Nobody tells you how hard self-acceptance is. It’s easy to believe you’re not good enough. It’s easy to believe someone else has all the answers and if you’re only good, if you’re only obedient, everything will be okay. You’ll be healthy, you won’t have to suffer the despair of sickness and you won’t be reminded of your own mortality. We all fear sickness. We are threatened with disease only to be controlled. But once you realise that nobody else can make your decisions for you – nobody else gets to tell you what to eat, how to move, how much to sleep, how hard to work – there’s no hiding from the fact that you’ve got to make these decisions for yourself.
And if the way you motivate yourself is by exploiting your own fears and insecurities, by bullying and ridiculing yourself, by calling yourself lazy and disgusting – where is that really going to get you? What sort of life are you building?
Something the Dalai Lama said once about self-loathing, which I adored – is that the desire to experience less suffering, the desire for your situation to be better – even that is an expression of self-love. It’s a place to start.
Lazy is nothing. Accusations of laziness amount to nothing more than a chastisement of the disobedient. Seriously – when was the last time someone called you lazy and they weren’t just trying to make you feel bad for not doing what they wanted you to? Has that ever happened? And what are you saying to yourself when you call yourself lazy?
But all these negative messages – dressed up as optimism, as if the pursuit of perfection is a good thing, something to be applauded, admired – when all it amounts to is a flat-out denial of our innate perfection – all these messages that you’re not good enough, that you need to be purified and improved – it takes work to reject them. You can’t just say ‘fuck it all’ and magically you’re unaffected, you don’t care anymore.
They’re trying really hard to exploit you. They’re trying really hard to make you feel bad about yourself, because they feel bad about themselves, and we’re stuck so deep in the lies and deceit we can hardly see it any more. When someone’s exploiting you for your own good, it isn’t for your own good.
And it’s really damn fatiguing, reminding yourself every day that they’re wrong – but you’re one of God’s creatures – or to wax sciencey – we are all made of stars (because carbon is forged in the fires of the sun, and we are carbon-based life-forms, it’s totally awesome). It’s beautiful, we are beautiful, and one day they will have no power over us. My fingers are crossed, anyway.
Don’t think that self-acceptance is the easy way out. It’s much harder than capitulating to their demands. Of course we want to be thin. Wanting to be beautiful is not unusual, it doesn’t make you vapid or shallow. But how far are you prepared to go? We see how the overweight are marginalised and we don’t want that to happen to us (any more). But we cannot pander to those demands because the way to deal with bullies is not to capitulate to their demands. Becoming one of the oppressors does not end oppression. Do not become your own oppressor. Not when there are already so many around.
It gets easier though. Confidence begets itself. Love begets itself, and unfortunately hatred begets itself too. The only way to end hatred is through love. Nelson Mandela is so great: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.
Believing it would all be better if we could only be different than we are – that’s escapist fantasy. That’s the easy way out. Not self-acceptance. As much as training does teach us about ourselves, as much as you can learn from pursuing failure, bringing your mind and body together, and developing your capacity – anyone can punish themselves at the gym, but how many respect themselves? Without self-acceptance, self-knowledge is not possible. More can be discovered simply by accepting yourself, understanding your physical limitations and what they mean, and realising that you too are human, that it’s not a sin to be mortal, and that this does not make you flawed. It only makes you one of us. At first you might feel like you’re all alone. But corny as it sounds - then you’ll start to realise we’re all alone together, and those of us who are the most critical are the most despairing.
Don’t give up believing you’re awesome. Exercise, food – these things are good, food is not the enemy, food and exercise are friends; they both help us to grow and develop. Training serves us, we do not serve our training. You don’t need to be changed, you are free to be and to do, without judgement.
But people don’t usually let on – it’s the harder path.