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Why do I begrudge myself?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Loving myself sounds either egotistical or obvious, something I should take for granted. In many ways I love myself. It surprises me, but somehow I manage to both love myself and begrudge myself at the same time. In some ways, I feel confident, in my health, my body, my gifts. So it was a shock to me as my daughters have grown into beautiful young women, what a harsh judge I have been of my own body ever since high school. For thirty years, I was ashamed of my body. Ashamed when I grew curvaceous. Ashamed of any body fat once I grew to be something more than a stick. Proud of my strength and endurance, my brains, my compassion, but never satisfied with my body. So as soon as I grew into a woman I thought I was too fat, and never enjoyed my own beauty. Fashion wasn't especially important to me, but what kept me from taking pride in my curves? What made me think I wasn't just as beautiful as any other woman? Today, I would easily answer it's because of my burgeoning waistline, my difficulty in finding clothes that fit and flatter my short stocky body. The problem is, I thought the same thing 30 years and 60 pounds ago. I never realized how distorted my self-image was until my daughters grew into young beautiful women, confident and mature in their minds, spirits, and bodies, at those exact same ages and sizes when I cringed at my own body, first for not staying girlish forever, for not staying a bony stick figure. Writing this down for all to see, I am moving beyond incredulity at my self-misperception to just plain grief, sorry that I wasn't satisfied all those years, wondering how I can change the way I feel about my body. Wondering, will I ever start celebrating my health and figure, instead of finding fault with myself and being punitive about myself?

Here's my reality check. At age 17, I thought I was overweight at 115 pounds and 5'2". I thought I was still overweight at 105; the charts said so--they must know! But the charts didn't know how active and muscular I was, or that someday I'd improve my posture and realize I was almost 5'4". At 125# I was sure I was overweight and started to feel self-conscious about my thighs rubbing each, I was pudgy in my mind. Looking back, I was actually in my prime, and had every reason to be grateful and proud of my figure, but it was wasted on me, I didn't know that. I spent years at 145, certain I was overweight (now borderline obese according to the new improved health charts). My health and fitness were still superb but I felt perpetually guilty about my weight. Even when I was in competitive athletic shape, I begrudged the chubby appearance of my strong arms and legs, only taking pride in my "frog legs" because they alone were obviously muscle. Since then, I've wavered between 140 and 170. Regardless of my size, I always think I should be smaller.

At 165, I genuinely believe I'd feel more energetic and be healthier at a lower weight. This attitude makes me nervous because I see how I've torpedoed myself for my entire adult life with exactly this same attitude, never happy with my weight except after fleeting dips from sustained exercise and food-restricted programs. I still buy clothes on the tight size because "I'll lose the weight soon" and feel guilty buying sizes I "won't need for long."

I'm trying to see my body in a new light. I'm trying to be happy for my curves, my matronly figure. It's still much easier to appreciate and admire this in other women, but not in myself. It's hard for me to celebrate and accept my size just as I am. It's hard to make choices out of love for myself instead of a need to control and penalize myself out of misplaced guilt. I am sad that it comes as a surprise to suddenly see myself and realize that I am pretty. It saddens me that I go through so much of my life judging myself so harshly, that my self-perception is distorted so I don't recognize my own beauty, even when I can appreciate it in others. Why am I so harsh on myself?

I don't mean to overemphasize looks, but I want to stop disdaining myself. I want to treat myself with love, not disdain.

My daughters are womanly, beautiful, could even be envied. Yet I could never see that in myself. Can I start, now?
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