“i love myself.” the quietest. simplest. most powerful. revolution. ever.”
This is a poem by Nayyirah Waheed, from her collection “salt.”. Her poems are gentle, deeply introspective and powerful. She talks of self-love, of acceptance, of patience, of growth, similarly to Rupi Kaur. This poem warms my heart, with love and with anger. Loving ourselves, loving our bodies. It is so simple, so straightforward, and yet in time, it has indeed become a revolution. How is this possible? How have we let the love we feel for ourselves be washed away by the world? How can it be, that loving the one person we will spend all our life with, has become a revolutionary concept?
When I was in middle school, I started noticing my body, in a negative way. I saw all these girls, some much older than me, with bodies that looked perfect to me. I started realizing how different my body was from theirs, but not as a normal, healthy difference. Rather, it was a toxic, unrealistic comparison. In my mind, their bodies complied with standards of perfection, created by someone I didn’t know, and I decided to live by them. Of course, I am only realizing the toxicity of these thoughts now, in my twenties; then, it seemed like the only logical mindset to have.
So, throughout middle school, and increasingly during high school, I began refusing invitations to pool parties, or beach outings. If I did accept, I would swim in shorts, telling people I was on my period (I wasn’t, of course). My body, in my eyes, remained inadequate, incapable of perfection. I started wearing baggy clothes, trying to hide my waist, my thighs, my stomach. Alternatively, I would wear extremely tight clothes, trying to compress my body into the shape I had in mind for it. As a result, I would get home and be in physical pain.
During high school I had a few moments in which I would convince myself that my body was, in fact, ok. Those periods swiftly came to an end when I witnessed a conversation in the corridors of school, between a boy I didn’t know, and a girl I had seen around, whom I thought was very pretty, and had a practically perfect body (again, according to my sick, twisted standards). The boy asked her, “Why don’t you work out a bit more?”, to which she answered, “I like my body as it is”. At that point, the boy laughed, and said “That’s what fat girls say”.
Automatically, the mind of the 15-year-old me, realized he was right. Not because the girl in question was fat (she wasn’t), but because I definitely was. Looking back now, I realize, of course, that I was a normal teenager. I wasn’t fat, thin, overweight, or slim. I was normal. This is something I couldn’t comprehend back then, so my solution to the “problem”, was to start feeding it significantly less. I know for a fact that a worrying number of teenagers, and not only, battle eating disorders at least once in their life. Having lived through it, the thought terrifies me. But the past is in the past, and I am grateful that after a few, interminable months, my love for food and, quite simply, for life, took over once again, and I pulled myself out of it.
All of this was happening while I was becoming a woman. My body was changing, it was growing, it was becoming what it was meant to be, and through all of it, I never had my support. I was never enough. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know where to begin apologizing to myself, for all the suffering and pain. I guess, one form of apology, is growth. That’s what happened at the end of high school. During the summer after our final exam, I went to Malta with my classmates. I had a summer of pure relaxation, rest and happiness in front of me. Yet, there was still this little voice inside my head, telling me how my body was still a major problem we had to fix. When we went to the beach for the first time, I was ready to put on my usual shorts, to cover the part of me I hated the most. But in that moment, out of nowhere, a thought popped up in my head. “No”. “I deserve to live”. And just like that, I stayed in my swimsuit, and jumped in the sea. I had one of the best summers of my life, and I never wore those shorts ever again.
What struck me the most, was that no one noticed. No one cared if I was in shorts or in a swimsuit. No one noticed my thighs, my waist, my stomach. They didn’t care. That’s when my life changed. Of course, it is still a work in progress, like any real growth, but that day, I started taking steps towards truly loving my body, starting with: they don’t care, but even if they did, why should I?
After my great, life-changing realization, I decided to work hard towards learning how to love my body. I adopted a new mindset, I started doing, saying, and thinking things we should all make ours. Once you open your mind to love, everything else comes naturally: your own body is fighting to be loved by you.
