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Learning to Love Your Body

I Couldn’t Look at My Body Until I Learned How to Appreciate It

I always liked the feeling of being covered. How small I felt under a ballooned sweatshirt or an oversize t-shirt. No one could make out my exact shape, which meant they couldn't judge or analyze it. As long as I was covered, there was enough space between me and everyone else, and in that space was where I felt most safe.

There was a comfort in being covered, so much so that the idea of being naked, of seeing myself naked, was unsettling. When I was younger I would cast my eyes to the floor when getting dressed in the morning, making sure not to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Getting into the shower without seeing my reflection in the mirror was a particularly interesting event. It was American Ninja Warrior: Bathroom Edition. Every move was pointed and strategic. Flick on the light, peel off my clothes, run past the mirror with eyes fixed on the shower, and hop in. If I missed one step and caught a glimpse of myself, even for a second, I would spend that shower time obsessively dissecting my body.

There was a comfort in being covered, so much so that the idea of being naked, of seeing myself naked, was unsettling.

I don't know when I started refusing to acknowledge my body. I didn't know how to accept it or appreciate it, let alone give myself a chance to.

I'm not sure how I would classify my body growing up. I definitely had some weight on me; I guess you could call it "well covered." But no matter how many times my parents told me I was beautiful and that my weight didn't matter, I felt big.

As I got older, I started to catch on to the way people talked about weight and how they classified certain body types. I was especially intrigued by how people talked about children and weight, because a lot of people like to talk about how much they love chubby kids. But from the way they spoke it was clear that chubby and cute transitioned into fat and sloppy around a certain age. That there's a time when having a little "extra meat" stops being cute.

That was probably when my self-aversion started, during that period when the baby fat should have started to go away. I became very aware of my body and how it was in comparison to others, and backhanded comments from people and the magazine editorials focused on unbelievably slim bodies helped to confirm my breadth. I didn't feel pretty and I didn't feel desirable — and while we should be able to feel those things without outside validation, I based my worth on how people saw me.

Those negative feelings turned into tools constantly used for self-deprecation. I thought my body was the problem and that if I could somehow fix my physical self then things would start to come together.

When I started playing lacrosse in middle school I lost a decent amount of weight from running all the time. Even with the weight loss, being slimmer itself didn't really impact the way I thought of myself and definitely didn't make me feel more comfortable with my body. But what helped was the way my coaches talked about the body in relation to the game and how each part served a certain purpose on the field. Suddenly my bigger thighs were a mark of strength and stability; they helped me get into a better defensive position and gave me more leverage against attackers. A lot of the game revolves around your upper body so it was about how solid you could be, especially when going to goal because you would have to maneuver past and through people.

I could look down the field and see the whole spectrum of body types not just represented but appreciated. Each of our bodies served a purpose and were built a certain way, and it wasn't about changing your body but how you could enhance what you had by making it stronger. From understanding my body in that sense I started to value what was mine.

It's truly amazing how many ways you can hate on yourself without having any reason to, and lacrosse forced me to see my body and realize just how mentally unhealthy the way I used to treat it was. So I made it a point to give it the love and attention it deserved, starting with my evening shower routine.

Every night, instead of running into the shower in an attempt to avoid looking at my reflection, I would position myself in the center of the mirror and undress. I made myself look at my body, studying it so I could get to know it better. I would stare at my reflection for about two minutes and tell myself three things I liked about my body — anything, from my big lips to my muscular arms. It also involved picking the features that weren't particularly my favorite too, because those parts of me deserved just as much love.

Originally it felt weird and forced, but like anything else it took time to become comfortable. The new routine was the hardest on those days when I felt particularly critical of myself. Those days proved to be the most valuable though because it's easy to point out what you like about yourself when you feel good, but it's when you can still see how beautiful you are on those bad days that most improve your self-acceptance.

While it was important to take in my body, it became just as important to list off things I liked about myself separate from how I looked. A means of communicating that worth does not stem from appearance. There is so much more to a person than their physical being, and in a world where looks are so highly regarded it's important to remind ourselves that our weight, hair, or skin tone do not define us as people. Yes, they may be a part of us, but they in no way make up our whole being.

It feels nice to be able to look at myself and feel comfortable; to fully love my dark skin, kinky hair, stretch marks, and ever-changing body.

Years later this is still my evening routine and although I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the areas I would most like to improve, I allow myself to have my human moments of insecurity and then work my way out of them. Getting comfortable with yourself is a process and it's one you have to continuously work on. I've come to learn that you make time for the things you care about, and since I believe caring for yourself is one of the most important things you can do, I make time for me.

I would love to be able to say I feel confident in my body and myself every day, but that's just not the case, and that's OK. That's a part of being human, but I've noticed a lack of interest in wanting to be something other than myself. I can recognize the beauty of someone else's body and appreciate it while also loving what I got.

Talking to yourself in the mirror can sound really corny and I'm not sure there is any scientific research that proves it helps, but I do believe it's extremely important to change the rhetoric we have with ourselves. And it just feels so nice to be able to look at myself and feel comfortable; to fully love my dark skin, kinky hair, stretch marks, and ever-changing body. I think most people underestimate just how liberating liking yourself can be, and I feel so free.

Image Source: Courtesy of Amari Pollard
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