Category Archives: body image

Size Banana: Can I Stop Measuring Myself?

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.

BANANA PANTS

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. 

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A Self-Love Valentine

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It’s Valentine’s Day.

Some of us are happy- we have someone who loves us, someone we love, maybe children or family that we like to put at the center of our emotions on this day. If that’s you, I am very happy for you! You might want to read this post anyway, just in case.

Some of us have someone, and aren’t as happy about it as we’d like to be. Keep reading.

Some of us are unhappy, perhaps because we don’t have a romantic love right now. I get it. Read on.

Some of us might feel unloveable. I understand, and I love you. Please do keep reading.

I have experienced the pleasure and the pain of each of these situations. I have felt that there is a hole at my center, something missing, something empty. At times I thought the hole was like a cookie-cutter shape, and I could put another person right in it. What happens when the person no longer fits in that hole- or something changes, and that person is no longer in your life? You’re back to feeling empty again.

It sounds cliched. You might not want to believe it- I didn’t, at one point- but until you love yourself, until you accept that you deserve love, that your nature itself is love, until you turn the powerful beam of your heart back on yourself, you will not feel secure in the shifting sands of romantic love. There will always be an emptiness at the center.

Ravi Shankar suggests:

“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”

It was at a meditation weekend retreat that I first really understood this concept. When I first looked, I mean really looked and SAW the emptiness within myself, the heart-shaped hole where my own love should dwell, I cried. Torrential, gulping tears.

I thought:  I can’t love myself.  I’m not perfect enough- I’m not always as kind as I should be. I don’t work as hard as I ought. I make mistakes. I hurt people’s feelings. I don’t look the way I think I’m supposed to. I do not deserve love. 

Although we don’t always SEE this cavernous pain within ourselves in such a clear way, the outward symptoms are more evident. I hear it daily. Almost everyone I know has a to-do list of items to be fixed, things they don’t like about themselves, reasons why they don’t give themselves love. Reasons to be limited, in every area of our lives, from our yoga mat to our relationships. To say, this is as good as it gets. I don’t deserve more than this.

How then do we get from this self-shame to self-love? How can we begin to accept that we may already be perfect, lovable, just as we are? Once you’ve noticed these feelings, it just takes a little work to begin to shift your perspective.

Take a few minutes today to cultivate your own self-love with a brief meditation. 

  • Close your eyes and get comfortable, sitting with an upright spine.
  • Take a few moments to notice the sensations of your breath coming and going- perhaps the air in your nostrils, or the lift and swell of your ribcage.
  • Now, begin to call to mind one thing that you have done recently that is an act of kindness or compassion. Perhaps you fed your dog. Smiled at a stranger. Or maybe it was an act of kindness to yourself- had a cup of coffee when you were tired. Ate at your favorite restaurant. If nothing else, acknowledge that you loved yourself enough to sit down and do this exercise! 
  • Allow yourself to acknowledge this act, no matter how small, and smile at yourself. Inhaling, breathe in your own love. You might even say silently, or out loud, Breathing in, I know that I am love. 
  • As you exhale, imagine that you are releasing the limitations you’ve placed around your heart, your love. You might see this as wispy dark clouds loosening and drifting away, or perhaps as an opening, chinks of light shining into the center of your heart. You might even say, silently or out loud, Breathing out, I release the limitations on my own love. 
  • Repeat the process as many times as you like, first remembering something kind or loving that you have done, and then acknowledging your own worthiness, and finally releasing the bind around your heart.

When you are done, spend a few moments listening to and feeling the sensations of your breath before opening your eyes and returning to your day.

Romantic love is wonderful in all of its stages- from exhilarating and breathless to comfortable as an old sock. However, its very nature is unstable as it relies on another person. When we practice lovingkindness and compassion for ourselves, we are learning a love and happiness that will be the most stable thing in our lives.

Learning to love yourself- coming home, as Ravi says- does not take away from the fairytale and firework elements of romantic love, but adds an underlying stability that is the foundation for the most enduring of relationships. Who wouldn’t want that?

Happy Valentines’ Day, my Loves.

Laura

Photo credit: Nastassia Davis [www.nastassiadavis.com] / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Beauty in the Broken Shell: Self-Love, Self-Acceptance, and Late-Night Nachos

I found this shell on the beach today. Perfect in its flawed, worn and broken beauty. This shell isn’t looking in the mirror and wishing it were younger, less worn. It’s not regretting the tides that dragged it. It’s just itself, as it is. Enough. 

It’s been an interesting year for self-revelation. An exhausting one, too. Lately it’s insight after insight, and it gets pretty tiring. Some days you just want to sit on the couch and eat nachos, rather than understand WHY you are sitting on the couch eating nachos. Can’t the nachos just be nachos? Alas, even a nacho is an opportunity for a life lesson, it seems.

Lately I’m thinking a lot about positive self-image (you might remember this post). Self-acceptance. Self-love. It’s taken me a while, but it’s pretty clear to me now that I have programmed myself to be a “good girl”- to be the favorite, the smartest, the best at whatever it is I want to do. I’m competing, in a silent, miserable way, with an unattainable ideal.

No, this isn’t really news- I’ve always been, as my husband says, a “try-hard.” But it feels like news to me now, as I navigate some larger life changes, and am faced with my own behaviors. Here’s my (hidden) motivation: I am afraid not to be the best. I am afraid to take a day off. I’m afraid that if I am not engaging with life 100%, I am not winning, and I will have to face the fact that I am not good enough.

And when I sit down, exhausted, at the end of the day, alone with the emptiness of my self, and the feeling that I didn’t DO enough today (make enough money, please enough people, burn enough calories, etc., etc.)- I actively avoid facing how I’m really feeling. I’ve got a bit of an addictive personality, and I am good at busying myself with varying compulsive behaviors. Sometimes it’s more work-type behavior- making lists, creating a financial plan for myself, worrying in one form or another.  The activities have changed over the years- at one time I was a great smoker, video-game player. Most recently, I’m a great eater- that’s where the nachos came in.

