At this point, one of my only personality traits is the fact that I kill myself at the gym twice a day, five days a week. It’s been great. The conflict between my body dysmorphia and my raging God complex is like taking Ambien and Adderall at the same time and seeing which one kills me first. I’ve created a very in-depth imaginary relationship with the hot guy at the gym who looks like Captain America, and all my money goes to leggings and sports bras. 

One thing I’ve learned through my journey into gym addiction is that you need to work all of the muscles in your body equally in order to be the strongest version of yourself. You have to fuel the body and give it rest while also having the courage to strain each and every part for it to build itself back stronger. If you don’t, the muscle will atrophy and the other muscles will weaken because they’re making up for the ones that aren’t as strong. 

A person’s sense of self-worth and self-love is very similar to a muscle group. Self-worth consists of many aspects of perception and internal feelings, and if it isn’t exercised properly, it too will shrink, placing strain on everything else — including one’s relationships. 

We’ve all heard the stupid cliches and adages about loving yourself, but honestly, how is one supposed to love their self completely when there are multi-billion dollar industries that profit off of our insecurities? 

Growing up, I was a thicker kid. I was also incredibly socially awkward, and that discontentment came to a climax when I was 14 and decided it was a good idea to just stop eating and run 5 miles a day. 

Since then, my relationship with food and my body has had its ups and downs. No matter how much I worked out or how much weight I lost, I always felt like I looked misshapen in the mirror. I’d look at my reflection and see myself inflate; my shoulders were too lumbering, my thighs were too muscular and my stomach pooching made me want to puke. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that self-hatred and insecurity directly affected my relationships.

My first boyfriend was a skinny Italian soccer player. When we finally broke up, I asked him if it was because I had gained weight. I remember watching rom-coms and seeing how they only featured petite women with big buff guys, and I legitimately thought guys only wanted girls with small frames.

I wouldn’t have sex with certain guys because I thought they had better bodies than me, and I was constantly thinking about how my body looked when I was around them. Ironically, the guys I was seeing weren’t exactly the nicest about my appearance either, which only solidified the insecurity.

I have a theory that people can sense insecurity. In my experience, when you don’t feel good about yourself, you tend to go for partners that aren’t good for you either. 

In all honesty, I didn’t actually start liking myself until the pandemic hit and I had to spend a lot of time alone. I don’t remember what the final straw was, but during the shutdown I decided I was sick of hating myself. 

I ravenously consumed strategies to improve one’s relationship with food and the body. I chose movements and exercises I liked, and I did it because I loved my body, not because I wanted to punish it. I taped positive affirmations to my bathroom mirror and stared at my reflection after a shower with my hair slicked back and audibly proclaimed my love for the naked mole rat staring back at me. 

It sounds cheesy, but sometimes all the body needs is some love and support. I finally got my body to a place where I was happy with it, and regardless of society and beauty standards, I stole back my confidence and held on with a fury some might even call narcissistic. I decided I was hot, and no one, not even myself, was going to tell me differently. 

There are definitely still days where I don’t feel good about myself, and the insecurity creeps in like whispers from the monster in the corner of my brain telling me I’m too loud, too broad and too much for anyone to love me. I treat those days like a rest day, and I show up for myself and give my mind and body what it needs to feel better. 

The final lesson I’ve learned through this journey is that being in love with a person involves loving all the little things about them, even the things you don’t particularly like. At risk of sounding cliche, loving yourself is very similar. You have to love all of you, and if you don’t, I promise you will constantly question whether or not someone else loves you too. You cannot expect someone else to pick up the slack when you are too weak to lift yourself up. 

I remember when I first got back to the gym a year ago, and I saw these guys lifting weights so heavy I couldn’t fathom it. I started with the bar and went consistently out of respect for myself and a desire to be stronger. Slowly but surely, I added weight until I was just as strong as the guy next to me. Working on your sense of self-worth is very similar. You have to start slow, steady and consistent, and one day you’ll realize the mental muscle of self-worth and self-love is stronger than ever. So long as you maintain that muscle, you’ll find people who are just as strong and who appreciate you for the force of nature you always were.