Accepting myself exactly the way I am has never been easy, but it was crucial to achieving happiness in all areas of my life. And to get there, I had to finally stop dieting and realize that there was never anything wrong in the first place. When I finally did, I was able to love both myself and my partners better than I ever had before.
I stopped looking for external validation. Having my worth depend on another person’s opinion of me is guaranteed to be a let-down. Fittingly, Dita Von Teese said “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” I stopped looking to others for their validation about whether or not I’m lovable. I’m imperfect and still require validation here and there. But at the end of the day, I know that I am my only true source of unwavering love.
I learned to celebrate myself just as I am. I can’t count how many times I thought I’d finally be happy when I just lost enough weight. Guess what? I’d get to that “goal weight” and I STILL wouldn’t feel good enough. When I learned to stop dieting, I fundamentally understood that I am good enough at any given moment. How lovable I am isn’t determined by the number on the scale. I started to think about if I died tomorrow, what would I want to be celebrated for? I started focusing on those things: my writing, my laugh, my wonderful butt, and my care for others. I began celebrating myself just as I am.
I have energy to dedicate emotional, mental, social, and spiritual health. One of the biggest arguments that those opposed to the body positivity movement try to make is that by radically loving myself as I am, I’m promoting poor health. I push back on this and say that health is about far more than the food I put in my body. Lindy West, a fabulous body acceptance author, said, “Loving yourself is not antithetical to health, it is intrinsic to health. You can’t take good care of a thing you hate.” Hate takes more energy than love. Choosing self-love instead means that I have energy to dedicate my other needs, like emotional health.
I dropped the perfectionism. Perfectionism feels like a crushing weight, making it nearly impossible to exist in the world, never mind have healthy relationships with others. Slowly, I’ve dropped the pressure to be perfect. I know that I’m going to make mistakes and see places where I can improve. But learning to embrace my imperfections has meant growing comfortable in my human skin, giving me more room to love.
I learned to laugh at myself. We have a rule in the 12 step program I’m a member of called rule #62: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” When I take myself too seriously, my world gets smaller. Then I’m worrying about what others think of me and am hyper-concerned about my perceived flaws. Instead of being super serious, I’ve loosened my grip and learned to laugh at myself. When I do something messy like act passive-aggressive, say no when I mean yes, or get jealous at a perceived threat, I can have a laugh at myself. When I let go and stopped dieting, it became much easier to relax and stop worrying over everything I did.
I stopped dating people who fat-shamed. There’s an OK Cupid question that says, “If one of your potential matches were overweight, would that be a dealbreaker?” We can argue the nuances of fat-shaming and preference, but I only surround myself with those who don’t think less of someone because of their weight. I started skipping over people on dating sites who only looked for women of a certain size. I want someone who is more interested in who I am than what size my pants are.
When I’m not someone’s cup of tea, I know it isn’t personal. Dan Savage, my favorite sex and love advice columnist, talks about how we aren’t compatible with most people. For a long time, when someone didn’t want to be with me, I took it personally. I specifically thought that I must be too fat or not good enough. Since I’ve learned to embrace body positivity and self-love, I’m learning that incompatibility isn’t personal.
I love and accept others for who they are. When I was always obsessing about my weight and looks, I would project the same controlling perfectionism onto my partners. I would judge them for what they ate and how they looked. Now that I’m learning that who I am is about so much more than my weight, I’m able to do the same for partners. I kiss the stretch marks and belly fat of my lovers and know that these things don’t define them.
I unabashedly celebrate food with partners and dates. I used to waste so much energy worrying about what my date thought about the food I ordered that I never was able to actually enjoy what I was eating! Obsessing about food, calories, weight, and others’ opinions of me was all-consuming. When I stopped dieting and began focusing on more important things, I became able to appreciate meals. I savored the amazing flavors, laughed over ice cream, and stopped worrying so much.
I can hold the two truths that I’m perfect as I am and I can use some work. A brilliant Zen Buddhist teacher named Suzuki Roshi said, “You’re perfect as you are, and you could use some work.” I’m not saying that my body is perfect and that I’ve given up on caring for it. I’m also not saying that my sex and love life have magically improved. But what I am saying is that once I realized how lovable I am right here and now, I found immense freedom.
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