Loving what you cannot change about your body

An anonymous commenter had this request:

How about a post on learning to love (or a least accept) physical features that you don’t like and can’t change? Big nose, bad hair, weak chin; features that can’t be hidden or made more attractive by careful dressing.

And I thought IMMEDIATELY of a scene from “Roxanne.” Do you remember the one I’m thinking of? YouTube didn’t have a clip, unfortunately, but here’s the gist: Charlie/Cyrano decides that perhaps cosmetics can help downplay his nose. He goes to the local five & dime for some makeup counter assistance, and the woman there attempts some “shading,” which pretty much just makes his nose look … dirty. She tries her best, but there’s no makeup product or technique that’s going to achieve what Charlie is hoping.

And we’ve all got stuff like that. The way I see it, our physical traits fall into four buckets:

  • Things we actively love
  • Things we recognize as valuable
  • Things we don’t love, but choose to minimize or downplay
  • Things we don’t love and can’t downplay in any way

I love my delicate wrists and ankles, my waist, and my wild, unruly hair.
I see my muscular thighs and broad, sure feet as valuable.
I don’t love my excessive body hair and cellulite, but I can minimize or downplay them.
I don’t love my upper arms, and when it’s sweltering outside, I can’t mask them in any way.

I’ve come to have some measure of affection for my little spare tire of a belly, and just keep telling myself that ALL knees are kinda weird looking, so I can make peace with those things. But no matter how much I weigh or how many pushups and arm curls I do, my upper arms refuse to change shape. And since I absolutely will not wear three-quarter-length sleeves every damned day no matter the temperature, they’re quite visible during the summer months. I wish I could say that I just adore every single aspect of my own figure, but if I’m being truly honest, I am yet to make peace with this one.

So, instead of getting overly touchy-feely on you, I’m going to keep that in mind as I write about ways to love the “unlovable” parts of your own body.

  • Life is balance. Just as the things you love and accept about your body define you, so do the things you dislike and wish away. You are unique because of that mixture. And unique can be tough, but there’s no denying that it’s also valuable.
  • You may never know what they are, but there could be biological reasons for your traits. Every biology class I’ve ever taken has reminded me that Sickle Cell Anemia hasn’t been genetically eliminated in Sub-Saharan Africa because carriers of a single Sickle Cell allele are Malaria-resistant. What if the keratosis pilaris on my skin is keeping me from getting a brain tumor and scientists just don’t know it yet?
  • Your physical appearance links you to your family. Even if you didn’t WANT your grandpa’s big schnoz or your Aunt Imelda’s frizzy curls, it’s pretty wonderful that you can carry a little bit of your family around with you wherever you go.
  • Remember that EVERYONE has things they hate. Heidi Klum, Michelle Obama, Jillian Michaels, Rachel Bilson, that flawless-looking girl who brews up your morning latte. There is no “perfect” in this world, and there is most definitely no “perfect body.” You are not alone.
  • Everything is relative. YOU may think your nose is big, your chin is weak, your hair is bad … but not everyone will see it that way. Husband Mike likes to call purple things pink and blue things purple, reminding me that each eye perceives the world in a slightly different manner. Bodies are no different, and what annoys you may enchant others. I tend to have a bit of a complex about the junk in my trunk, but a colleague laments her lack of booty curvature. Another friend feels her ample rack is overwhelming on her tiny frame, but I all I can see is the gorgeous, full breasts I’ll never have. You may not be able to see yourself through the eyes of others, but you can bear in mind that you are likely your own harshest critic.

Think hard about WHY you hate certain aspects of your physical self. Did someone insult you once, or call you out for some distinctive trait? Have fashion mags given you a complex with endless articles about firming up your arms and abs? (This one definitely gets me.) Or do you dislike these traits in other people as much as you dislike them in yourself?

Self-love isn’t about brushing the bits you hate under the rug. There is no rug. Loving what we hate is incredibly challenging, and sometimes actual love is impossible, but acceptance will do just fine. Even if none of my ideas ring true for you, give some thought to actions and thought patterns that might move you closer to accepting your whole self with affection. The work might be hard, but the payoff will be so very, very worth it. Just think of all the extra energy you’d have if you stopped burning it off loathing your big nose, bad hair, weak chin. You could take over the damned world.

This is a refreshed and revived post from the archive.

Image courtesy jaliyaj

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