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.

What is the “best you can do”?

Sometimes the best you can do is actually the best. It’s the thing that’s engaging and fun and rouses up energy and excitement in the people you work with; it’s coming into the building where you work with the most positive attitude, and actually enjoying and having fun with what you’re doing. It’s looking back and realizing that sometimes you don’t feel like you’ve come a long way, but it’s actually amazing how far you’ve really come.

Sometimes the best you can do is showing up, doing the bare minimum, understanding that the best you’ll get that day or that afternoon is the bare minimum and living with that. Sometimes the best you got is yelling and herding cats. But at the end of the day, there you are, still standing, still not running away, still striving to think of something that will re-elevate you to the best you can be and the best you can do.

 

Happiness Challenge 9.

With so much going on in my life in general, it’s hard to make time for things that are easy to not be a priority, but should be. Like fitness.

There was a time in my recent past when fitness was a HUGE priority for me; I was going for 4-5 runs a week that were anywhere between 40 and 90 minutes. And if I renagged on that commitment I would feel unlike myself. So it would be easy to get back on that bandwagon. During that time of my life I had signed up for a Running Room clinic to help prepare for my first half-marathon. I did that for a while before I realized I preferred to run by myself and I quit.

While I was doing the clinic though, I remember one of the instructors – who was an incredibly good runner, by the way – saying that she fluctuated often between months of “couch potato mode” and months of regular fitness. That stuck with me to this day and gave me hope in some ways that no matter how settled into my couch I got, there would always be an opportunity to look at my life and make fitness a priority once again.

The last year and a half, my relationship and my career have been my priorities and it’s been difficult to fit any kind of extra workouts in. Where I live now, it’s not even a very pedestrian-friendly place, so there’s a lot of excuses that can be made as to why and how I can’t make fitness a priority for me. But I have decided that at least for now, those excuses end.

It is getting lighter out. It is 6:35 pm and the sky is still that last flicker of royal blue. There hasn’t been a lot of precipitation in the last week so the sidewalks are more or less bare (albeit icy – I found that out the hard way today…). I have people in my daily life who are also making commitments to fitness, and I know what I need to do to feel stronger and more prepared to take on another huge fitness goal this summer.

So I did it. I made fitness a priority today. And with continued prioritizing I hope to make this a regular or at the very least, semi-regular occurrence. I had forgotten what runner’s high feels like and how it is to feel like you did something accomplishing during the day that has nothing to do with love or work. It’s something for me, and something that makes me feel reinvigorated.

I hope future editions of Happiness Challenge entries will see continued success in re-discovering old parts of myself that, until today, have been loved and lost.

Happiness Challenge, Day 6.

It’s what we call “Blue Monday” and I could feel the atmosphere growing stale today. On the bright side, it warmed up from the -20s to -5 by the time I left work today. That was something I gained from today that made the clouds lift at least a little bit.

One of the only things that brought me sort of a back-handed joy today was doing yoga. I have NEVER liked yoga but a colleague offers free classes at work on Mondays and Wednesdays. After a nearly-two year hiatus from a regular fitness routine, I felt like it was 100% necessary to get back on track and this seemed like a good way to get started. It was kind of rough but admittedly not as rough as I assumed it would be. There was something resembling joy that I felt – whether it was actually the centering or the breathing or any of that stuff I’m skeptical about is irrelevant. I just felt like I was doing something outside my comfort zone, and something that took me away from constant work/hermit mode throughout the work week.

 

Happiness Challenge, Day 2.

I was thinking today about Shane Koyczan’s great, amazing, ubiquitous-in-all-high-schools poem, “To This Day”. The poem is specifically about bullies and anti-bullying. But there’s a line in there that has always stood out to me which feels very apt today. I needed this as a reminder. Things are going well. Things are good. But when one part of what I do is good, sometimes others fall by the wayside. This serves as a reminder of how sometimes, this is worthwhile.

there’s something inside you
that made you keep trying
despite everyone who told you to quit

Happiness Challenge, Day 1.

For my first day of this, I took a look at “28 Questions for a Happy Life” The Tiny Buddha. In answering these questions, I hope to find a good starting point for myself to at least begin to feel I am at inner peace.

1. We learn from our mistakes, yet we’re always so afraid to make one. Where is this true for you? I think this is true for me at work and it was certainly true for me in my past dating life. At work I constantly avoid trying new things in case I fail at them. And in my dating life I overthought and planned every move so carefully so as not to look over-eager, and so I would look like the kind of person someone would want to date. 

