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Love Your Body, Love Yourself: You Are Not Alone

Jumping

“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier. Love everything, you will be happiest.” ~Sri Chinmoy

I hated myself when I was a kid.

I was overweight and starting to really like girls, but they didn’t like me.

I didn’t want to take my shirt off in front of them, so I didn’t go to the pool. And, when my parents made one last ditch effort at their marriage and moved to Coral Springs, Florida when I was in fifth grade—away from my friends and my hometown of Davenport, Iowa—I didn’t go to the beach.

Any religious feeling I might have accidentally absorbed as a boy attending Prince of Peace Lutheran Church every Sunday, I channeled directly into prayers for the Roulette-like decision to be picked to play “shirts” not “skins” during basketball in gym class.

I felt overwhelming self-consciousness during those agonizing moments waiting for the gym teacher to go down the line, pointing his almighty finger at each player.

I sent my entreating pleas up to whatever deity would listen, asking to be saved from the humiliation of running and jumping without a shirt to hide my love-handles from the girls on the other side of the gym.

It’s like that scene in On The Waterfront where Marlon Brando stands on the docks with all the other men waiting to be chosen for a day’s work.

The men stand, anxious, cold with visible breath, waiting for the decision, hoping they look strong enough to work even though they haven’t eaten for days. If the foreman picks him, his family has dinner tonight.

If the gym teacher picks me to play basketball with my shirt on, well, then…

I can play basketball with my shirt on.

I look at kids now and wonder if they feel as sad, lonely, and serious about life as I did when I was that age. It seems impossible, but I’m sure some of them do, and I have great compassion for them trying to find comfort in their own skin.

It’s the kind of feeling I gravitate toward when I watch films and plays, and read books, and in my own work as I continue to develop my voice.

It’s a feeling, ineffable, a longing, an ache.

It’s wanting to rewrite the past, salvation from loneliness and pain and loss.

But I don’t hate myself anymore.

And there is a great gift of compassion that painful experience has given me when I look at children now who are wrestling with eating disorders, obesity, or just a general sadness or loneliness they can’t define.

It’s taken a long time and a lot of hard-won self-esteem through a lot of mistakes (a lot of mistakes), and too many positive influences to name.

I have learned to love my body as the gift that it is: a home in which my spirit lives that helps me travel, perform, and write these words.

I’ve learned the importance of taking care of my body by releasing destructive eating habits, smoking, drinking alcohol, and abusing drugs (all of which I’ve struggled to transcend in my life), and taking action to live in a healthy way.

I’ve learned that healthy living entails being conscious of negative thoughts when they arise, allowing them to pass without judgment, and acknowledging the gift of being healthy and alive.

I’ve learned to love my body the same way I would love a friend or spouse or family member, and treat it with the same compassion, kindness, and acceptance.

But I have to admit that sometimes my inner-fat-child still wants to swim with his shirt on. So, there’s this dance I do around accepting my body for what it is vs. working really hard to change it; or, lapsing into treating it badly with old self-destructive tendencies that I’ve spent years trying to change.

It’s a long, strange trip to be inside a body, to have a body, to want to be somebody, to have a belief about your body, true or not.

To identify with it, live with it, understand it. To love it or hate it. To take care of it or destroy it.

Yearning for someone to love you for more than your body.

Or, in spite of it.

But I know that there’s only one choice: Love your body. It’s the only one you get.

If we experience the light within as actual consciousness, then it’s something of the eternal that we can experience now. We can transcend the emotional pain from our childhood and learn to love the skin we’re in.

It’s a sort of weird perfection that the opportunity for depth, understanding, and love for ourselves can evolve from our loneliness.

I only speak for myself, of course, because everybody’s experience is different. Some look back on their childhood as a wonderful time, and that’s a beautiful thing. But I know that in my life, ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt lonely or alone or so lonesome I could cry.

It’s important to embrace that feeling and knowledge about ourselves, and share it with others who may feel the same way.

If you’ve ever felt ugly, alone, or worthless, or wanted something or someone so badly you felt like your chest was caving in on itself, I understand.

I have felt all those things and felt like I was going to die because of it.

Sometimes we think we are those things.

Sometimes we think we are ugly and alone and worthless and afraid and consumed with need and desperation.

But we’re so much more.

We’re courageous and loving and funny and weird; creative, hopeful, open-hearted, awkward, and passionate.

We can only recognize those beautiful things if we tell the truth about what we’re ashamed of.