One of my friends and teachers, Christopher Baxter of InnerSky Yoga, gave a lovely workshop last week on The Yoga of the Subtle Body. As part of the practice, he guided us through a meditation in which we asked ourselves: What do I long for?

For peace, I thought. From self-loathing. From self-defeating. From the divisive behaviors that catch me up like a wheel. To feel whole, as a person, and not flawed, or lacking. To love myself completely. And then I saw it all so clearly- the ways in which I’ve designed my life so that I never really have to deal with this raw and painful lack in myself. In fact, as I sat and meditated on my own lack of self-acceptance, my mind quickly went to work to try to “fix” the situation- suggesting, among other things, weight loss, a haircut, and more hours teaching. Ahhh, mind. So clever in your sabotage.

I’m happy to report, however, that I am making changes. Working less. Letting go more. Bringing {maybe just a little bit more} awareness to what I do and why I do it, especially during those dangerous late hours when the Halloween candy is oh-so-accessible.

Please don’t misunderstand me, friends. I am, today, happier than I have ever been in my life.  I’m free of my depression- which has haunted me since grade school, requiring medication and therapy, causing broken glass, broken relationships, and countless missed days of work, play, and life. Yet now, with each step I take into more mindful, joyful living, I continue to trip over, and then rip away, the hanging shreds of the unhealthy, unhappy behaviors that bind us like cartoon mummies. It’s a FREEING feeling- but damnit, it’s EXHAUSTING too.

And (enlightened though I long to be) my ego wouldn’t let me share this vulnerability with you if I didn’t know that I am not alone. That you understand, and recognize, these feelings of inadequacy, of not-loving-yourself. I wish you love and self-compassion on your journey, as I know you wish me on mine. I believe I can accept myself. I believe we can all accept ourselves.

It starts with awareness. Maybe with nachos. And this broken shell I found on the beach.

How To Celebrate Love Your Body Day 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 is  NOW (National Organization of Women’s) 15th annual “Love Your Body Day.” Didn’t know? That’s okay, I didn’t either, until a friend posted about it on Facebook. But I think it’s a fantastic idea and I am embracing it whole-heartedly. At the bottom of this post, I’m suggesting Five Ways To Celebrate Love Your Body Day 2012. But first, you can read a few thoughts… or go ahead and skim your way down to the bottom.

I’d love to love my body, but truthfully, I don’t, most of the time. Like most women, I’ve always kept a running long of the many ways in which my body disappoints me.

According to the National Organization of Women, 80% of US women are dissatisfied with their appearance. I would put this number even higher, based on the women I know.

It’s not surprising, is it? We are bombarded with media images of airbrushed, touched-up, unrealistic females. In many cases, we are actually measuring ourselves against computer-generated images. We will never measure up. 

I was in sixth grade the first time I really felt fat. I’d made the crucial error of telling a friend how much I weighed- 115 pounds.* “Wow,” she said. “That’s a lot.” I felt shamed, crushed, suddenly enormous. “Well, you don’t look like it,” she added. Oh good. Thanks. 

The practice of yoga reminds us that true contentment – santosa- must come from within. By relinquishing our grip on outdated beliefs about our bodies, we can gain freedom from this particular suffering (okay, now we’re wandering into Buddhism, but you get the drift). This makes perfect sense… until you’re in a room with a bunch of Spandexed (Luoned?) women and suddenly, santosa be damned, you’re right back in the sixth grade. She’s got better boobs. My arms aren’t defined enough. These pants make my thighs look fat. I hate myself. 

Honey, the woman next to you is thinking the same thing. And so is the woman with the boobs. But with a little awareness we CAN start to change the way that we think about, talk about, and treat our bodies. It’s not easy- we’re fighting upstream against a wave of media- not to mention the countless products and services available to “fix” whatever’s wrong with you- but you’re reading this article, and that’s a start.

This month, I’ve been able to finally break free of some of this thinking. I became certified as a Curvy-Friendly yoga teacher through the amazing Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga. Anna’s vision- to encourage a body-positive class environment for women of all shapes and sizes- has inspired me incredibly. I especially love Anna’s Curvy LovingKindness Meditation:

may you greet your body with gentleness
may you soften when life invites you to harden
may you listen to your intuition with wisdom and trust it with ease
may you appreciate your body a little more in this moment, just as it is.

With that, my beautiful friends, here are my celebration recommendations for you:

  1. Visit the NOW Love Your Body Campaign page and check out their featured videos.
  2. More of a reader? Click on http://www.eatthedamncake.com and enjoy some excellent {poignant, funny} writing about body image.
  3. Watch this video- No Mirrors In My Nana’s House by Sweet Honey In the Rock. “There were no mirrors in my Nana’s house/ And the beauty that I saw in everything/ was in her eyes (like the rising of the sun).” What are you reflecting to others? What are you reflecting to yourself?
  4. Find a Curvy Yoga class. 
  5. Spend an extra minute or two looking in the mirror. Listen to the thoughts that arise. What are you saying to yourself? How critical are you? Would you let your friend say that about herself? Now, turn it around. Find one thing you really love about yourself and admire that. Practice smiling at yourself. Say, “Hey, gorgeous,” or maybe, “You sexy thing, you” and let the ensuing giggles be the ice-breaker in your new relationship with yourself.

How will you celebrate? What recommendations can you offer to others to love their bodies a little more, just as they are?

*Thankfully, at the time, I was unaware that 115 pounds would be the LEAST I would ever weigh. I was depressed enough as it was.