Today I represented the Women’s Center at the university I work at. I sat at a table and passed out information on eating disorders, body image, media’s representation of beauty, and more. I wrote inspiring quotes on post-it-notes and passed them out to passerby. I met new friends. I smiled.
And in the midst of this day, this inspiring and healthy day, not long after a student came up to me with honest tears in her eyes saying ‘this made my day,’ I wrote to my friend in a text message: I feel fat in these pants- need to get to the gym.
Why do we do this? We dip back into self loathing and negativity, so easily slam our selves and our bodies back into the darkest parts of ourselves, forgetting how tiring and difficult it is to climb back up the ladder of self love and appreciation. Why is it so easy for me to actively hate my body and so hard to love it?
My first epiphany occurred some time ago, when I was in my dorm room with my roommate watching a Soul Pancake video (it seems silly that such sites can inspire such a change, but nonetheless it did). ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ The words echoed. I paused the video and looked at Taylor, both of us almost crying. How often had I looked longingly at her flat stomach and willed it to belong to me? There were so many nights I’d pinch my stomach or crunch 100+ times in bed before going to sleep. There were heavy tears cried silently on the bottom bunk, willing myself to eat only a grapefruit for the next week. But those six small words mattered. They did then and they do now.
Our society encourages us to compare- ads and TV shows, media personalities, models- everything we see fools us into believing that beauty is a one way street, full of flat stomachs, big butts, long hair, and decent sized boobs. We cry in our bottom bunks because we don’t look how we are supposed to. Because we worry that unless we look a certain way, we won’t find love. We work out and cry afterwards because it wasn’t hard enough. Because the girl on instagram videotaped herself and she did more. We binge eat a pizza and scream into our pillows afterwards willing ourselves to throw it up. And when we see models eating a slice on their twitter feeds we therefore excuse ourselves.
I’ve let comparisons kill my joy for ages. I’ve let the world define for me what beauty is and what I should look like. But that video introduced me to a poem I’ve never forgotten, a gentle and yet fierce reminder that your body is your home, one that takes care of you and needs love. I learned through the words of that poem that patience and gentleness, positivity and kindness, these values we associate with how we treat others, should be, too, how we treat ourselves. We should speak to our reflections as we would our best friends because, after all, aren’t we all our own best friends first?
It is not narcissistic to love ones self or to look into the mirror every day and compliment yourself. Confidence is not a natural state of being- it’s an uphill road of doubt, loathing, and fear. I still don’t know if I would consider myself confident. But I stop myself now when I want to say something scathing about myself. My brain hinges, no longer automatically letting the hatred prevail. There are more days when I get naked and smile at my body. I can feel it smiling back.
It’s always going to be easier to criticize and to hate when it comes to the self. When it comes to our own bodies. But next time your thoughts revert to disgust or shame at your reflection or number on the scale, stop yourself. Stop yourself and laugh. Speak to your body and smile at it. Let yourself love yourself.
“And I said to my body, softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’ -Nayyirah Waheed