I spent far more than my share of time hating my body. For 20 years, in fact, before I experienced a dramatic mental shift. Ask my best friend, Laura, who started in junior high school trying to get me to see myself differently. We spent a lot of time on beaches or in her backyard pool in Florida, after she and I both moved away from Bellevue, Nebraska, where we met the first day of 7th grade.
“You are beautiful,” she would tell me when I’d tear myself down. For a long time, I’d wonder what she was seeing that I did not see in the mirror and in photos. After many years, I began to believe, at least, that SHE thought I was beautiful.
“You have two choices,” she said to me once. “You can spend your whole life miserably trying to change your body. Or you can learn to love it.”
I figured out it was much easier to put my energy into the latter. (If you’re reading, Laura, I love you. Thank you for teaching me this.)
One day years ago I was at the gym, and a friend I’ll call Dawn, who lived in my neighborhood, changed my life unintentionally. I was criticizing myself for my physical flaws, and she said, “Hm. Well, I love my body. It serves me well.”
I found myself speechless. First of all, Dawn was no supermodel. By the world’s standards, she was 20 lbs. overweight and not particularly pretty. Second, what she said violated the code of women.
For the men reading this, women all know the drill: if given a compliment (that you look pretty or whatever), you must reply by saying the compliment is not true and then saying something derogatory about yourself.
Usually girls have this important social code mastered by, oh, about 7th grade! My oldest daughter has it down pat. She is phenomenally gorgeous and has a beautiful body by anyone’s standards, but if given a compliment, she will say something like, “My thighs are huge,” with a disgusted sigh.
For the women reading this: ask a man. They HATE this. They looooove to give you compliments. They would LOVE it if you just said “thank you!” and it brightened your face into a big smile. (I know this because I used to poll my university students–-the guys would get very passionate in responding to this statement. Male readers can please agree or disagree with what I’ve said here.)
But when my friend Dawn said that to me (“I love my body. It serves me well”), I was speechless. I walked away and saw her differently from that moment forward. I saw her as far more beautiful than I ever had before.
Confidence is beautiful. Confidence and humility are not opposites. Insecurity or self-deprecation is not the same thing as humility and is not attractive.
I have learned to love my body. As I experienced this dramatic mental shift, I changed in numerous ways. I dressed differently: I dressed to flatter my body rather than hide it. (Appropriately.) I learned to spend my time and energy enjoying the positive ways my body serves me.
You can imagine the impact this can have on a sexual relationship. (I have mentioned before that I was once an MSW therapist trained in sex therapy. Many if not most sexual problems in couples point directly to the woman’s negative opinion of her body. If she feels negatively enough, she divorces herself from her sexuality, with potentially dire consequences for her marriage.)
Learning to love yours also has these profound possibilities, which became a reality for me:
I learned to make better choices about what I ate, AND I learned to stop battering myself with guilt if I made a poor choice.
As I learned to love my body, I quit shying away from competitive sports.
When you love your body, you’re far less likely to eat foods that harm it, and far more likely to enjoy foods that nourish it. This will be a natural byproduct of valuing that beautiful mortal place that your spirit and heart and mind reside in.
Tomorrow, more thoughts on this, and my challenge for you.