By Jen Violi
I want to love my whole self. I really do.
I want to love every inch of me—my left elbow and right hip, the bad-ideas-after-midnight part, the improvisational cook, the big dreamer, the twenty-four-year-old scar on my right ring finger from having a high school locker closed on it because I was flirting with that boy, the power ballad enthusiast.
My heart’s desire is to love the whole shebang of me, no part left behind. Especially the body part. The most beleaguered aspect of this self of mine.
The body that I glimpsed today with utter disgust in the windows on Fifth Avenue. The body I had to look away from, despite the fact that it was successfully moving me down the street, breathing air, sensing temperature and light and sound with oiled expertise. But all I could see was that belly. That belly straining against that brown corduroy skirt against that tank top. I thought, who is that monster?
I know all the things that are problematic with all of that, and I’ve already judged myself for the inconsistency, injustice, and absorption of pop culture crap. I know it doesn’t fit with who I want to be in the world, with what I believe, with the me I’d like to actualize, with what I’d tell anyone else in my life—client or friend or stranger on the bus.
But there it is, the squirmy, slimy truth. I struggle to love my body, and I struggle to love the part of me that doesn’t love my body.
I struggle to love the whole of me.
Taking on loving my whole self runs me into the same trouble I encounter when I attempt to complete anything instantly. Write a book. Make a meal. Clean the bathroom. Despite the fact that I sometimes yearn to wave my wand for instant gratification, it’s just not possible for this mere mortal still rowing her boat to enlightenment.
So what can I do? Especially on days when self-loathing takes up all the seats in the café and I’m left standing, holding not only my heavy backpack, but also a scalding cup of insecurity.
Well. If I can’t love myself to pieces, maybe I can love myself in pieces.
I can love myself incrementally. I can soften my vision and focus on that spot between my thumb and index finger, the one I press when my temples throb. I can love that spot.
I can love the left earlobe that Mike kisses when he hugs me, when I ask him to “hold me secure,” as I’ve been doing of late.
I can love the way the sky blue polish on my fingernails bursts bright against the tan of my skin.
I can love my eyes, the warm milk chocolate of them.
I can love the tattoo on my back, the earth and water goddess I water-colored into life on a retreat, the one that curves tall between my shoulder blades with watery branches as hair, tree roots that survived a second degree burn last spring, and a mole as her belly button. I can love that part.
Well look at that. That’s five spots already.
Increments add up. Pieces make a whole. A brick a day will build a house, eventually.
Each word makes a sentence. Sentences makes paragraphs. Paragraphs make chapters. Chapters make books. That I have done. That I know how to do.
Perhaps I can love a different part of myself every day for the next year, see how far I get towards loving the whole damn beautiful mess of me.
Maybe I’ve just given myself a challenge. Maybe you’ll join me.
Five years ago, as I recovered from the implosion of my marriage, I sat on the floor, surrounded by the broken glass bits of a fallen frame that had held a collage of pictures of us, pre-implosion. Oh, trite metaphor, who invited you? Alone in a new city, staggered by the pain of loss and not sure how I’d ever heal, I remember where I found salvation: in taking the next best step. In piecing it out each moment and each day, rather than a full-frontal recovery tackle. A little forgiveness here, a little gentleness there. Taking the next best step allowed me to breathe, to heal, and to thrive.
My gut, one of the parts I’m learning to love, knows that the same wisdom can apply here, that my heart’s desire can be fulfilled.
So I’ll love myself in pieces and trust that the love will make me whole.
Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, a BCCB Blue Ribbon Book and finalist for the Oregon Book Awards, and “For Here Please,” a monthly column for Sweatpants & Coffee.
As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell, from blogs to websites to award-winning books. Find sanctuary for your story at www.jenvioli.com.