I believe every woman should write a love letter to her body several times a year. One should be in January. You know, that time of year when we pinch and poke the heft on our hips or the bulge of our bellies. That time of year when we vow to try Whole30 or the Keto diet and to go to the gym every single day. It is at such a time as this that we need to remind our body that we will love her even if she looks exactly the same on December 31.

We should also write one just before summer, that time of year when we’re disappointed or perhaps even angry because we don’t have that “beach body” we’d planned to have by May.

The first time I wrote a love letter to my body was September 17, 2017. I was attending a two-hour body positivity workshop that was part group discussion, part yoga class. The instructor was Melissa Scott, the author of the book White Girl in Yoga Pants: Stories on Yoga, Feminism & Inner Strength.

“What does it mean to love your body?” Melissa asked us and we gave the cliche answers about exercising and eating right, but Melissa challenged us to go deeper.

And I started to wonder if it were even possible for me to love my body.

Even when I was a size 4 I chastised my body for not being a size 2. And despite wanting to be a size 2 I also wanted curves. For years, I stood in the mirror cursing a waistline that wouldn’t shrink and breasts that wouldn’t grow.

Then in 2000, I became a group fitness instructor at my university’s recreation center.

I’d lace up my sneakers and put on my microphone and I’d feel like a superhero thwarting the evil villain called low self-esteem.

I was convinced I’d found the answer to loving oneself. I loved my legs each time they helped me lead a step aerobics class. I loved my arms each time I did push-ups — 50 of them, with no breaks.

The size of my clothes didn’t matter nearly as much as how long I could hold my planks. And it didn’t matter if I only wore a B cup sized bra. When I was teaching dance aerobics classes I felt 90s era Janet Jackson sexy.

Focus on what your body can do, not on how your body looks — that’s the lesson that being an aerobics instructor taught me.

But I would eventually realize that focusing on fitness was not the secret to learning to love my body.

Sometimes I don’t exercise, not because I don’t have the time, not because I don’t want to, but because my body simply won’t let me, because in 2008 I was diagnosed with lupus.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body, including the skin, joints, and such major organs as the heart, lungs, and brain. On good days I teach, write, run, and spend time with my husband with no trouble at all. On bad days my joint and muscle pain can be so severe I can’t lift a plate of food or a full glass. I can’t lift my arms above my head, and I have trouble pushing myself off the side of the bed.

In spite of all this, I feel lucky. For now, my lupus is considered mild to moderate. For me, lupus manifests itself in joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and occasional skin rashes. For many others, it can mean kidney failure.

My doctors can’t say with certainty whether or not my lupus will get worse. In the meantime, I am thankful for each day that it hasn’t. But on my bad days, I forget to be grateful and instead I am cruel. I’m cruel to my body, scolding it for not being able to do all the things I want it to do.

On September 17, 2017, Melissa told us that to truly love our bodies we need to have a relationship with our bodies, a relationship much like the one we would have with a spouse or romantic partner.

Because I love my husband I listen to him. I know what he likes and what he doesn’t like because I pay attention. Because I love my husband I support him, encouraging him to keep going when he faces challenges, but never pushing him too far, ever ready to be his rest and reprieve when he needs it. Because I love my husband I celebrate him for who he is, as he is. How awful it would be to miss this chance while longing for him to be something else, someone else.

If I love my body I will listen to her. I will figure out what foods she likes and doesn’t like. I will pay attention to the types of exercise that challenge my body the way she needs to be challenged without pushing her too far. If I love my body I will give her rest. If I love my body I will celebrate her as she is. My love won’t be contingent on her size or even her strength. I will love her because she is mine and I am hers.

Melissa then gave each of us paper and a pen for us to write our thoughts.

Sitting on the floor of the yoga studio I wrote a love letter to my body. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say I wrote vows, a promise to have and to hold her, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish her, till death do us part.

To My Beloved Body,

You are the love of my life.

I am so thankful for every move you make to aid me in the pursuit of my dreams. I will spend the rest of my life showing you my gratitude.

I promise to celebrate you. I promise to praise you. I promise to accept you for who you are.

I promise to challenge you to make you stronger. I promise to hold you when you are weak.

I promise you cake and ice cream, but not too much.

I will clothe you in fine linen and purple, yet acknowledge your nakedness as sacred beauty.

Together we will work hard but play harder.

Together we will dance, we will run, we will rest.

Together we will have the time of our lives.