There is the dark side to popular approaches to body positivity: the idea that feeling good about yourself is perfectly fine – as long as you’re healthy. “It doesn’t matter what size you are,” these faux-bopo folks say, “as long as you’re healthy!”
And what’s the other side of that saccharine sentiment? Well, obviously, that if you’re NOT healthy, you don’t deserve to love yourself quite yet. But hey! Don’t give up! There’s some magical future place, a possible future state of PERFECT HEALTH, where loving yourself (and receiving love from others) will become accessible to you.
Of course, we’re talking about a fairly specific type of “health,” here: metabolic health. Blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars in the normal range. No sleep apnea. A low resting heart rate. You know, none of the “fat” diseases (or pre-diseases). (Which of course we know are actually diseases that people of ALL sizes get, with incredibly complex etiologies).
The theory behind this cliquey discrimination between “good” and “bad” fatties is that your health is in your control. If you “eat right” and “exercise,” you’ll be able to achieve perfect health at any size, the thinking goes. And sometimes it feels that way – you get a scary result from a blood test, up the exercise, and 6 months later you’re testing back in the normal range.
But so many health-related factors are outside of our control, lovely. How much time or energy we have for exercise is often dictated by our jobs, our family situations, and even our hormone levels (insulin resistance caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome, for example, can cause sluggishness and low energy). Medications we’re on can cause pain when exercising (e.g., Statins for cholesterol).
Same with “eating right” (which sounds a lot like, well, dieting): one day we’re able to stick exactly to the plan, and the next we’ve eaten the entire contents of our refrigerator. And we just don’t have much control over which of those two days we end up having, according to science.
So this is why, if you have health problems, I want you working on loving yourself now. Just the way you are.
I want you taking kind, gentle, respectful care of your body now. Just the way you are.
I want you to date now. Just the way you are.
And here are some ways to change how you think about your health while you’re dating:
1. Remember that you’re looking for that one right person who wants to be with YOU. Not some perfect, superwoman version of you, but just you. Health problems will happen, and you want someone who will be there for you when they do, just like you would be there for your partner when they’re sick.
2. Remember that YOU’RE not looking for a perfect human being, either – so you don’t have to worry about being perfect for them. Maybe you meet someone wonderful who doesn’t have health problems, but there’s no way they’re perfect. I promise you that. Maybe they’re struggling with some debt. Maybe they’re not where they want to be in their career. Maybe they’re knee-deep in a painful, messy divorce. They’re going to struggle with something, and you get to help them through that struggle just as you’re looking for someone who can help you with your health struggles.
3. Remember that your health isn’t a static state – it is always changing. Having health problems can feel terrifying, painful, or shameful. So even if you can’t accept yourself entirely in your current health status, remember that medicine is always evolving. Maybe you don’t have a good answer for how you’re going to address your health problems today, but down the line a path will appear that will help you address one or all of them. A new medication? A surgical procedure? An insulin-delivery system? If you’re struggling with metabolic health issues, you’re not alone. And there are armies of researchers and engineers looking to develop cures and treatments for the exact issues you’re facing. Who knows where medicine will go next?
4. Remember that there are things you can change, and things you can’t entirely control – and that your health is one of those things that’s not entirely in your hands. You can make sure you have a few cute outfits for first dates, and some really poppin’ lipstick. You can brush up on your social skills so that your dates are vibrant and exciting. You can push yourself to use an online dating app daily and to message people first rather than waiting for them to message you. You have a decent amount of control over those – and many other – aspects of dating. But NO ONE chooses to have health issues – yet MANY of us do have them. Even people who weigh half what you weigh, or who exercise every day, or who take their medications religiously. We don’t really control this part of our lives. It’s mostly luck.
5. Remember that health status does not make a person worthy or unworthy of love. No person is worthier than any other. No person is better than any other. There is someone out there who can care about you, lovely, just the way you are. It can take a while to find them (it does for anyone, regardless of health status) – but having health issues doesn’t make you less lovable, less human, less exciting, less sexy.
6. Remember to practice healthy behaviors we know actually work. Health at every size (HAES) and intuitive and mindful eating approaches to food and movement are much more likely to help improve your health long-term than dieting and punitive exercise.
And even if none of these suggestions are relevant to you, lovely, don’t give up on loving yourself just the way you are – or seeking out love.
Because no, you don’t only get to have love as long as you’re healthy. There’s not some magical future state-of-being in which you’ll suddenly become worthy of love. That kind of thinking comes from discrimination, plain and simple. Don’t let yourself internalize that cruel – and false – message.