Love: You First

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I’m fifteen, standing on a scale.  I’m at the house of the two little girls I babysit at the end of every summer, but they’re absorbed in play, prancing around their My Little Ponies, so I take a moment to escape. I’ve ducked into the master bathroom so I can weigh myself.  Just as I do every day, multiple times a day.

I’ve gained three more pounds.  That’s it, I think.  I will not let this number increase.  I decide to skip eating for the rest of the day.  My body doesn’t deserve calories.

—–

I’m sixteen, staring into the mirror, analyzing every inch of my face and finding fault with all of it.  My cheeks are too plump.  My eyes are too small and my lips are too thin.  I’m generic, forgettable.  I wish I were more exotic looking, beautiful in the way the models that grace the covers of magazines at the grocery store are.  I want darker hair.  Greener eyes.  Fuller lips.  I’m not enough.

—–

I’m seventeen, driving home from a sleepover where my friends and I, despite being seniors in high school, spent the night giggling and bingeing on Doritos with sour cream and frosting straight out of the can while watching our favorite movie, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.  I feel a little sick and my stomach bulges out uncomfortably.  I am fat.  I feel miserable.  The rest of my day is ruined as I am consumed with thoughts on how to fix myself.

—–

I am in the bathroom of our favorite Mexican restaurant, emptying the contents of my stomach.  I feel guilty and ashamed and terrified that someone will walk in and discover my secret.

—–

 

It’s hard to share this.  As I type this, the feelings come back–raw and real.  I’m that teenage girl again, full of self-hatred as I analyze myself through the lens of what I didn’t realize was Body Dysmorphic Disorder–an incredibly common affliction among women (and men).  I never, ever thought I could like myself–much less love myself.

But I do.

I never thought I could be satisfied with who I am–my flaws and foibles, my strengths and weaknesses, my talents (or lack thereof).

But I can honestly say that I am.  And I am so proud of that.

As of this moment, I can truly say that I like myself.  I like who I am, I like the way I look, I like the direction my life is heading.  I’m okay with my stretch marks and wrinkly stomach skin.  I’m okay that my now-deflated breasts are past their glory days.  I love my hair and my eyes.  I spent years comparing myself to other women, anguished that I didn’t look like them, wasn’t as beautiful as they are.  But–as trite as it sounds–I don’t need to be look like someone else to be pretty.  I am me, and that is enough.

My transformation from self-loathing to self-love wasn’t swift.  It didn’t happen over the course of a couple months or even a couple years. It took a while.  Of course I still have insecurities–it’s part of being human.  But I can finally be alone with myself and not feel like I’m abiding with the enemy.

We’ve all heard that you can’t really love anyone else until you love yourself.  Maybe it’s because when you are dissatisfied with yourself,  your love comes from a place of insecurity, of need–the need for someone to complete you, to validate you.  The need to be saved.  And that’s a heavy burden to place on someone else.

Or maybe you put up walls, protecting yourself, never allowing yourself to be really open or vulnerable.  You can’t give your whole self to someone else–after all, if you can find all of these inadequacies, how could someone else possibly overlook them?  How could anyone else really love you?

But when you can be completely comfortable on your own, and like what you see in the mirror, you’re in a place where you can let someone else in.  Let’s be real–vulnerability is hard no matter how self-assured you are.  It’s scary, terrifying even–but also necessary if you want to form deeper connections.

And interestingly, I’ve found that only after I decided to just accept myself as I am, right now–not thinner or stronger or smarter or more disciplined–only after I could do that could I start to make lasting changes.

And sometimes, I’ve found, you don’t need to change at all.

 

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You Are Allowed to Take Up Space

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Yesterday a friend posted on facebook about an experience she had shopping with her 2 year-old daughter.

She was trying on clothes and her daughter said to her, “Mommy, you look great!  You look tiny!”

My friend said her heart broke, and she wondered how a 2-year old could have possibly learned that looking great means looking tiny.  She immediately sat down next to her and said, “Sweetie, Mommy doesn’t look tiny.  Mommy looks just right.”  And her daughter smiled and said, “Okay Mommy, you look just right; and so do I!”

That story touched me and got me thinking.  I think she did an amazing job of addressing the “tiny = beautiful” issue right there, in the moment, in a natural and honest way.*

You know what, though?

I don’t know if I would have caught it.

And I’m ashamed to admit that.

As passionate as I am about women (and men, but I’m going to be focusing on women today) accepting themselves exactly they way they are, I still struggle with it myself.  And I don’t know if my child calling me tiny in an effort to praise me would have set off the alarm bells that it probably should.

I started thinking about my own body image “journey” (please, someone supply me with a less cliché word), and I realized that as far as I’ve come, I still haven’t been able to let go of that desire to be “tiny”.

Why is that?  What is so appealing to me (us?) about being small and skinny?  When I look at other women, I don’t mentally whittle them down to a size 00.  I absolutely love curvy women, and I think there is nothing sexier than seeing a woman who is obviously comfortable with herself, and has chosen to embrace her body, rather than trying to hide or mask it.

And yet.

And yet I look at myself sideways in every mirror I pass, assessing the size of my stomach.

And yet I often wear sports bras and looser shirts, trying to flatten and hide my breasts so that I lose all semblance of curves and look thinner and straighter.

And yet I long to be smaller, thinner, wondering what it would be like to be able to fold myself up into practically nothing when I sit on a chair, or to not have to tuck my stomach back into my pants when I sit down, or to be able to wear clothes and know they are going to hang just right on my frame.

I was talking to another friend about this, trying to get to the root of the issue.  I couldn’t figure out why thinness wasn’t a body type I idealized in or expected from other women, but somehow, after everything, it was a standard I kept holding myself up to.

She said something that I’d never been able to pull into conscious thought before.

“It’s about not wanting to take up space.”

I recognized the sentiment as soon as the words left her mouth.

It’s about not wanting to take up space.

I am uncomfortable in my own skin.  I feel I don’t deserve the space I take up, or maybe I want to hide sometimes.  I want to be smaller, ever smaller, so that I can choose when to disappear and when to be noticed.  I don’t want to take up space.

But guess what?  I am 5’8″.  Even if I lost 20 pounds, I would still be 5’8″–just more gaunt, and definitely saggier.  (Sorry, boobs.)  No matter how much weight I lose, I will not be able to erase my body.

And I don’t need to.

As women, we are constantly apologizing.  We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and we go out of our way–sometimes shoving ourselves out of the way–to make sure that we don’t.  We are constantly apologizing for our feelings and for our thoughts and sometimes, for ourselves.

But we are entitled to our thoughts, no matter how different they are.  We are entitled to our feelings, no matter how “unacceptable” they are.  Binge eating is tied into this–when you think your feelings aren’t acceptable, or you’ve never learned how to deal with them, you numb them.  Hide them.  Shove them away.

It is okay to feel and to exist, and to take up as much space as you want to.  You are a human being, a person created by God.  You have a right to be.

Accept the space you take up, and own that space.  Fill it however you want to.

You are allowed to take up space.

 

 

 

*I just feel I should point out, there is nothing wrong with being thin or tiny if that’s how your body is.  I know naturally small women sometimes get left out in all the anti-media “real women have curves!” hype.

The thing is, some real women have curves.  And some real women don’t have curves.  Our definition of what constitutes a “real woman” shouldn’t hinge on her appearance.

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What does body acceptance (or self-acceptance) mean to you personally?