“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”
Over the majority of my almost 30 years on the planet, my body has had a rough ride. It has been insulted, mistreated, hurt, chastised, criticised and mocked. It’s been told it’s not attractive enough, not thin enough, too flawed and unlovable. It’s been negatively compared with just about every other body on the television, in magazines and on Instagram. It’s been hidden away under baggy clothes, beach cover-ups and big coats. It has even avoided certain social situations for fear of being seen. Such is the scale of the abuse that it has suffered, for a long time it was exhausted and riddled with anxiety, and feared that it would never be able to be loved or admired by another body. To make matters worse, it was trapped, with nowhere to escape from this relentless negativity, because the bully was too close to home, inside its own head.
For a long time, there was a disconnect between my brain and the rest of my body, a distance and a betrayal. This lack of alignment and respect fed an array of damaging behaviours and negative feelings, exacerbated a lack of self control and wore down my confidence. The internal abuse had become so normalised, and the relationship between the two was so fraught, that at times, my mind wouldn’t even defend my body when it became the target of other people’s criticism. In fact, it agreed with them.
But then something changed; last year, my mind asked my body to work with it and not against it, to push itself harder than it ever had before in the pursuit of better health, and greater physical and mental balance. Step by step my body grew in confidence and strength and, in turn, my mind’s admiration and respect for it increased. My body and my mind, for the first time in my life, developed a much more loving and gentle friendship, that was based on co-operation and support. As the warmth between the two grew, I noticed something else change too; the limits of what they could achieve together increased. It’s no secret that positive encouragement is by far the best way to ensure that people work to their full potential, and the same should be applied to your internal management and self-care.
I’m not religious, I don’t profess to understand the whys or hows of the human existence, and I certainly avoid subscribing to any sort of belief that we are all fated to some pre-determined path. However, I do believe in the law of attraction. I believe that what you think, you become, you project and therefore you attract. If you walk around believing that you are not worthy of love, then you may attract someone who believes the same thing. That is not to say that I condone any sort of emotional or physical abuse, and this should not be interpreted as victim blaming in any form. To be clear, I have total and utter empathy and respect for anyone who has suffered as a result of someone else’s words or actions. What I am saying, though, is that your first love should always be yourself, and that it’s not selfish or arrogant to think like that, it’s just good sense. If you can be your own source of love and respect, then you can also become your own source of confidence and energy, which will ultimately make you more aware of your boundaries and less tolerant of the negative behaviour of others, meaning that you will know better when to act to protect yourself, and when it’s time to walk away for your own mental health.
Now this all sounds well and good, but a question lingers: how? How do I unlearn a life spent attacking myself? How do I change my thought processes to be my own best friend rather than my harshest critic? How can I be more forgiving to myself and expect less? And, of course, all of these are valid questions, you type A personality, you.
I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a concrete, easy to follow magic solution. However, what I will say is that I have come to realise that life is really just a series of habits. It’s the things you do repetitively that take root and become your essence. The person you see regularly who becomes your partner, the gym routine that you follow that becomes a hobby, the office that you go to every day that becomes your work. And the same can be said of your relationship with yourself. How you think, behave and feel are a series of habits that you have learnt from childhood and that have become patterns that are so ingrained that they feel as though they are at the heart of your very being. But here’s the thing you’ve been waiting for, here’s the magic, and the key to unlocking your full potential: habits can be changed and broken. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience.
I spent years thinking my obesity was predetermined, something I couldn’t change, and something that would rule my relationship with myself and others around me for the rest of my days. But then I changed my habits. And it didn’t happen overnight, it’s a slow process. Day by day, week by week, I started making different choices, and over a long period of time, those choices became habits, and those habits became routines, and those routines came to define my own sense of self. The beauty in realising all of this, is that the same can be applied to thought processes. The sum of what I have learned from cognitive behavioural therapy and the millions of brilliant things written by body positive warriors online is that thoughts are just habits internalised. And you can change those too. Not overnight, but you can.
You can challenge the voice in your head that’s obsessed with the word “enough”. Not thin enough, not intelligent enough, not successful enough, not lovable enough, not beautiful enough. I’m sure this sounds familiar. You can say “I am enough for me”, and the more you say it, the more it will become true.
The key take away for me in all of this, is that yes, I lost a lot of weight, and I am fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been, but that is not the solution to my happiness. I have felt over the past year (and not constantly of course) more moments of real alignment between my body and my mind than ever before, and those are the moments in which I feel completely and unequivocally myself. So my best advice to anyone struggling with insecurities, anxieties, or difficulties of any sort is, would you speak to someone else the way you are speaking yourself? Yes? (OK, sorry I can’t help you.) No? Then don’t be such an arsehole to yourself. Be your own friend. Be kind. Be gentle. Be fair.
Because I can promise you, although I may not know you, you are definitely enough just the way you are.
Illustration by my beautiful and wonderfully talented friend, Suzi Kemp.