I think I started disliking my body when I was in middle school.
There were always girls who developed faster than I did, were taller than I was, and had some feature that I didn’t (but wanted). I’m 5’3’’ and felt like if I could be taller, I could be thinner, that would be ideal. I wanted longer, thinner arms and legs and the coveted “thigh gap” that anatomically makes no sense for me (and many others) to have. Whatever you had, I wanted it, and I gave no consideration to qualities that I already possessed.
I spent a lot of time with my trusty medical encyclopedia looking for answers to questions I had about what was going on with my body and religiously studying height/weight charts to make sure that I was within the normal range.
I clearly remember crying the first time the scale went over 100 pounds, even though I was well within the normal weight for my age.
It was at this point that I equated self-love with how I looked. I thought that the thinner I was, the more I deserved to love myself and to be loved in return. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
I heard somewhere that it was possible to learn to love yourself by letting someone else love you first. I thought this was an amazing revelation, as it took away my responsibility to discover who I was, practice self-care, and realize self-compassion. Instead, I could put all of those things on another person. It was a nice idea, but one that actually hindered my ability to come into my own and learn to love whoever that turned out to be.
So, I went through years of failed relationships, each time trying desperately to love myself through someone else’s eyes, a strategy that brought me no closer to actually feeling those things for myself.
I never understood how important confidence was until I actually got some. I was great at pretending to be confident, but spend enough time with someone and it won’t be long before you start to see past the facade. I was insecure, lonely, and desperately trying to find someone else to tell me that I was worth something.
The reason that I couldn’t be alone for any length of time was because without someone else’s affections, I didn’t have any for myself. I hopped from relationship to relationship because if someone else could like me, I could like me too.
In case you haven’t gathered, this approach does not work. Maybe you’re like me and have to actually experience things before they finally sink in, but I wanted to give you my experience in case you’re NOT like me and anecdotes actually help you not make the same mistakes.
It’s virtually impossible to start loving yourself if you’re still spending time identifying and focusing on “flaws.” Chastising yourself for making a mistake, fixating on your weight, and any number of ways we talk down to ourselves are going to chip away at any confidence we may have and make it harder to add any more.
In order to work toward a healthier relationship with ourselves, here’s an exercise for you try:
- Pick one body part that you always complain about, try to hide, or just plain ignore. Pick more than one if you’re looking for a challenge
- Get a piece of paper
- In one column, list all of the negative things you think of about that part
- In a separate column, list all of the positives you can think of for that same part
- Read over and INTERNALIZE those positives (this may take lots of repetition)
Here’s a personal example:
I will tell you right now that the negative list will probably be longer and easier to write than the positive column. It’s crazy how often those negative thoughts run through our heads, and it takes some serious work to counter them with reasons why we should LOVE those parts of ourselves.
One example of mine is my athletic build. My arms and legs are muscular and there are times when I wonder if they are “too” muscular. Growing up and comparing myself to every tall, thin model caused me to question my own appearance more often than I’d like to admit.
Something that helped me appreciate what I’ve been born with is to think of all the things that those muscles help me do. I’m able to carry groceries around the city, pick up my dog if I need to, and lift heavy weights like a boss in my workouts. These are all things that are practical skills, not vanity based, and I can be grateful for where they’ve gotten me.
You can even do this exercise with characteristics rather than body parts. Think about a part of your personality that you talk badly about and list ways that that part makes you unique and why you should learn to embrace it. The more you become comfortable with your body and your character traits, the easier it will be to gain that confidence.
As easy as it is to give the responsibility of loving you to someone else, I can tell you from experience that it’ll be short-lived and that you’ll never feel like a complete, individual human being. Take some time to think about what makes you AWESOME today!