Terrifying to many, liberating to some, we’ll soon be barraged with messages to create New Year’s resolutions and prepare and prime your body for bikini season.The magazines find me at the checkout stands in the grocery stores where an airbrushed and glossy Heidi Klum steals my glance.And she whispers in my ear, “Do you want a bikini body this summer?”
Every time I go grocery shopping I think to myself, is it possible, in this culture, where she is the paragon of attraction and I look so different from her, that I can also be beautiful?
These thoughts often leave me feeling inadequate until I remind myself: not only is it possible that both Heidi Klum and I can be beautiful at the same time, it is true. It is something our mothers and grandmothers and sisters have told us. Whatever it was that created you, wonderful YOU, it made you out of beauty.
Beauty is physical, mental, spiritual, and not just one or two of these things, but all of them combined. How can we learn to believe this ourselves, and teach these truths to our brothers, sisters, children and mothers?
I still struggle. I grew up hating my body and it has taken all of my 25 years to heal. The following are some of the practices that have worked for me, and have helped me become comfortable in my body. Through my story, I hope to encourage you to love yourself as much as I love me!
1. Listen to your body.
When I was 17 years old, I stopped listening to my body. I stopped eating. My weight dropped at an alarming rate and I was praised and exulted as someone who trumped bodily urges; I was otherworldly and I looked down on those who could not control their brutish appetites.
I soon realized my intentional starvation was a sickness and the symptom of a larger issue. This became clear as my body withered away into the wisp of a body that I wanted so badly: the body of a Chanel ad, Twiggy-like, bones protruding. Yet I still hated it.
Then I realized, If I continued ignoring the pleadings of my body, I would indeed become otherworldly. I would be dead.
In treatment, I learned to listen to my body as a complex mystery of cells and information versed in the ways of preservation, energy and life. Why would we silly humans ever try to control and manipulate this great product of thousands of years of evolution? Why do we turn against our bodies?
The more you listen to your body, the better you will feel, and consequentially, the more your body will project beauty and vibrancy to the world. As soon as I learned to eat when I’m hungry, and stop when I’m full, my body took care of the rest.
We should not distrust our bodies, manipulating them into submission as if they were uncontrollable and evil. Let’s respect our bodies by caring for, loving, and trusting our physical selves.
Let’s work with our bodies to improve our lives and ourselves, and not against them. I exercise and eat well because it feels good and helps my body function, not because I feel the need to punish myself for a plate of french fries that I ate.
2. Know that you are unique.
I love video games, my hometown (Seattle), metal and the color pink. There is no one out there like me, and there is no one out there like you.
To wish to embody someone else would be to deny yourself all of your tastes and pleasures (not to mention your environment: family, friends, kittens, ice cream, sunshine, etc.) Any and all of your qualities are inextricably linked to your body and your environment. Your body is yours and it is undeniably attached to all of the complexities of your mind and environment.
Your situation is so unique; it is limiting and unfair for you to compare yourself to anyone else.
3. Learn to admire the beauty of others without comparing, judging or criticizing yourself.My disease was based in comparison and I judged myself with the viciousness I imagined all around me. Every threat posed to me was a contest: if I couldn’t be prettier, I could definitely be skinnier.No on ever wins the prettiest girl in school contest. It is unfair to you, the wonderful, beautiful, all that and a bag of chips, you. It is unfair to others as they are stripped of everything they are and judged accordingly.
When I was able to stop comparing myself to other women, it became much easier to not only love and accept myself, but to love and accept others.
Eventually, I learned to appreciate and admire the beauty of other women.
Instead of thinking, “I wish I had Heidi Klum’s body, she is better than me, I hate her.” I now say to myself, “Heidi Klum has a great body, but her body does not reflect on the quality or value of mine.”
If I’m feeling particularly good, I might even say to myself “Heidi Klum [or, insert object of potential jealousy here] has a great body! I also have a great body and personality to boot!”
Be good to yourself this summer, and allow yourself the joy and freedom of the beautiful, because you are a one-of-a-kind beauty.
After all, the only things you need to have a “bikini body” is a bikini and a body!
Photo: (top and bottom) Butz 2013 via Flickr; (middle) Maxim Michael via Flickr