Why Your Body Can’t (and Shouldn’t) Make You Happy

There once was a time when I hated my body. Like so many girls, I grew up thinking my body was never good enough. Even though I’ve always been a normal weight, even in my pudgy days, I always berated myself into thinking my body could be better.

When I set out to lose my university beer gut, a strange thing happened. As the numbers on the scale went down, I started to like who looked back at me in the mirror. As I started to run races and ticked off the miles, I began to think “Damn, I’m pretty awesome.”

After years and years of hating my body, I suddenly loved it. I credited my new active regime for the 180. Heavy weightlifting transformed the shape of my body from a skinnier version of the old one, into the body I always dreamed of having. I was on cloud nine. For the first time in my life, I had oodles of self-esteem, and I owed it all to healthy eating and exercise.

This is one of the reasons why I started this blog. I was just so excited about this revelation that I had to share it. I changed professions so I could teach people in the gym how to not only look good, but feel great as a result.

If you haven’t spotted the problem yet, I will tell you, there is a very, very big problem in all of this.

When I fell skating on the Rideau Canal in February, I didn’t just shatter my arm. I shattered the self esteem that I’d spent years building. It had never occurred to me that I was putting all my eggs in one basket. That my sense of self worth came from the fact that I could run and exercise and lift heavy things.

I never considered that an accident could take my ability to do those things away. And as a result, lose my sense of self worth.

I’ve been very open about my struggles dealing with my arm injury. Although it probably just sounded like whining over a broken arm to many, the struggles came from a very deep place.

In the months following my injury, I spent a lot of time mourning the things I’d never be able to do again. I clung on to the hope that maybe someday I’d be able to do a push up or go into downward dog. Again, silly things to get so upset over, but things that meant SO much to the identity I’d forged for myself.

Then the cancer diagnosis came and everything changed. Without that diagnosis, I would probably still be clinging on to some hope that I could still take on the activities I once loved. But now I truly understand how silly it was to put so much importance into something so fleeting. I never should have relied on my body’s abilities to give me self esteem. Even when it was blanketed in seemingly healthy things like running and eating good food.

I am only just beginning the process of recovering my broken ego. I am creating new passions and finding joy in things that have nothing to do with my body or the way I look. I will never again think “I love my legs because they can run far!” Because will I still love them if I suddenly can’t run anymore?

As you know, I still (mildly) exercise every day. But now it’s purely because it increases my rate of survival and makes me feel good. I still eat healthy foods because they’re good for the cells inside my body. My self esteem now comes from the idea that yes, I am pretty awesome, but not because I can lift “x” number of pounds. My self esteem comes from the fact that I am happy being who I am on this planet, regardless of the body the houses me.


Taken yesterday while walking the trails of Hillsborough, New Brunswick with my mom.

Posted on September 13, 2011, in Cancer, Health, Injury and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 87 Comments.

  1. This post is exactly what I needed to read today Susan. Thank you-you are truly inspirational. I wish I had more to say but I am just so taken back by this post.

  2. Such a honest and eye-opening post. I am definitely guilty of weighing my happiness around the condition of my body and am starting to come around to realizing that this is not a way to live. It’s all well and good to give yourself props during a run when your legs are actually carrying you through but it’s gotta go deeper than physical and I am really glad that you wrote this post, thank you.

  3. I want to thank you as well for this post. I think for most of my life I’ve been trapped in that same type of thinking. When I’m in shape, my life is great. When I’m not, things are bad. Now that I’m pregnant and my body no longer belongs to only me, I’ve realized in my own way that I need to shift my sense of self worth away from being thin. I just never knew how to word it, or even really put it into perspective until I read your post. Beautifully written. Thanks again.

    • Yes, I bet pregnancy brings on a lot of similar thoughts and emotions. It’s when someone greater is at work that goes way beyond the importance of how we look or move!

  4. Susan, your energy, your spirit, your attitude…always amazes me. You need to become a motivational speaker once you get your clean bill of health. Seriously…you need to harness this gift of yours :)

    • Ohnonono, I DO NOT speak to large groups in public! That’s like my worst fear!

