Mental Health, Self-care

How can you love your body when you hate your looks?

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Full disclosure: I don’t hate my looks. Well, not anymore.

But I used to.

I was so skinny I thought I looked perpetually sick. It was nearly impossible to find clothes that fit me properly so I often looked ridiculous. On top of that, my hair had become a hot mess and so, for the last 4-5 years of my twenties, it was either braided or wrapped in scarves, all the time. All year long.

I also felt shitty. With chronic stomach pain, joint pain, and back pain, I was depressed and felt useless and unlovable.

Add to this the fact that I have the face of a 16-year-old (or so I’ve been told by “well-intentioned” strangers or co-workers every freakin day of my life), and you get an idea how much I was starting to deeply hate myself and my body.

Not only had I spent half my life feeling like a scrawny kid, but with people constantly commenting on my appearance, size, age, and even questioning my abilities (!)… the older I got, the more it was getting to me.

I’m not trying to convince you that I’m pretty or ugly. I’m just saying that I know what it’s like to hate your body or the way you look.

The good news is: I’m over it now. Thank God.

But lately, I’ve come to the realization that truly loving your body does not mean that you reach a point where you look in the mirror every morning and go: “Jeeezuss! I look HOT!”.

Although I’ll be honest, some days I do feel like that now ????

But that’s not real love. Narcissism is not true love and this temporary and superficial sentiment is not what translates into me treating my body with love and respect.

What does loving your body truly mean?

What true body love means

Vanity is not love

Loving your body is not about loving your looks (although one doesn’t necessarily exclude the other) and so many of us struggle with our appearance because we miss that distinction.

Equating loving our body to loving the way our body looks is what leads us to either think we have to lie to ourselves and others by claiming we looove our body (when we don’t) in a wishful-thinking/fake-it-till-you-make-it type of way;

Or it leads us to become even more depressed and/or engage in self-destructing behaviors because we feel condemned to never having a “good” body.

As if our body was something we had to bear!

And so, we eat, smoke, drink our feelings away to avoid the pain of being ourselves, or we start chasing the superficial stuff that we think will make us more attractive but that doesn’t necessarily lead to us loving ourselves more.

True love has more to do with appreciation, respect, and gratitude

Truly loving your body has more to do with respect, appreciation, and gratitude for your body than with telling yourself 10 times a day that you have a “nice butt” or a “cute nose”.

That’s not respect. That’s more like vanity or narcissism.

love your body-definition

It seems to me like respect for your body has more to do with a deep appreciation for what your body does for you, whereas narcissism and vanity are all about the ego and a deep feeling or self-importance and self-centeredness.

Can you really love your body even when you think you’re ugly?

Whether you think you are too skinny or too fat, have stretch marks, post-baby weight, a big nose, flabby skin, or whatever “imperfection” you think makes you undesirable or unworthy of love, you can still learn to love your body.

And it doesn’t involve you lying to yourself, or pretending not to care how you look.

The more you cultivate respect and gratitude for your body, the more you will simply love it because you appreciate it.

But choosing the path of respect and appreciation for your body does not mean that you will not try to improve what you have.

It will, however, come from a place of love and not from a place of shame or disgust.

The 7 stages of body acceptance and love

There are 7 steps that culminate in true body love and self-acceptance.

7 stages of Body Love and Acceptance

Stage 1: Pay attention to your body/take notice

Love is attention

Do you pay attention to your body?

I don’t mean do you spend your time studying your appearance, your face, butt, or stomach in search of imperfections while constantly hammering yourself for not being up to your standards.

I mean: do you actually show interest in your body and pay attention to how your body functions?

When it’s moving or resting; your arms and legs when you are walking or taking a shower; your tongue as you enjoy breakfast; or your lungs as you breathe, etc.?

Remove judgment

Carefully observe your body without judging it and comparing it to others or to some ideal you have in your mind. It’s not about how things should look like, it’s about the way they are right now.

Your body is the envelope that carries your soul through this life.

It allows you to say kind words to the people you love, to hear songs, to carry your children in your arms, to eat delicious food, to hold hands, hug, kiss, jog, sing… do all sorts of things you probably take for granted.

You are lucky to be able to do those things.

Start paying attention. Make it a daily practice and slowly you will start noticing more and more all the things your body allows you to do every day.

Stage 2: Understand your body

Do you understand how your body works?

Do you understand how your brain or muscles repair themselves? Or why your body needs sleep at night? Do you know what impact sugar has on your blood pressure? Or how chronic stress and anxiety affect your body?

