How I Learned to Love My Love Handles

And celebrate my body on my own terms—male gaze be damned.

Love Handles
(Image credit: Getty Images / Experienced Skins)

Consider the love handle. In the mirror or in theory, whichever floats your boat. Consider that the only writing available about the love handle is how to get rid of it—the exact combination of leg lifts and squats and desperate rolling around on your yoga mat, wondering if your form is as terrible as it feels, that will make your love handles disappear forever.

But what exactly am I getting rid of? Because to be completely honest, I am not actually 100 percent sure which part of my body the love handle is even supposed to be. Is it my hips? Is it that weird no-man's-land area on my sides above my butt, but not my lower back?

Does anyone have a real answer to this question or will there just be fights in the comment thread about which part of the body we're supposed to "fix" when we're doing leg lifts and squats and desperately rolling around on our yoga mats in our love-handle-targeting workouts?

"Love handles have received no accolades, no hashtag campaigns."

This seems standard to me: the invention of a body part that we should all be ashamed of/anxious about/working to improve or disappear until the next thing comes along to freak out about. It's so tiring! How am I supposed to know which part of my body to be horrified by when I can't even figure out which part of my body is being talked about?!

Love handles have the indignity of being known by a single joke—that they're great to hang onto during sex har har har, as if the only reason to appreciate part of our bodies is if it's attractive to some dude named Trent who pounds protein shakes every morning and then marinates in his own protein-laced farts while using the word "females" to describe his relationship problems on Reddit. Great.

"The fact that he felt entitled to grab me makes sense when you consider the way that women's bodies are described—in terms of some unidentified male gaze."

Love handles have received no accolades, no hashtag campaigns, no aggressive exposure before the light of a camera in a concentrated effort to prove the point that every-frickin-body has love handles. Unless you're younger than 25 and your metabolism still goes at the speed of light, or you're really into toning and you go to the gym every day (which, like, you do you!), it's entirely likely you have love handles to some degree.

When I first moved to New York, I walked down a staircase to the subway and a man who was standing at the bottom, blocking the way into the subway, asked me for money. I said I didn't
have any cash and he wrapped his arm around my back and grabbed my hip (and I guess my love handle) hard, and said, "I'll take some of this, instead, you've got this to spare." I wish I had some epic story, like I spat in his face and kneed him in the groin or stabbed him in the eyes with my middle fingers while screaming at the top of my lungs, but instead I just wrenched myself away from him and ran into the subway while he laughed. I had a bruise in the shape of his fingers for two weeks.

Squeezing love handles

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's something profoundly unsurprising about this interaction to me, and it makes me sad. Even though it was deeply wrong, the fact that he felt entitled to grab me makes sense when you consider the way that women's bodies are described, in terms of some unidentified male gaze. We're given worth based on how sexually attractive we might be to men at large, and beyond that I am a fat woman with love handles to spare and my body is seen as a transgression, so of course some dude grabbed me by the love handle and literally equated me to cash.

I reject the idea that my love handles are only worthwhile if they fall in some kind of heteronormative-defined range of attractiveness, because frankly, I aspire not to give a shit what anyone else thinks about my body. "Aspire" is the operative word, here, because of course I frequently do give a shit—I live in a city where I walk everywhere. And trust me, strange men will tell me if I'm looking particularly good or particularly bad that day. Why they feel that this is their responsibility as if I don't have an internal reality as lush and complicated as their own, and also a goddamn mirror, I will never know. (JK, I do, and you do too. It's the patriarchy!)

"I reject the idea that any part of my body can be given worth or a lack of worth by anyone other than me."

I reject the idea that any part of my body can be given worth or a lack of worth by anyone other than me. I reject the idea of running in a hamster wheel of aspirational perfection, because man, any "progress" is completely arbitrary and a total illusion—just ask those of us who over-plucked our eyebrows in the early 2000s, only to find now that we are hopelessly off-trend. There's no winning when the goalposts keep moving, and when you don't have a say in what parts of your body are important or worthwhile.

I reject letting anyone else decide my body's worth or, for that matter, manhandle me into feeling bad about its size or shape. I reject all of it—except my love handles. Those can stay.

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