I was watching a clip of Maya Angelou’s Masterclass, in which she said, “Love Liberates”.
When I heard those words, they rang so loud in my ear that it felt as though my whole being had been trying to tell me and I just wasn’t listening. I thought of these words as they relate to my relationship with my body, I realized that this certainly wasn’t the kind of love I’ve been myself (or at least not enough), even as recently as yesterday.
For as long as I can remember, loving my body has always come with rules and restrictions. Body love wasn’t possible if I ate too much, if I missed a workout, if I gained weight, if I didn’t master a yoga pose, if a man wasn’t attracted to me, if someone made a note of my weight gain. And even when I made the conscious decision to master self-love, I simply came with a new set of rules for myself.
Body love wasn’t possible if I didn’t do a long enough meditation. If I caught myself saying unkind words about my body. If I hated the way my dress looked today, even if I was aware that dress size wasn’t a measure of my body. If today I hated the scars on my legs, even though I had written a blog post on honoring my scars. If I didn’t drink enough green smoothies. The pursuit of self-love, if you don’t catch yourself, might lead you to another road of self-loathing.
The kind of love I was giving myself before or after my journey of self-love, has often been a love that suffocates me and leave me feeling empty, ashamed and angry, if I don’t constantly evaluate my motives. It’s a love that has an ideal of who you should be, and condemns you if you don’t live up to said idea.
So what does it look like to love yourself in a way that liberates? A liberating love is a love that expands to create space for you, and honor you wherever you are in your quest for self-compassion and self-acceptance. It’s a love that holds you accountable not as a way to condemn you but to redeem you. It needs to be a love that is tender, patient, validating, and uplifting. It needs to be a love that always asks, “how am I feeling, how do I want to feel, and how do I get there in a compassionate and patient way”?
But in real life, tangible ways, how do you apply this kind of love for yourself? Here are just a few suggestions
- let yourself feel all your feelings, good and bad. You’re allowed to be a multi-layered individual so don’t punish yourself on those days when positivity makes you want to vomit
- Learn to be a better listener. Your negative feelings, much like physical pain, are trying to bring your attention to something that is wrong. Being a good listener means moving past that initial shame you might feel when you have a negative feeling. What is that anger, sadness, frustration, trying to tell you?
- Practice patience and acceptance with your body. This might be the most important way you could possibly practice a love that liberates. The source of our hatred for our body is often because we want it to look a certain way and it’s failure to live up to these expectations, is a source of frustration. That frustration for me, has often been with yoga, when after weeks of not practicing, I realize my back won’t bend like it used to, or my shoulders won’t carry me as easily as before. For you it might be a skirt that doesn’t fit like before, or love handles that make you feel ashamed, or weight gain that sneaked up on you and you’re frustrated. Liberating love is love that meets you where you are, and loves you right there, without requiring to be any different from where you are now.
- Seek change for its own sake, not as a prerequisite for love. I know that I when I mention above the necessity of self-acceptance, something in your panicked. You wondered, well if I love myself exactly where I am, how I am, then surely I will become complacent and not want to change. That’s the thing! This whole time, you have been giving yourself a love conditional on meeting certain requirements. But a liberating love is one that is with you where you are and that includes wherever you go. When Maya Angelou said “love liberates”, she also added that “it doesn’t bind”. So loving yourself won’t stop you from making any changes, it will simply go along with you. You don’t have to be miserable and self-deprecating on your way to wherever it is you’re going. What if instead of using love as the reward for meeting a goal, you make it a companion, or the fuel for your journey?
What does a liberating love look like for you?
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog "The Dear Body Project". She knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is, "How can I live in a way that makes room for you too"? She writes to examine, to heal, to redeem.