Zena Al Maskari

Learning to Love Yourself

“When you begin to love yourself, your relationship with everyone [and everything around you] changes.”(Unknown)

Self-love, like many things in life, is not a constant given. Struggles with body image are very real, and very hard. We all have our good days as well as our bad; days where you feel like you can conquer the world and days where you don’t even want to look in the mirror.

I can’t define beauty; I think it’s unique to every individual who chooses to express it in their own way. Sadly though, we’re surrounded by a perceived notion of what constitutes “looking good”. And even worse, more and more people are giving up feeling good to supposedly look good.

I’ve struggled with body image for most of my life, and I’m sad to say I know I’m not the only one. It’s a daunting struggle, an uphill battle some days. But when I hit a balance I started to experience more good days than bad. So, here are some tips I’m writing from my own personal journey in overcoming my issues with the way I look, and learning to love my own individuality.

It’s important to take care of both your physical and mental well-being, and the best way to achieve this is to live in balance. I cannot stress this enough: balance is key. Don’t deny yourself the simple pleasures in life because you do not in fact have to look a certain way in order to look good. Exercise when you feel like it, be a couch potato and binge on Netflix when you want to. Learn to give yourself a break.

In the past few years there’s been a commercial peak in “health and fitness” (those “teatox” ads, what are they all about anyway?). Personally, I think it’s a bit ridiculous buying into the detox craze. We have a liver for a reason, and splurging on expensive products that claim to make you lose weight and get fit is absolutely not the way to go about that. But at the same time, it’s so hard not to feel the pressure when you’re constantly surrounded by ads and pictures of what it means to “look good”.

One of my guilty pleasures is to mindlessly scroll through Instagram (hello procrastination). Yeah, it’s a highly entertaining way to kill time, but recently I’ve found myself feeling the pressure to hit the gym as my news feed is more frequently filled by perfectly sculpted bodies. I follow a lot of blog accounts where green-juice-drinking (for the life of me I can never figure out what “green juice” actually is and probably never will) and 5k-early-morning-runs is a daily mantra.

I know I’m not the only one: Instagram has boomed in the past few years, now being one of the fore-running media platforms where businesses have popped up, the “blogger industry” has emerged and it’s where you can find multitudes of cute pug pages. But with that comes the rise of pressure to “look good” that young men and women feel as they scroll through news feeds filled with shredded abs and legs-for-days.

Body image is very easy to distort, and what we see on social media is not the absolute reality and truth of how things are. Last year “Instagram model” Essena O’Neill decided to smash down the fourth wall and show her 580,000 followers what really goes on in the life of those who are “Insta-famous” and idealised. In a post outlining why she decided to lift the curtain, O’Neill described social media as being “perfectly orchestrated, self-absorbed judgement”. She also described how she would take hundreds of photos before picking the best one to post, based on how her stomach or thighs looked, and found all her time being devoted to getting the “perfect snap”.

I’m all for being active and going to the gym (I love to go multiple times a week). But it’s one thing being balanced and healthy, and another being obsessive and miserable. And that’s the thing with problems surrounding body-image: it all boils down to ticking boxes and criteria that are absolutely crazy and only make you miserable. A healthy body and a healthy mind are a two-way traffic system.

Fine-tuning that balance seems difficult at first, but once you get into a routine everything falls into place. And as you start to feel good in your health, you feel good in the way you perceive yourself. It’s all about putting things into perspective: each of us has our own set of DNA; we’re not designed to look the same and to force ourselves into fitting categories that only take away each of our individual uniqueness.

Loving yourself and appreciating what you have is a work in progress; as the saying goes, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Eat your greens but also eat your cakes. Life’s too short to count calories and compare yourself. We rise by lifting others, and confining yourself within standard measurements is only going to stunt your growth. Just know that you’re not alone and that everyone has their own set of insecurities. But that being said, each of us has something to be proud of, and our own kind of beauty to show off.

To quote Sylvia Plath, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am”. You are beautiful. You are good enough. You are perfect with all your imperfections.

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