Once upon a time, I dated this guy. He was one of those gym dudes who liked to work out religiously in the morning. He prided himself on his muscles and his nice physique.
I respected that about him. I mean, he worked hard and he certainly had a lot to show for it — he was very good-looking and he took care of his body and mind. There’s nothing bad about that.
The only downside was, it made me a little insecure. Every time we went out on a date together, hung out with friends, or did something intimate, my mind was spiraling. Sometimes I’d look at him and admire him silently and just think to myself, Why would he choose ME?
Here’s the thing about me. I’ve never been thin or particularly fit. Throughout my life, I’ve battled binge-eating disorder and gained a lot of weight, and although I’ve lost quite a bit of it, I remain very midsize and out of shape. I wouldn’t say I exercise regularly or keep up with my body the way this guy does.
Part of me just felt very undeserving.
I thought to myself, He works so hard on himself. He tries his best to look good and he always does. And I don’t try at all, and I don’t really look particularly awesome. He just deserves way better.
I wondered why he even bothered to spend time with me. I wondered why he even found me attractive or if there were several other girls just waiting for him to choose next.
Of course, these thoughts are not productive at all. And letting my insecurities run wild like this is not healthy for me, period. So I tried to stop.
It wasn’t that I was insecure in general; I like myself, and I think beauty is to be found in everyone and everything, just in different ways. But I was insecure about how much he tried, how in shape he was, how much effort he put in to keep up with himself. And it felt like I was falling short of doing the same.
But then there was the way he treated me.
Each time I got insecure, I tried to think rationally. How does he treat me? I would ask myself. Does he ever insinuate that I should be trying harder? Does he ever tell me that he has an expectation that I’ll do everything I can to stay in shape and look good?
The answer was no. This guy never made me feel bad about how I looked. In fact, he complimented me, often. He told me how attracted he was to me. He told me when he thought I looked amazing. He would call out specific parts of me that he loved — my eyes, my hair, my smile, my outfit. He never made me feel anything less than adored.
He didn’t stop there, either. He complimented my brain, told me how smart I was and how lucky he felt to be with someone like me. He talked about how he admired how I stand up for what I believe in and how driven I am to my goals.
Whenever we were intimate, he worshipped me. He made sure that I felt fulfilled from the experience. He was entirely present. All in all, he was a very passionate person, and very loving. And in every aspect of his life, he extended those things to me.
I even expressed my insecurities to him one day, and here’s how he responded
One day while we were driving in the car, he was talking about one of his trips to the gym and one of his fitness goals and I found myself just saying, “I never go to the gym. You must just think I’m so lazy and don’t try.”
Of course, I was using extreme language and I probably should’ve thought this through before I said it. But he didn’t get frustrated.
Instead, he said, “Yeah, but you’re busy with other things, too.” He knows about my writing and my teaching and my hobbies. He knows I spend most of my time doing intellectually challenging — rather than physically challenging — activities. This, in itself, is proof that we all “try.” We just try in different ways. His way of trying and self-care is the gym, and mine is polishing my brain.
I couldn’t stop, though. “Yeah, but I just feel like I’ve let myself go. I mean, I know a lot of it was my eating disorder, but you try so hard, and I just wonder if you ever judge me because I don’t.”
He still wasn’t biting. “But you always look beautiful,” he said to me, and from the way he looked at me, I knew this was not just lip service. He meant it when he said it. “I’ve always thought that, and I still do. You’ve changed, but we all do. If you feel good that’s all that matters. There’s nothing wrong with not looking like a model on a billboard. I don’t care that you don’t go to the gym.”
I can’t remember if these were his exact words, but it was something along those lines. Slightly harsh, maybe. More just direct. But needless to say, it got the message across. And it made me think and when I came home that night I realized how stupid I was being.
Why was I so hard on myself? If I liked myself, what was the problem?
I kept continually asking myself these questions. I had become more positive about my own body, so what was the problem? I liked myself, so why was I second-guessing everything?
It all came down to the fact that I felt like I needed to do something to deserve love or romance. I felt like I needed to get skinny, work out, do my hair each day, keep up with myself all the time. Not because I thought this was the standard of beauty I should be meeting. But because up until that point, I’d just been living life on my own terms — eating when and what I wanted (in moderation of course), doing my writing thing, and taking time to relax.
And I have to be honest: it felt weird to be loved without doing anything to get it.
I know that sounds terrible. No one should have to do anything to deserve love, let alone interrupt the flow of their life to add in some useless routine or habit to impress someone else. But that’s how I felt. Probably because society still projects that message, and probably also because not everyone I loved in the past was kind and understanding of me.
That day was illuminating, though. I learned a very important life lesson.
Love and beauty are more than just skin-deep, and you don’t need to “earn” them
Love is more than just skin-deep. If someone loves you (or even likes you), it’s because of who you are, on the inside and the outside. Nothing shallow about you is going to turn them off because they’ve already made up their mind, and there are enough qualities about you that make you special to them. That’s how it goes.
Not to mention, beauty is subjective. Just because thinness and fitness is reflective of society’s beauty standards does not mean it reflects other people’s beauty standards. There are so many forms of beauty in this world, and everyone sees beauty in a unique way. Don’t discount your own beauty just because it doesn’t look like society’s stereotype.
I’ll just say it again: you don’t need to be fit or thin or busy or a nonstop hard worker or a makeup-wearer or anything else to be loved.
And lastly, fundamental things like love and beauty should not need to be earned. Beauty is central to who you are, not a trait that you develop after working hard to get it. And the same goes for love. When someone loves you, they are doing so out of authenticity. There is no part of them that feels that you owe them anything. If they do, that’s not love — that’s manipulation.
Everyone deserves to be loved. And love isn’t a race, nor is it a diet or a fitness regimen or a morning routine. Love is not something that needs to be pursued and earned. It’s something that exists. And when you find it, and when another person shows it to you, believe in it. It’s special and real. It is not deserved — it’s already there.
You are wonderful just the way you are, and there is nothing more that you need to do to be worthy of love.