      • Your worst fear can sometimes become your passion! ^_~! I’m afraid of heights, so I tried cirque, I’d never really been on my own, so I skipped the country. Both experiences ended up breeding amazing passions! … Arachnophobia though, is one I am not yet ready to face… (Public speaking is like swimming, you might think the water is too cold at first, but it feels good all over when you dive in!)

        You’d be a great speaker! Love ya! xox

  5. Beautiful post today Susan. I know I haven’t been commenting regularly but I’ve been reading every single one of your posts and to see how you’ve grown over the past couple of months is truly inspirational.

  6. Love this!

    Realizing that life and happiness aren’t determined by our body’s appearance or physical capabilities is such a blessing. It is such a tough lesson to learn though, because I think we are raised and socialized in such a way to believe that body = value. As I said above, not just in how we “look”, but it what our body can do for us (work). But true happiness comes from within.

    It totally sucks that you’re going through this, from the time of your arm injury up until now. As you said, it’s a shot to your pride. But I can promise you that once your pride rebuilds, it will be stronger than ever. Because our bodies can be taken away from us without warning, but only we can let go of our inner strength.

    • Beautifully put Susan :) Even though our journeys have been different, I know we’ve learned a lot of the same things over the past while. Your comments and blog posts are always a great reflection of that!

  7. Wow! What an amazing post and revelation. I love that you’re anchoring your self-worth deep within; a place your ego can’t reach. Woot! :-)

  8. Beautifully written post, Susan. You’ve put into words what I’ve experienced through running, and it’s a difficult lesson to learn. Thank you for your continued honesty and insight – your blog is amazing!

  9. This is a stunningly written post… It puts so much in perspective. Thank you so much for this Susan… You continue to inspire.

  10. I forwarded this entry to my husband by way of explanation for why I started crying while he excitedly planned his next race.

    After a year of finally being fit and healthy, I wound up sidelined by hip injuries – I’ve been on the waiting list for 9 months already, with the better part of a year still to go. For a while I called myself an injured runner. Then I stopped feeling like a runner and frantically looked for something else I could do – or be. I tried to be a swimmer. I tried to be a cyclist. I tried to stop caring about any of it and be happy as a couch potato. I gained back some weight and stopped talking about health and weight loss, as if I’d lost my health street cred. I missed being proud of myself.

    …but while I’m not proud of how I handled (am handling!) my injury, I’m still proud of who I am. I have a great life that’s full and happy. I’m still *me* in this body, no matter what it can do. And no one else cares how I self-identify.

    Thank you for reminding me that our abilities don’t have to define our identities. Abilities can, and do, change in the blink of an eye. Who we are isn’t nearly so temporary.

  11. Gosh Susan, every day your insights blow me away. You really should publish The Journey someday… you’re an excellent writer and it all comes straight from the heart.

    I remember looking in the mirror at a stranger who I hardly recognized as me, and forcing myself to THANK my body for fighting so hard, instead of rebelling against the image in the mirror.

    You’ve got the right idea… you’ve got to take care of the vessel that contains “you”. I don’t want to read about you taking up skydiving after all this is over! ;o)

  12. Wow. I also needed to read this today…what a huge slap of perspective (in a good way!!). The putting all your eggs in one basket thing? Yeah, I get that. It’s not one dimensional, this loving yourself, loving your body thing, it’s multi-dimensional. Fitting into jeans you never thought you could? GREAT feeling but if you are so afraid of NOT fitting in them that all you think about is working out and eating little? Then that’s not worth it. It’s a combo of both healthy eating, healthy life, healthy MIND. Great post!!!

  13. This post is so…… right! That’s the only word I can think of to use. :)

  14. Awesome post. Thanks so much for your honesty. It’s a great reminder to know that happiness and self worth are things we need to dig deep to find and the process of discovering those things for ourselves is a great journey.

