learning to love my body: a lifetime work-in-progress
Cw: body image, bodily injuries and disability, mental illness
I’m sharing the story of my relationship with my body and what has helped me love my body more, in hopes that this will resonate with some of you and that we can support each other in our own journeys towards body peace.
Note: I don’t talk about eating disorders, but if you struggle with an ED there may be triggering content.
The first part of my body I learned to hate was my thighs. I became self-conscious of how they spread out when I sat down, and I’d stare at them when I was alone and use my hands to draw the narrower width of my idealized, skinnier thighs. I was nine.
Then it was my stomach, which protruded over the low-rise jeans I wore, which were extremely popular in the early 2000’s and also extremely unflattering if you have any softness to your belly. And then it was the hairs that grew between my brows, which a friend told me to wax off when I was 10, and then it was the hairs on my upper lip which boys would notice and make obnoxious remarks about in high school. I’d even try to hide the hair on my knuckles, which now I realize that no one can see unless they are very, very obsessively staring at my hands (like I did when I was 14).
I can’t say that it’s been a linear path towards acceptance and love of my body, or that I’ve achieved peace with my body. It’s been a journey of fits and starts, punctuated by periods of unhealthiness and insecurity but also happiness and wellness. I think it’s going to be a lifetime work-in-progress, and that’s okay.
A big turning point for me was my biking accident four years ago, when I was struck by a car and fractured my pelvic bone. I was lucky that it was a clean break and I wasn’t paralyzed, but I couldn’t walk for 2 months. I couldn’t sit up, get around, or even take a shit by myself for 2 months, and at the end of this ordeal I was the thinnest I’d ever been. My thighs were finally skinny, but that didn’t make me happy; they were skin and bone and weak. I had lost weight because I became too depressed and anxious to eat due to my undiagnosed PTSD. When I returned to school, people commented on how much weight I’d lost as if it were a good thing, but I was in the worst emotional and mental state of my life.
The injury and subsequent recovery—experiencing my body at its weakest and learning how to help myself heal and grow stronger—helped me learn to be at peace with my body. Weak or strong, (temporarily) disabled or not, it’s what I have, and it’s through this body that I must experience the world.
Here are some things that I think helped me renegotiate my relationship with my body:
- Exercise: Trying out different kinds of physical activity in recent years, like weightlifting, yoga, and swimming, which I never did growing up, has been transformative for me. Shifting the focus from my appearance to the things I can do and how my body feels has made exercise into a chance to check in with my body rather than something I must do to look a certain way.
- Being naked: It’s weird how uncomfortable we can be naked, even when we’re alone. So when I started finding freedom and joy in wandering around my room or apartment naked, or minimally clothed, it was like finding comfort in my own body. I also think that just staring at myself naked in the mirror, very often, while thinking *positive* thoughts—as cheesy as this sounds—has made me a lot more accepting of my body.
- Leaving my body hair alone: This came about as a side effect of living through a dark, cold Seattle winter. Turns out that I don’t mind my body hair quite so much anymore, now that I’ve lived with it for maybe the longest time since I started growing body hair. I’ll still shave in the summer, but I don’t feel like a gross human being for not shaving.
- Accepting change: Bodies are dynamic things. I’ve come to terms with the fact that sometimes I bloat and that drinking a bunch of water or eating will make my stomach a little rounder. My body looks different all the time and that’s okay! Also, the #30secondtransformation thing that fitness people have been doing on Insta has really changed my perspective on body image because I really had no idea how bodies can look so different depending on the time of day and how people pose.
- Wearing makeup less often: I used to feel like I had to wear makeup every day. I’m now realizing (mostly because I don’t want to wake up earlier and I hate removing makeup) that I don’t, and nothing terrible happens. And more and more often, I look at myself bare-faced in the mirror and like what I see.
I am still constantly unlearning the shame that we’re conditioned to have about our bodies, but my relationship with my body is so much better now than it was 5 years ago. What has helped you find more love and peace in your own skin?