Self Love, What?
Most of us are pretty good at loving. We love our friends, our families, our Netflix, and our macaroni and cheese. We can rave for hours about how much we enjoyed our last vacation (even if it was just pretty average)- because it’s usually not too difficult to look at things positively.
With one exception. We struggle desperately with loving ourselves.
We seem to direct the least love towards our body: the one thing that stands between ourselves and the craziness of the outside world. Compliment someone’s cooking, and they’ll graciously accept it- delighted to hear your praise. Compliment someone’s looks and physique however, and you’ll be met with doubt, disbelief, and a self deprecatory comment along the lines of “No way, I’ve actually gained so much weight!”. Let’s face it- we’ve all done this! We’ve delivered such dismissive comments in a myriad of social situations. In fact, this response has become the go to response of civilized society that is modest and unassuming.
Here’s the thing- we often truly believe that our bodies aren’t beautiful. We unknowingly sip propaganda like iced tea - propaganda designed to gently but systematically make us believe that our bodies are deeply flawed and can only be fixed with artificial solutions that come in packets of “Miracle Weight Loss Juices” and “Booty Shaping High Rise Jeans”. There is an entire industry founded on convincing people that their bodies are inadequate and unappealing by design, and the industry doesn’t give two hoots if your self esteem is a casualty on their highway to profit.
But let’s be realistic here.
It’s very easy to say “Love your body!” and “All bodies are beautiful!”. To believe these sentiments, and actually love our OWN bodies is far harder. More often than not, it is a daily challenge that we face every time we stand in front of a mirror. To repress the urge to focus on your lack of a thigh gap, and to pinch the pudge at your stomach- and instead, take in your body as a whole and proudly declare that you are beautiful.
One reason why practicing what we preach is so hard is because since childhood we’ve been subtly conditioned to think that being skinnier automatically equates to being healthier. Thus, we’re not pinching our tummy flab because we just want to fit into the UK Size 6 dress on sale at Mango; but because we are in pursuit of overall fitness and health ... or so we tell ourselves. The truth is that often times, our goals are far from fair to bodies. Am I doing my pliés because I want my thighs to be stronger, or because I want a thigh gap? It’s probably a little bit of both.
So how do we actually get on the long and winding road to body positivity, and REALLY start practicing what we preach? It need not be as difficult as it has been before.
1) Keep preaching!
You’re more likely to truly internalise body positivity for yourself if you get into the practice of appreciating the bodies around you. We’ve all had moments where we’ve thought unfair or unflattering comments about other people’s bodies and while it is far from a healthy habit, it is still natural. But checking our natural reflex to critique someone else and replacing it with a positive thought or remark is the first step towards being able to truly internalize self love. If you continuously allow yourself to observe and remark upon other people’s weight gain, you’re even more likely to hold yourself to unfair and unnatural standards too. Your eye will slowly grow desensitized to picking up on a little muffin top or arm jiggle, and your perception of both yourself and the others around you will improve.
2) Set wellness goals, instead of weight loss goals.
This is one of the most basic steps towards self acceptance that most of us don’t even identify as a step forward, because it is (seemingly) so simple. Instead of telling yourself that you want to lose 2 kilos by the end of the month, you replace that goal with “Running 2km in under 15 minutes”. Consciously and unconsciously, you then start moving away from caring about what you see in the mirror and caring instead about what you can achieve. Overall, these goals are more satisfying to achieve too, as they reflect a growth in skill, technique, commitment, and strength. While weight loss targets are admittedly also very validating to reach, they’re also very easy to lose:- the moment you regain those kilos, your achievement seems nullified. However with skill based and wellness targets, the benefits they provide you are far from temporary. In the long run, running that 2km and eventually pushing it up to 5km manifests in you as better heart health, stronger legs, and less muscular pain and stiffness as your body strengthens, along with your mind.
3) Give yourself a break!
While dedication and commitment are key to achieving any goal in life, it’s also important to give yourself some leeway to simply, well, be human. So, don’t beat yourself up for missing a day of cardio or ordering a Big Mac once in a blue moon - and most importantly, don’t try to overcompensate for a lapse in your wellness plan. Often times, we push our limits by doubling our workout if we miss a day or fasting if we indulged in a slice of cake the previous night. Firstly, these measures are usually very temporary and yield no long lasting benefits to you. Secondly, they’re actually harmful and dangerous to your physical and mental health. Believing that you need to compensate for a lapse or two holds you to an unfairly harsh routine, and being unable to accept and forgive yourself for a lapse leads you to punish yourself rather than build yourself back up. Again, leave aside fitness- we want to grow, and that doesn’t need to be achieved by berating ourselves! Allowing ourselves to engage in the mindset of compensating often leads people down a straight route to injury or eating disorders, as they become overly preoccupied with their caloric intake or workout schedule. Remember- you’re human, you’re allowed to miss leg day once in a while to go out with friends, and you’re entitled to that (occasional!) slice of cake.
4) Stop comparing!
This may be one of the hardest goals to achieve given that as social creatures, we’re drawn to noticing details about other people and measuring them against ourselves to see where we line up in the social hierarchy. However, comparisons on fitness and physique are often murky water. Your best friend may be following exactly the same Pilates class structure and schedule as you are; eating the same food and sleeping at similar times. But in 5 weeks, she may have more muscle definition than you- and that’s okay! Exercise and diet have a unique impact on each individual, and this impact is influenced by anything from your metabolism, health of your thyroid gland to your age.
A famous beauty goal, craved by many young adults now, is the Thigh gap- the appearance of having inner thighs that do not meet when standing straight. People do squats, lunges, leg raises, and cycling, in the name of achieving this much adored fad: but in reality, whether you can have a thigh gap is determined primarily by the breadth and set of your pelvis, as opposed to the shape of your legs. And of course, there is no exercise in the world that can widen your hips for you! Ultimately, no two bodies are alike- so why do we compare them as if they are?
5) Give yourself a compliment, every day.
While some of us take one look in the mirror and grimace - our tongues ready to start complaining about the pimple on our nose or the tightness of our pants, it’s easy to forget that we also have our fair share of super attractive qualities too! You might scoff but remember that the grass always seems greener on the other side - while you envy the girl with the curvy bum, she’s probably just as envious of your slimmer legs. Make it a morning ritual to look at the mirror and give yourself one genuine, heartfelt compliment. It could be anything from thinking “I have a nice smile!” to “My shoulders look strong!”- but the point is to make directing love at yourself a ritual akin to brushing your teeth. And no, when practiced in moderation, this is NOT being narcissistic!
Self love is the most easily overlooked, and most crucial part of self care. Incorporate these rituals of body acceptance and love into your life to slowly but surely see the difference in not just your body- but in how you SEE your body. And ultimately, they’re both equally important.