Self-loathing gets a lot of press. It makes up a large section of the bookstores in the form of beauty magazines and self-help books and creates wealth for cosmetic surgeons and clothing manufacturers.
Unfortunately, when you speak about loving yourself, you often get raised eyebrows. Our media has created an environment of unhappiness, softly disguised with the veneer of self-improvement and self-indulgence. Mental health professionals provide wonderful outlets for those souls trying to figure out why they feel unworthy of the affections of others. And yet the constant struggle to fill the inner void with new things and new people continues unabated.
I’m curvy. My favorite fashion era is the look from the ’40s, when they celebrated women with hips. Fashion is a fickle mistress, though. Just when you think you have a good look going, the designers change it. I don’t begrudge them that, but I do get irritated when advertising encourages permanent changes to the human body to keep up with trends.
Breast augmentation, tummy tucks, lip enhancements — all of these procedures are relatively permanent, expensive and sometimes even deadly. Why? Because some superstar of the moment has really pouty lips? Or because some fashion darling decreed that we look better in our clothes with the body of a 10-year-old boy?
What is it that people want? To look younger? To be more attractive to the opposite sex? To gain an edge in the workplace? All speak to the need for love and acceptance. But how can we expect people to love us for who we are if we literally put up a false front?
My personal wake-up call was a cancer diagnosis more than five years ago. I met with a plastic surgeon to discuss breast reconstruction options after a planned mastectomy to remove my breast cancer. The option involved taking fat from my stomach and stuffing it into the hollowed-out spot where my breast tissue used to be. Ingenious! A free tummy tuck and a boob job, compliments of my insurance company!
And yet, something inside me said no, thanks. I just couldn’t do the seven days in the hospital, the extensive scarring, and the foreign body to be placed in the unaffected breast (to achieve symmetry!). I hadn’t been totally satisfied with my body, since no one is perfect. But it was really discouraging to see all of the Sharpie marks on my torso, literally taking my shape back to the drawing board. I instantly began to loathe my body, which added to the already impending sense of doom from the invasion of cancer cells.
Turns out I didn’t have to go through with the mastectomy. Chemo shrank my tumors enough to get by with a quadrantectomy. That was day surgery, and though I have a significant divot, my breasts are my own.
Hey, I’m not above working out to keep myself in shape, and my hairdresser does a great job of keeping my gray hairs hidden. I just keep thinking about what my mom used to say: "You can’t judge a book by its cover."
Simply slapping on a coat of spackle on the jagged crevice in the wall doesn’t fix the cracked foundation any more than elective plastic surgery can convince the sad inner child that she is worthy of unconditional love. Fixing the root cause is far more difficult and painful. Some medical facilities are getting this connection. I’ve been pleased to see that some of the ads for Lap-Band surgery now include counseling to help patients internally accept the new external appearance, as this is one of those extreme surgical procedures that has far more ramifications.
By loving yourself enough to choose good food, focus on the positive things in your life and moving your muscles with gentle exercise, you can do your part to avoid being a health care statistic. You just might be the positive influence that others need to get their own self-love going. Light up your inner beauty, and odds are that your outer self will shine as well.