I love gym selfies. I do. I love those inspirational posts about remarkable body transformations or weight loss, complete with hashtags #selflove and #learningtolovemyself.
I love it when people work hard to accomplish a goal and feel worthy, sexy, and confident. I love that…but that’s not what self-love is. If you want to learn self-love you must uncouple your concept of it from the shape of your body.
You won’t learn to love yourself by killing yourself at the gym. If shame is a motivating factor for you to get in shape, I promise the weight and the shame will come back. Working out does not heal body shame. Those wounds are too deep.
If you don’t love yourself fat (or scrawny or whatever) then you don’t love yourself. Period.
Self-love is unconditional. It isn’t earned at the gym. It’s yours now. It’s your birthright. Self-love is about accepting the innocence and sanctity of the soul within you, not something to be withheld until you’ve achieved some idealized standard of physical beauty.
I once thought I had learned to love myself because I got in fantastic shape. I was about to turn 30 and the only thing I wanted for my birthday was something I’d never had and felt worthless without: abs. I worked my ass off at a top-notch gym five days a week for four months and I got my abs.
I never felt stronger, more confident, sexier, or more worthy of love. I even wrote a pretty popular medium piece about how I healed my body shame and learned to love myself.
The problem was I hadn’t done either of those things. Soon, an injury kept me out of the gym for months and as all the progress slowly melted away, so did my self-esteem. I was back to old ways, hating myself, feeling worthless and unworthy of my sexy husband and his perfect physique.
No, it turned out all those workouts hadn’t healed my body shame. Sometimes I was fat, sometimes I was fit, but I was always that chubby little boy in the Santa hat who was called “fatty” and “faggot” and sucked at dodgeball. I was downright awful to myself. I couldn’t manage a full sentence without tearing myself down and I loved being the butt of my own jokes.
My struggle with body shame came to a head the first time my husband left for another guy. He came back promising to do marriage counseling and everything he could to make our marriage work, and I believed him. I still knew, intuitively, that I was competing for my husband’s heart with a twink that was 11 years younger than me, and that was all the motivation I needed to hit the gym 7 times a week.
I was fucking RIPPED three months later when my husband sent an email alerting me that he had a change of heart, and again left me for the younger guy. A beautiful face and a beautiful body were not enough to keep my husband from falling out of love with me and in love with someone else.
They say, “ Looks aren’t everything” and boy did I learn that lesson.
I spent my life evaluating myself based on what my body looked like. In my marriage, I measured my value to my husband by how much he desired me, how badly he wanted to bang me, and how often. It ripped my heart out as he slowly began to desire me less and less. I saw his desire turn from me to someone else until there was no room left for me in the picture.
I lie drunk on my bedroom floor for three days. I got far enough in my suicidal ideation to have thoughts like “No, if I do it that way, Ryan will be the one to find my body, I can’t do that to him.” I asked my roommate to hide my gun and never tell me where he put it, for fear I may use it on myself, and he did. I still don’t know where it is.
My paradigm was shattered. What good is a hot body if it’s not enough to keep the man I love from leaving me for someone else? Hollywood and the media promised that body would win me love, a lifetime of scorching hot sex, and more friends than any one person deserves.
It was a God-damned lie. So I decided to rebel.
I decided to get fat.
Well…sort of. I decided I would allow myself to get fat, if that’s what my body wanted to do. I lost all will to work out. I went on what I called “The Emotional Support Cheeseburger Tour Of 2018.”
I tried all the best burgers and fries in Los Angeles (Honor Bar is the best!) and documented it all online with funny hashtags like #girlsjustwanttohavebuns and #hopelesslydevotedtomoo. I served up ground beefcake all winter long and I never felt an ounce of shame.
For the first time in my life, I decided to nurture myself, accept myself unconditionally, and not give two fat flying fucks what anybody thought about my body.
I finally understood. When I say things to myself like “You’re worthless, you’re fat, you’ll never be good enough, the next one will leave you too…” I’m talking to that sweet little boy in the red Santa hat, and I’ve been bullying him for far too long.
He’s been begging for my love and I haven’t been listening.
I talk to him gently now. I put my hands on my belly in the shower and say, “I love you, Lucas, I love you.” For more than thirty years I didn’t know what it’s like to put my hands on my body and hold it with love instead of disgust. It is life-changing. It is healing.
It’s heartbreaking how many people have never done this for themselves.
I have fallen deeply in love with myself.
I love what I see when I look in the mirror.
I know I’ve learned self-love because I will not tolerate any negative self-talk anymore. I talk to myself like the beautiful dignified man that I am. I talk to myself the way I hope others would talk to me. I have forgiven my every shortcoming. I love myself the way I wish to be loved, and I will never again be a match to the kind of “love” that is so shallow a new guy with a younger, hotter ass could overpower it.
Have I completely quit caring how I look? Hardly, but I’ve come a long way.
My worth is limited only by my capacity to give and receive love, and that remains constant no matter what physical shape I’m in. My soul will always be beautiful.
I’m back on the wagon, eating consciously and working out hard because it feels great to be strong and fit. It feels fucking spectacular to get out and shake my booty on a box at a concert and know I look great doing it, but I don’t work out today because I want to love myself three months from now. I work out today because I love myself today.
Instead of trying to get in shape for this person or that event, I focus on simply being the kind of guy who works out four or five times a week, because I’m a worthy, valuable person who deserves to spend some time taking care of myself, not out of fear that the world won’t see what’s great about me if I don’t.
If you share my struggle with self-worth being hopelessly tethered to the shape of your physical body, I feel you. Get in shape if that’s what makes you feel confident and sexy, but don’t get lost dreaming of speedo-paradise because that payoff is short-lived.
You must do the inner-work too or the results will not last. Getting in shape doesn’t heal body shame, only deep spiritual work can do that. You deserve an authentic experience of self-love, not conditional acceptance based on your appearance.
So..how many pounds do you need to lose before you’re worthy of love? Five? Thirty? Then will you be lovable? Have you decided what weight you get to feel sexy at? How many inches must you lose or gain until you’ve earned the right to get laid or take up space in public?
Are you ready to let that go? What would it be like if you could love yourself right now, the way you are today?