It is a falsehood that body hatred is the realm of the obese, the overweight, or the ugly. I am none of those things. I’m a pretty woman. I’m a size 8.
And yet I’ve hated my body for most of my life. Even as a little girl, I felt the first inklings of body shame, feeling self-conscious about my glasses, a bad perm; having the wrong clothes.
That shame has kept me trapped. It has kept me from living a full life, from using my passions, pursuing my goals; from believing in my abilities and myself. Because I hated my body, I spent my college years throwing up in toilets, instead of connecting with those around me. For years I avoided the beach – a place that restores my soul – because it required a bathing suit. I nearly passed up a free trip to Florida because I was ten pounds heavier than I wanted to be. I’ve stayed away from fancy parties, from going out with a group of girlfriends, from taking a yoga class or dance lessons or going to a ball, because I felt intimidated by other women.
I was, in a word, stuck.
Here’s what no one talks about when they bemoan the fact that women are so hard on their bodies: if you hate your body, you are drowning in shame. Deep down, you feel shallow, vain, and petty for thinking so much about something that doesn’t matter that much. After all, we’re not talking about eradicating cancer or world hunger. And if you happen to be a pretty woman, or you have a body that isn’t that fat? You feel extra guilty.
And yet, how can you be free and clear to devote your time and energy to curing cancer, to ending world hunger, to stopping violence against women, if, every day you’re suffering because you can’t stand the woman who looks back at you from the mirror? How can you love yourself if you hate your body?
I went on my first diet at 17. Since that time, I’ve been underweight, a normal weight, and overweight. I’ve been a chronic dieter, an undereater, a binge eater, a sugar addict, and a bulimic. I’ve been a size 2, a size 12, and every size in between. No matter the number on the scale, the constant has been an aching pull, a feeling that my body could never be good enough. I would reach one goal, only to be pulled into another self-improvement project. There was always something to fix; to improve; to esteem.
Throughout my 20s, I thought the problem was my body hatred. And yet, I didn’t really want to love my body. I wanted to be skinny – to recapture the size 2 body I had at 19, a body I had attained only through rigorous dieting and bulimia – and then, of course I’d love my body.
Life had other plans. I gave birth to three children. Like many of the mothers I knew, I simply assumed that I would despise my flabby mother’s body for the rest of my life, would always be at war with an extra 15 pounds. I adopted the mantle of motherhood, schlepping about in my sweats and workout clothes, my hair tucked into a baseball hat. I joined my girlfriends’ body bashing sessions, joking about my stretch marks, mushy belly, and flabby butt. I abhorred bathing suits, so I never took my children swimming. I hated dressing rooms, or trying on clothing, so I avoided shopping. I threw away my fashion magazines – this coming from a woman who longed to be a fashion designer as a girl – because they made me insanely jealous.
I tried to act like I didn’t care that I disliked my body. I figured the only one I was hurting was myself.
But self-hatred and self-love make very uncomfortable bedfellows.
My turning point was my 30th birthday, when I realized that I had been on the same perpetual diet for over a decade, continually gaining and losing the same 15 pounds. I remember looking in the mirror with a mixture of regret and sorrow: How had I morphed into a depressed, food-obsessed woman?
Sometimes we have to be at rock bottom before were willing to surrender.
What did I need to surrender? My high expectations. My perfectionism. My belief that I wasn’t beautiful unless I was a size 2. My belief that I would morph into obesity if I stopped dieting. My belief that I was unfixable; too screwed up to change.
As long as I was mired in body hatred, I was unable to be the wife, mother, daughter, friend – woman – that I wished to be. As long as I waited for the someday when I would finally love my body, my life was on continual hold.
Please God, I prayed. Take away my desire to be skinny.
It was a start.
I found a counselor. I began the process of examining my relationship with my body, with food, and with myself. I climbed out of my depression, one difficult lesson at a time. I faced food addiction. When I was surprised with a fourth pregnancy at 32, I used it as an opportunity to love and accept my body in all its incarnations – even at its roundest, heaviest state. And I found great love for my full, ripe body, and, for the first time in 13 years, I had peace.
During this time, I began to imagine how I could use this giant wound for greater good. How could I offer women a message of hope? How could I help women love and accept their bodies, and themselves?
I started a blog to do just that. And yet, I refused to act on it for nearly two years. Why? Because I was afraid. I was afraid to bare my soul and share the depth of my pain. As I dealt with a fussy newborn, and a mushy, flabby postpartum body, I was surprised to discover that I still harbored remnants of the old body loathing. How could I write as long as I was still caught? How could I tell women to love and accept their bodies, when I had days when I didn’t love my body?
