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We’ve heard the same corny mantras a thousand times: you have to love yourself; all bodies are beautiful; self-acceptance is a process. After a while, they start to sound empty and meaningless. But it really is true that self-love begins within, not by making outer physical changes.

Losing or gaining weight as desired can be a great ego booster, but then what about the wrinkles around your eyes, the shape of your nose, the fact that your hair never looks quite right unless you spend hours on it? Sure, you’re making more money now and feel like you dress better, but no matter what your style seems a little behind, and you never look as hip as the cool kids who work on South Broadway, or as polished as the executives who dash around the 16th Street Mall.

These are normal thoughts, and believe it or not, everyone has them. Even those who exude confidence, who are that perfect weight, or have that symmetrical face, or dress better than you, they think the same way. And this isn’t just pillow talk for those with low self-esteem. Body dysmorphia and dissatisfaction are way more common than you would think, and impact folks of all shapes, sizes, gender identities, races, and aesthetics.

So what can we do to love ourselves? I really struggle with this and have all my life. My weight has fluctuated, my hair and glasses change weekly, I pull different vintage looks, but no matter what, I’m never quite satisfied. Some days I feel great; other days I feel totally discouraged. But there are a few things I try to keep in mind no matter if it’s a good or a bad day.

Everyone has negative self-talk, no matter what they look like. We all deserve to treat our bodies like temples with exercise and health food and yoga, but every once in a while our bodies need a treat, or a break, or a nap. We are all different shapes and sizes, and every single body is different. It’s not just weight that determines this, but height, genetics, body type, family history. We are all beautiful, and we all deserve love.

And lastly, beauty as a gender construct is completely fabricated. I’m very cis-female, but some days a metal shirt and boots make me feel a thousand times more beautiful than a sequined dress or makeup. Other days I decide to dress up for no reason at all. No matter what, a person living their truth is beautiful, and there are no rights and wrongs. This goes for fashion trends too.

At the end of the day, and at the beginning of it, it’s probably never going to be possible to be completely happy with your physical appearance. You can reach milestones when it comes to how you dress, what you weigh, how you look, but the only thing that can really get you close to inner peace when it comes to your look is taking care of yourself and trying to appreciate yourself the way others see you.

Photos by Jeremiah Corder