Now, I look at my body, and I think of everything it has done for me. Our legs started walking when we were small, now allowing us to go wherever we want. They help me run on the beach when the sun is setting, when everything in life seems perfect. Our feet carry the weight of our body, every day, relentlessly; they allow us to feel the ground beneath us, they root us in the earth, they remind us we’re here. They feel the sand, the cold water coming and going, the grass, the dirt.
Our stomach and our chest hold within them life itself. They hold, sustain and protect the organs that we need to wake up every morning and do all the things we love. My stomach has the ability to hold within it a whole other human being, to create it, nurture it, and prepare it for life. The more I think about it, the more I vibrate with ecstatic disbelief. Our heart beats, every second of every day, to the rhythm of our life: slower when we are at peace, faster when we’re scared, when we see a person we deeply love, when we are full of anticipation, when not only are we alive, but when we feel alive, when we feel the life cursing through our veins. Our arms allow us to hug those around us, to carry all the things we need, to accompany our words when we are passionate about something. Our hands are perfect puzzle pieces, they are made to hold each other, and what a beautiful thing it is, to touch someone’s hand, cheek, arm, neck, to feel someone else’s life there, next to us.
Our faces put us in contact with the world around us. Our ears allow us to hear our favourite song, the crunchy sound of snow when we step on it, the words from our loved ones, reminding us of who we are when we feel lost, and sometimes even our very own heartbeat! Our nose opens up a whole new dimension to us. When I walk next to a Jasmine blossom, it makes me fly back to one afternoon, when I was small, on the balcony of my old home, inebriated by that same perfume. It lets us know when our favourite meal is ready, when a book is ancient, beautiful, when spring is finally here, when we’ve finally reached the sea after hours of driving. Our lips allow us to smile, to show our happiness to the world. Our mouth lets us taste the sweetness of honey, the freshness of milk, the sourness of a lemon, and the summer hidden in a cherry.
Our eyes. Where do I even begin? They can be blue, like the deepness of the ocean, like the infinite, mysterious sky. They can be brown, like the earth from which we come, and to which we will return, like the mountains and their strength. They can be green, like a silent, powerful forest, like the leaves of the trees that keep us alive, green like life itself. They can be grey, like a storm, like the wind, like the sea during the winter. Our eyes shine, they burn bright, they project our soul to the rest of the world. They have the power of speaking for us, of leaking our emotions, they are directly connected with our heart.
And in our veins, there is blood alive with energy, there is our soul, our will to live. In our veins there is gold. It runs and runs and runs, up and down the body, keeping us electrically active. The gold in our veins gives us our dreams, our passions, our happiness, our sadness, our anger, our energy, our courage, our strength. The gold in our veins gives us our breathless, lively beauty. That’s why our veins are protected under our skin, that’s why they reach all the parts of our body, head to toes. The gold in our veins fills every corner of our body with beauty; all we have to do to start feeling it, is accept it. Accept that we are, in fact, beautiful; that we are carefully, meticulously designed, and that we are perfect.
We’ve got this raw strength within us, able to get us back up after we fall hard, able to make us forgive, love, resist. If we used a fraction of the strength we have within us to love ourselves, we would bloom into the most beautiful, luminous beings of the universe. Let yourself bloom. Hug your body, feel every tiny piece of it bubbling with life, appreciate all it does for you. Your body has supported you for your whole life. It’s time to return the favour. Join the revolution, and love yourself with all the might you hold within, because if there is one person who deserves all that love, it is you.
“today i saw myself for the first time
when I dusted off the mirror of my mind
and the woman looking back took my breath away
who was this giant. beautiful. beastling.
this extra-celestial earthling
i touched my face and my reflection
touched the woman of my dreams
all her gorgeous smirking back at me
my knees surrendered themselves to the earth
as i wept and sighed at how i’d gone
my whole life being myself but
not seeing myself
spent decades living inside my body
never left it once yet
managed to miss all its miracles
isn’t it funny how you can
occupy a space without ever being in touch with it
how it took so long to
open the eyes of my eyes
embrace the heart of my heart
kiss the soles of my swollen feet
and hear them whisper
– Rupi Kaur