  15. Like I have said so many times before, you are amazing, just amazing & inspiring! A beautiful post!

  16. Oh, I love this and you’re so right!

    For the last few years I’ve developed that thinking that corelates being shape with life being great. My confidence heavily depends on my body and that sucks, because guess what? I’ve gained weight in the past few months and it went all downhill. When I lost weight, I started being more active, became more confident and life was great. Now that I’ve gained it back, my confidence is low and life is not so great, because I’m focusing way too much on the weight gain. I don’t want to go out, because ”I don’t want people to see that I’ve gained weight” and ”my pants don’t fit anymore”. What the hell?? That’s just not okay. The fact is that my life wasn’t great because I was thin. My life was great because I felt good in my skin, I was active and I had a lot of things going on. THAT was what made it all so good, not my figure. Thin or not, your life is great if you enjoy it – and it is your own damn reponsability to do so.

    Thank you for this post, Susan, it was exactly what I needed to read today. The way you have changed in the past few months and how you have grown is absolutely inspirational!

  17. You’re a very talented writer. You managed to take a very complex thought and make it so…simple. Every word of this post had me thinking “yes, that’s right, that makes so much sense”. I’m at the stage still where I’m trying to treat my body the way that it deserves to be treated and get in better shape. Thank you so much for the reminder that self-love is about a whole lot more than shape or strength.

    Beautiful, beautiful post. And I don’t say that lightly.

  18. I just started reading your blog and what a wonderful post to start with. Such honesty and courage. I’ve been recently beating my body up and this gives me good reflection. Thank you.

  19. Susan, this is an amazing post…one of my favorites that I have ever read. You really hit the nail on the head when you said, “I will never again think ‘I love my legs because they can run far!’ Because will I still love them if I suddenly can’t run anymore?” It’s easy to get caught up in goals and numbers and fitness, but it really just comes down to our hearts.

  20. Thank you Susan. I am definitely someone who has tended to put all my eggs in one basket. I’ve gone through various identity crises when parts of my life have changed because I have put so much emphasis on “I am this way because of this activity that I do.” And when they ended I lost part of me…

    Now that I’m a little older and only a tiny bit wiser, I’ve learned more about who I am and what makes me ME. Yes, I sometimes fall back a little into that “I am what I do” thinking, but life usually slaps me back into place :)

    Thank you again for your perspective.

  21. Your post sends a profound message to girls and women. I, too, had and still to some extent have the same mindset. I grew up in Los Angeles. The land where beautiful people live, work and play and many of them are reflected on TV, ads, magazines, etc. It really messed with my mind and I believed that you are only as good as you appear to be on the outside. If you can transform yourself to look toned, lean, buff and tanned, then you deserve to feel happy and content, self-esteem intact. I never achieved that status and as a result spent many years trying to overcome the negative influence. I can see that no matter when one lives, the influence is a powerful one. Beauty is on the inside and it flows outward to everyone around you·

  22. This post….wow. So powerful. I don’t even think I have words to express how great I think it is. Yep. I don’t. Love it though!

  23. THANK YOU for this post. I’m sharing it with everyone I know. I am definitely guilty of measuring my happiness with how I look. The bathroom scale is the bane of my existence and yet, every morning I let it dictate what my mood will be for the day. This line made me teary….“I will never again think ‘I love my legs because they can run far!” What a great quote and an amazing attitude.

  24. If I ever needed to read this post, it was today! Thank you friend for the reminder! I am perfectly made, no matter what I CAN or CAN’T do. Retweeting this one!

  25. Thank you so much for sharing your story. When you talked about losing weight and running races and how that made you think you were awesome, it was like reading my own writing. I even went back to school for a possible career change! But that only lasted a couple of years before I felt unhappy again. I finally realized that happiness (and self-esteem) lies elsewhere and I finally got to that place where I am happy, no matter what is going on with my body. It’s an amazing thing :)

  26. Thank you for this post Susan! I really needed this after my MRI results yesterday!

    You ARE awesome.

    I hope your chest Xray goes well today!