2. What risk would you take if you knew you could not fail? The one thing that comes to mind is writing. I have abandoned my writing life because it seems impossible and impractical and I just don’t have the time for it anymore. But really, those are excuses I make for myself because I’m afraid of failing at writing. I gave up so I wouldn’t have to face rejection and reality. If I knew I wouldn’t fail, I would beat down doors; I would enter plays in Fringe festivals; I would submit pieces to every lit magazine in the country.  

3. What is your greatest strength? Have any of your recent actions demonstrated this strength? My greatest strength is writing. It’s my best way of communicating and has helped me find my words in so many situations. It has made me realize that, at least for one moment in my life, I was special and did have talent. 

4. What are the top five things you cherish in your life? 1) Love – familial and romantic love, first and foremost; 2) My career – every day, even bad days, are still amazing on some level; 3) My vinyl collection – the one material thing that is so much more than just an object; records are stories, teleporters, time machines; 4) Memories and relics of my life in Vancouver – friendships and fondnesses and places I’ll never forget, restaurants I would fly in just to eat at; 5) my cat – he’s been there for me for eight years now and it’s unimaginable to think of a life without him.

5. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are? I like this question a lot.I think I would answer with 24 – my 24th year was the year I discovered so much about myself and really became myself. Things kept getting clearer from there but despite that, there is youthfulness and confusion that I still embrace and never let go of. Sometimes I forget and can’t believe I turn 30 this year.

6. When do you stop calculating risk and rewards, and just do it? When I am either on the verge of failure or self-redemption, or there is no other option but to be successful. 

7. At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive? Today. Today was one of those days in teaching where things felt smooth and right and good, where I was able to express my passion and feel it in my day. It’s rare that I feel that actually, so bogged down am I by everything else that’s going on in my life with students. 

8. What do you most connect with? Why? Music. Music has a unique way of understanding you without offering anything but empathy, in a way that nothing or nobody else can do.

9. What one piece of advice would you offer a newborn child? To learn to speak your mind and ask for help when you need it, and ask for what you want when you want it. 

10. Which is worse—failing or never trying? My first instinct is failure. Failure is my biggest fear. It scares me more than anything. My fear of failure makes me more self-critical and self-destructive than anything in my life. But logically I know that never trying is so much worse, especially with the knowledge that we only get and have one life.

11. Why do we do things we dislike and like the things we never seem to do? Because we’re scared. Because in this life the world is expensive and complicated and fragmented, and we only have so much time, and sadly it is often spent on priorities and not dreams. As adults, we stop dreaming at a certain point and instead, we look at adult decisions as things we ‘should’ be doing.

12. What are you avoiding? I don’t know. My life is mostly structured to face things head-on.

13. What is the one job/cause/activity that could get you out of bed happily for the rest of your life? Are you doing it now? I am sort of doing it now. I am quite literally living my dream. But there are still some issues with that — I’m new and lack confidence, first of all. And second of all, I am not where I would love to be geographically which takes its toll on me and makes me somewhat unhappy and wistful.

14. When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done? I hope not.

15. What are you most grateful for? My partner.

16. What would you say is one thing you’d like to change in the world? I would like to eliminate global warming problems and instability in the environment.

17. Do you find yourself influencing your world, or it influencing you? The world influences me, but I hope that my the career I’ve chosen, I will have some small part in influencing the world someday.

18. Are you doing what you believe in or settling for what you’re doing? I am definitely doing what I believe in.

19. What are you committed to? My career, my partner, and my lifestyle.

20. Which worries you more – doing things right or doing the right things? In my job these two things are intertwined, but definitely the latter worries me more.

21. If joy became the national currency, what kind of work would make you wealthy? Either teaching or music journalism.

22. Have you been the kind of friend you’d want as one? YES. Although I can think of three people who would disagree with this, one of the only things I have strived for is to be present for people I love.

23. Do any of the things that used to upset you a few years ago matter at all today? What’s changed? Yes, a couple of things. But otherwise I have made big changes and achieved several dreams and this has given me perspective that things I was upset about happened in exactly the way they should have. 

24. Would you rather have less work to do or more work you enjoy doing? I don’t want to live to work, but I don’t want to work to live either. I want to find the balance between enjoying so much what I do but finding other things on the side that make me just as happy, and that I still have time for.

25. What permission do you need/want to move forward? The permission to stay where I am if I choose to.

26. Really, what do you have to lose if you go for it? I am going for it. I plan to not stop going for it. 

27. How different would your life be if there weren’t any criticism in the world? My life would be the best. Every door would open. Everything would be illuminated. I wouldn’t have lost friends over criticism of one kind or another.

28. We’re always making choices. Are you choosing for your story or for someone else’s? I hope I’m choosing for mine. Even in my relationship I have still done what’s best for me and prioritized things in the best way I could for me. I’m used to being alone and calling my own shots so that’s something that comes naturally to me.