Self Love - Maybe the Only Marathon I will Ever Race.
The refrain at the end of every Rupaul episode is the same, ‘if you don’t love yourself how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?’. Whether I meant to or not I found myself saying it along with Ru and all the other queens and added a very impassioned ‘Amen’ on the end in a chorus with those queens before they started dancing back down the runway and the credits started.
It makes sense. To a degree.
I also believed at the time that I did love myself.
I thought when I actively went into therapy for the first time and I showed up and tried that I loved myself. I thought when I finally stopped seeing food as an enemy that I needed to defeat that I loved myself. I thought when I stopped seeing exercise as some kind of punishment and it became something like a reward for me that I loved myself.
Then one day I woke up and realised that maybe it wasn’t the case.
I say it happened ‘one day’. That’s not true, it happened gradually. I started obsessing about muscle definition and wondering why my body didn’t look ripped, completely ignoring the fact that I was lifting heavier so something somewhere was working. I started freaking out about food again, but this time it had nothing to do with eating less, it was to do with eating more so it’s different ya know? I started getting annoyed at myself for not being to able to do Russian Twists with my feet off the floor, ignoring that I am mostly leg and those things are also really damn heavy, plus I’ve always had minor lower back issues so what my brain is actually doing is being smart. But my brain was also turning against me as well, so that’s complicated. I noticed that I hated actually spending time with myself. Which was weird because I’ve always been a bit of a loner, but I came to learn that I’ve never actually liked being in my own company to do things that would typically be ‘social’. I could sit with a book, I could sit with a laptop, I could grab a quick sandwich, but I couldn’t actually just sit somewhere and have a meal with myself. Or see something, be it a film or go to the theatre, without feeling like I needed to have someone right next to me.
There was always a part of me that was worried about what other people would think, forgetting that in the grand scheme of things everybody is just worried about themselves. And because of this fear, I was missing out on so many things that would make me happy, which is ultimately the goal right? To be happy with yourself?
And so I started dating myself.
I would take myself out on dates every Saturday after I had done my Saturday morning cardio, a thing that I have come to realise I actually currently can’t live without because it keeps me sane and also gets me out of bed and into the day. And then I would just do whatever the hell I wanted.
I went to the cinema by myself. That felt the safest introduction into doing things by myself because everyone is sat in a dark room, you can’t talk to anyone there anyway. And that was fun. I got over the fact that I wasn’t sharing it with anyone pretty quickly. I got to see so many more films because I wasn’t tied to having to wait for someone else to come with me.
Then, when there were some theatre shows that I wanted to see but again couldn’t find anyone to go with, I just bought a relatively cheap-ish ticket for myself. I saw musicals that I had always wanted to see and I’ve never left a musical feeling worse about myself, even if I didn’t like it. I got to experience it. I even saw some plays that I never really would have thought to go to but left a small fire burning inside me (the main show that did this was Emilia, the last 5 minutes of that show were so empowering that I left briefly feeling like a new person).
I spent every Saturday carving time out of my week to be kind to myself and do whatever it was that I felt like, within reason. I spent many an hour on Oxford Street just browsing. I set up camp for a short period of time in a Waterstones surrounded by my favourite thing, books. I ate. A lot of food.
I became incredibly comfortable in my own company. It acted like a re-set from the week. It was a day completely dedicated to myself. And as I came more comfortable with being in my own company and my own company alone I felt like I had overcome a personal hurdle when it came to self-love.
I’m not gonna lie, I thought I was in a good place with it all. I was happy in my own company. I didn’t appear to be doing anything openly destructive, I’d stopped obsessing over whether I had abs or not, I’d stopped counting calories both in and out and quietly worrying about what a number on a scale was going to read back to me. I was seemingly looking after myself mentally. I felt good.
Then I hit a wall. And I hit it hard. It seemed to be built bigger than any wall I had ever built myself before, but I knew that it was one of my own making. And I had been building it for years silently in the background in a place where it wasn’t immediately obvious to me until suddenly it was.
One day in June I was looking in the mirror and from somewhere in my brain, alongside the space where I store every single Backstreet Boys lyric and random information about people I don’t even know anymore but did once upon a time, the thought ‘I hate myself’ wormed its way to the forefront of my mind. And then became a mantra to me.
I just sat with that feeling. For almost a week.
