A LITTLE LIFE STORY ABOUT FINDING PHYSICAL SELF-LOVE

Wednesday, September 5, 2018
September is officially here and I can't believe it. I have a big Summer recap post sitting in my Drafts, and it's almost ready to be published, but something else has been crowding my mind and I've been feeling the need to share. Actually, I've wanted to share these thoughts for months (read: years), but it's the kind of topic that deserves a polished post before presenting, and I've been waiting for that "right time," to write and publish. But you know what? I just don't have time for that kind of poise these days. My life is moving too fast and, life overall, is feeling too short to wait for the perfect time to do things that I care about and/or feel moved to do.

Not wanting to feel that kind of regret, here is a big part of my story about finally arriving at a pretty relieving life destination: physical self-love. I was thinking about my self-love journey while biking last Saturday, so I spontaneously started a Live Video on Instagram right after I finished exercising in which I shared these same thoughts below. It was an unplanned party for all who watched and for me, and I may have struck out with my sweaty appearance and blubbering thoughts, but hey, I swung. :)

It's far from perfect, but here is what I have come to so firmly believe about taking care of my physical body and, in turn, loving me.


I remember running the half-mile every week in the 4th grade PE and learning to love the rush of my moving legs and beating lungs. I remember that I soon started running for fun with my older sister, Elise, while she was in high school. I remember picking up tennis in Jr. High and loving the newfound strength in my pounding heart and sore arms. High School married my two athletic loves - running and tennis - and it found me playing Varsity tennis and running Varsity track. I loved both sports so much for the fun, friendship, and fitness outlets they gave me. I remember that exercise became a part of my life back then. It was a release for my mind and a builder of my body.

My college years started to morph the role of exercise in my life, however, as my body more fully matured and, even more so, as my life's stress levels mounted. I could no longer pick up a couple miles of running to keep my body in its optimal shape, although I didn't grasp that for most of my Freshman - Sophomore years. By my Junior year, my body had drastically changed. I had gained 30 pounds, which for my 5'3 frame, felt more like 50. My pants were tight. My face felt tight. My heart was tight from the stress of it all. I was worried about how I looked, because if my appearance was at all a reflection of my feelings, it wasn't good. My heart breaks a little thinking of this now, but I didn't like myself then. Of course I knew that I needed to be positive and to "love myself," but the rubber hit the road, and I just didn't. I didn't like what 150 pounds felt like. I didn't like feeling ugly and thus stressing about my looks. I didn't like that I was still exercising daily, as I had been for years, and yet my body seemed to further swell. I did not like my body. And as a result, I did not fully like me.
Summer 2010. My sophomore year at BYU. 

That's not a good place to be. Our spirits and our bodies were made by God, and I personally believe that before we had our precious mortal bodies, we waited up in heaven for them with an anxious gratitude. I believe that we loved our bodies before they became ours -- we wanted to use them well and to care for them. I believe that our spirits still feel that way, so when our minds say otherwise - that our bodies are big or bad and thus ugly and unlovable - we are sad. I was sad, at least. So, so sad.

I remember that that's when I started praying for help. I remember desperately needing God to give me directions, because what I knew to do and was trying to do to take care of myself wasn't working anymore. I needed to understand my body, and to have the courage, desire and stamina to take care of it. But more than anything, I prayed to love me. I needed to love me.

True to form, gracious Heavenly Father answered my prayers. I came across an up-and-coming exercise method -- barre fitness -- and felt pulled to give it a try. The intense challenge it was, coupled with the small results I started to see, had me all in. I added this strength-training exercise to my running and I started to feel just a little better.

Only one month later, I found myself in Jerusalem, Israel, for a 4-month study abroad, and this turned out to be the greater answer to my prayer. I would have never guessed that before going -- that going away to Israel would lead me to a new way of caring for my body. But it did. I went to Jerusalem and left my life behind. I left my jobs, my grades (sorry, Jerusalem professors!), my apartment, my bills, and my dating life so far behind. In retrospect, it's breathtakingly clear that I left my stress behind. Having almost no life stressors (something I hadn't had for years) allowed my mind to ease up, to calm down, and to be happy, which allowed my body to decompress, literally deflating day-by-day.

