How to Unlearn Hating Yourself

Body positivity and topless sunbathing

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with my body. It all started when I was called fat by a classmate. I was 10, I wasn’t fat, and I didn’t really know what fat meant, it wasn’t a concept for me. At that minute I just learnt that fat means ugly and only skinny is beautiful.

It was all downhill from there.

Decades of dieting, exercising and self-hatred followed. The feeling of not being good enough was closely linked to what I thought of my body. I did every stupid diet, every lifestyle change, I suffered in silence first from anorexia, then from bulimia. I did juice fast for 90 days. I gained and lost weight easily and not so easily. I had periods when I overexercised and ran 10k every morning.

There were times when I was healthy and fat, and times when I was unhealthy and skinny. But my relationship with my body was surely unhealthy. I tortured and punished it — never loved it. Throughout the years each diet and lifestyle change failure taught me to hate my body even more and justified my hatred at every turn.

I learnt to cover up my body and show only parts that I thought were pretty or acceptable, for the fear of being judged. I never learnt to take a compliment on my looks — except on my eyes. My eyes were the only body part I liked — you can’t have fat eyes, can you?

The feedback from my abusive ex alternated between worshipping or ridiculing my body. The feeling I started to have about my body when it was praised by my then-boyfriend was tainted by him taking it all back with a backhanded compliment or an open insult. He took all positivity back and all I had was just disgust and hatred.

As part of my healing path, I started kickboxing. It was tough, difficult. I had absolutely no stamina. But the community and the feeling of empowerment it gave me reeled me in and I started to get better at it. It was about being in control of my body, finding the balance and the strength to deliver a roundhouse kick. It gave me my power back after years of helplessness. I started to run again, not to punish my body for not being perfect but to indulge in the endorphin rush it brings, to enjoy quiet times with myself, enjoying the sound of my footfalls on the pavement. I slowly increased the time and distance to challenge myself just a little bit every time.

As I began to regain control over my body and thoughts, and I started to unlearn all my hateful beliefs about it, I started to appreciate it as it is. My body is not perfect. Far from it. I have freckles and stretch marks, unwanted fatty parts, my figure is not supermodel-perfect; I could imagine my stomach flatter, my legs skinnier, my bum firmer, my breasts perkier, my back dimples more articulate, my skin more smooth — but this is what I have. This is what I need to relearn to love. And not by external validation, because that is fickle. I need to love me to be able to believe that someone else can too.

I am taking baby steps. But they are huge leaps for my self. On this vacation, I took my shortest shorts, leaving the whole length of my legs uncovered. Not covering myself up — finally! Because it’s summer, it’s warm, it’s comfortable. And because I can. And I looked into the mirror and noted that I look fine. And I was proud to walk down the streets in it, unapologetically being me and carrying my body proudly.

When was the last time when you did something for the first time?

As a final random proof of body positivity just to challenge myself further — on the beach I have chosen for the day, I ditched my bikini top and chose to be seen half-naked in public for the first time in my life, among all the other women who had managed to accept the body they were given.

And I can’t even begin to explain which felt more perfect, to feel the sun and the wind all over my skin, or to see my inhibitions getting washed away at the sound of the waves.

The sea didn’t judge me. The sun didn’t judge me. And no one cared about the nakedness or the imperfection of my breasts. But the best is that I didn’t care about it either. I felt fine about it.

And it’s amazing to feel perfectly fine about all my imperfections.

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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