The Precarious Task of Loving Ourselves
I had a bad body day yesterday.
And I feel bad about having a bad body day. Not only because I’m in the business of actively loving myself, but also because I regularly tout the idea of being who we are, in every way, without apology. This makes sense, since I’m a gay, plus-size, gym-loving, chip-eating, weight-lifting chick and I am okay with all of that – most of the time.
Yesterday just wasn’t most of the time, I guess.
Zoe and I are dress shopping for our 20th anniversary vow renewal in August. You would think I would be all over this. I’m excited to be saying “I do” to the woman of my dreams as the woman of my dreams, and not as the man she was trying so hard to be twenty years ago (the pretend man who was getting married to me, the woman who doesn’t dig dudes but spent most of her life trying to convince herself she did. There’s a movie in here, somewhere, you guys.)
So, uh, yay authenticity! Who doesn’t to celebrate that? Vow renewal! Wedding dresses! Cake! Especially cake!
We’re ordering our dresses online, which means we needed to take our measurements. I’ve been putting this uncomfortable task off without even realizing it was making me uncomfortable. “I’m busy.” "I’ll get to it later.” Yesterday, Zoe finally took out the fabric measuring tape and said, “Okay, let’s do this.”
So, we did it. And I didn’t exactly love the results.
Inches. Pounds. These are pieces of information about our bodies in relation to the rest of the world – nothing more. I know this. And yet, to many people – especially women – they are to be feared or celebrated, hated or lauded. How much you weigh or what your waist size is can bring about pride or shame. In most cases, it’s shame.
I thought I was pretty much done with the fear-y, hate-y, shame-y part of all that. The nonsense part. After all, hating my waist is a total waste. I’d much rather spend my time celebrating what my body can do, which is a whole lot since I started prioritizing my health a couple of years ago. I have energy to spare. I lift heavy at the gym. I can run up a flight of stairs without getting winded. I can chase my ten-year-old around the park and almost catch him. I can carry in multiple grocery bags from the car without throwing my back out. I am strength and power and health, and 99% of the time, I am damn proud of this.
But when we took those measurements, I wanted to cry. And then I wanted to cry because I wanted to cry. I felt incredible shame in that reaction. How could I get so far ahead in the loving myself game only to fall apart because of what a dollar store measuring tape tells me? Why did this happen?
Because I am conditioned to hate my body, that’s why. As a woman, I have been the recipient – and, I would strongly argue, the victim – of messaging that tells me I am not good enough, will never be good enough, and will never have a body worthy of love.
My body has been systematically pulled apart by marketers aiming to make me spend in the hopes of finding inner peace.
“Jeans to hide every imperfection!” on the cover of a magazine tells me my body is imperfect to begin with.
“The revolutionary plan to help you lose that stubborn belly fat!” tells me the fat on my belly is bad and that I should be aiming to lose it.
“Learn to be confident at any size!” automatically centers size as something that should make me uncomfortable – but maybe not with the right jeans and less belly fat.
Only seeing one specific body type in lead roles on TV and in movies. Only a handful of stores for plus-size women. Having to advertise if you’re a larger body type on dating sites so you don’t “trick” anyone with a flattering photo. Getting disapproving looks at the grocery store if your cart has chips in it. Getting “Good for you!” when you work out, instead of being treated like everyone else who exercise. The list goes on and on.
Having a bigger body means you are told, repeatedly, every day, that you are not enough as you are. That there is something wrong with you, and that it is your fault. If you just tried harder, ate less, moved more, had some willpower, you could stop doing this to yourself.
I battle these messages daily. And most of the time, I’m pretty good at ignoring them. I’ve come a long way to acceptance. But every now and then, I, too, am vulnerable to that messaging. Yesterday, likely for a variety of factors, was one of those days. When I saw those numbers, and looked at the sizing charts online, I started to fell less than.
Thank goodness for my wife. My incredible Zoe, who struggles with the messaging she receives as a trans woman, was quick to notice my reaction to the numbers. She wrapped me up in the biggest hug. “You’re going to look gorgeous on our wedding day, sweetie. You are so beautiful. Remember that. Numbers don’t define you.”
She says this with much authority, because the world tells her she is not a real woman: she is a man “pretending” to be a woman, or a woman who “used to be a man”. That is simply untrue, of course, as she’s every bit as much of a woman as I am. Her battles are bigger than mine; they threaten her very identity and place in society in dangerous ways. But that active struggle to stop feeling less than? That’s something we have in common, which makes her a giver of excellent pep talks.
Love is an action, and therefore, loving myself is an active process. This is why I needn’t feel bad that those numbers almost made me cry. It happens. Loving, like running or sleeping, is harder on some days than others, and yesterday was a harder day. Thank goodness I had someone by my side who gets it. We all need a someone like that.
But the hard work, the internal work, has to come from me. I have to choose to actively love myself, even on the hardest days. I have to choose to fight against the messaging and run towards myself with open arms. That's what I have to do, and that's what I'll keep on doing.
Today? Today I’m back to seeing the numbers for exactly what they are: measurements of my body in relation to the rest of the world, and certainly not measurements of my beauty or self-worth. I bounce back a lot faster these days. That is active self-love.
And I think I’ve found my dress, you guys. It’s adorbs!
And I know, for sure, I’ve found the woman I’m excited to spend another twenty years with. When I struggle to love myself, she helps me remember how worthy I am. You don't get better than that, and I can't wait to walk down the aisle all over again.