Radical Self Love, A Goal Worthy of Pursuing in 2021

I remember the first time that my mom criticized the shape of my body – I was on the doorstep of maybe 9 years old, at the literal doorstep of the “Lakeshore Learning Supply Store”, and about to receive a criticism that would stick with me for the rest of my life. Holding a bag of freshly purchased school supplies in her hands, my mom leaned down to my ear and harshly uttered, “Suck in your gut Claire, it looks like you have a tummy.” I remember being startled, shocked, and it slowly sunk in that having a “tummy” equated with shame. That was the first time I ever experienced “body shaming”, that bone that I can’t seem to get rid of, that bone that has simmered in my life’s stew ever since.

Clearly, the fact that I am writing this article some 20 years after that fateful day at the Lakeshore Learning Store implies that I am still processing the damage. I ran cross country in high school, couched an eating disorder under vegetarianism, and avoiding all fats and sugars – baked the worst muffins you can imagine. The Mines Geology Museum should probably feature them. On a year-long study abroad trip, I stared at the double digit number on the scale and told myself that 45 kilograms was probably a normal weight. I eventually regained the pounds I had lost (and the kilograms, too), but the more difficult work laid ahead: convincing myself that I already have the body I need to live my best life.

For any of you out there who have struggled with disordered eating/body image/any ED – I am here to fix all your problems in 2021. I wish. Claire – have you recovered from your disordered relationship with food? The short answer is no; an entire childhood soaked in the Kool Aid of “There is One Perfect Body You Must Achieve to Be Happy” (or at least, not full of shame) will take a very long time to wring out. Billions of dollars and decades of marketing are against you (for more on that topic- read [3]). 

For me, the obsession with what food is “healthy” and what is not was probably rooted in shame and a need for control. I think it is useful to dig into your past like I did and try to recall the first time you experienced body shaming. Am I “recovered”? Well, 75% of the time I do not worry about what I eat. That’s a win. I have spent years rewiring my brain through practices that nourish me instead of leading to me agonizing over what a failure I am. Instead of focusing on how many calories are in a banana vs a piece of toast, I funnel my love of cooking into making creative, nourishing meals so that when I am hungry, I can eat something I am proud of. Of course sometimes I get too busy to prepare meals and I eat 3 slices of toast each coated in a different state of fat (solid, peanut butter, liquid, gas, plasma, right?). However, 25% of the time, “that voice” is still present, and it tells me things like, “If you eat those cookies you better be hitting the elliptical this afternoon” or it nearly leaps off the photograph, “Wow you have a double chin in that shot!” Geneen Roth [1], a fantastic author on the topic of emotional eating, dubs this voice the “Crazy Aunt”, and I encourage you to pick a name for your negative self-talk. Pick whatever name suits you. Roth describes her journey of moving from self-loathing to self-loving as relegating the Crazy Aunt to the basement, after years of putting up with her clinging to her side, seemingly inescapable. I love this metaphor, and most of the time my Crazy Aunt mutters quietly to herself, out of earshot. But I don’t think she will ever disappear, poof.

Finally, let’s talk about “radical self love”. This is a phrase I learned about from Sonya Renee Taylor’s work [2], and in a nutshell, loving yourself, as you are, is a very radical concept that goes against what the billion dollar diet industry and media giants want you to think about yourself. How did we ever let them have so much power over our lives? 

I leave you with some homework for 2021 – practice these “Three Peaces” that are the foundation of radical self love, according to [2]:

  1. Make peace with not understanding 

Example: I do not understand why some people’s bodies are __.
Instead of viewing their bodies as poor lifestyle choices, I embrace that I
cannot and I do not need to understand why a person looks a certain

  1. Make peace with difference

Example: News flash – bodies come in different shapes, sizes, and

  1. Make peace with your body

Example: Repeat: “I have the body I need to live my best life.” What are
you waiting for? Radical self love awaits you.

Highly recommended reading:
[1] Women Food and God  by Geneen Roth (note: you don’t need to believe in God to get a heavens worth of enlightenment from this read)
[2] The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
[3] Body Positive Power by (Instagram influencer, don’t judge me) Megan Jayne Crabbe

Image courtesy of Zachary Barry.

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