In the spirit of Valentine's Day, the barre studio I work for, The Barre Code, is doing a week-long national campaign about loving our bodies. (I should distinguish, here, a barre studio from a bar that serves liquor—my husband loves to make jokes about me spending all my time at the "bar." Put simply, a barre workout is a strength-training workout that centers around a ballet barre.) Their campaign, #BarreCodeLove, encourages women to draw a heart on a body part that they love or one that needs a little more love. As I thought about which body part I wanted to draw my heart on, I mentally catalogued every body part, judging its "worthiness" of my heart—of my love: Chest? Too small... Arms? Not toned enough... Stomach? Too soft... Legs? Too big. It seemed as though every body part needed "a little more love," as the campaign suggests, but no body part was already worthy of my love.
At this point, I sat back. Seriously? I like my body, in general. I don't have a negative body-image or sense of self. Yet, I struggled to pick a body part that I could publicly declare my love for, but I could immediately identify the body part that has always needed more love (my thighs). Knowing what we all know about fat talk and body-image struggles among girls and women, I was not surprised that I could easily pick the body part that—to put it nicely—needs more love. But why was I struggling so much to pick a body part that I could definitively say I love?
After some reflection, I realized how I defined this so-called "love" of my body. I wasn't looking for which body part I loved, I was looking for which body part was perfect—which body part looked the most like what I see in the media. I was judging it based on what I thought it should look like, and how close—or far—each body part was to that standard. But that isn't love. That is judgment and comparison.
Just as God doesn't wait to love us until we are perfect (we never will be!) we can't wait to love our bodies until they reach some arbitrary standard. I will never be worthy of God's divine love, yet that doesn't stop Him from loving me right where I'm at. Likewise, regardless of the state of our ever-evolving bodies, we can love them for where they're at right now.
The whole point of the campaign isn’t to show off “perfect” figures—that only promotes comparison—but rather to love the chosen body part where it’s at, for what it does, not for what it looks like. Love is to look at my thighs—that will never be confused for hot dogs, that always made me feel awkward in swimsuits—and thank them for supporting my life-long love affair with field hockey, for being able to take a running tour of Chicago, for being the perfect fit for those J.Crew boyfriend jeans I found on sale in only one size, for keeping up with my husband's killer dance moves, and so much more. The more I practice appreciation towards my body, the less room there is for deprecation.
It's easy for me to sit at my computer and write, encouraging all my readers to love their bodies. It's easy for me teach a barre class, encouraging all my clients to treat their bodies with kindness. Because I mean it. But it's hard to un-learn the habits we grew up with and the messages we are inundated with today. The negative ways we view or feel about our bodies can change, though, no matter what they look like. But only we hold the power to change the narrative around our own bodies. We must not confuse love with perfection. Love is accepting the whole picture, imperfections, beauty, and all.