While living in the Jerusalem Center, I got my cardio exercise the one way I could - on a stationary bike in a tiny gym for 30 minutes every night - and since 30 minutes was all the time I had, I pushed it. I pushed that metal bike to its limits, which made my body heat up like a big, brick oven. I was left beet-red and drenched in sweat every night after biking, and I soon saw that as I worked to the point of sweating, my body started to change. Those hot, sweaty, hard-working biking sessions torched away unnecessary fat on my body, and for the first time in a long time, I was feeling free.

Before I could blink it was time to go home and, physically, I was ready. I had lost 15 physical pounds in those 4 months. My body was finally back. As a result, I lost 100 emotional pounds more.
Spring 2011. My junior year at BYU'S Jerusalem Center. 

Since learning during that special life chapter about what my body needs to be happy and whole, I've maintained physical health and happiness with my body. Of course I've had very real moments of not liking my body again (what modern woman doesn't repeatedly fight that battle?), but I now know what I need to turn those negative feelings around: stop complaining, get up and exercise hard in a way that I enjoy (that's running, biking, yoga, tennis, and barre for me), and then? Let go.

Let go. A vital part of the journey to physical self-love is the practice of letting go. Letting go gets easier to do the harder you work. It's hard to complain about and stress over that which we give 100% of our effort to. When you've given your best energy to something, like feeding and exercising your body correctly, there isn't any energy left for criticism and complaints, like about your body's unique physique. Your best is out there -- it's all out on the field -- leaving you no time for anything else. After we give our very best effort to taking care of our health, the brain lets go and the body feels free.

The second, most crucial step to feel physical self-love is -- I bet you can guess it! -- gratitude. So often our minds get jammed in the traffic of negative, degrading thoughts about what our body lacks and everything that it isn't, which leaves our bodies stuck, unable to change and progress. But the second we step back from ourselves and acknowledge our bodies for being beautiful and the conduit of unreal life blessings -- like tackling adventure, feeling true love, lifting feeble knees, giving life to a newborn child -- we give our bodies permission to fly. Gratitude allows our bodies to let go and run free, allowing them to become the strongest they can be.

So for me? I'm grateful for legs that have run hundreds of miles, chased three babies around countless parks, and moved through every corner of numerous homes as I've made them clean, safe places for my family. These arms have hauled heavy luggage through airports, tossed my little girls into the sky, and held my worn-down husband.  This body grew my daughters' bodies. Then it fed them. Entirely on its own. My God-given body is a miracle to me. I couldn't dislike it again if I tried.
Summer 2018. My three babies under age 5 and the strongest, happiest-yet me 

I invite you to take your health into your hands, because whether you want to admit this or not, your physical health directly effects your people. Why? Your physical health largely determines you -- your mood, mobility, confidence, and mental and emotional capacities. So take your physical obstacles to God - ask for His help - and then get up and get moving. Do what you can. Do it every day. Then LET GO. Since self-love is a life-long adventure, repeat, repeat, repeat. Do your part well, and be grateful for all of you that is left. Because that residual body, mind, and spirit is you, and it is right and good and beautiful.

Thanks for reading, my friends. 💛 And cheers -- to stretching and growing working and releasing so that we be happy and whole. For our families, for our friends, for ourselves.

XO

Jeni 

5 comments:

  1. Brava! Loved the written form as much as the live video. PS. I was totally one of the ones who made huge gains in Jeru! Lol. That amazing cuisine every night was too good!

    Good work, Jeni!

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    1. Oh it was the BEST. I only lost since I was a sweaty mess every single day up in that gym. Let's go back!! XOXOX

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  2. Amen amen amen!!!!! Giving 100% and letting go is the only way! I’m just learning this too. Also, sleep really helps. Your body so needs sleep!

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    1. YES. Which is why I'm off to bed riiiiiiight now (you get me)! Miss you, my girl!!

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  3. Sure loved this. I just hopped onto your blog to check out your layout (gotta get my bloggggg up ahhhh) and got sucked into this post. It hit close to home. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You're a beautiful soul inside and out!

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