Do you know which type of food makes you feel great? Which ones make you feel crappy? What brings your energy levels up and what makes you feel low? What improves your mental health, what doesn’t?

You cannot honestly say you love your body (or yourself in general) if you do not take the time to understand how it works, what hurts it, and what it needs to flourish.

So, do make it a goal of yours to better understand the human body in general, but also yours in particular.  

Stage 3: Accept your body

Accepting a situation does not mean that you sit on your ass and do nothing about it.

Acceptance means that you are honest and realistic about the way things are. Only then can you truly identify what cannot be changed and what can, and move on to doing just that.

Be honest

Don’t lie to yourself, pretend, or make excuses. Simply acknowledge that your body is the way it is, and tame the mean critic that’s in your head.

Real love is not about wanting things to be the way (you think) they should be or the way you want them to be, but rather it’s about accepting them as they are.

Real love is, first and foremost, about being unequivocally realistic.

Self-assess

As you take notice of your body, begin to evaluate yourself and the situation:

What brought you here? What role have you played in making things the way they are? Then move on to stages 4 and 5.

Stage 4: Appreciate/Be grateful for your body

Every single element in your body has a purpose and too often, we only notice them once they stop functioning properly.

Break a toe and you will notice how painful it is to simply stand up straight; miss your periods once and you will suddenly start worrying that something is wrong, after shamelessly complaining about menstrual cramps every month.

Body love and self-acceptance affirmation

Thanks to your body, a million little magical things happen in your life every day.

But you have a choice to make and whether you are aware of it or not, you make that choice every day:

you can either hate your body, complain about it, criticize it, be dissatisfied with it, and wish things were different, or you can get real and appreciate it for all that it already allows you to do every day and take for granted.

gratitude for your body-quote

Get into the habit of being thankful for your body daily and expressing your gratitude.

But you must say it. Tell it to God, to the Universe, to Allah… to a tree! It doesn’t matter who or what you say it to, but do say it explicitly every day.

Stage 5: Self-mastery and discipline

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” Lao Tzu

What you want versus what is good for your body

When it comes to truly loving your body (or anything else for that matter), you won’t go far without at least some levels of discipline and self-mastery.

Truly loving and caring for something or someone often implies being strong and lucid enough to put the other person’s needs (or in this case, your body’s needs) before your own.

It’s like caring for a child. You may be tempted to say “yes” to everything the child desires because it would be easier for you, but that would be doing them a great disservice.  

Well, the same goes for how you behave with yourself.

Can you tell the difference between what you want or feel like doing (ex. lie in bed with a bag of chips) and what is good for your body (ex. stretch for 20 minutes in the morning)?

Do you know what foods make your stomach ache, make your heart beat faster, or prevent you from having a good night’s sleep?

Do you know when you should eat more and when you should stop? When you should push and when you should rest?

And do you have the self-discipline to consciously make these choices every day of your life?

Stage 6: Care for your body/nurture it

The next step is to learn to be kind, gentle, and patient with your body, as you would be if you were someone you loved very much.

Give your body what it needs

Make it your priority, or at least one of your priorities, to give your body what it needs to function properly.

More than that, don’t just aim for the minimum: give your body what it needs to thrive!

Pay attention to the signals your body sends you and listen. Don’t wait for things to fall apart to react; be proactive and take good care of your diet, your physical health, your hygiene, your mental health, etc.

Be your body’s own cheerleader

Simply be nice to your body! At all times.

Use kind words when you speak of or to yourself. Even if you are only speaking in your head: your body can still hear the things you say and it believes you. You may not realize it, but you care what you think about yourself.

So, always be mindful of your words. Encourage your body when it’s sick, tired, or sore. If you feel your body catching a cold, literally, say things like:

Go [insert your name]’s white blood cells! You can do it!!”.

It works (!) because when you change your vocabulary, your attitude follows.

I’ll let you guess what happens if you are full of hate for your body and keep telling yourself hurtful things when you’re down, like: “Stupid, useless and ugly body. I hate you!”.

If your body starts to fall apart or you find yourself getting sick more and more often, don’t say mean things to yourself; instead, ask yourself what you might have done in the past days/weeks/months to lead your body down the path of sickness, and fix it.

Touch yourself with love

Don’t underestimate the power of your own touch.

Give yourself an encouraging pat on the back when you accomplish something hard, or gently stroke your arm if you are sad or anxious, touch your belly when you wake up in the morning, or pat your cheek when you need encouragement.

