Affection for the Unchangeable

Loving what you cannot change about your body

An anonymous commenter had this request:

How about a post on learning to love (or a least accept) physical features that you don’t like and can’t change? Big nose, bad hair, weak chin; features that can’t be hidden or made more attractive by careful dressing.

And I thought IMMEDIATELY of a scene from “Roxanne.” Do you remember the one I’m thinking of? YouTube didn’t have a clip, unfortunately, but here’s the gist: Charlie/Cyrano decides that perhaps cosmetics can help downplay his nose. He goes to the local five & dime for some makeup counter assistance, and the woman there attempts some “shading,” which pretty much just makes his nose look … dirty. She tries her best, but there’s no makeup product or technique that’s going to achieve what Charlie is hoping.

And we’ve all got stuff like that. The way I see it, our physical traits fall into four buckets:

  • Things we actively love
  • Things we recognize as valuable
  • Things we don’t love, but choose to minimize or downplay
  • Things we don’t love and can’t downplay in any way

I love my delicate wrists and ankles, my waist, and my wild, unruly hair.
I see my muscular thighs and broad, sure feet as valuable.
I don’t love my excessive body hair and cellulite, but I can minimize or downplay them.
I don’t love my upper arms, and when it’s sweltering outside, I can’t mask them in any way.

I’ve come to have some measure of affection for my little spare tire of a belly, and just keep telling myself that ALL knees are kinda weird looking, so I can make peace with those things. But no matter how much I weigh or how many pushups and arm curls I do, my upper arms refuse to change shape. And since I absolutely will not wear three-quarter-length sleeves every damned day no matter the temperature, they’re quite visible during the summer months. I wish I could say that I just adore every single aspect of my own figure, but if I’m being truly honest, I am yet to make peace with this one.

So, instead of getting overly touchy-feely on you, I’m going to keep that in mind as I write about ways to love the “unlovable” parts of your own body.

  • Life is balance. Just as the things you love and accept about your body define you, so do the things you dislike and wish away. You are unique because of that mixture. And unique can be tough, but there’s no denying that it’s also valuable.
  • You may never know what they are, but there could be biological reasons for your traits. Every biology class I’ve ever taken has reminded me that Sickle Cell Anemia hasn’t been genetically eliminated in Sub-Saharan Africa because carriers of a single Sickle Cell allele are Malaria-resistant. What if the keratosis pilaris on my skin is keeping me from getting a brain tumor and scientists just don’t know it yet?
  • Your physical appearance links you to your family. Even if you didn’t WANT your grandpa’s big schnoz or your Aunt Imelda’s frizzy curls, it’s pretty wonderful that you can carry a little bit of your family around with you wherever you go.
  • Remember that EVERYONE has things they hate. Heidi Klum, Michelle Obama, Jillian Michaels, Rachel Bilson, that flawless-looking girl who brews up your morning latte. There is no “perfect” in this world, and there is most definitely no “perfect body.” You are not alone.
  • Everything is relative. YOU may think your nose is big, your chin is weak, your hair is bad … but not everyone will see it that way. Husband Mike likes to call purple things pink and blue things purple, reminding me that each eye perceives the world in a slightly different manner. Bodies are no different, and what annoys you may enchant others. I tend to have a bit of a complex about the junk in my trunk, but a colleague laments her lack of booty curvature. Another friend feels her ample rack is overwhelming on her tiny frame, but I all I can see is the gorgeous, full breasts I’ll never have. You may not be able to see yourself through the eyes of others, but you can bear in mind that you are likely your own harshest critic.

Think hard about WHY you hate certain aspects of your physical self. Did someone insult you once, or call you out for some distinctive trait? Have fashion mags given you a complex with endless articles about firming up your arms and abs? (This one definitely gets me.) Or do you dislike these traits in other people as much as you dislike them in yourself?

Self-love isn’t about brushing the bits you hate under the rug. There is no rug. Loving what we hate is incredibly challenging, and sometimes actual love is impossible, but acceptance will do just fine. Even if none of my ideas ring true for you, give some thought to actions and thought patterns that might move you closer to accepting your whole self with affection. The work might be hard, but the payoff will be so very, very worth it. Just think of all the extra energy you’d have if you stopped burning it off loathing your big nose, bad hair, weak chin. You could take over the damned world.

This is a refreshed and revived post from the archive.

Image courtesy jaliyaj

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6 Responses to “Affection for the Unchangeable”

  1. Susan Ashworth

    I have a different perspective at almost 58. Everything is subject change. I would have spent a lot of time being happy with my eyebrows, for example, had I realized they were going to disappear one day. That pesky body hair that grows in unseemly places? That disappeared too. I regret all the time I spent resenting it. Lesson learned: accept it all, and just relax about it.

  2. polkadotsandcurry

    There is no perfect ( as you also mentioned) and we should stop looking for perfection. The desire to have a perfect family, relations, and life in general is the root cause of all of our stress. The sooner we start to like our imperfections, the better it will be for our own sanity. Love your imperfections – they complete you along with all your perfections !! Thought provoking article indeed !

  3. Ruth Slavid

    Three thoughts. First, I have lost some weight which makes me feel good about myself, but I thought the other day ‘but I will always have thunder thighs’. I gave a sigh and then thought I have to accept them. Although I can downplay to an extent, I realise that they will always be visible and I have to accept them. I thought back to a man I knew in my 20s who reportedly wanted to take me for a ride on his motorbike because he liked the idea of my sexy big legs gripping him from behind! ( I never went).
    Secondly I am amused that you think that a big nose has to be accepted. Because when I was a teenager, and plastic surgery was in its infancy, the one procedure that was discussed and occasionally used, was a ‘nose job’. I am Jewish and so there were some impressive conks around. Mine on the other hand is tiny, and I used to joke with my late partner that I should have a nose job to look properly Jewish. I’m not advocating plastic surgery at all, just saying it does exist.
    And the third thing is you will be amazed how little people notice. In all my photos I have one eye that looks partly closed and when I look in the mirror I can see that the lid is heavier. I was made more conscious of this at my partner’s funeral when somebody kept insisting that I had a blocked tear duct and should see a doctor, and then emailed me afterwards to apologise for being so insistent at the time, but reiterated I should see a doctor. So I became self-conscious and asked a friend who said she could see nothing. and then stared and stared and said, well maybe one eyelid was a little heavier. So what looks glaring to you, may be virtually invisible to others. They are more likely to be laughing at your jokes, admiring your earrings, staring at the spinach in yourteeth – or thinking about their own imperfections.

  4. mendotawaves

    I think the last point is an especially good one, the thought that each person will see us differently, will have different ideas about what is beautiful. This column is all about expanding our ideas of beauty, and I find that even though I already had an appreciation for many kinds of peoples and styles I am liking even more styles, shapes, sizes, proportions and features. Through blogs like this, print articles, and other media features, the culture is slowly being opened up as well to broader definitions and acceptance. We can focus our self talk on our innate goodness as people and our over all good presentation.
    If we wish to consider the differing opinions others may have of us when dressing, making up,or doing hair, because of career or other concerns, we can craft our overall appearance to draw attention to other conventionally attractive features or to an overall Style we project. So, I might have a receding chin, but what draws the eyes are my beautiful eyes emphasized by a little or a lot of make-up, my shiny well cut hair, and exquisite earrings. I can learn to move gracefully and wear flowing clothes that emphasize that, or cultivate an animated manner if that is natural to me, or if I am a quieter person, present a subtle minimalist style or sophisticated casual Once people get to know us, they usually barely notice how we look, it’s how they feel when we are with them that they notice.

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