I started feeling uncomfortable about my body and my weight when I was in 2nd grade.

Since then, I’ve been through varying degrees of disliking my body. Only in college did I start to think I could be beautiful, too. But that didn’t apply at all times. I still have plenty of days when it feels like nothing fits me and my body is all wrong. But I learned to say “Well, this is gonna be me for today” and move on. But there are still some cases when I feel really bad about my body.

August, The Breaking

So let me paint you a picture. Last month I had a bout of lower back pain and was advised to take a hot bath to relax my muscles.

But here’s the thing: I hate taking baths. I hate it and I always blame it on the fact that it’s too long or it’s too hot or there’s nothing to do while I just lay there. But that’s not the truth. The truth is, I hate baths because when I take one, all I have to do is stare at my body for an hour. My big, round, naked body. My body in its most relaxed, natural form. And I hate it.

See, I like my body most of the time. I like my clothed body, my workout body, my standing body, my doing something body. But my relaxed, laid down, naked body? I can’t stand it. And in a world and social group where loving your body no matter what is praised, I feel shame for not liking my body. Because how dare I not love it, with all it does for me? Hell, I’m the first to praise self love and to think all women are absolutely beautiful, no matter the shape, form or color. But when it comes to myself? This love has a limit.

Staring at my body while lying in a bath, there’s nothing positive I can say about it. I try. I try every time. But first it’s “Well, here we go again…”. And then it’s “Ok, let’s focus on thinking positive things.” So I start at my toes. “They don’t look too bad, do they? They sure serve me well, keeping me from falling, keeping me balanced. Good toes.” But at the back of my mind, as much as I try to ignore it and quiet it down, there’s a little voice chanting “fat fat fat too big too big too big”. So I move on to my feet, but by that point it’s already too late and I’m spiraling downwards. Every single part of my body is too big, too big, too big. Calves, thighs, stomach, arms, fingers, neck. It’s all I can see, all I can think, and the longer I look, the bigger I seem to get.

So I close my eyes and take deep breaths. Then I think “Nothing is that wrong with my body.” My toes aren’t too big, neither are my thighs or my arms or my fingers. My body isn’t too big. It’s bigger than some, yeah. But it’s not bad. My body isn’t faulty, my brain is and it’s making me see my body wrong. It’s keeping me from loving myself completely.

Once I’ve calmed down, I open my eyes again. I feel relief. My body looks just fine. But slowly, the bad thoughts creep back up again. The longer I look, the louder they get. So I close my eyes again and I just think, because what else is there to do, stuck in a bath with nothing but myself.

I remember feeling shame at that point. And frustration, desperation. Not at my body, but at my brain, at my thoughts. “Why can’t I love me? Why can’t I love and accept my body and think it’s beautiful like everybody else’s?” These are the thoughts I had. It made me sad. It made me cry. Why can’t I accept it for myself when people say I’m not fat and neither are my arms and how ridiculous it is to think my neck is too big? I believe that they truly think it. But why can’t I see it too?

I wasn’t sure what the right thing to do was at that point. One thing I’ve been sure of for a long time is that the love I’m seeking must come from myself and not anybody else, because clearly that has never worked for me before. And no matter how many times I tried to tell myself that my body was alright, I still didn’t fully believe it. I could fake it till I made it, but that only took me so far. Once I was alone in a bath by myself, what was the use of faking? There was no use pretending when it was only me.

September, The Change

So at the beginning of the month, I decided to do two things. The one I will be focusing on here is what I called the self-love project. The other one is that I started working out more and eating better. I’ve been learning a great deal since I started doing that, but I’ll be sharing my new knowledge with you in my next article!

So, self-love project. My reasoning with this was that one way I love to appreciate the female body is through drawing. I love drawing and for me it has a creative aspect, but also a scientific, analytic aspect. When I look at an image to reproduce, I think of proportions and shapes and “draw things as they really are, not as you think you see them.” And I think this might be what I need most with my body. To see it as it really is, not as I think it is. So I decided to take photos of my body in poses where I love it and in poses where I don’t, and then draw or paint these photos. I was hoping that this way I could see my body as just a body rather than my body that I don’t like.

Now, The Healing

When I started this journey, I think I came from a place of such deep pain and vulnerability that I had a bit of negative expectations towards it. I thought I would struggle through it and find it difficult to see beauty in my (nearly) naked body. But what happened was actually the opposite. By spending so much time sketching and painting my body in the smallest details, I actually stopped seeing the fat and the flaws and started seeing nice curves and beautifully wild curly hair, delicate fingers and constellations of freckles and moles (you can’t see it, but I’m writing this with the biggest smile on my face. It makes me so happy). And when I was done with a piece, I was so pleased with how good it turned out, that I was proud of it. And being proud of a painting of my body helped me be proud of my body itself, too. Now, when I look at these paintings of me, I feel happiness. Mostly it’s happiness caused by the artistic results, but I think it’s so closely related to my body that my brain doesn’t see the difference. Being happy because of my painting is the same as being happy because of my body. And honestly, it feels so good. I even keep one of these paintings next to me on my desk because I love it so much!

If you also struggle with body image issues, I would first encourage you to fake it till you make it, as it’s been mentioned by others before me. It really does work. Over time, the fake will become natural and it won’t be fake anymore. However, if you notice, like me, that you can only fake it so far, try to find other solutions of your own. Try to think of ways that you find beauty in other people, and then apply it to yourself. Maybe it’s photography, writing, painting or drawing, like me. Instead of thinking about your body as an enemy, think of it as a friend. Don’t say things about yourself that you wouldn’t say to a friend. Your body deserves the same love and understanding as anyone else’s.

Another thing you can do is try to notice when you have a negative thought about your body. Once you noticed it, correct that thought and rephrase it into something neutral or positive instead. Or try focusing on something you love about your body! Even if it’s just a small thing. It’s ok to start small. This kind of mentality change takes time and you won’t fix the way you see your body overnight. It’s a long and difficult process, and I’m still going through it myself, but as long as you start and you don’t give up, you’re not failing. Just keep going and improving. And if no one told you today, you’re beautiful. I don’t know or care what you look like, you’re beautiful, even if you don’t always see it.

Going through this change was important to me because it’s something I’ve been suffering from for a very long time, and I got tired of it. I finally said, no more! No more internalized shame, no more hate, no more fear and anxiety about how I look at any given moment. As BTS’ Seokjin sang, I’m the one I should love in this world. Since I started this artistic project, I have felt a wellbeing and confidence that I’ve never felt before. I’m slowly stopping being ashamed of my body and starting to see it with new eyes and love it for what it is. I stopped putting salt into old wounds and started applying balm instead, and it feels really good.

Until next time,

Em