When I was younger, I spent a lot of time thinking about my body. I wanted to be shorter and thinner, with shinier hair and whiter teeth. As early as elementary school, my friends and I would stress (and, let’s be honest, bond) over how wrong our bodies looked.
The fear of fat was so all-encompassing that on days when my pants felt tight, all of the qualities I liked about myself disappeared.
As I got older, badmouthing my body turned into controlling it. I calorie counted, did high-intensity exercise I hated, read fad diet books, and spent my allowance on chalky, orange-flavored appetite-suppressing gum.
By college, I was majoring in dieting. I’d map out what I was going to eat that day, and calculate what I’d need to do at the gym, for how long, to justify eating at all. Nothing better sums up college for me than the changing numbers on the tiny gray screen of an elliptical machine.
Trying to be thin was tedious, boring-as-hell work. There was very little time or energy left at the end of the day to enjoy life. But loosening my grip on my weight was unthinkable.
Many of the people around me were on the same hamster wheel, straining to feel like we were enough.
It’s painful to look back on how much energy my friends and I spent on hating how we looked and trying to fix ourselves through force. We were only half living.
From the time we’re small, we’re fed a rigid image of beauty and few of us stack up to the “ideal.” The rest of us are urged to strive. Billion dollar industries poke us with pills, books, diet plans, creams, and gear designed to keep us fixated on achieving a perfect body.
We promise ourselves that when our bodies are finally right, finally fixed, finally beautiful enough, then we can truly LIVE.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that if we can live in an ideal body, then we can live an ideal life: success, love, self worth, and ultimately, happiness. It’s complete and utter garbage.
But it’s not our fault.
At the same time, the internet is brimming with platitudes about feeling pretty just as we are. Like cupcake recipes and funny animal videos, “Love yourself” and “You are beautiful”-themed inspirational photos are the lifeblood of Facebook and Instagram, and more and more ads.
As we click “like,” many of us quietly think, “Yes!! I will totally love myself (after I lose weight, get botox, etc.).”
Other times we plead, “Quit shouting self love at me and just tell me HOW to do it!”
When you live in a culture that tells you your worth hinges on your appearance, affirmations can only get you so far.
When I started to explore peace with my body (while also working with a therapist), I latched onto beauty. To feel positively toward my body, I decided, I just needed to learn to feel attractive inhabiting my new weight.
Celebrating body diversity in other people helped me see more beauty everywhere. Over time, I started to see my own softness a little differently, too, which was nice.
But each time my weight fluctuated, I felt like I had to start over. How do I find THIS new body beautiful? What about when it eventually changes again? How many times will I have to make friends with a new reflection in the mirror?
There were many ways I worked on my relationship with my body, but one thing was for sure. I was tired of negotiating with the mirror.
Feeling beautiful can be awesome and empowering. But it isn’t essential to self acceptance.
While we wait to feel beautiful, our hearts, gifts, and all of the intricacies that make us who we are can go to waste.
We are more interesting than pretty.
I fell in love with my yoga practice away from mirrors, by exploring poses based on how they felt and not on how they looked. I made friends with my body in much the same way — by looking at it less and living in it more. I gave myself permission to just be in my body for a while.
When we worry less about beauty and throw our full selves into living, we better appreciate that we’re great listeners and empathic friends. We respect that we speak up when it matters most. We discover that our karaoke dance moves are unrivaled. We feel how nice it is to play on the playground like kids or plan awesome trips on a shoestring budget. We create art and redecorate the living room and problem solve and speak at town hall meetings.
Our bodies, however they show up, make all of these awesome things possible. There’s no “pretty” prerequisite.
In the midst of this living without looking so much you may find, as I did, that you had it reversed:
Self acceptance, worth, and a wholehearted life don’t rely on beauty. Truly living can lead to truly appreciating your body.
Originally published at www.emilyburrows.com on October 30, 2014.
Originally published at medium.com