We need to be honest with ourselves that we are all of it, or we’ll go through our whole lives feeling like there is something wrong with us because it seems like so many other of the billions of beautiful bodies on this planet have it all figured out.

I don’t have it figured out. But I’m trying.

You’re not alone.

Photo by whologwhy

Avatar of Tim Venable

About Tim Venable

Tim Venable is a multi-hyphenate working-class thespian; Kerouac, coffee, and Jazz devotee living in Tinsletown, lover of run-on sentences attempting to speak from the heart. He writes at True Collar Worker.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Erin

    I love your writing. Thank you so much for this piece.

  • Patrick

    If you’ve ever felt ugly, alone, or worthless, or wanted something or someone so badly you felt like your chest was caving in on itself, I understand.
    These few words just made my day, because this Is exactly how I’m feeling, my chest caving in because I want him so bad, and I can’t have him and it feels like I’m burning inside. I decided to try to live, to accept that I can’t have him and to accept that I deserve better than one sided love, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, I’ll reread this every time I’m feeling this way, u gave me strength

  • http://www.chicwriter.com/ Shevonne

    I needed this. I hate my body, and one of my goals is to accept and love it. Thank you!

  • Phil Bennett

    Hey Tim! Great post. Fellow Quad Citizen here. Thanks for your words.

  • Cristy

    Great post and so eloquent. Definitely resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kamala Karuna

    Please consider renaming your sight. It is disrespectful to practicing Buddhists to use this title on a page not related to Buddhism.

  • Clare

    That sounds exactly like my experience, and it flares up sometimes and is terribly upsetting, but you expressed it in a way I could just couldn’t have.

  • Joseph Rejek

    Kamala Karuna – True wisdom would allow practising Buddhists to appreciate that, though some of these articles are not Buddhist in nature, spreading good words, love and peace can only be positive. Lighten up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mariah.smith.35175 Mariah Smith

    Thank you for sharing!

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    You are not alone. One of the contestants on “America’s Next Top Model: Cycle 12″ was a burn victim named Tahlia…she embraced her body even when surrounded by other women who don’t experience the same challenges as she does. I guess it goes to further illustrate the point you made about loving our bodies because its the only one we get.

    Also, I’m going to check out “On the Waterfront”…sounds like an interesting film.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Hi Kamala~ I didn’t write this post, but I thought I would chime in since I run the site. I try to make this a space for everyone to explore their experiences, feelings, and insights, because I think that’s the core of true wisdom–realizing we are all connected, beyond our varied labels and beliefs.

    I can understand why some people might be offended to realize the site is not solely about ideas that fall under the umbrella of Buddhism; however, I do think the site’s core messages do: compassion, mindfulness, letting go, and helping to relieve each other’s suffering.

    I hope you’ve found the posts helpful, even though the name has been off-putting to you!

  • Renee

    “Yearning for someone to love you for more than your body…Or, in spite of it.” This so resonated with me. Wow. Thank you for speaking your truth and sharing your story.

  • ituderevolution

    Gorgeously raw and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your story. Loving your body is such an important message! <3

  • Johanna_Galt

    “…we’ll go through our whole lives feeling like there is something wrong
    with us because it seems like so many other of the billions of beautiful
    bodies on this planet have it all figured out.”

    Yes! And it DOES seem that way doesn’t it? Everyone walking around like they know what the hell they’re doing, when in reality, none of us has a clue. I think we should all just agree to quit pretending. It would make things so much easier. ;)

    Thanks for not pretending.

  • Atypicalbeauty

    Wow thank you for that…..it’s really what I needed to hear right now!

  • Hannah

    I loved this and totally understand that feeling I grew up with it too thank you for the inspiring words and for the reminder that those feelings have purpose

  • Nicole1971

    Why do you consider yourself a Buddhist?

  • Danette

    Absolutely love hearing a body image/ self-worth story like this from the male point-of-view. Thank you. From a fellow hyphenate :)

  • E

    Thank you so much for this post.

  • http://goalsetting-workshop.com/blog/ Jorge Blanco

    Wonderful article, Tim. Very honest and encouraging. I once was ashamed of several things about myself, but I learned to love them along with those that I am proud of. All those “ugly” things are part of me, after all. If I cannot love them as they are, then how can I expect others to?

