Recently one of my teachers undertook a challenge: writing a love note to herself every day for the month of February.
It’s a twist on a month usually dedicated to love of others through an amalgamation of cheesy cards, overpriced flowers, and boxes of chocolates. But while not everyone may have a partner to celebrate with on Valentine’s Day, everyone certainly has a body, and Jessica was inspired to celebrate that with her One Look of Love challenge.
The minute I saw what she was doing, I knew I had to get in on the action. The very premise of this challenge speaks to who I am and the work I’ve sought to do over the past few years. Others were joining in, posting photos of their feet, hands, bellies, and smiles, all with sweet little love notes accepting and embracing the parts of their bodies they may have neglected to adore before the challenge began. The sudden abundance of love and self-appreciation was near-overwhelming, and a far cry from what I usually see on social media or in real life.
I was reminded of something another one of my teachers had said in my teacher training a few years ago about teaching the practice of self-love to her students. In an exercise at the end of a class, she asked them to say something they loved about their bodies. Every woman, she said, only mentioned things above the neck. They all said they loved their eyes, or their smiles, or their hair. Not a single one said they loved their thighs, their bellies, or their arms.
“It was like they were floating heads.” She said.
That stuck with me, even years later. Why, I wondered, do women seem to avoid certain parts of their bodies when practicing self-love? Why do certain body parts seem to connote shame or, in some cases, hatred? How does stigma run so deep that women have conjured themselves into floating heads, without bodies to acknowledge or draw attention to?
I realized I related to these women and their floating heads. I have a vivid memory of being a young girl and sharing a dressing room with my mother. I sat down on a bench in the room, and made a comment (much to the horror of my mom) about how my thighs “got huge” when I sat on them. I have another vivid memory of wearing shorts that hit above the knee in public for the first time when I was a middle schooler, and fearing showing the world how “big” they were from my practice as a competitive swimmer. The more I think, the more memories like these I can conjure up; memories of shame, discomfort, and disagreement with my body.
These memories, I realized, are completely absent of love.
Why is it so hard for us, as women in particular, to show love for our bodies? I think much of the answer lies in a fear of not being enough: fear that we will not be thin enough, curvy enough, tan enough, tall enough, short enough…the list goes on. It’s as though somewhere in our heads we have a running checklist of all the things we need to be in order to be happy, and all of them must be checked in order to believe that we deserve self-love. Even if we decide we like our arms, we can’t be happy until we like our shoulders. Even if we decide to be proud of our hair, we can’t be happy until we’re proud of the way our stomach looks in a bikini. We’re constantly clinging onto a fear of not-quite-enough, shoving aside acceptance in pursuit of the next thing we think we’re lacking.
This phenomenon of always waiting to be happy feeds on comparison (which, we all know, is the thief of joy). Sure, we may have nice legs, but they’re not as nice as her legs. Sure, I may be short and tan, but that celebrity is tall and fair, and everything thinks she’s beautiful. We constantly hold ourselves against body ideals that do nothing but make us feel less than and remove any possibility of showing acceptance and gratitude for what we already have.
Although we all do this, and I’m no exception, taking a step back reveals just how silly this is. It’s like sitting in a house that keeps us warm and safe, but never being happy with it because someone out their has a mansion. Or driving around a car that gets us from point a to point b and does its job very well, but shunning it because someone out there has a Lamborghini. It’s the opposite of a practice of gratitude, and it does nothing but inspire a certain kind of greed that leaves us constantly hungry for one thing: love.
But love doesn’t exist in someone else’s life. It’s not waiting for you in the space between someone else’s thighs, or in the foyer of someone else’s mansion, or in the engine of someone else’s Lamborghini. It’s right in front of you, right inside of you, and it’s waiting for you to embrace it.
