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Bodies Are Amazing and I Kind of Love Mine, Thanks to You (part 2)

 The preamble: this is the second post in a 3-part series on learning to love my body. In particular, I'm looking at:
  1. Looking at bodies. Seeing them and accepting them.
  2. Listening to what other people say.
  3. Forming a theology about bodies.
Today is #2. Listening to what other people say.

But first, huge thanks to all of you who read, commented, and/or shared my first post on this. Close to 700 people checked it out in the first 24 hours, and I feel honoured that my words were of interest to so many, and I'm ready to say things a little more loudly, knowing we are all in this big messy boat together!

Last month (oh, hello February!!), my friend Aisling* took some photos of me for an upcoming project she's working on (y'all should stay tuned for more on this). She posted one on Facebook, and by the end of the day, over 80 of my friends had liked or commented on it.

But can I let you in on a little secret?

Photo by Aisling -
My first response to the photo was not a positive one. The photo itself is lovely – the lighting, the the textures, etc etc. Aisling takes good photos. But when I looked at myself, I instantly picked out several things about how I look that I didn't like. I let Aisling share it anyway, because I thought, That is how I look, actually. And I am not going to be ashamed of that (see post #1).

So when the reaction to the photo was overwhelmingly positive about my appearance, I sat back and thought some more. And this is what I thought: What if they are right? What if they aren't just being nice? It is possible that they are wrong. It is possible that twenty-five people I know and trust have a strange sense of what is beautiful, and the other fifty are the type who "like" everything that shows up in their feed...

But it's also possible that I am wrong. It is possible that these people who know me and love me honestly do not see my tummy rolls with the same disgust I do. They truly do not think my lengthy limbs give me the appearance of an unsteady baby giraffe, especially on the dance floor.They think my curls are lively and lovely, not crazy and out of control.

What would happen, then, if instead of disagreeing with their words, either silently or directly denying their right to an opinion on my appearance, I took it in? What would happen if I believed that the truth about my beauty, perhaps, was not my sole decision to make?

I remember a conversation with some friends once about what our standards of “beauty” were. We all had different ways of measuring whether someone was or was not “beautiful” - and you know what? I'm 98% certain that we each fell further short of our own standards than of the others' measuring lines. I remember a lot of surprise and confusion when we heard each other's opinions. As I think about this, it seems to me that I've built my sense of beauty to tip the scales away from my own favour. Why is that?

I am not saying that my beauty depends on validation from one particular person (a dangerous game I think we play in romance), random men on the street, or the standards sold to me by the media or other unhealthy external sources. What I am saying is my heart needs to shift away from the self-centred and distorted belief that I alone truly know the ugliness of my body.

A few years back some boy band from the UK came out with the song “That's What Makes You Beautiful,” and I will freely admit that I loved it. I loved its catchy tune and seemingly sweet lyrics. And then, after hearing it for about the hundredth time, I realized that I fundamentally disagreed with its message:
You don't know you're beautiful
Bathroom selfies with Aisling (photo by Aisling)
That's what makes you beautiful

What a bill of goods we've been sold! Ignorance of my beauty ought not be the defining feature of my beauty (or the defacto marker of humility) in the same way that an awareness of my beauty ought not destroy it. A healthy-self love is neither haughty nor self-debasing. And just as a healthy self-perception cannot solely be dependent on the opinions of others (whether we're talking physical appearance or character, external validation is a precarious foundation for one's sense of self), neither does proper self-perception mean a dismissal of every perspective that challenges our pre-existing inner narrative. Especially when that inner narrative has conditioned itself to negativity.

So here's the change I've proposed to myself. I'm starting to live it out with my friends, and it is making a difference. That is the only (and best) testament I can give.
  1. Give honest compliments to people about their character, but also about their appearance.
  2. When people give me compliments, say, “Thank you.” Assume they are telling the truth. Think about their words and remember that they are as valid as my own opinions. Let myself wonder if maybe they are right.

 *I need to tell you a few things about Aisling. First, her name is pronounced Ash-ling. It is an Irish name, and I believe it means dream or vision. How incredible is that!? Secondly, Aisling is a photographer that I highly recommend to anyone looking for any sort of professional photos. Sometimes I work with her and she is a delight to be with, and her work is of the highest quality. Thirdly, Aisling is a blessing and a delight of a friend. We laugh together, we rant about life together, and more importantly, we share questions together. We are often asking the same questions, and that is such a comforting feeling. I'm honoured to have her as a friend.


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