And yet, it is precisely because I’m imperfect, because I’m traveling the same journey, because I have days when I feel smashing and fabulous and frumpy and flabby and dumpy and divine and all things in between that I can relate to every woman who has ever hated her body, or herself.
Ive learned that self-hatred is a sneaky foe. (As Sally Kempton observed, “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.”) Unless it’s rooted out at the source, it simply moves from one arena to the other with adept swiftness, catching you off guard when it reappears. It keeps you restless, constantly striving for self-improvement, as it moves the battle from your body to money, from money to your parenting, from your parenting to your very self-loathing.
Ive learned that the body is not the real issue, but how we feel about ourselves. For years, I thought my body wasn’t good enough. The real problem is that I didn’t believe that I was good enough. I didn’t hate my body, I hated myself.
I’ve learned that the body can be a conduit for growth. We all have stuff: pain, sore spots, wounds. Some of my stuff is my body hatred. I can fight it, resist it, hide it, ignore it, wish for different stuff, envy someone else’s stuff, or I can embrace it.
I’ve learned that my body has its own wisdom, that I can trust myself to make good choices, that if I honor my intuition, and listen to its still, small voice, it will show me how to care for myself.
I’ve learned that loving my body means treating it well, giving it proper nourishment, rest, exercise, and self-care.
I’ve learned that I can celebrate my body’s beauty – even those things that in my ignorance I’ve called “ugly.” There is beauty in dimples and age spots and wrinkles and stretch marks and rolls and grey hair and the whole gamut of precious, human “imperfection.”
I’ve learned that I can celebrate other women’s beauty – even beauty that feels “more” than mine.
I am learning, I am slowly learning, to see my body – to see every human body – through the eyes of love.
Many days, as I’m going about my errands, I’ll cross paths with a friend, a neighbor, or acquaintance. No matter the woman, I’m struck by a similar epiphany: the experience of being bowled over by their beauty. I tell these women how beautiful they are, but, much of the time, I’m uncertain whether they accept my sincerity. And yet, I know what I see.
I’m seeing them with right vision. I’m seeing them as God sees them, and let me tell you: it’s breathtaking.
Up until now, I’d never experienced this for myself. But a few months ago, as I was leaving a bathroom stall at a restaurant, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Who is that stunning woman? I thought to myself. I gasped, as I realized: I was looking at myself.
I am so glad that I stumbled onto your site. You are such an amazing person. Thank you! Your words lift my spirit in my time of need. Thank you for putting into words what I am often times thinking. Your soul radiates.
i am a great believer in the law of attraction/fate etc, and therefore found your site at the appropriate time in my life.
I'm just about to turn 30 and finally starting to accept & love myself. Great site
so glad i found you. x
i just read your entire e-book this evening. your point of view on all of this is incredible. i think you've just changed my life.
Thank you so much for creating this site. I have hated my looks for as long as I can remember and I still struggle with constantly trying to self improve and diet having lost loads of weight, vomiting to keep slim and then gaining loads of weight trying to kerb sugar addiction and wanting plastic surgery to change my face.
I have been to counsellors but I feel bad that I am unfixable because one counsellor would try to convince me that I look fine and unique and the other tries to convince me that I really do rate myself and that I need to get over myself and I secretly think I am superior – which I find ridiculous because why in private with no one around do I still slate myself, there’s no one there to take pity on me so how can that be true. I’ve read that maybe I am a Martyr which means I am doomed.
And then I came across your site where you mention the guilt of complaining about what you have even though you realised you were not hideous. I know I could look worse but I still wish I looked amazing and stunning and felt that way. I’m hoping if I read more that I can too come to accept myself.
(p.s. I think you look stunning by the way)
Reading your story gave me goosebumps. I find such comfort in knowing that my individual story about struggling with body image is unique but I am not alone.
I have spent my life battling weight issues. Today, I am at a healthly point with my weight. However, I am not at the point of looking in the mirror and seeing a me I can love.
I have other issues with perfection and actually that is part of what hit a chord with me when I found your site. I am not sure I ever really put all of it together. My struggles with body image are related to my strong need to have everything be "perfect." It sounds like a such a simple connection but really it has never been as clear is it right now, after reading your story.
I applaud you for your site and as you said
you are using your giant wound for greater good; … sharing your story in order to help other women.
Thank you for taking the chance on your idea.
I can't believe that I've stumbled onto your incredibly insightful website. I was doing a search on google for 'sugar detox' and came across your site. The need to detox from sugar is now what I realize is just a symptom from a greater underlying problem. It seems I've been struggling my entire life with self loathing vs. self acceptance, never truly loving myself inside and/or out. I know the woman I strive to be but am always held back by my own disbelief in myself as well as my own self sabotaging ways. I'm always looking for a man or something outside myself to make me happy and complete me. I have a long way to go but since having my son 3 yrs ago I truly want to conquer this battle so I can be a great example for him.