    • I know your MRI results were sucky, but you’ll live to tell the tale!! You are way more awesome than injury (although, sleeping sitting up doesn’t sound fun, I’m sorry :( )

      Just got back from my chest x-ray – will have the results tomorrow!

  27. Great post! I’m still learning this lesson. When I was young I was very slim and people would go on about how petite I was…after my daughter was born I put on some weight and developed some serious curves(mostly in the hip and butt region). Then I started doing a lot of weight lifting and everyone talked about how hard I worked out and how strong I was. It was my thing since being short and tiny was no longer an option! As you know for the past two years I have been struggling with repeated illnesses. So now walking and yoga are about all I can do without overtaxing my body and ending up sick and in pain. I feel like everyone looks at me and thinks I’m lazy. It doesn’t help that all my friends are super fit. I guess I need to find a new source of self esteem.

  28. Amazing perspective, Susan. Very well put!

  29. Hi Susan,

    Love your post, like I always do.
    You truly inspire me!

    Your story is a bit similar to my story:
    Never did any sports untill 3 years ago and really build my selfesteem aroud it.
    Last year I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, adged 30 and I was operated 3 times.
    I had to learn that I’m ok, or even better, that I am an awsome cancersurvivorbabe, even without the running and exercising.

    Lots of hugs en good luck with your x-ray-results tomorrow! I’ll think about you.

    Love from Holland, Sam

  30. I just wanted to let you know what an inspiration you have been to me. This was exactly what I needed to hear today.

    I started taking a boot camp class last fall, and by spring I was asked to become a demonstrator/insructor. I was feeling great about my body and myself and finally liking the way my clothes looked.

    In a silly accident in March (trip and fall over a parking block) I messed up my wrist pretty bad. I have been out of comission since then, and even had to have surgery a few weeks ago.

    Needless to say, I have been struggling with mourning the loss of my ability to hold a full plank and do burpees and lift weights, and dealing with the added weight as a result. It’s easy to get down, but that’s when I look to God and my family and even this blog for inspiration.

    I heard about your blog through a few others during the Great Fundraising Act, and was captivated by your story. I ended up digging through the archives and read all about your arm injury and finally felt like someone out there understood how I felt.

    Thank you for continuing to share posts like this.

    Love & Prayers,

    • Ugh, your story sounds all to familiar. So sorry you had to have surgery on top of all of that. Hope the pain is at least bearable. What’s a bootcamp instructor without a battle scar anyways ;)

  31. Jennifer in Newfoundland

    Such a wonderful post, Susan :) Regardless of my weight fluctuations over the years I’ve always taken such pride in being physically strong – I’ve always considered myself a little draft horse :) Losing some of that over the past year, and even the ability to walk without a cane most days has thrown me for a loop much as your injury did. So I’m focusing on what I can do, have started swimming again, and am exercising, doing yoga and meditating to simply feel better, not to feed the ego. It’s a struggle sometimes – like when I have a good swim and get out of the pool only to have to slowly hobble to the change room – but focusing on what I can do, not what I can’t is helping me redefine my relationship with my body in a profound way.

  32. You really hit the nail on the head… I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in one thing… having happiness because of [blank] … whatever it is.

    I absolutely love your blog :) thanks for this post.

  33. Great post. Really good point on why it’s important to love many parts of yourself. And why it’s good to have a variety of hobbies and interests.

  34. Love this!! So many people find reasons to berate themselves and OTHERS for their bodies, and it sickens me. You’re right — the body is just the vessel that carries us… why do we set so much importance on its appearance? Just keep the vessel healthy, I say!

  35. I don’t have anything to add that others haven’t already said; just wanted to re-state that I love your writing and perspective. I would totally understand if you stopped blogging these awesome posts and instead kept them private to submit for (future) book chapters! ;-)

  36. I love love love this insight. So many of us get all screwed in the head just because we finally “conquer the scale”. It’s such an insignificant feat. I think that you are awesome for sharing this in such a succinct and eloquent way. Thank you.

  37. What an amazing realization. Thanks for sharing this with us. You look beautiful in that picture. What great weather!!