Learn to reassure your body and to show it kindness and love with your actions, your words, and your soothing touch.

Stage 7: Love your body

I think true love and self-acceptance are a work in progress. I don’t know if we ever fully “get” there. After all, we are human.

I still do things that hurt my body, and by doing them, I don’t show my body love or respect.

Here I am, writing all this while sitting on my balcony, smoking a cigarette.

So yeah, just because you know what to do, does not mean it’s easy.

But like everything else worth pursuing, …. It takes effort and dedication, and we must aim for progress rather than perfection.

I don’t know if I’ll ever treat my body 100% respectfully, but what I do know is that, through constant practice of acceptance, respect, and gratitude, I slowly started experiencing a growing feeling of gentle affection and warmth towards myself and my body.

And I think it’s safe to say that I now love my body. At the very least, I love it a whole lot more than I ever did in the past.

Other considerations and general thoughts and tips on how to be nicer to your body and love it

1. Step away from the mirror

For crying out loud, stop looking at your body, and start feeling it more.

This whole self-love thing really isn’t about what your body looks like, it’s about what it does. Yes, appearance matters, but your health and well-being matter more.

Think about it. For the longest time, humans didn’t even know what they looked like unless they walked by a lake or something. What mattered was that their body was healthy, functioning properly and that it was strong enough to keep them safe, or they died.

That’s pretty straightforward.

So, begin by spending more time reflecting on your body’s purpose, rather than just looking at it and try to make it pretty. Self-love is not all about aesthetics.

2. You actually don’t know what will make you attractive to someone else. You really don’t

Not to make this about what other people think but let’s just get this out of the way, in case you are fixating on what other people think of you.

I once met a guy; the very instant I saw him, the world stopped. There was just… something about him. I thought he was too freakin gorgeous! It was like being in the presence of a magnet.

I thought about him almost every day for 6 months without having ever even talked to him.

And, no, I was not a hormonal teenager at the time; I was a grown-ass woman.

Aaanyway….

Turns out, that this beautiful man absolutely believes his body is “ugly and disgusting” (his words, not mine).

Okay Susan, what’s your point, you might ask?  

My point is, it really doesn’t matter much whether or not you think you’re hot: people are attracted to all sorts of things, things you cannot imagine, and things they don’t even understand themselves.

This does not mean that your appearance doesn’t matter at all, because it does. But you have to stop believing that there is one absolute and objective definition of what “good-looks” means because there isn’t. And all that does is kill your confidence and self-worth, and waste your time.

Related post: How to be more attractive [without wearing more make-up]

3. Loving something for what it is versus what you want it to be

We do that with people, and we do that with ourselves.

By projecting onto others what we want them to be instead of seeing them for what they are, we think we pay attention to others, but the truth is we don’t. Not really. Not in a healthy way.

We don’t aim to understand and accept them for what they are, but instead, we fixate on their shortcomings, on what we think they should do or should say, or how they should behave.

We judge, everything and everyone all the time, and we judge ourselves in the same unhealthy manner.

And that’s how we treat our bodies.

It’s time we realized that acceptance is not complacency.

Far from it. Acceptance, in its true form, is radical honesty.

Only when you are lucid as to how things are, can you realistically aim to improve them in the best possible way, if improving them is an option.

4. The first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night

The way we start and end our days will have the most impact on how we conduct ourselves the rest of the day.

Start and end your day by doing things that show respect and kindness to your body: gratitude, positive affirmations, gentle strokes, stretch, yoga, exercise, a glass of water…. Take your pick.

But don’t start the day by checking your Instagram feed first thing in the morning, or by skipping dinner and eating ice cream in bed at night. It will have an impact on your behavior and general attitude towards yourself and your body, whether you realize it or not.

5. Body scan meditation

I’m a big fan of mindfulness meditation, or simply being present in general.

Related article: Let us not call it meditation.

Guided body scan meditation can help you do just that, especially if you are not a very present person.

The purpose of body scan meditation is to “tune in to your body – to reconnect to your physical self – and notice any sensations you’re feeling without judgment” (HelpGuide).

The goal is not relaxation, but rather help you train your mind to be more open and aware of sensory experiences, and more accepting.

I first came across body scan meditation through the Ten Percent Happier app, which I used for about 2 years. I particularly like Joseph Goldstein’s recordings. You can find out more about it in this article right here.

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About Steph

I am a personal growth/self-management enthusiast. I was able to completely transform my life using everything I share here. I hope this blog helps you transform yours as well.
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