Which was the point where I had driven myself mad with self-loathing and it was the desire to stop feeling like that that something clicked in my brain again. The problem with love sometimes is that it is intrinsically linked to hate. The lines between the two blur confusingly at the drop of a hat, and what I had been doing was just not actively hating myself and that had disguised itself as love.
And I had stopped being able to keep that facade up. I’d started to take everything that I seemingly loved about myself and managed to spin it with almost no difficulty at all. I was a loner. The increasing amount of stretch mark on my thighs is because I was getting fat. I’ve plateaued in all of my workouts because I’m trying hard enough. I was eating too much. The reason I was feeling so creatively drained is because ultimately I’m just not that good at anything creative. The list went on and on and on and on. And on.
I did a lot of crying that week.
And listening to Lizzo.
Both helped. If you listen to Lizzo enough you start to feel like you’re letting her down by not fully embracing all that you are. Good and bad.
It made me realise that the thing that I needed most was self-acceptance. Not love, although that would remain a part of it all.
Instead of being angry at myself on days when I just can’t lift heavy, I started to switch to just accepting that some days my body just doesn’t have it in me to load all that weight up and the fact that I just showed up to do the workout is enough. There’s nothing wrong with honouring what your body wants and not every workout has to leave every single muscle in your body twitching for a short time afterwards. Also, I was still lifting pretty heavy and most of the time it felt almost easy because my body can and does lift heavier, which in itself has a positive effect on my wellbeing.
In the same vein, instead of being annoyed that the weight I lift for upper body/arm tracks has not gone up in months, I have started to accept that it is just going to take a little bit more work with them than with my legs and full body because my wrists can only do so much and that is a key factor in progress.
I’ve learned to accept that on some days I am going to wake up and just feel a bit ‘meh’ about what I look like and how I feel in my body, but that doesn’t mean that I hate it, it just means it’s an off day and those are okay. I’m not going to like the fact that my thighs rub together whenever I wear a skirt, but then I’m going to remember that thick thighs are where it is at anyway and I’m proud of them. I’m not going to like that little bit of extra weight I hold around my lower stomach that won’t budge in the slightest because there is always going to be a part of me that wants those washboard abs, but then I’m going to remember that biologically, just by being a woman, I am always going to carry that there because it serves a purpose.
I’ve come to accept that I love a crop top, but won’t wear one unless I’ve got a super high waisted situation going on with the lower half of my outfit because that’s just when I feel the best and yeah that is linked to the extra weight that I carry there but being aesthetically driven sometimes isn’t the worst thing. The point is whether I feel good in what I’m wearing and I will never feel good wearing a cropped anything if the high waisted lower section of my outfit isn’t there and what’s the point of wearing something if it doesn’t make you feel 100%?
I’m always going to have a love/hate relationship with my hair and that’s okay because when I love it I really love it.
Some days are just going to be harder when it comes to my anxiety because that’s the way it works and that is how it will probably always work and I just need to lean into managing it better rather than trying to fight against it and make it worse for myself. There’s no point in me pretending that it doesn’t exist, it’s been there long enough that I just have to accept it and manage it rather than try to love it out of me which is what I had been trying to do before.
As I slowly started reframing all the negative thoughts in my head, along with the positive ones I felt that wall that I had built so high slowly start breaking down until I could shimmy my way over it.
Now, I’m on the other side of that one.
I know that it won’t be the last wall I collide with at such a force it throws me through a loop. Learning to be completely content with yourself is always going to chuck things at you along the way. So I’m sure there will be a new wall for me to climb over that will show me new things and help me get a bit further along with being comfortable with myself in the future.
But for now, I’m finding my groove again. I’m being kinder to myself, I’m feeling more like myself than I ever have for most of this year. I’m feeling more confident in myself and my abilities to do things. I’m finding my creativity is finally starting to flow back through me and I’m starting to enjoy things again that had previously been feeling a bit dry and unexciting for me, like reading and writing.
It was a seemingly small change, just moving from trying to love every single bit of myself to just accepting and embracing things, both good and bad, but its done wonders for changing how I feel about myself as a person.
And at the moment when I doubt myself, I just throw on some Lizzo and remember that this girl can.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sophie Thomas. 26. Londoner. Reader, writer, really good binge watcher. Breaks the rules of grammar far too much for someone with an English degree. I work out.
Read more from Sophie and check out her blog here