  38. Susan, I completely understand what you are saying and I am so reassured that somebody else in the world gets that feeling. I am only temporarily sidelined while pregnant but all of a sudden, everything that I put so much importance on (distance running, enduring greuling workouts, being really strong) are not an option. The depth of loss of identity and self-esteem is staggering and eye-opening. While eventually I will most likely be able to come back and do those things again it is allowing me to see that I was putting too much importance on things that ultimately are fleeting. Good luck working through this, so many people just don’t understand the depth of the loss and think it is silly. But it is real and will take time. Best wishes to you.

  39. Great post Susan! And one well needed by alot of us for the same reason!! You can’t deem your self worth in things that you can accomplish. It’s setting yourself up to crash, for none of us can stay the same day after day. Thank you for sharing your insights!

  40. well said Susan i agree 100%- I think a lot of girls come to this realization at some point in their lives, but not to the extreme that you have!

  41. Thank you for this post… I agree with an above poster that your experiences and your ability to voice them would be great for a motivational book or speaking arrangements.

  42. This is an incredible post, and a great reminder not to only love ourselves based on what we look like when we look into the mirror. You’re an amazing lady!

  43. Dear Susan,
    These are your words, edited a little…

    “Damn, I’m pretty awesome…
    This is one of the reasons why I started this blog. I was just so excited about this revelation that I had to share it. I changed professions so I could teach people … how to not only look good, but feel great as a result.”

    It’s no accident that you get such great responses to posts like this one — you are awesome, you have changed professions, and you are teaching so many people to look great (just look at you smile!) and feel so much better about themselves!

    Hope you are having a good day, too. Thanks.

  44. It’s always been strange to me how even in my own head, as positive as I can be, there’s still things that slip out that are similar to what you’re describing. I was looking in the mirror the other day and said to my boyfriend “if I lost a few more pounds around my belly I’d look hot” and although I immediately recognized how downright ridiculous that was for me to say, clearly those thoughts are still hiding in the depths of my mind! It’s hard to break free from years & years of repeated training, however. I wish it wouldn’t take something as serious as a cancer diagnosis for most of us to realize that. Thanks for sharing :)

  45. Wow, truly moving post. Thank you so much! You are such a great writer.
    I understand what you mean about not being able to speak in a group setting, but I bet you would be great at counseling people if you wanted to do that. My brother-in-law is in remission and he talks on the phone with patients who are newly diagnosed or simply want someone they can talk to freely about everything.

  46. Just wanted to say thank you for a beautifully written, inspiring post.

  47. Stacey (My Sweet Eats)

    Amazing. Every woman should read this.

  48. This is truly a beautiful, inspiring, profound, moving and REAL post. Thank you for sharing your learning curve. It means so much, and your words are so true! <3 xyx

  49. Susan,
    This is such an important thought to remember; it is amazing that you keep this in sight. I constantly struggle with seeking happiness through external factors, fitness, relationships, work, etc. It is so hard to not only recognize it, but to take action to combat it. Good for you.

  50. hmmmmmmmmm

    this post certainly made me think … (as you know) I’ve been spending some time at the doctor and the lab lately trying to figure out some ailments, one of them my chronic joint pain … on one occasion I broke down just sobbing in the doctors office saying “why can’t my body do what everyone else’s can, it’s not fair” … his reply was “well every body is different” … I hated his answer, but this certainly makes me think differently … you’ve always been a very good voice of reason, and now you really make me put things into perspective

    I miss you

  51. What a beautiful post, Susan! This speaks to me so much. We always put too much weight (no pun intended) on the physical image we have of ourselves, and it’s so easy to forget what is actually important. It’s posts like these that help me get back into perspective. Thank you!

  52. Thank you for this. (And for you.)

  53. I had the same epiphany as you when I diagnosed with chronic kidney disease at the age of 28. Isn’t it a shame that it takes such a grim diagnosis to change the way we think about our bodies? I suppose it’s better late than never, but I wish we could instill this idea in young women without having them go through cancer or CKD.

