“Your body is not your masterpiece. It is the paintbrush used to create your masterpiece each day.” -Glennon Doyle MeltonI love the beach. It’s kind of the main thing I love about living in New Hampshire. I love the ocean because it makes me feel small in the best way possible. If the water isn’t too rough, I can float and just let the waves push and pull on me. It’s just another reminder that I am definitely not in charge. My ocean time is just another practice in letting go and learning to ride the waves.
Today, I took a trip to the beach. Lying on my back, I saw these seagulls flying very low overhead. One gull had food and the other birds were chasing it. I watched the seagulls fight and caw at each other with great interest, until I heard the words, “Fucking beached whale.” For a moment I looked around for a literal beached whale, but coast was almost empty. Just me and an adjacent group of young 20-ish year old men…laughing.
I am the beached whale.
They noticed that I noticed them, and one of the group elbowed the ring leader and he flippantly said, “I don’t care. I know I’m an asshole.”
…good to know.
I felt frozen. Tears started to well beneath my sunglasses. My body felt like it was sinking into sand, disappearing. This was all of my greatest fears fully realized in a moment. I feared that I was unworthy…that I was wrong in some way, and someone finally told me the truth. I could only hear laughter and the faint call of seagulls fighting over a crab carcass.
About 50 different scenes played out in my mind about how I should react. Should I confront them? Should I educate them about misogyny? Did they even consider that my body wasn’t on display for specifically them? I could show them all how evolved I am by walking over and asking them to elaborate on this beached whale sighting. Maybe pull some of that Byron Katie shit, and walk up to them and say, “Thank you.” Um, do they even know I run, yoga, spin, eat vegetables, read books, drink wine, and lead an all around kick ass life? Maybe I should just pick up my stuff and go to a different part of the beach. Maybe I should just go home…disappear. I prayed for the sudden invention of a teleportation device to deliver me out of this hell.
Then, I thought, “How can I change the ending of this story?” Right now, the narrative is a common one: Girl puts herself out there. Assholes appear. Girl disappears for several years never to be heard of again. How can I change the ending? How can I turn this tragedy into a success story?
Having my own ABC after school special moment where Lauren confronts the bullies was unrealistic. I take a big breath and stand up in all my fleshy glory, and I just start walking into the waves. I began swimming. I swam into rough waves as they pelted me in the head. I let them carry me under and when I settled my body, I floated back to surface. For an hour, I let the ocean pull me out and carry me back while being safely held in this enormous space. In this space, my body wasn’t on display. My connection to and use of my body was most important. I could have a body that the world would agree was undeniably beautiful, but if I didn’t know how to use it, I would drown.
A few years ago, I would have given anything to have a “perfect body,” but I realized today that I already have the perfect body…for me. It doesn’t mean it will always look this way (if age has anything to say about it, it won’t). It doesn’t mean I am the physical ideal. My body is just my paintbrush. My life is the masterpiece. It might be too small for some, too big for others. It’s just right for me…here…right now. It’s not my job to have the world’s most widely accepted and beautiful body. It’s just my job to love, appreciate, and take care of my own body.
When I think about what happened today, in complete honesty, it still hurts. I felt transported back to elementary school P.E. class when a boy was forced to pick me as a square dancing partner because I was the only one left. I think it would be unrealistic to expect that cruel comments to my face would bounce off of me. I did change the ending of the story though. I’m not in elementary school anymore. I have the ability to rewrite this narrative. I left the beach today with a renewed determination to get better at my job of loving myself. Sure, I can always take better care of and give more attention to my paintbrush. Hell, my job as a yoga teacher is all about learning to work with your paintbrush even if it’s broken and has two bristles left. Now, my full attention is on the masterpiece. This body can do some wonderful things, and it even can look wonderful. I’m here to create, to teach, to love, to give, and even to receive some pretty miraculous experiences. It doesn’t matter if I’m a beached whale or a skeleton. I am more than a number on a scale or a clothing tag. I am more than my paintbrush. I am more than a narrative. We all are.