I was chatting with my good friend Michelle about bodies and weight loss and self-acceptance and love the other day. I'd sent her Nourishing Wisdom a couple weeks ago, a follow-up to an evolving conversation we've been having since she came to visit me in February. With her permission, I'm sharing parts of our conversation here, because it's a good one.
Michelle: Getting down to my lowest weight did not magically take away any of my self hate. It just meant I was very small, which frankly looked weird, and I was cold ALL the time.
It's just difficult when you're a very goal-oriented person not to think of yourself in that way. How do we balance a healthy desire to achieve goals with self-love and acceptance?
Kelly: I think the first step is to make the goal loving yourself. So the goal becomes 1. Read this book about self-acceptance, 2. Make an art journal, 3. Listen to this CD series about self-love, 4. Go to yoga x times per week, etc. You slowly move the goals to be more self-loving things, and you focus on behaviors, not outcomes.
When you do these practices enough, it becomes easier to think of your body in a different way. It's the attachment to it "having to be this way" that's causing you pain.
I've noticed it a lot with clothes, like, "I want to wear these pants again." And that's totally fine. However, it's my attachment to that idea that's causing drama. It's fine to want to wear them. But it's not okay when I base my happiness on being able to wear them or not.
There are other pants. There are other vintage dresses. There are many ways to be, all worthy of love and acceptance.
Michelle: It's like a kind of refocusing . . . every time I feel myself becoming anxious over the competing priorities in my life, I remind myself to think of loving myself first. What does it mean to choose the loving option? Frequently, it means backing the eff off of the absurd expectation that I can fit it all in without causing harm, and choose the path that will bring the most peace. Today, that means not going to the gym in order to focus all my time on my paper tonight.
And clothes are so tough. I feel like we define ourselves by them in so many ways.
Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. It helps when you realize that today is only one point on a long journey. My body has changed so much because of derby, CrossFit, hormones, pregnancy, non-pregnancy... I just can't hate on it anymore. It's so nice to me. It carries my soul across long-distances. It stretches and bends to accommodate whatever I need. It doesn't complain overmuch, given what I ask it to do all the time.
And when it DOES complain, I need to listen. Last week I was super not feeling CrossFit or eating any particular way, because I was just so emotionally and physically tired. And this time, I listened. I took the week off in a sense. I did what I felt would serve me and my body best. I went to the chiropractor, I got a massage. And I did end up doing one day of lifting, because I felt good that day.
And as it turns out, giving myself the room to do what I needed and wanted meant that this week, I am feeling much more like killing my workouts and eating salads out of mason jars. Now, everyone's mileage may vary. But that's how it was for me.
All this was made possible though, honestly, by a moment where I just threw up my hands and thought "I'm done. I cannot walk another step in self-improvement fueled by disappointment in my body any fucking longer. I surrender. Even if it means that I'll be chubby the rest of my life."
It was that surrender, that total acceptance - even at rock bottom - of myself that's made everything work.
Michelle: I love this: I cannot walk another step in self-improvement fueled by disappointment in my body any fucking longer.
And I could alter it for myself by substituting disappointment in with “fear of”...and hopefully the surrender part will just happen. I'm only just understanding what a traumatic couple of years it has been, for me and for so many of my friends. Things are hard enough already without piling self hate on top. It helps no one.
Kelly: It really doesn't. And honestly, when you told me "I'm happier in a smaller body", I took it at face value. But a small part of me asked, "Yes, okay, but what are you doing to get there? What is the cost of it?" Because I look at pictures where I was my thinnest, and I know that that girl was "happier", but only to the extent that happier meant "more free of the crushing weight of my fear of being a larger person in this world".
I was more free of it, because I was smaller. But my own self-acceptance and okayness with being a plus-size (well sort of - I'm an inbetweenie) woman is a harder-won, better, and harder victory.
My point is: being fully in your body, accepting its wrinkles, curves, dimples, freckles, age spots, bunions, stretch marks, rolls, whatever ... it's really hard. But it feels fucking awesome when you get there. Because you can go out to dinner and really ask yourself: what do I really *want*? What does my body feel like it *needs*?
And it tells you. When I get home from the South I crave piles of vegetables. I like having a lot of vegetables every day because I grow them in my garden, and that relationship with the earth and soil, combined with creative cooking, has changed my relationship with plants. Now, I like them. But I also like ice cream. And either choice is fine. I just have to listen to what’s best for me in that moment.
But when you accept your body as okay, those choices become about you. Not about what all the other external voices have to say. The body has a wisdom to it, a deep intuitiveness. And we can tune in, or we can tune out. But the choice becomes less fraught when we know we are okay.