There’s a shaky feeling. I should be taller. I should be thinner. Everyone else has the body I wish I had. I’ll never be quite as attractive as that. I mean, it’s fine I guess.
I just know if I were a little more __________ then I’d be more loveable, too. More deserving.
Can we talk about body dysmorphia?
It’s been coming up a lot lately. There is this thin veil of “it’s no big deal,” and beneath it a quivering, painful fear. Hate or disgust. It hurts down to the bone, and we make passing jokes about it. Yet we don’t share just how deep this hurt goes.
I’ve fallen prey to it, myself. It wasn’t long ago I realized a pattern I had. I’d look back at younger pictures of myself and think, “my goodness, I was so _____ back then.” Insert whichever wishful adjective you’d like. Over time, I realized that I felt poorly about my body at the time the picture was taken, just to be wistful at having lost the beauty a few years later. Pictures became mirrors I couldn’t ignore. Maybe, just maybe, I never looked as bad as I felt I did at the time, and only with some years of separation from that body could I see it for what it was: beautiful.
We learn a lot about how we feel about our bodies from our families growing up. We hear our parents, who we initially idolize, judging their own bodies, ours, or strangers on the street. We learn what beauty is supposed to look like, and then we measure ourselves against that standard as we grow into our adult bodies. If we don’t quite measure up, we hate ourselves. If we gain too much weight, we skip meals, restrict calories, or exercise too much. It begs a question: can you hate and/or punish yourself into being attractive?
As a kid, I remember my mom saying how old her hands looked. Now when I look down, the same age she was, I see my mom’s hands in place of my own. I hear the words she spoke and have to be intentional about not buying into that, myself. When I see my hands and notice their age, I try to feel gratitude for having made it this far. For having a daughter who will love these hands like I loved my mom’s.
Culture feeds into it, too, right? With all the airbrushing, photoshopping, and filters, we forget what real humans look like. There’s a reason I’m not often keen on following back those fitness moms who post endless “before and after” pictures of their bodies. Those folks who are always DMing me asking if I’d like to lose weight or get more fit. I’m so glad for them that they are working on themselves. And yet, it doesn’t suit everyone to see so many pictures day in and day out of bodies, with the intention to idealize, improve, or boost sex appeal. It can become obsessive, and it concerns me for the dozens of folx I know who still struggle with loving their bodies. The constant suggestion that there might be an ideal body can be vexatious to the spirit. Confused, the spirit starts to ask, “why can’t I look like that?” The answer is simple: because you’re not them. It can be painful when you feel like culture, family, or your own ideals don’t align with the body you were given.
Body dysmorphia wants you to think you’re flawed. That there is some piece of you that is wrong when in reality, there’s not. But saying that is like saying, “don’t be sad” to someone with depression. In fact, it’s closely tied to anxiety, depression, trauma, and OCD. They share a common struggle: believing that happiness, peace, or worth is something that comes from the outside. Each struggle forgets that worth is inherent and happiness comes from within.
Here’s my thought: Why not love yourself into being healthier?
How about instead of hating, obsessing in the mirror, and shaming ourselves for rolls, wrinkles, or too big/too small of something, why don’t we just love ourselves and show it by being gentle, kind, and tending to ourselves? Eat food that makes your body feel healthy. Get restful sleep. Engage in supportive relationships. Take walks. Enjoy the fresh air. Unplug. Drink water. Wear clothes that match your spirit. Laugh. And under no circumstances, stress yourself out doing any of the above.
Perhaps we’ve had it backward all along. Perhaps it isn’t “once I look this way, I’ll be able to love myself.” Maybe we get further by loving ourselves first, respecting and honoring our bodies, and allowing them to rest in their happy place. Then we think, “I love myself, so I love what my body is.”
There are so many ways to start down this road. Here are a few places to start:
There’s something to be said for an attitude of gratitude. Your body will never be “perfect” by any standard other than your own. And sure, walks and happy thoughts won’t make you taller, have different genitals, or re-grow hair. But that’s not the point.
This is the body you have. You won’t ever have another body in this life. This is it. Hating your body is like cooking angry. Your anger taints the food and robs it of its brilliance. Hating your body taints your life and robs it of its brilliance, too.
Think of it this way. Does your body generally work? Try to remember that it’s a miracle you exist. The fact that you can think, that you can breathe, that your heart beats. Maybe you’re missing some digits, or maybe you have a degenerative disease. That’s okay- you still have so many other blessings that many people don’t have. Do you have the disorder where your brain forgets to breathe while you sleep? Imagine being afraid to go to sleep at night because you could forget to breathe and not wake up. Sometimes we need to be grateful for what we have that we consider basic. What we take for granted. Accepting what we have and being grateful can help us see the bigger picture.
Note: Acceptance is not the same as being okay with or giving up. Acceptance simply acknowledges what is. I have a body. It’s not attachment (“I wish I could have a body like that”) or aversion (“I hate that my ____ is so ____”). Acceptance likes facts. This is my body. This is the only body I have. This body allows me to move, speak, breathe, love, and experience pleasure and pain. This is my body.
Once you can acknowledge your body as it is, you can work toward loving it as it is.
You can do this. If you need help, reach out.
I see your beauty,
If you’re looking for some body positive insta’s, try: @thebirdspapaya or @lizzobeeating or @noordinarynoire.