There’s a lot of chatter about “body love” these days.
If you want to love your body, dress like ‘THIS’… If you want to love your body, think and say ‘THIS’… If you want to love your body, do ‘THIS’.All of that is nonsense. LOVE is defined individually, by each person.
You know how you look at some couples who are deeply in love, but their relationship would DRIVE YOU INSANE? It works for them like a perfected synchronized swimming routine? Body love is personal, and how we define it is personal. For me, it’s taken a hell of a long time, but I have learned that true, deep love for my body stems from the idea of Respect. It’s not just about constant affection (how Merriam-Webster defines love, see below) which is something I’ve always genuinely always had for myself. Instead, it stems from the idea and practice of both honor and admiration.
Am I confusing you? Hear me out.I’ll admit, I played the game with myself for most of my adult life.
I spun on the hamster wheel, chasing the clothes, the makeup and the life that would serve as proof to the world I loved my body. I got the jobs. I personified the trappings of someone who loved their body. And for all intents and purposes, I have “loved” me.
On the outside? I had it all.
Cool, statement-making jobs in Las Vegas (#Chippendales) and later as a director in the plus fashion business in Los Angeles. Lots of clothes. Lots of shoes. Lots of guys numbers in my phone. But I didn’t know what “love” for me really meant. So I chased “love” as defined by external sources around me rather than create a definition of the word that worked for me. A definition that worked to make me happy.
Ok, let’s not be dramatic. I’ve had a pretty awesome and great life so far.
I have lots of gratitude for the people, places and things that have shaped me. But, looking back, I can see there was always an underlying simmer that I wasn’t as dialed-in as I wanted to be. There was more I was searching for that I couldn’t identify… I’d later figure out, what was lacking from my self-belief system wasn’t love but <i>respect</i>.
Early 2015 was rough.
I had moved to a new city for a new job that I ended up hating; it was draining me dry, and I was going down protesting. I was abandoning my self-care while pursuing professional goals that were burning me out, leaving me unfulfilled. My personal life was in the toilet. And I was gaining weight pretty fast as a result of a series of life choices, choices that were both caused by my unhappiness and adding to it at the same time.
That summer, both my mom and my dad ended up in the hospital.
Two different hospitals, for two different and serious reasons. At the same time. That was when I realized (like many people do on the other side of 35) that I was going to die one day. I had no idea how, or when, but it would happen. And that was when I realized that my personal health was in jeopardy. I knew I wasn’t healthy. I could feel it. My knees. The constant pressure on my lower back. The inability to walk up stairs. The glaring truth that both of my parents had heart disease All of that being said, if you had asked me if I loved myself, I would have said “yes.” And I would have believed it. Because, at that time, I loved my body defined the only way I knew how.
Several months later in my Los Angeles apartment, after a string of deep dives into the dating pool on top of everything else, I realized something huge; I was making the same mistakes in my personal life again, and again, and again and feeling frustrated that I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted.
So my health was bad. And my happiness was flatlining. And I wasn’t progressing in life and feeling fulfilled the way I knew I desired to be, down in my soul. Shit was broken. Or misdirected. Or both.
That was when it occurred to me that I had to reevaluate the idea of what LOVE would mean to me.
To reevaluate what “loving my body” would mean and how it would shape my actions. Because the way I’d been doing things was NOT getting me where I wanted to be.
So, to cut to the chase (since you’re probably scrolling on your cell phone reading this and wondering when you can get to the pictures and lessons) I forced myself to look at the things that weren’t working in my life in a very real and very raw way.
I began to think about things in one of two ways.
I asked myself, does this action or belief serve me or keep me from progressing? Although REALLY difficult, the idea was shockingly easy. I started to ask myself things like….
“Sarah, does feeling physically limited by your body serve you or keep you from progressing?”
Emotional Sarah Self: I hate to admit it, but no. I can’t think about hiking or going for a long walk on the beach when the act of walking my dog halfway down the block leaves me in pain.
Rational Self: How can you feel less physically limited by your body? Start to move more, exercise more and get your body in better condition.
“Sarah, does eating driven by your emotions, irregularly, starving sometimes and binging others, eating the first foods you can get your hands on… does that serve you or keep you from progressing?”
Emotional Sarah Self: (Long, long pause filled with the recognition that I’ve just anesthetized my personal pain with the whole bag of cheddar cheese popcorn at 1 a.m because I’m feeling lonely…) No. It leaves me feeling full and empty at the same time and only furthers my loneliness.
Rational Self: So how can you eat in a way that better serves you? Eat with more education, awareness and with better practices based on the fuel and science of what my body needs to run itself. Stop using food as an emotional tool and deal with the root of the emotions instead.
“Sarah, have the kind of personal relationships you’ve been involved with recently been serving you or keeping you from progressing?”
Emotional Sarah Self: No. I am entering into the same relationships again and again and again, and they are not fulfilling or getting me where I truly want to be…
Rational Self: How can you have personal relationships that better serve you then? Elevate yourself, be clear about your needs, be honest about your choices and desires, be peaceful and aware of a higher Universe and recalibrate your definitions of relationships.
And so I made a decision.
To overhaul my life in a major way. And each change I have approached since then and will approach in the future, has been fueled by one thing: a love for my life and a love for me.
I am learning, now, that it is not enough to LOVE my body, but I must also RESPECT her by doing the things that serve to advance her. By being painfully real with myself and by approaching my past with forgiveness and acceptance.
For the last six months, I have been working out, getting stronger and more fit and finding muscles I have never had. I am shedding weight as a result of the lifestyle changes I am making in the pursuit of becoming a more healthy and a more happy person. I am not chasing weight loss itself, but I am chasing a feeling of physical freedom and emotional balance.
I have expanded my definition of Body Love.
For me, my sense of love isn’t defined by wearing fitted clothes that unapologetically show my curves, lumps, and bumps- though I have always done that without issue. My self-love isn’t defined by saying I must be a certain small (or large) size.
My self love is defined by hundreds of small, unglamorous acts of love every day that support and build me up.
Like, selecting and preparing food that nurtures me. Going for a long walk. Doing an extra twenty squats during my workout. Making my bed every morning. Telling my friends I love them, offering to help them in any way I can. Calling my parents for no reason at all. Keeping my closet clean and valuing the clothes that fill it. Taking the time to pick out a date-night dress I want, not just buying it because it fits but because it’s unique and speaks to me. Putting my energy into relationships, that add to my life. Meditating. Repeating my mantra. Accepting a level of faith and Universe into my life.
And so I leave you with one thought.
You hear a lot about Body Love these days. How it’s “supposed” to look like and how you’re “supposed” to act if you believe in it. I ask you, instead, to challenge that idea. What is Body Love mean to YOU? At the end of the day you have only one body, you have only one life. Define it by the parameters you want. Define it by the parameters you require. Define it by the parameters that speak to you, and only you.
Photographer / Nichole Alex
Clothes / Torrid