The messages bombard us constantly: Thin is beautiful. Perfection is just a skin cream away. You’re not fit enough. Your breasts are too small. No matter what, you’re just not “ideal.”

For years, those voices all chattered away in my head. I hated my body, and myself. But lately, I’ve been learning to let go of that self-judgment, and a funny thing’s been happening. Now that I’ve stopped hating my body, for the first time in my life, I can see what’s objectively wrong with it.

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I used to cling to an image of myself I could never hope to achieve. Leggy as Taylor Swift, hourglassy as Beyoncé, with Lupita Nyong’o’s flawless complexion and Tilda Swinton’s cheekbones. But I was so busy resenting myself for what I wasn’t, I’d blinded myself to what I actually was: shorter than average, with shoulders too wide in proportion to my hips, and an uncorrectable slouch. Now? I see all of that, clear as day.

It’s only when you stop letting yourself internalize that shame that you can really, truly see the specific ways your body is, by all reasonable standards, worse.

It comes down to this: The world is doing its best to make you ashamed of your body. It’s only when you stop letting yourself internalize that shame that you can really, truly see the specific ways your body is, by all reasonable standards, worse. And if I’d only learned that sooner, I could have saved myself a lot of hurt—and gotten a jump on cataloging all of my raised moles, too.

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I’ll be honest, it’s definitely not easy to stay so “above it all.” One bad day is still all it takes for those nasty body-negative feelings to creep back in. But when that happens, I’ve learned to stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself straight out, “Is all this negativity really helping me make a thorough, accurate assessment of all the ways my body underwhelms?”

And guess what: The answer is always the same.

Ultimately, as human beings, we are blessed to be able to choose how we let things affect us. We can look at our flaws and lament them as curses that we don’t deserve, or we can look at them nonjudgmentally for what they really are: the things that make us objectively less attractive than our peers.

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Life is just too hard to go through it thinking your body makes you worthless. Me, I’m much better off knowing exactly how little my body makes me worth.