Let me back up one minute and say, without blame or sadness, that I was raised to hate myself. The first time I remember hating myself, I was four years old. My entire self-concept was built from a solid foundation of shame and utter disgust with myself. As I grew up, this foundation dug deep roots, sprouted strong branches until so many of the decisions I made in my life were based on the one truth I was certain of: I sucked. I was not worthy. I was not deserving. I was not lovable.
I remember, specifically, on that 30th birthday, ogling a photo of myself at 15, on the beach, in a bikini. A bikini! I didn’t even remember that I had OWNED one, let alone wore one in public! I thought about how that 15-year-old felt INSIDE on a daily basis. “I’m so fat” was a leading mantra. Looking in the mirror and calling myself horrible names, telling myself I was unforgivably ugly was another common activity.
But what dawned (finally! At THIRTY!) on me, looking at this 15-year-old me, was that I had never known the reality of my own body. What I thought my body was, what I felt INSIDE, was almost the polar opposite of the outside reality. Okay, so that was true of this 15-year-old self, all cute, in her black bikini on the beach but it couldn’t have been true for other ages, other times, right? I looked through the pictures remembering every age – starting with four! – where I had told myself I was “fat,” I was “ugly,” I was “stupid.” All I found were pictures of a girl and a woman I would have – at THAT moment, turning 30 – would have loved to be, would have loved to look like. There had never been any real reason to not accept the body I was in as perfect – not because it was a “perfect” body according to anyone else – but because it was MY body, the only body I had! I had wasted thirty years wishing for a perfection that really existed all along.
I often think of my mother’s death as the moment where I started to turn my self-hatred around, where I realized life was too short to hate myself. But I began the journey toward self-love earlier than that. It occurs to me, at this moment, that the birth of my son, six years prior to my mother’s death, was one of the first huge catalysts on this journey.
It didn’t happen all at once – that letting go of my self-hatred. It has happened little by little with extreme effort and constant vigilance. It is still happening. Most of it is gone. Most days I don’t feel any of that old hate. Some days I only feel quick twinges of it that I can quietly acknowledge then release. But there are days… days when some remnant, some overlooked shard of self-hate lying still and quiet on the floor of my heart, will jump up and bite without warning. Those are difficult days.
But most of my days are built around the necessity of self-love.
A huge part of that striving is to embrace the fact that each of us is perfect. We are each perfect versions of ourselves every moment. Even when we are not at our best, we are, for what we are capable of at the moment, our best. We are not advertisement-Hollywood-movie-airbrush-photoshop perfect. We are real perfect.
I did not truly begin loving myself until I started loving myself, with no strings attached. I couldn’t withhold that love until I had lost some weight or until I was able to run a certain distance or until I made a certain amount of money or until I finally finished that manuscript or until I stopped being grouchy sometimes or until my teeth were white or until I could make pancakes as well as my partner or whatever… whatever silly, pointless condition we place on our right to self-love. No. I have to love myself now. Right now. This moment. Exactly as I am. Perfect.
After that, I lost some weight. I began setting and reaching milestones in my physical activity. I started taking my tri-training a bit more seriously – pushing myself to achieve more. But there were many other ways – probably more important than any of these -- that this attitude of self-love served me well. All of these other ways boil down to the fact that I have become more capable of unconditional love for others, more capable of helping others get what they need.
Every day, every moment, I am a different person. I change. So do you. If we can’t love ourselves – exactly as we are – in this moment (however imperfect or scary or straight-up “bad” this moment might be), we are not loving ourselves. Only loving ourselves in this moment will create a next moment built on love. This is why, it is precisely those moments when I feel I can’t be self-loving that I need to be all the more. When those tiny shards of self-hatred get lodged somewhere in my heart, it sometimes takes considerable effort to pry them loose and get back on with being the awesome badass that I am. That effort, however, is worth every moment it takes because the alternative is an endless cycle of self-hatred, an agonizing hell to which I hope never to return.
Look at yourself with love.
Wake up to yourself!
Cook and eat with love.
Move with love.
&, of course, vaya con dios