I have been participating in an Instagram challenge to post a photo in a yoga pose that shows my belly. The challenge came from fellow Core Strength Vinyasa teachers Melissa Scott (my teacher) and Thea Pueschel. The point is not just to expose our stomachs on social media but to promote positive body images. It’s difficult. And vulnerable. But this challenge speaks to me.
Even if I am not thrilled with my body right now I know that I am stronger than I was even a few months ago. Standing poses are stronger and I feel more solid in my yoga flow even if I still can’t do everything. I know that I am carrying some extra weight that I have gained since I have not been training as hard for triathlons. That doesn’t thrill me but I do not beat myself up about it like I have at some points in my life. I know that I am eating well and working at taking care of myself. I know that there have been challenges over the past year that were beyond my control and I had to make some choices. I am making different choices now and turning things around again.
Over the past few weeks I have been working on another project and have been looking back at old photographs. I generally know about how much I weighed at different points of my life. On Sunday I was looking for a photo for the project and came across a few photos from the late 1990s and early 2000s. I know I weighed less than I do right now but I looked like I weighed significantly more. And I did not look happy at all or like I was in good shape. In fact I know that I was having some significant health problems at that point of my life that no longer exist, primarly due to my changes in exercise and diet. I was already practicing yoga at that point in my life and I was doing some exercise but was not as dedicated to my health as I have been over the past five years. I can see the difference and I certainly feel the difference that changing my life has made.
Like many women I learned about body image from my mother and other female relatives. The lessons might not have been direct but I observed and heard comments. My mother was 5 ft. 1 or 2 and round. She was a good cook and food was important in our family. I recall hearing my grandmother’s comments about my mother’s size from the time I was very young – “there’s one bigger than Leora.” I never understood why my grandmother thought it was necessary to point out women who were larger in size than my mother and I realized at a young age that though my mother laughed, she was hurt by the remarks. I don’t think my grandmother meant to be mean. She was blunt and said what she thought and saw (and was not a small woman herself). I think it was her odd way of being concerned about my mother’s size and health. I’m not sure if she did this to her other daughters but there was probably some variation. My own weight and body issues started at a young age but were primarily related to issues with my vision that limited some of my activities. I don’t really remember being terribly affected by negative remarks about my size until I was getting ready to go to college and had to have a physical for a scholarship. The female doctor, who was not our regular physcian, viciously declared me obese at 5 ft 9 and 155 pounds. At the time I was a runner and was in fairly good shape. I look back at that now and think, “Seriously?” But the words struck me hard and the scar left was deep.
Years later I am more at peace with my own body. I am not perfect. I know that being thinner changes some things but not everything. I am happy that I am stronger, can move without the kind of pain I had only a few years ago, am free of my sleep apnea machine and am in pretty good health. I am still learning and still changing the way I eat and care for myself. I think I am much better at taking care of myself than I was when I was younger.
When I decided to earn my health studies degree I stated that I wanted to work with women and girls to help them create healthier self images. I still hope to do that kind of work in some way through health education and coaching or through yoga or both. This fall Kimberly Drye and I will be co-facilitating a five week class on yoga and body image at Villager Yoga. I am excited about this opportunity and how it fits in with my desire and vision. There will be more information about the class on my facebook page and on my website that will be up in the next few weeks. I’ll be writing more about this about the Yoga and Body Coalition.
Body image is a complex issue. It’s not just about size. Gender, cultural issues, race, perception of beauty are but a few factors that play a part. Loving your body the way it is right now can be hard work but it is really worth it. And posting pictures with my belly showing. Really vulnerable for me. But I think that is worth it too because I only have this body to love and work with and it really isn’t all that bad.