A friend of mine just gave me the book, Yoga and Body Image, 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body by Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley. She is so excited about this book and although I have only started it, I’m pretty happy about it, too. She, like I, feels like she could have written this book herself. Honestly, I believe most people who have yoga in their lives could probably write it, too, regardless of the size or shape of their bodies.
I started trying to remember the very first time I formed an opinion about my body and I could go pretty far back. As a young girl, I was very small for my age. I remember actually feeling small when I was around other kids and it gave me a little fear about being weak. As a child (and maybe even now) I was attracted to bad-ass people. My besties were usually strong tomboy types who didn’t take any junk at school or in the neighborhood from boys or girls, and it made me feel safer and bigger by having them on my side.
It wasn’t until around third or fourth grade that I can recall identifying with my body by how it looked more than how it felt to live in it. As I puked on the sidewalk in front of a beauty shop, I could hear my mother saying to my sister that it was a shame I was sick since I was finally starting to gain a little weight. Through my heaves, a lightbulb was going off in my head that said there were expectations of me that reached far beyond doing my homework and using my manners. I was also expected to look a certain way and the responsibility of looking healthy might lie on me.
Between the ages of ten and thirteen I dreamed of the day that puberty would bless me with large breasts like Suzanne Somers on the show Three’s Company, to which my mother would repeat the mantra “be careful what you wish for”. I didn’t really get what she meant until about the tenth grade when I finally got that post-pubescent body and went from “too small” and “too skinny” to being weighed by my cheerleading coach and told she felt I was too heavy to ask anyone on my team to pick me up anymore, so as not to hurt them! So I’m pretty sure there were possibly one or two days of my adolescence that I actually liked my body and felt accepted for it.
Because I must be a glutton for punishment, I chose Dance as my major in college where how we danced seemed to matter way less to our professors and peers as how we looked. My heart still breaks for the 19 year old me who sat at the end of a long table full of university faculty who told me I needed to lose weight and named the exact parts of my body they wanted me to shrink over the summer. I spent the next 90 days running around my old neighborhood, jumping up and down the steps of my parents’ stoop and eating as little as possible, while reveling in the sound of my stomach growling. Not to mention a few fingers down the throat and trips to the drugstore for laxatives.
After college, I became very interested in health. I consciously decided that I would no longer participate in unhealthy ways to have the body I dreamed of and became a regular at the gym while replacing trips to the pharmacy with trips the closest nutrition store. From the outside, I was doing the right things for the right reasons and I was living in a healthy woman’s body. I just still wasn’t living in a healthy woman’s head when it came to body image.
When I decided to become a certified Pilates teacher, it was mostly because I admired the types of bodies I saw who practiced Pilates and I wanted one of those for my very own. Luckily, I studied in a beautiful, loving space in Atlanta called Body Awareness with Leslie Clayton, where I learned that this form of exercise was about making people feel better living in whatever body they had through strength, awareness and mindfulness.
Teaching Pilates in a yoga studio introduced me to a more serious yoga practice, but it still took years for me to have my next big lightbulb moment. While on my mat, as I bound my hands behind my back in Side Angle Pose and as I floated my toes off the floor in Flying Pigeon, I fell in love with my body. I was enamored with this vessel and it had absolutely nothing to do with how big or small it was, what it looked like or how much it weighed. If I honored it and cared for it and listened to it, my body could do amazing things!
I continue to love and respect this temple I have been blessed to take through this world with me and when I wake up feeling less than enchanted with myself, I go to my mat and I put my body in all the poses it’s craving. After only a few minutes in, the magic begins and I remember why I love this body, my body. By flipping it around and upside down and looking at it and the world from different perspectives, a joyful calm comes over me that fills me with gratitude for every inch of space I am taking up on this planet. It is with my flesh that I express myself with kisses to my children, hugs to my friends and family, fingers on a keyboard, feet upon a trail, and all the things I love.