  • Timothy Venable

    Thank you Patrick, thank you. I apologize for taking so long to reply to this beautiful, heartfelt response to what I wrote. I don’t know what the situation is with this person, but you absolutely deserve love & it sounds like you know that. I deeply admire your courage and I know that the burn you feel inside will find someone who deserves it.
    “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
    –Jack Kerouac

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Johanna, and you’re right. I finally realized that if anyone in this world was going to love or respect me, or vice versa, I had to quit pretending and say that I didn’t have anything figured out. And I knew that it would resonate with people because I was listening to my friends and thinking about the conversations people were having and there was this desperate need to be honest, but a huge fear of what that honesty might mean. There is an epidemic of “coolness” or “togetherness” that belies what people are experiencing, but I also think there is an antidote that is offered by people like Lori and her Tiny Buddha community, and it’s very exciting to think about what that will mean for the evolution of our society.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    I don’t know your name, but thank you Attitude Revolution! I just followed you on Twitter, and it looks like your life’s purpose is exactly aligned with what I was writing about. Thank you for your words and your work.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank YOU Renee! It means a lot that when I’m able to be honest about my life, someone like you can identify with it. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Cristy! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Hearing from people is such a beautiful way to know that we aren’t alone when we share our experience.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Hey Phil! Yayyy Quad Cities, born and raised in Davenport! Family is north of there, though, in DeWitt. Thank you for reading!

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Erin, that’s really lovely for you to say. One never knows if it will speak to someone as deeply as it feels, so I hope that reading it meant something to you.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    That’s exactly right, Jorge, thank you for your comment. The light/shadow sides are who we are, and denying one or the other is a dangerous affair. Thank you for reading.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you E!

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Danette! I know so many men like me who grew up in similar ways, or have major body issues, but are ashamed to talk about them because we’re afraid that it will make us look weak. We definitely don’t face the overwhelming body standards that women face in our society and culture, but it’s there nonetheless and can be incredibly painful to experience. Thank you for saying that.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Hannah! And they DO have purpose, they MUST, or else it would just feel like some cruel joke to have to experience so much loneliness as a child without the capability of seeing what it might ultimately mean for our lives.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you, and I’m truly happy it was something that meant something to you!

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Wow, that’s an amazing story; and what a brave person to set out and redefine what beauty can mean to our society. Thank you for sharing that! And yes! see On The Waterfront, Marlon Brando in one of the great films of all time.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    You’re welcome Mariah, thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Clare, and if it was your experience, then I know exactly what you mean when it “flares up sometimes.” Which is why I wanted to write about how, even after all these years of work on my self, it feels like it’s still there. I don’t know if it will ever go away, but I don’t want it to if it means sacrificing the deep compassion I have for people like you and me who struggle to love and accept our bodies. Thank you for your words.

  • http://twitter.com/timvenable Tim Venable

    Thank you Shevonne! And that is a beautiful and powerful goal that will transform you life. Love your body, it’s the only one you get! :)

  • ituderevolution

    Yay! Thanks Tim. I’ll follow you back :)

  • Patrick

    That was an amazing quote !! I’m quite certain that I’ll remember it for my whole life, thanks again Timothy Venable ^_^

  • Elle

    I have hated and tried to destroy my body since I was 12. I am now 25, and in recovery for an eating disorder, depression, and self-injury.

    Thank you for sharing your words and making us all feel less alone in our struggle.

  • ABCGirl

    Thank you for this. I definitely don’t feel love toward my body – but I am trying to show it love anyway. I hope you understand what I mean. When I’m struggling, I know your words will help me.

  • Henna

    I am in a relationship where my husband doesn’t love his body, he has destructive eating habits, he smokes, drinks and there is no action to live healthy and excess fat free life. Also we have many issues due to stark personality differences and value systems. Like he is atheist and I am practising Hindu, I love extended family both his and mine but he is indifferent. Many more. I know him from last 7 years and married 4 years back. Due to differences n arguments i take stress which has made my head permanently tense, my head n scalp are in some tightness which only tranquilliser fixes. my question is how can I love my body and get my head, heart and mind in balance and back.

  • RandyH

    Well said Jorge…peace to you…

  • RandyH

    Bravo, Lori! Great reply!

  • RandyH

    Really glad I stumbled upon this article although 8 months later! Great blog Tim!

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene

    Thanks Randy!

  • Electra

    Tim fantastic article! Thank you so much. It made me cry.
    Especially the words, ‘If you’ve ever felt ugly, alone, or worthless, or wanted something or someone so badly you felt like your chest was caving in on itself, I understand.’
    Thank you.
    Love and light to you.