What does it mean to “love yourself”?

I just read this article about Demi Lovato getting flack for promoting detox tea and claiming that ‘getting rid of the bloat for summer’ isn’t “loving yourself”. Which led me to ask this question about what exactly that means.

I’ve dieted on and off for years. At my tiniest ever, I was 116 lb. To be honest, I can’t believe I ever weighed that much. When I walked down the street dudes honked at me, I got attention in bars, I could wear size 2 jeans, all for a few glorious months before I realized I like food and craft beer way too much to maintain being this tiny. And eventually all of that faded away. Not that “guys honking at you” is any indication of hotness, or that you should glean confidence from that. But I can say, those same guys who honked at me when I was a size 2 were teasing and bullying me when I was a size 18 and weighed 200lb. I was the same person. This says more about society than it does about me, or even the guys.

I dieted, not because I wanted that kind of attention from men. I dieted because I wanted to be the best version of myself. Because I wanted to look in the mirror and for once, not see someone out of control she’s unable to regain, not someone who floats through life just doing the same old shit all the time, but someone who bothered to try to be someone else, even if just for a while. I became that person. For the first time, I did feel confident. In a lot of ways, I attribute finding my first and second careers, meeting the love of my life, ditching old ‘friends’ that were toxic influences on my ability to be a good person and look for the best in others, and running 2 half-marathons with another coming up in 3 weeks, all to my initial weight loss (thank you, Weight Watchers, for this – I will always be grateful for it). I dieted to prove wrong an ex that I somehow believed then, needed to be proven wrong. And I did prove him wrong, in my own way.

Now, I’m ‘dieting’ again (Weight Watchers, and the current program I’m on, refer to this not as a “diet” but a “lifestyle change” – this is somewhat true too, I suppose). I’m dieting this time, and on a very strict and actually very painful fitness regimen, not because I ‘hated myself’ before and this was the only way out. But because I remembered those long ago days where I felt confident, I felt like the best version of me, I felt like the world was at my fingertips and I had so much possibility just based on this radiant confidence alone. I’m dieting because I want to work harder to reach a personal best and achieve personal goals, now that some of my career goals have been met, and I have the time and energy to work on these goals. I’m ‘dieting’ because I want to learn more about how to be a better version of me.

Having said that — am I being ‘body-negative’? Would you or could you argue that I’m changing myself in order to become more attractive to men? That I’m submitting to a patriarchal standard of beauty that must be crushed? Should I have protected what I so believe to be true about body positivity and being and doing what you want without feeling a guilt about not conforming what magazine standards of beauty suggest is the most important way to be? Am I being a negative role model to young girls I teach by dieting and exercising 5-6 times a week? It’s a conundrum.

Some people believe “loving yourself” means eating cleanly and making positive changes. Others believe that eating what you want and not caring what you look like, dress like, or come across like to others is the way to be the best version of yourself you can be and that is what it means to ‘love yourself’.

Both of these ‘theories’, are bullshit.

Loving yourself means being and doing what you are comfortable with without giving a fuck what other people want or expect from you. If Demi wants to get rid of her bloat for summer, that means she is entitled to that. To me, what is slimy about the post was the promo code – advertising to your younger followers is the only “wrong” thing she did with that post, if anything – but really, reaching a personal best in anything – an eating contest, a triathalon, a gaming marathon, the highest score in Frogger – is truly an important part of loving yourself. I’ve been on both sides of the coin – overweight and desperate for body-positive validation to avoid that patriarchal guilt feeling; fit and working my ass off because I felt like I needed to be that version of myself. And both have made me happy or satisfied at different times of my life for different reasons. We all have our own thresholds. Understanding and realizing our own selves is what helps us to truly LOVE ourselves in all facets of life.

Listen to Demi, or don’t. Loving yourself means that choice is up to you.

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