Recently, Geneen Roth posted this on Facebook:
Almost every woman I know has three sizes of clothes in her closet. Thin clothes, fat clothes and in-between. The fat clothes–what I call the “just-in-case clothes”–keep you frightened of gaining weight, and the thin clothes keep you waiting for your life to begin.
Your thin clothes, the ones you need a shoehorn to shimmy into, function as baseball bats to the head. Get rid of them. You have enough mean, abusive voices in your head without having to hang them in your closet. Replace them with clothes that fit you now. Clothes that are soft and gorgeous and allow you to feel the same.
This has given me some material to work with recently. Yes, I do have many sizes of clothes in my closet, and how I feel on any particular day might have something do with the clothes I put on (Note: In this post, I am going to refer to the sizes by fruit names to help illustrate how stupid and arbitrary the measuring system is). If I can fit into a certain size, let’s call it “Size Banana”, for example, I feel svelte, sexy, as though I’ve won some secret prize. Yes, Size Banana, I think with quiet smugness, deep down below the level of conscious thought, I knew there was a reason I kept you hanging around.
But because I am me, and I like cookies, my weight fluctuates, and sometimes Size Banana doesn’t fit as well as it could. Those days I might try on five pairs of pants before I leave the house. Some of them are like, Size-Banana-And-A-Half, and those are okay, but the fact that I can’t fit into the Banana bums me out.
And then sometimes I’m up to another size. Let’s call it Size Mango. The Mango pants are also cute, and they are comfortable. And, something totally miraculous and amazing happens when I put on this larger size…
Although my body weight and shape remain the same, I look and feel much smaller in these slightly larger pants.
Proudly sporting my Size Mango pants, I leave the house feeling like, “Damn, I’m sexy today,” rather than, “I feel subtly muffin-toppish in these pants. I will be avoiding my reflection in the mirror for the remainder of the day.”
So Geneen Roth is definitely on to something (at least in my book). But I think it’s bigger than wardrobe or body image. It’s about how we measure ourselves. My body is my body no matter what damn pants I put on. The pants- and the size- are a just a pointless measuring stick. Instead, if I take away the pants and just be naked, so to speak, can I love, or at least accept my body as it is?
It’s not just about physical appearance, either. I can see it pretty clearly in my own yoga practice. Sometimes (usually at home) I’ll feel like a total yoga rock star. Wow, I’ll think, look at this cool thing I can do! It doesn’t take too long, though, before I find myself in class with someone else whose practice absolutely humbles me… and maybe I feel a little lousy.
Or, I might measure my mental or emotional state. Recently, a friend told me that I seemed ‘fragile.’ I’ve been struggling a bit with some life challenges, and my history with depression means that it can be easy for me to feel overwhelmed or negative in times of stress. I would love to say I am free of depression- but that’s just another measuring stick, and one that is pretty mean sometimes. What kind of a lousy Buddhist am I? What kind of a yogi? I should have wiped away these samskaras by now.
If I’m always measuring myself against these standards- thinner, more “advanced” yoga, less prone to depression- then I’m always going to not quite fit. I’ll never be good enough.
How do we re-frame this? At first, I thought that I just needed to measure a little differently by saying, look at how far you’ve come! Way to go! or, look at how good you are- relatively speaking. But this is just like putting on your Size Mango pants. A good starting point, but not quite enough, I don’t think. What happens when the Mangos don’t fit anymore? Or if you break your leg and can’t practice yoga? Or if another challenging life event has you in tears? The measuring stick is still waiting in the corner, a quietly menacing presence.
So I think the real work is, eventually, not to give away the clothes that don’t fit, but to throw away the measuring stick completely. I’m going to work to accept my closet full of all-sizes clothing, and my life full of contradictions, and say fat, skinny, advanced, rudimentary, fragile, strong, I am all of these things. Maybe I’m not really any of them. Maybe I’m wasting a whole lot of energy caring about something that makes as much sense as “Size Mango.”
When we stop measuring ourselves so much, when we stop labeling ourselves and our experience, there is a potential for freedom and self-acceptance that allows us to be more accepting not only with ourselves, but toward others. Ladies, have you had the experience where your skinny friend says “I feel so fat”- and you thought to yourself, By her standards, I’m an absolute whale….? While we would never want to make our friends feel bad, by buying in to the whole system of measurement, we’re agreeing that there are better and worse ways to be- degrees of beauty, intelligence, emotional and spiritual maturity- and that each of us falls somewhere on that scale. Let’s find a new system.
So perhaps Geneen Roth’s post might be a good place to start. If your Size Banana clothes are feeling like an extension of that mean measuring stick- then get rid of them and do what you need to do to start feeling “soft and gorgeous.” Minus the measuring tools, you are already gorgeous and perfect. Let yourself start to believe it.
P.S. Yes, I would actually wear these banana pants in the picture above. Why not! Yoga teachers get to wear some crazy stuff. Let me know if you find them for sale anywhere.