“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” ~Amy Bloom
“Just look at yourself!”
“That chubby face, those massive hips and thighs. The stumpy legs.”
“No wonder he doesn’t love you anymore. No wonder he left you for her! She is so much prettier than you are.”
I stood in front of the mirror. Tears streamed down my face. My body was shaking uncontrollably as I stared at it in disgust.
Resentment and anger accumulated in my chest. Heavy, dark, and painful, the all-consuming emotions tried to crush me. My throat felt tight, I couldn’t breathe, my mind was racing in desperation.
If only I was beautiful. Tall, slender, delicate, and fair. If only my body was perfect.
He wouldn’t have rejected and betrayed me. We would still be happy. The plans we made for a future together intact and alive.
I collapsed on the floor, sobbing and shivering. Blaming my flawed appearance for all the despair, the unbearable suffering, my shattered life.
I had always been insecure about my body and the way it looked. But now, I condemned it for failing me, destroying my life. Judged all its blemishes and cursed its unattractive features that were too ugly to love.
And that’s how it started.
The Miserable Consequence of Fighting Your Own Body
In the weeks after my boyfriend left me in May 2005, negativity consumed me.
I was furious at him for choosing another woman over me, and I beat myself up for not noticing the affair earlier. Toxic thoughts about my inadequate body and insufficient looks circled endlessly in my mind.
I was obsessed with the improvement of my appearance. I cut my hair, changed my wardrobe, waxed, plucked, and dyed. I considered plastic surgery to remove the visible effects of a genetic skin condition that had never bothered me before.
And I deprived myself of food, forwent sleep to have more time to exercise fanatically every day. I ignored any hunger, discomfort, and exhaustion, lashing myself on.
I was determined to make my body better. Fitter, slimmer, more attractive. I would never allow it to let me down again.
And my body reacted to the verbal and physical abuse.
Within a few weeks I suffered from a stomach ulcer, bowel issues, and frequent migraines. My hands and legs were covered in eczema. And I was plagued by hypoglycaemia that made me dizzy, faint and, on a couple of occasions, temporarily blind.
My body and I were at war. I knew I couldn’t go on like this. I had to make peace with the way I looked.
I had to accept my body for what it was to restore my health, emotional balance, and sanity.
For months, I forced myself to look in the mirror and reconcile with every part of my body. I reasoned with myself that the failed relationship had long run its course and my looks had nothing to do with the break-up. I cried as I tried to forgive myself for every flaw, wrong proportion, and imperfection.
After a while, I could look at myself and accept what I saw. Free from condemnation, shame, or judgment. Without the self-hatred, it became easier to take care of my body and my health improved together with my opinion of my appearance.
I thought I had learned to love my body. But I was wrong.
Realization #1: Accepting your body doesn’t equal loving your body.
For eight years, my body and I upheld our truce. I could walk past a mirror without criticizing myself and look at myself without disgust, upset, or resentment. I had found a loving husband who frequently told me how beautiful I was.
And I believed that he really meant it. For the most part I was okay with my looks.
But then I gained twenty pounds during my pregnancy, and the disastrous body-shaming cycle started again.
At first, I didn’t notice.
I thought that I kept my husband at a distance because I was too preoccupied with my daughter. But, in reality, I felt too self-conscious and ashamed to allow him to see my flabby body.
I deluded myself into thinking that life with a new baby was too busy to visit friends. But I just didn’t want them to think, “Blimey, she’s gone fat.”
I believed that I stuffed myself with chocolate and greasy junk food because I had no time to cook from scratch and needed the energy while breastfeeding. In truth, I punished my body for its shortcomings.
I had worked so hard to accept my appearance. But now, my new, changed body had once again become an enemy. I blamed it for my marital problems with a dissatisfied husband and held it accountable for my social isolation. I hated it for its ugliness, for letting me down again.
Because the truth was that, back in 2005, I didn’t accept my body for what it was, embracing all its imperfections.
Instead, I made peace with the fact that I wasn’t beautiful. I accepted my body as “just not good enough.” And convinced myself that, despite the inadequacies, I could live with the specific looks of the body I had back then.
But as I gained weight and my body changed, the acceptance vanished because I never learned to love my body.
Realization #2: The true reason why your body deserves your love.
As I searched for ways to truly love and accept my body, I realized what a miracle the human body is.
Trillions of cells work in harmony to perform millions of tasks that guarantee survival. Day after day, they communicate via chemical, electrical, and hormonal signals to regulate, defend, digest, filter, breathe, regenerate.
The heart beats 42 million times every year, pumping over 2.7 million liters of blood. Bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and joints work together, orchestrated by the nervous system, to allow us to sit, walk, run and jump. It takes the coordinated cooperation of around 100 muscles to simply say “Hello”!
And yet, we are mostly unaware of our body’s accomplishments. It works in the background. Tireless, faithful, reliable, expecting nothing in return.
As a health scientist, I knew how bodily functions worked to preserve life. At least in theory. But somehow I had never truly understood what my body did for me every second of every day.
My body gave me life and served me unconditionally. It allowed me to experience the sunshine and all this world’s joys and pleasures. It enabled me to love, laugh, cry, and contribute.
It created my daughter.
But, instead of being grateful, I ignored and neglected it, sabotaged its efforts to maintain my health, and damaged it with abuse and negativity. Instead of loving the miracle that it was, I reduced it to its outer form, condemned its looks, which I denounced as unacceptable.
