I have been working up the courage to post this for weeks now, and it’s finally time. It’s hard to put these things into words, but I have decided to give it a try.
In the past few years, I have made remarkable progress with my body image struggle. I can tell you exactly when this fight began, to the day. I was in fourth grade, on the playground, and for some reason the subject of how much we all weighed came up (why? I don’t know, maybe we had all recently been to the doctor). Looking back, I realize that I was healthy, I was on the mend from having mono the year before, and gaining back some weight I needed. I was not fat. Dorky? Yes. Overweight? No.
I have a crystal clear image of where I was sitting (on a bench, near the playground equipment), what I was wearing (overalls – yes, I already admitted I was a dork), my own weight (86 pounds) and how I was feeling (crushed) when I realized that I outweighed all of my friends.
And nothing was ever the same again.
Later that year, the boys in our class got some sort of wake up call, overnight it seemed, and suddenly noticed that they were surrounded by girls. They started taking an interest in us. I have less clear but still hurtful memories of discovering a list of my female classmates, ranked in order of cuteness. I remember I was number 7. I don’t remember how many girls were in my class, or who was ranked higher or lower than I was. But being number 7 placed me in the bottom half of the group.
You would think that as a grown woman it wouldn’t matter what those 9 year old boys thought, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I still feel a pinprick of hopelessness when I think about being number 7.
Going through puberty wasn’t easy, but I don’t remember any of the middle school years with the clarity that I remember those two moments in fourth grade.
My first two years of high school, I had a hard time with body image. By this time, while not medically overweight, I would consider myself chubby. I ate too much saltwater taffy. By contrast, my two closest friends were naturally smaller and thinner than I was. I remember packing for a trip to Florida with them and their families and sobbing while packing my bathing suit. The idea of being on the beach next to them broke my heart. And I was fortunate, because my friends were compassionate and loving. Many high school girls aren’t so lucky.
My junior year of high school I went on a diet and lost 25 pounds. I started eating healthier and took a big interest in Pilates. Looking back, I know that this opened the door to yoga, and for that I thank you, Mari Winsor. After the weight loss, I looked great and felt even better. But as soon as you lose weight, you become terrified of gaining it back. Just in time to leave for college, and ironically at my thinnest and most healthy, I entered my darkest body image time of my life. My first year of college I felt constant anxiety about “the freshman 15”. I felt guilt when I ate anything, even a small granola bar.
Somewhere during this dark time, yoga found me. Yoga was not an instant cure for my body image, but it was a band-aid. It helped me hide the wounds, stop picking at them, and let them heal on their own.
About three years ago, my practice really took off. While on the mat, I felt strong, capable, beautiful, and confident. But when I stepped off the mat everything returned to the unfortunate level of “normal” that I had learned to live with. This is when I found I could peel off the band-aid, look at the scars, and deal with them.
Yoga has allowed me an entirely new level of self-acceptance. It is okay to acknowledge my own limitations, as long as they’re not self-imposed. It is okay to work towards a goal, and feel proud of myself when I notice success. It is okay to be shaped the way I am shaped.
The other night I was having trouble sleeping. I flipped around and put my legs up on the wall and my butt on my pillow, to try to relax a bit. I was wearing sleep shorts so I was looking straight at my thighs in all their glory.
I started thinking about my body, my muscles, my joints, the strong parts and the not-as-strong parts, the pretty parts and the parts that aren’t as pretty. This was more casual, sleepy observation than deep introspection, mind you.
Uninvited, a thought crept into my head:
“I love my body”.
For years, the one thing I wanted to feel was out of grasp. But now I can feel it without even trying.
And I don’t feel like a 7 anymore.
Thank you, yoga.