Loving & Accepting Our Bodies: Why It’s So Hard & How it Can Get Easier
It’s easy to love your body when it obeys you, but can you love it when it fails you? Can you love it when it refuses to be something it can’t? Can you accept it when you are dissatisfied with it? These are the recent questions I’ve had to ask myself. The answers to them — aren’t straightforward. At least, not if I am being honest with myself.
Before this moment, I had been a proud and self-proclaimed “body positivity” person. Well, I had been one of the skinny people that learned about the body positivity movement from mainstream influencers, that talked about self-love always in the context of being fit, active, and slender. And for much of my life this was an easy outlook to adopt. I’d been a size 2/4 my whole life, and every time I shopped for clothes, I would look at the model’s size. If it fit her well, it would fit me. I was athletic. I worked out almost every single day, and I did it all — yoga, boxing, basketball, weightlifting, running, long distance walking, dancing, Zumba, Barre, Pilates…the list goes on and on. Whatever the physical task — my body was able and ready. And I loved my body so much. I loved the way it looked, loved the way it moved, loved how strong and mobile it was, and loved how obedient it was. Anything I told it to do — it obeyed. I want a smaller waist. It obeyed. I want to be stronger. It obeyed. I want to learn this new sport and be the best at it. It obeyed. And while I didn’t recognize it at the time — body positivity for me meant having a body that did whatever I wanted it to. It was my sense of control.
Well, control is rarely something we can keep. This past year I suffered a severe concussion, a lower back injury, and an injury in both my kneecaps. To this day, I still can’t walk longer than five minutes without being in pain. Somedays, I can’t even leave my apartment because my knees can’t get me down the stairs. How did I end up in this position? It was my desire to control my body. And it was my belief that in order to feel positive about it, it needed to be perfect.
It was the heart of the pandemic. Gyms were closed and physical outlets were limited. I was gaining weight and not able to do the range of physical activities I loved. But I craved what I thought was “body positivity.” I desperately wanted to feel good about my body. And I had taught myself over the years, that I could have this feeling — I just had to push body and when it obeyed — everything would be in control. Well, like everything, bodies have limits. And mine broke. If I’m being honest, I think it was always at its breaking point — and even though it tried so hard to meet my expectations — it just couldn’t anymore. And it disappointed me so much.
I hated my body. I hated the way it looked. The way it couldn’t fit into its old clothes — the way my fat bulged over my pant waistline. It’s inability to move. I hated that my body couldn’t perform small and easy tasks like going up stairs. I hated that it left me out of breath and in pain. I hated how weak it felt. I hated how dependent it made me on others. I was mad at it, that it couldn’t heal, that it couldn’t get over the pain I put it through. And most of all, I hated that it stopped listening to me. That it failed to obey me. That it failed to let me have control. I couldn’t find any words of positivity for my body — and even though I turned myself against it the first moment it failed my expectations — my body never stopped fighting for me.
It fought against COVID-19. Keeping me safe from a deadly virus killing over half a million people in the United States — and millions across the globe. It fought to go up and down stairs — and sure maybe it left me out of breath and in pain — but all my tendons, muscles, and bones gave me everything they had to get me where I wanted to go. And when I tossed and turned in bed miserably — my body was doing its best to heal, especially when I pushed it too hard the day before. It nourished me, even when I was upset that it forced me to eat and gain weight. And it never stopped trying to regain its strength, even when I gave up on it.
It’s still a long road to recovery for me, and I probably will never get back the “perfect” body I got accustomed to before my injuries. But this experience has taught me that I don’t need that version of my body to feel good about myself. Once I stopped trying to squeeze myself into tight clothes, and simply wore clothing in my new size — I was able to realize lots of things about my new body I like. Extra curves I never had before — legs that somehow remained strong despite everything I put them through.
Do I feel good about every aspect of my body? No. But, can I accept every aspect? Yes. Our bodies are so much more than an outward canvas for people to see — they are powerful vessels — that fuel us, that work to get us places we want to go, that hold our favorite memories, that teach us life lessons we needed to learn, and they are human . We can’t control them like they are objects that we wield and shape to perfection. Like they are machines that process our every command. They are unique and special — and they do so much for us. They keep us alive, and they do everything in their power to make us happy. And that is worth celebrating. You’ll never find anyone or anything that is more loyal to you than your body.
Instead of learning how to control our bodies, we need to learn how to accept and appreciate them for what they are. When we are able to do that, I think we can see it more clearly and find a way to be content with it — no matter its size, ability, or health. And instead of barking orders at it — we can listen to it. I hope to one day be able to be an active person again. And I believe my body can get me there. But I won’t be able to do it all, and I won’t look perfect. And that is completely ok. These days, we are constantly inundated with photos on social media and advertisements where people show us before and after photos — and talk about how losing weight or getting stronger has allowed them to be positive about their bodies and their lives.
Well, I’ve had the exact opposite experience. And I think mine is more sustainable. I’ve seen my body transform in the opposite way — and I think I love it more, because it doesn’t need to be anything specific for me to accept it. It just has to help me live and get out of bed every day. And if that means limping my way to the coffee pot — I can accept that. It’s doing what it can to take care of me, and I’m proud of it. I wouldn’t say I feel good about it in that moment — but can I accept that it’s doing the best that it can? Can I accept that I’m doing the best that I can? Yes.
Our bodies can teach us a lot about the lives we are living — and how we feel about ourselves. And if we listen to our bodies — and work with them — we can learn to accept the things we can’t control. That doesn’t mean we give up on goals. My goal is to one day be active again. What does that mean? I’m not sure… but me and my body are going to figure that out together. And right now, that’s enough for me.