Generally, when people are talking about loving their bodies they are talking about things like fat and body image. I have been lucky to have not ever been too bothered by being fat. (That is a super simplification of a lot of privilege and fatphobia and decades of complicated feelings, but it’s also relatively accurate). However, I have had a lot of struggles around loving my body due to my chronic illnesses.
The best the doctors can figure out, among other things, my immune system attacks my connective tissue resulting in lots of pain, fatigue, and other random symptoms (like extreme sun sensitivity and skin issues). I also have fibromyalgia, endometriosis, and other issues that mean that even with medication, I am generally in some amount of pain and my life revolves around how my body is doing at any moment. I do have access to medical treatment and medications that help to ease the worst of it, but it is still a daily struggle. And this is what keeps me from fully loving my body.
Now, I don’t believe that anyone has any obligation to love their body, but I do see radical self-love as a healing force. And I also know that I feel better mentally when I can tap into that self love. Though it’s hard to love my body when I feel like it is betraying me.
And it pretty much betrays me all the time. It betrays me when I want to do something that I can’t do. It betrays me when I have to leave my baby’s second birthday party to go to bed. It betrays me when I go into severe debt during the times I can’t work. It betrays me right now when typing is almost impossible and my body hurts so bad it is hard to focus.
How Chronic Pain Makes if Difficult for me to Practice Self Love:
1. Joyful Movement
I used to love moving my body in ways that felt good, particularly dancing with friends or going on long walks around cities. It helped my brain and my body feel better. Focusing on the things our bodies can do is one common tool to help folks move towards self-love. Now, when I am able to get exercise, I am so worried about the “payback” – the hours or days of pain that I will be in if I do too much. Most everything is too much.
2. Socializing With Other Fatties
Another surefire way that helps me love my fat self is by hanging out with other happy (and radical) fat folks. Now, I am often not able to leave the house and while the internet can help, I really miss being in the same physical space as other fat bodies.
3. Mental Effects of Pain
Chronic pain isn’t only a physical issue, but a mental one as well. Constant pain wears down my emotional resilience and generally makes me feel unable to handle stress. This means that my protective layer against the world becomes ratty and full of holes and I am more easily affected by the harmful messages that are always being directed at fat folks. And less likely to fight back as well.
4. More Contact With the Medical Industry
My illnesses mean I have lots of doctors who I see on a frequent basis. I am often confronted with medical weight bias and all the awful stuff that comes with it. I am lucky to have decent doctors (right now) who know how I feel about weight loss (not an option), but new specialists, moving doctors, and other circumstances make it so that it’s common that I have to deal with the fear and anticipation of dealing with a new health care provider and the stressful experience of explaining my boundaries around weight talk (and fighting or changing providers if they don’t respect it).
More Radical Reads: 5 Ways to Find Radical Self Love & Joy When Your Body Says Otherwise
5. Feeling Betrayed
I feel like my body is my enemy. I know that my body is not separate from me, but it’s hard not to be angry at my wonky immune system and other issues that make it hard for me to function. I know that there is a difference between loving and liking, but not liking the symptoms of my illnesses is hard to separate from loving my body.
6. Worth and Production
This is by far the hardest part for me. As part of capitalism we are taught that our worth comes from our ability to produce. Because I am often not able to be “productive” in a way that capitalism recognizes, it sometimes feel like my whole worth and existence is valueless. Logically I know this is not true (and also super ableist), but a body that needs to lay in bed all the time is a body that capitalism and society doesn’t care about. And if they don’t care about my body, why should I? This is a mindset that I am working against with varying degrees of success depending on the day, but I am grateful that my body is forcing me to learn this difficult lesson whether I want to or not.
And while ableism affects me in myriad ways and exacerbates my body’s betrayals, it is not just external barriers to access that are the problem for me. I am trying to make peace with a body that causes me literal pain. I know that for better or worse it is the only body I have and without it I could not do any of this. I also know that part of the problem is measuring myself against abled bodies that can be “productive” in ways I can’t. And I even know that loving this sick, pained body is the kindest thing I can do for myself.
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[Feature Image: A photo of a person who is kneeling on a blue and green striped rug. They have shoulder-length brown hair and dark blue framed glasses. They are looking directly into the camera and cocking their head to the left. They are wearing a white t-shirt and dark pants. Source: Chapendra]