Despite knowing what an amazing marvel of creation my body was, I still couldn’t look beneath my body’s exterior appearance. I obsessed over my figure and physique.
Why did I believe my body was somehow wrong or not good enough? Why was it so difficult to love and accept it?
Realization #3: Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder.
As I looked into it more deeply, I started to understand that I had become a victim. All my life, I was bombarded with set definitions of beauty. Every TV show, movie, and newspaper highlighted the standards required to be beautiful.
Every commercial, billboard, and fashion magazine implied how I had to look to be desirable. And they established beauty, attractiveness, and physical perfection as prerequisites for happiness, success, and love.
Society seemed to prescribe specific measurements for every part of the human body.
A certain height, weight, and hip-to-waist ratio defined a gorgeous body. Symmetrical features, flawless skin, and full lips made an attractive face. And every scar, lump, blemish or departure from the perfect body proportions destroyed all prospects of ever being beautiful.
I had allowed my mind to become conditioned and accepted society’s version of beauty without questioning. I believed that I was destined to be ugly because I didn’t meet the criteria. I accepted the fact that beauty was out of my reach because my body shape didn’t make the grade.
I felt like a failure for not being beautiful.
But now it dawned on me that the society-imposed criteria were haphazard. The beauty I yearned for was a set of randomly selected dimensions, arbitrary proportions, and subjective features. Ever changing according to trends dictated by the media and beauty and fashion industries.
Yet I bowed to them. I fixated on my appearance and compared myself to photoshopped idols. I beat myself up for my too broad hips, short legs, and round face.
But these features were out of my control, genetically determined by the miraculous fusion of my parents’ DNA. My body was so much more than its looks and I was so much more than my body.
So why was it so important for me to be beautiful?
Realization #4: The true reason why we strive for beauty and perfection
I now knew that beauty was nothing but a man-made concept. A random phantasm imposed upon us by relentless conditioning.
But still I craved to be beautiful, I obsessed over my body’s appearance, I wanted others to admire my looks.
And the reason was low self-worth.
All my life, I felt inferior to others. I thought that I was inherently worthless.
Yet, I believed that, in order to deserve happiness, love, and fulfilment, I had to be worthy of them. I had to have worth.
So I dedicated my life to the accumulation of worth. And again, society had strict criteria to fulfill in order to be worthy of what I desired. Impressive possessions, qualifications, wealth, and other people’s approval increased my worth. And so did beauty.
The more beautiful, flawless, and perfect a person is, the more worth they possess in society’s eyes.
And my unremarkable looks were not good enough, leaving me with a painful worth deficit.
Because not being beautiful made me worth less compared to others. Unworthy of a happy life, undeserving of a loving relationship. And there was nothing I could do about it.
Or so I thought.
The Incredibly Irony of Our Obsession with Beauty
All my life I had been stuck in a disastrous, depressing loop.
I wanted a life blessed with happiness and love. And in order to deserve it, I had to be worthy. But I couldn’t be worthy because I wasn’t beautiful enough.
My body’s looks didn’t meet the requirements.
And that’s why I could never love my body. Because it doomed me to a miserable, worthless life full of heartache, disappointment, and suffering.
But all my self-loathing, self-condemnation, and the inability to love and accept myself were based on a mesh of lies.
Because the truth is that beauty is a myth, a random set of society-imposed criteria. And not falling into the narrow range of qualifying measurements does not make us worthless.
Our worth doesn’t depend on beauty, desirability, popularity or other people’s admiration and approval. It is an inherent part of who we are. An intrinsic, absolute feature of our being.
We are worth personified, every one of us.
We all equally deserve to be happy and loved. No matter what we look like, how tall we are, or how much we weigh.
Our body’s outer appearance will never change anything about our worth. Our scars and imperfections cannot diminish our deservedness. Excess weight won’t make us inferior to others.
Because we never were worthless. Nor will we ever be.
How to Finally Love Your Body
After these life-changing realizations, I went to work to improve my self-worth and break my mind’s conditioning.
I must have repeated the affirmations “I am worth” and “I love and approve of myself” thousands of times. I ignored my mind’s resistance to the new paradigm and forgave myself when I slipped back into old self-criticising habits for a while. I persevered.
I kept reminding myself that our commonly accepted concept of beauty was society-imposed, arbitrary, and unfounded. My body was a miracle regardless of whether its outer appearance met the criteria. As such, beauty wasn’t a prerequisite for loving it. Or for my worthiness as a person.
As my mind got used to the new way of thinking, I started to accept my body as a wonderful part of the infinitely worthy being I was. I broke free from the misguided untruths I used to bow to.
I am in a loving relationship with my body now. We are a team. I listen to its needs and allow it to look after me.
Every day I thank it for being awesome and serving me so well. When my body changes or is unwell or in pain, I bless it with love instead of cursing it for being weak or letting me down.
I still carry the twenty pounds I gained during my pregnancy. I might lose them eventually, for health reasons. But they don’t destroy my beauty; they don’t deduct from my worth.
I no longer look in the mirror and see vast hips, a flabby belly, and imperfections. I see a miracle. I see life.
I see worth.
Beauty isn’t restricted to a chosen few who happen to meet the requirements. It is an expression of the marvel of human existence. Beauty is within all of us.
Your body is a miracle. You are worth.
And you are be-you-tiful.
About Berni Sewell
Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer, and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Grab her free “Healthy Self-Worth Starter Kit” to boost your confidence, release shame and self-judgement, and start reclaiming your life today.