  54. Andrew van Geest

    Wow, what an absolutely inspirational post. Your blog is so full of wisdom its hard to believe you’re only a quarter of a century old:)

    You definitely harbour the skills and talent for inspirational writing and/or speaking.

    Best regards

  55. Yes!

    Your writing makes me FEEL something,and sometimes even
    gives me goosebumps.

    I really needed to read something like this at this exact moment in
    time-what are you , psychic ? ;)

    Hope it makes you feel good to touch our hearts through
    your “pen”…well I guess “keyboard” technically

  56. Well said. You write beautifully.

  57. Totally needed this. You basically rock :-)

  58. you ARE alway lovely… by your very thoughts, your kindness and good heart.
    I wish you every new and good day full of happy-ness

  59. alway, i mean in all respects, not always always!

  60. This is such a positive and well written post, Susan. Thank you!

  61. Thank you so much for the MUCH NEEDED reminder of all of this. Beautifully put and inspiring!!

  62. You rock, girl! It’s not just about loving how strong you are on the outside… love how strong you have become on the inside.

  63. This post is very powerful. When I injured my knee and couldn’t run for a few months, I cried almost everyday. My self-worth was tied up in half marathon training and when I couldn’t do the race or even run at all, I was lost. This is a great insight. I’m sorry about how you gleaned the insight. Hope things are going as well as they can.

  64. wow. very, very intriguing post. to be honest, i have never thought of it in this perspective and you are TOTALLY right. there’s all the hype about loving your body and calling out the parts of your body you love because of what they can do–but yeah, what if they couldn’t do that anymore? then what? it is just more reinforcement from you why i am not a healthy living blogger post– it’s not what is outside that really matters. it’s what’s inside. you have to be happy with yourself no matter what state or condition your body is in. woooow. thank you for this post, sus! love you!

  65. Wow..what a beautiful post, Susan. Thank you for sharing so much of your story with us…the result is good food for thought for all of us and inspiration. You have touched on truth in this post and it is so cool to see the change of heart and focus that has come through the pain. Thanks again for sharing – great words for me to think on tonight!

  66. I’ve struggled with this over many many injuries in my athletic little life. When I “retired” from fencing when I was in college I remember sitting outside on the steps in front of my dorm thinking “well, what the hell am I going to do now?” So much of my identity was tied up in being “Madeline the fencer” and I was giving that up. Trying to tie my self esteem to other things and being just “Madeline the person” was a whole new adventure!

  67. Wow. Let me just second the comments above :-) Let me just say…how did I never think of it this way before? Seriously. When you put it this way, it seems so right that I can’t believe that the thought never crossed my mind. This is not only what’s so great about your blog in particular, but blogging in general. Amongst the fun and the fluff, there are genuine opportunities to see life from a different perspective, and learn from it. I love that.

  68. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this. Your words are incredible. And so are you.

  69. Beautiful and inspirational. Thank you for this post. This is something I need to work on.

  70. I can say just one thing to this post, Amen!

  71. I have felt twinges of guilt when I berate my body or have an injury that forces me to cut back on exercise because I love to exercise. This was especially true when my Mom was alive and bed-ridden for years. I felt so sad for her unable to move. I felt so guilty for being able to move. But then, I realized that I had better take advantage and do what I can now, because we never know what tomorrow might bring. Thankfully, my self-esteem isn’t just locked into this aspect of my life, but it’s a good reminder to be sure to diversify :-) Thank you, and I love that photo. You are gorgeous.

  72. This post is so, so beautiful. Thank you so much for writing it.

  73. this may be one of my favorite posts i’ve ever read of yours! i think we have all fallen into the trap of relying on our bodies for self-esteem – feeling skinny + toned? GOOD day. feeling bloaty + gross? BAD day. and that is just wrong.

    i have done this myself, and am slowly working on building self-esteem in other ways: my personality, skills and way that i live my life. it’s so hard to make that mental shift, but once we do, it is so freeing. for both our bodies AND minds!

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