On this Valentine’s Day, I wish for everyone out there to feel loved. Romantic love is wonderful–and I hope you all have or find that kind of love–but the love I am referring to is the love you have for yourself. I wish everyone the feeling of self-love because it is from that place where all else grows. It may sound cliché, but I truly believe that we must first love ourselves in order to love (and be good to/for) anyone else.
For me, loving my whole self is a work in progress. I’m not 100% there but for the first time in a very long time I can say whole-heartedly, I love my body, and mean it. Contrary to our societal ideal of being thin or skinny, I love my body for its strength. For all those out there that make the goal of your fitness and diet efforts losing weight and dropping sizes, it is so much healthier and more powerful to change your focus and strive to arrive at a place where you can honestly say (and believe) the words, I feel strong.
Physical strength is absolutely one part of achieving this feeling. I practice yoga daily and have watched my muscles lengthen and grow. I’ve experienced elation as certain asanas have improved and other challenge postures I never thought possible have found expression through my body. While this kind of strength is empowering in its own right, it is an intangible strength that I first learned about when I traveled to Senegal five years ago that I wish all women could feel. This ineffable, life-changing concept boils down to one word: fayda. Fayda (figh-da) is a distinctly female trait meaning courage, pride, and attitude in Wolof (Senegal’s official local language).
What it meant to me then and still does now is strength–beautiful, unabashed inner resolve that you are, and have always been, who you were meant to be.
Like many women (and men too, though we ashamedly don’t talk about their perspective as much) I have struggled with body image issues. I’ve always been a bit of a peanut but once those teenage hormones kick in, all of our bodies change in one form or another. That change can be really hard to cope with. Couple that with the way our media and society praise and promote the thinnest of the thin and no wonder so many young people have an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise.
Let me tell you a little story. In college, I discovered a love for rock climbing. I made great friends while doing it but at a certain point started to dislike the way my body looked. Vanity told me that the muscles I was developing were detracting from my femininity and a nagging little voice in my head whispered, what guy is going to like a girl with muscles like that? While that’s not the only reason I stopped climbing–time, travel, and transitions also played a role–I shudder to think that even one iota of why I backed away from something I loved that much was for aesthetic reasons, and ultimately the manifestation of a lack of self-confidence.
No one should ever be made to feel that in order to be beautiful you have to fit into a certain size or look like a stick-figure celebrity. A beautiful body is one that is strong and functional, not one that is so frail that a strong gust of wind could take you out.
You know what I think is beautiful? A mom who can hold her five- and two-year-old sons on her hips and still muster the power to grab a couple grocery bags out of the trunk. That’s functional fitness. That’s beauty. That’s strength.
Resistance training–which is bound to build your muscles–is an important part of maintaining overall wellness. Muscles help reinforce and protect our skeletal structure, guarding us against injury and inability as we age. Whether you decide that weight lifting or isometric bodyweight training (like yoga) is the way to go for your body, do something and don’t be afraid to be strong.
I am strong is a great mantra to find love and honor for your body and being. Be your own Valentine today and make it your own.