I stand 5 foot, 10 inches and weigh 125 pounds. I’ve had the same figure since my teens, a fact that has led others to call me “genetically blessed.” Whether it was “good genes” or dumb luck, it’s naïve to simplify the psychology around a body—yours, mine or anyone else’s—to blanket judgements about whether certain physical traits are better than others, good or bad, blessings or curses.

I’ve heard more than once that I don’t have the right to talk about how hard and how important it is to love oneself, that I can’t possibly understand the struggles of others. When someone looks at me and stops at face value, they might say I’m blessed and dismiss any personal battles I’ve had with my own body. But a tall and slender physique didn’t stop me from cutting my wrists when I was a teenager. My lean figure didn’t stop me from dieting, obsessively working out or wanting to change every inch of what I saw in the mirror. The gap between my thighs didn’t stop my feelings of inadequacy, insecurity or jealousy.

The unfortunate truth: our society has crafted a stereotype of perfection where purely physical traits seem to be the chief ingredients. To compound the problem, we often equate perfection with happiness and self-worth. In turn, many of us make changes to our bodies, our diets and our overall health, thinking if we do A, B and C, we’ll finally be happy, finally feel that we are enough, and finally feel that we deserve love. The problem? It doesn’t work. If your ultimate goal is to feel good inside and out, getting to the gym, dropping 5 pounds or transforming into a celebrity lookalike won’t do it. You’ll need self-acceptance. It’s hard work, because when you are self-accepting, you’re able to embrace all facets of yourself, unconditionally. There’s no faking it, and no substitution. It’s tempting to focus instead on external objectives. We often turn our attention to weight loss, exercise and diets, looking outside ourselves for the fix.

The introspection of looking inside ourselves can be unbearable. When did you last pause to think about how you truly feel about yourself? If your answer was “never,” you’re not alone. There’s a reason we don’t want to spend time facing all our fears and negative feelings. It’s upsetting! Who wants to confront their feelings of shame, rejection and self-disgust? Leaving it all just below the surface, we become accustomed to the elephant in the room, allowing it to slowly tear us apart from the inside out.

I once read a comment that said, “Your presence is needed here.” I burst into tears. Reflecting on why I felt this surge of emotion, I realized I had been navigating through life not thinking my presence was needed. I was filled with self-doubt and worried people really would be better off without me, that perhaps I was in fact, useless. Suddenly facing my own insecurities, it seemed no wonder I struggled with obsessive behaviours as a teen. I too strived for society’s version of perfect, hoping if I found it, it would take away all of the negative feelings I had about myself. But the thing is, I am useful. I am worthy, and so are you.

Self-acceptance is an inside job. The love you offer yourself will never be determined by your body shape, your jean size or the number on the bathroom scale. The simple truth is that self-love doesn’t have to elude you, because you don’t need to go outside yourself to find it. You are love itself.

You are love.

You are love.

You are love.

How do you start? No matter how frightening or unappealing, you’ve got to open up the lines of honest communication between you and yourself. Let that be your starting point. Whatever comes up—the positive and the negative feelings—are all okay. You are love, just as you are, and the world could use more of you.

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