what yes feels like.
Your body wants what is best for you. Listen to it.
(It is a bit beyond the scope of this article, but there are multiple pieces of our bodies that can have different opinions. That’s why part of you might feel like it wants to not shave, but part of you is terrified of everybody else’s reactions.
Which part do you want to empower? Listen to that part.)
If you want help with any of this, you can book a coaching session here. I’d love to work with you.