I love my body. I really do.

Yes, in this moment, my body is awesome, and impressive (how do I still look like this after eating so much Chipotle and chocolate?), and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yet maybe a few words caught your attention in that last sentence: “In this moment.”

The thing is, there’s a catch here, and I’m only beginning to realize why. Yes, I love my body. But I only love my body when it reminds me of someone else’s. I only love my body when I feel like the resemblance is strong enough between me and whichever flawless woman is on the cover of this month’s flawless woman-covered magazine. I only love my body when I catch a glimpse in the mirror and see clear skin and straight hair, rather than a community of pimples staking claim to my chin, or a ‘do that’s somewhere between not-quite-straight-but-definitely-not-wavy and “do you ever brush your hair?” (Honestly, not that often.)

I only love my body when I feel like it’s close enough to what beautiful is advertised to be. When I feel like my stomach could pass as not big and my boobs could pass as not small. When my legs aren’t too purple and blotchy today, and my face not too red today, and my stretch marks not so angry today — and I say today because tomorrow might be different. 

Tomorrow, wearing a bathing suit might be the bravest thing I’ve done all day. Tomorrow, I might feel like crawling out of my skin and into someone else’s, please. Tomorrow, my whole being might feel like an eyesore because another purple stretch mark has crawled up my hips (apparently it took my body 21 years to realize it was a woman, and it decided to catch up really fast on the hip front), or because another half-centimeter has settled into my waist, or another pimple has decided to show up on my stomach. (Seriously, who gets pimples on their stomach? Me. I do.)

I only love my body when I feel like it’s worthy of someone else’s eyes. When I look like something someone else might think looks nice. Especially when someone compliments my body.

Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “Wow, I’m not so bad,” like this recurring revelation. I think sometimes I’m so hard on my body that when I actually see it, I’m blown away by how incredibly not terrible it is. Because in that moment, maybe I almost fit the standard.

You see, the problem is not that I don’t love my body; the problem is all of the reasons that I do. Sometimes. Not because it’s my body, my permanent home, my pretty normal-looking human self that has carried me through my entire life and deserves a whole lot of love for that. Not because I have reached the enviable level of self-acceptance where I have come to the realization that I’m stuck in my body forever, and I better love it or I’ll just be miserable my whole life. Not because it looks like my body, Rachael Lacey’s body. But because it looks close enough to someone else’s.

I saw an ad the other day that read, “You’re only as young as your neck.” It was for lotion. And to me, it felt like a victory. In my mind, I saw women reading those words and realizing for the first time in their lives that their necks were not perfect — just as I have previously been told by ads that every single part of my body needs some lotion or gel or spray or food or haircut or article of clothing or five-pound dumbbell workout to reach its full, perfect potential that it is obviously not at right now.

But I saw this ad and I laughed. Because for the first time, instead of seeing another reason I’m not beautiful, I saw a page of desperate, neck-shaming bullshit, trying to capitalize on peoples’ insecurities. It’s almost as if they simply ran out of other body parts to criticize. And I will not let neck lotion-makers rule my body. I will not let their “48 Ways To Make Your Summer Bod Feel Sub-Par” get me down. I will pick up the forgotten love for my body that I’ve been leaving behind since nine-year-old me mused that if she had three wishes from a genie, one of them would be to have smaller thighs. (Thank goodness I’ve realized by now that my thighs are awesome and strong and full of stretch marks because they’re so strong. Yes, my thighs are my favorite part of my body and I will let everyone know.)

Because even though saying I love my body feels like a lie half of the time, it’s slowly becoming more and more true. I think realizing why my body love has been such a roller-coaster ride has been the first step toward figuring out how to make that love stick around for good. My body deserves a better kind of love than the conditional “approval” I’ve been giving it — no matter how close to or far from the standard it is. Honestly, there are more important things to worry about in life than pimples and stretch marks, and I know that I don’t judge other people for these things, so why am I judging myself?

I’m taking the noose from around my young, lotion-less neck, so my voice can say, out loud, to the mirror: I love you. So I can say those words until they are just like my body: perfectly and beautifully mine. 

Rachael Lacey can be reached at rachaelk@umich.edu.

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