Thank you so much for sharing your insight, experience and wisdom. I look forward to all your newsletters.
I was so touched by your comment and the email that you sent. Oh, that old foe, self-loathing: yes, I know it well, too. One day I asked a friend of mine, “Did I miss out on some gene that other people got, that allows them to love and accept themselves?” That’s how I felt for years. Learning to love and accept myself is a daily journey for me. Lately, I’m learning to accept my humanness, my dark side: those parts of me I try to hide. When I felt envious yesterday of another woman, instead of trying not to feel jealous, I just let myself feel jealous: eventually the feeling went away. It was a good lesson for me: that I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my feelings, even the negative ones. If I let myself feel them, they have less power: they come and go. When I resist them, they grow.
Here’s to you on your journey of self-love: may you offer yourself grace, love, compassion and kindness. You may enjoy this article on loving yourself with compassionate self-talk:
Take good care. You ARE worthy, wonderful, and whole: just as you are.
Since I can remember I have struggled with loving myself an accepting the reflection in the mirror. I am now in my early 20's and still struggling. I think my biggest problem is loving myself unconditionaly and not being so critical of myself( weight). I'm not a big girl but, I'm not tall either. So when I gain four to five pounds it is very noticeable. But after reading your story, it makes me feel that I can also overcome my self hate and loathing, by taking the necessary choices to living a happier life!!!!
I'm so glad! Thank you for writing and sharing.
I think you nailed it on the head here:
"I am at a healthly point with my weight. However, I am not at the point of looking in the mirror and seeing a me I can love."
Isn't that true of so many women? Underneath my desire for health or a thinner body, what I craved for so much of my life was that love and acceptance. I think it's what we all want.
I honestly thought for a long time that I was the only one dealing with such a deep self-loathing. I was stunned to see that so many women struggle with the same issues I do! What has our society come to, that it turns us against ourselves so easily? This obsession with perfection, it is absolutely disgusting and it must end.
Anyway, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your story and being so devoted to helping other women with their self-image. You are definitely one very courageous person!! I am still very much in the middle of a battle against self-hate and sugar addiction, and your kind words and posts have given me more strength than I had ever had before. I've been looking through this website for the last few months and it really has done wonders for me. You truly are touching many lives through your efforts!
Thank you for sharing your story. It is motivating me. My "all or nothing" thinking is slowly changing into acceptance and compassion. I've been here before (motivated to change, determined to stop using food) and I've succeeded time and time again only to fall back into old behaviors. I've read countless self help books, moved and changed, by every single one. But nothing sticks and I always go back to my self destructive behavior. I am trying this time around to follow your advice if self love and compassion and take it one day ate time.
Please God take away my obsession to be skinny.
This post inspired me. I too struggled with starting a website and sharing my journey. not only because it was something that was overwhelming but because I am broken.
We are surrounded by fake people, with fake bodies, living in perfect houses and no one sees what's really going on anymore. Women and mothers used to stay at home raising their children, allowing them to connect and nurture. Not anymore.
This post reminds me that it's only by revealing and being comfortable with our imperfections…taking that facade away, that allows us to connect with others and find common ground.
I'm imperfect and it's okay.
Wow this is a beautifull story. Your strength, self awareness, and ability to accept the truth is inspiring to me. Most outsiders would say that I have a nice body. I am physically active and eat healthy for the most part. But this doesn’t really matter because for so long I have been in denial that my body is beautiful. I stepped on the scale the other day and saw the my weight had flunctuated higher than normal. My immediate reaction was too bash myself. I am not good enough. Why can’t I loose weight like normale people? But than I remembered the wisdom from this blog, that what “healthy” really means is feeding our bodies with love and compassion. With this reminder I was able to go to a workout class and eat a healthy dinner that nourished my body. Instead of acting from a place of self hatred, my actions reflected my acceptance and love for my body. Thank you for reminding me of the truth I have always known in my heart.
Oh, I understand those feelings of, "I'll never change – I'm hopeless!" This post might nurture you:
Healing the voice of hopelessness
Never give up, dear one….I believe in you.
Oh, yes – we are all imperfect and it's okay.
What I hear you saying is that you have a thirst and desire for belonging – and for genuine belonging based on vulnerability.
I share this need and this desire. Oh, it is so huge in me! May we find belonging not in our desire to be perfect – all our strategies to feel accepted and okay, but in our vulnerability, in our shared human condition, in our tenderness.
In gratitude, Karly