Picture a parent.
A good parent.
Not a “perfect” parent, like the weird glassy-eyed people who live in Martha Stewart zombie universes.
A real parent.
More of a Louis CK kind of parent than a Michele Obama kind of parent.
But a good parent nevertheless.
Now imagine you ask this good parent about what it’s like to love their kids.
Do their kids have to be empirically beautiful? No.
A good parent will probably think their kids’ flappy ears and beaky schnozzes and tufty hair are cute, or at least an essential part of that kid.
And — Toddlers and Tiaras notwithstanding — most good parents don’t demand that their child cavort like a trained chimp while covered in sparkles and drag-queen makeup.
Do their kids have to be geniuses? No.
A good parent will probably hang up the spelling test with the “Good job!” sticker on the fridge, and tell their friends that they think little Billy is “gifted” because he knows all the words to “Old McDonald” by age four.
But most good parents don’t demand that their kids memorize pi or crack the German Enigma code or read War and Peace before the kid is toilet trained.
Sure, they’d love it if their kid turned out to have a billion-dollar idea for cheaply turning sunlight into a chocolate-flavoured cancer cure, but they usually realize on some level that their tiny angel is probably of average cognitive abilities.
Do their kids have to be world-class at anything in order to deserve love? Shit no.
Sure, good parents are happy when their children show growth and maturity, and have positive developments in their lives. Which doesn’t mean playing Carnegie Hall or winning a Nobel Prize, although of course good parents will put on their best shoes and applaud along with everyone else if it happens.
Yet good parents also know that all kids can be irritating assholes sometimes, just because that’s what small powerless people with partially formed brains do when confronted by challenging situations that overwhelm their limited cognitive capabilities, emotional self-regulation, and articulate self-expression.
Good parents love their kids — boogers, pet turtles, and all — simply because of who those kids are: themselves.
Because love is different than like.
If you like someone, you can say, “Well, I like Sanjay because he’s funny, and he dresses well, and he’s polite and always on time. Plus we watch the same TV shows.” You can usually point to specific reasons why you like someone.
If you like someone in the high-school way (as in, like like), it’s still partially a fabrication. You like mostly a partial idea of them rather than a real person.
And liking is generally opposed to not-liking.
Often you either like someone or you don’t. Maybe you like them until you don’t — perhaps the moment when they’re rude to a waiter, or drop a casual racist slur into an otherwise pleasant conversation, or kill a joke dead with a pedantic and droning, “Aaaactually…”
Loving does not follow this path.
For one thing, love is rarely so specific.
Sure, you could come up with reasons why you love someone, same as reasons why you like someone. But those reasons generally sound a bit hollow. Can you really capture your passion for your partner by saying “Nice hair” or “Good at crosswords” or “Has an uncanny sense of direction”?
In reality, we often decide to love someone first, then come up with post hoc rationalizations for why.
Unlike “like”, love also embraces contradiction. Love accepts complexity.
You can love someone and still want to strangle them sometimes. (Important tip: Do not actually strangle loved ones.)
You can love someone and have them push you to the edge of sanity with their goddamned chewing oh for the love of Jibbers Crabst could you please shut your fucking mouth when there is food in it????
You can love someone even though — and perhaps because — they are dorky, tell stupid jokes, fart in bed, don’t like pickles, and an innumerable host of other things that might be an unforgivable sin for someone you just sort of like.
You love them almost because they are not perfect. Because they are unique, funny-shaped, idiosyncratic individuals.
Thus, paradoxically, love forces us to accept reality.
Love forces us to see what-is and still love it anyway.
Love cuts off should-ness.
You know damn well your kid keeps spiders in her pockets and hates baths. You know your kid has hidden a sandwich under his bed, mayonnaise now smearing into the too-small sneakers nesting there.
You have full frontal facts. And yet… there you are. Loving little Ms. Stinky Spider Princess and Mr. Sandwich Secreter.
You accept what is. Love contains that “what-is”, by definition.
Consider this for a moment. If you have kids or any other “imperfect” people in your life whom you love with the ferocity of a mother bear, think about them now.
Now turn your attention to the idea of loving your body.
Half of you probably already want to vomit, just reading those three words — loving your body.
Shifting gears from loving your beautifully goofy little kid to loving your own body sounds like the needle scratching off a record.
Because here are the two mistakes most of us make:
Mistake 1: Unlike everything else in the fucking world that we love — our kids, partners, grandparents, dogs, collection of artisanal beer cans — we ask our body to be “perfect” before we love it.
Mistake 2: We confuse “loving” with “liking”. Instead of love — a deep unconditional acceptance and celebration of uniqueness — we look for “like” — a transaction based on the presence of specific requested features. We make “if-then” rules about under what conditions we will “like” our bodies.
In order to like my body I must have…
Likeable bodies always do…
And we rage at our bodies when they are not “perfect”. Which is always.
Because bodies are lumpy and saggy and spotty and creaky and lopsided and hairy (or bald) and mortal and get hung over and don’t always like to digest cheese.
If you’re mad at your body and don’t love it, it’s not your body’s fault. It’s that you’ve forgotten what the concept of “love” implies.
It’s that you’ve confused “liking” with “loving”.
It’s that you’ve made a rule that certain conditions must be met before you will love your body. Which is not love.
Imagine a potential partner that said to you: “Before I will love you, you must get a nose job, learn French, change the way you laugh, and have smaller feet. Then I will consider your application and decide if you are worthy of my positive regard.” Unless you’re a total masochist, your response to that should be Fuck you. Especially if that potential partner reminded you every day — quite snidely, really — that you haven’t gotten smaller feet yet.
But of course, this is the deal we cut with ourselves every day.
If you were thinner, beautifuler, leaner, fitter, stronger, more organized, smarter, less of a piece of shit… then I might consider liking you, maybe.
That sounds like the adolescent girlbully who alternately pummeled your face into the ground and then psychologically scorched your remains, taunting you with the bait-and-switch of her potential friendship before ostracizing you from the group because OMG your huge feet.
The girlbully dangled the carrot of like in front of you. Her liking was always contingent and conditional, withdrawn at the slightest provocation.
So who do you want to be to yourself?
A good, loving parent?
Or a girlbully?
Loving your body does NOT mean you can’t work to become healthier, fitter, or stronger. Indeed, just as you care for and nurture your babies, tending to their growth and development, you should also care for and nurture yourself. Tend to your own growth and development.
Help yourself mature and explore, just as you might do with children. Encourage yourself to try new things. Challenge yourself.
It’s OK to have moments of “not-like”. Because you can still not-like and love at the same time. (As my mom used to say to us, “I love you, but I don’t like your behaviour right now.”) You can still be a little mad at your body for not giving you a WNBA career, sometimes. But you should probably get over it and also forgive your body for cramps and zits and that weird mole and rejecting red wine.
Loving your body DOES mean you start with what is.
It means that you decide to love and care for yourself first. Right now. As-is. No conditions. No asterisks on the contract.
Get real, and love the one you’re with.