I’ve found that this love is waiting to be awakened in the very spaces we tend to avoid. It’s lying dormant in the thighs you’ve always cursed as being “too big,” or in the arms you’ve always thought were “too soft,” or in the belly you always thought was “too round.” It’s tired of being ignored, tired of only being looked at with hatred and dismay, tired of waiting to magically transform into something that it’s not in order to attain your approval. But the secret is, it’s always been worthy, it’s always been enough. It’s only when we hold it against the standards of others that we lose sight of how worthy of gratitude it is.
That’s why I love the premise of writing love notes to these ignored spaces, to fill in their spaces with love and to practice being grateful for what I have instead of longing after what I may or may not ever be. I wrote to the folds in my skin that form when I backbend that I appreciate their reminder of my flexibility not only on my mat, but in my journey towards self-acceptance. I wrote to my shoulders, which have been considered to be everything from “too muscley” to “too scrawny,” reminding them that I love them for their strength and capability. I wrote to my hair, and apologized for hiding it out of shame when it fell out in an attempt to make me aware of how sick my eating disorder had made me.
I replaced shame, disgust, fear, and neglect with love.
Because all along, that’s all we’re really seeking. We’re seeking something within us to be proud of, to prove to us that we’re worthy of being happy and adored. But waiting until we’re “perfect” is a fruitless and vicious cycle that will only keep us chained to our insecurity and unhappiness. We need to love ourselves now, in this moment and every other moment, because if we don’t, it won’t matter if we magically transform our bodies into everything we think they should be. You could wake up the spitting image of a model on the cover of Vogue, and still not love yourself if you didn’t accept who you were before the transformation. Self-love is completely separate from our external appearance, and it must stem from within.
I few months ago, I posted this picture on my Instagram with a love note of acceptance:
“I love this picture of me, because I feel like it shows the real me: who I really am.
There’s no fancy makeup I don’t wear in real life or pretty outfit I wouldn’t normally put on or flashy yoga pose. I’m not doing a handstand in the middle of San Francisco or arm balancing on top of a mountain.
It’s just me. In a studio I love working with a photographer whose become a friend. My baby hairs are all over the place and my smile is crooked and I’ve got a mischievous glint in my eye.
It’s me. The real me. The fearlessly authentic me.
It feels so good to love her now.”
While the photo received many sweet comments from people I love who supported my message of acceptance, I received one comment that stood out to me: “Or maybe this is vanity disguised as the real you.”
I immediately recoiled from the message in front of me. It’s comments and messages like these that scare women away from self-acceptance every day; the implication that by loving ourselves we’re being vain, self-centered, or selfish. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Practicing self-love is nothing but a practice in being a confident and secure human being, someone who fills themselves with love so that they have enough to pour into others. It’s a way to stand strong in times of difficulty, a way to empower ourselves to show up in the world as our greatest and highest self.
This is the power of writing love notes. There is enough hate in the world, not only directed towards our bodies but to our spirits. There’s enough accusations of women being “too much” or “too little,” enough political hatred against someone from “the other team,” enough cultural hatred against those whom we do not understand. And, despicably, there is an entire empire built upon preying on our insecurities. Makeups and creams and diet pills all sold by playing into our fears that we are not enough as we are.
By standing up against the idea we’re being sold that we are not enough, we are standing against hate in many forms, and we are generating one of the most powerful renewable and completely homegrown energy resources in the world: love.
It’s revolutionary. It’s an act of resistance. It’s empowering. There is nothing shameful or wrong about loving yourself, and there is no need to fear that you will be viewed as vain for doing so. On the contrary, true self-love presents you to the world as you are truly meant to be: confident, secure, and powerful. It is inside of you in this very moment, and all it’s waiting for is your acknowledgment.
So write yourself a love note. Show yourself the love you deserve. Stand up against the world and industries telling you that you are not enough. Embrace every wrinkle, every curve, every grey hair. You are not (and never will be) too old, too big, too small, or too anything to be worthy of self-love. You are enough. You have enough.
It’s time to start acting like it.