“Gain and victory to others. Loss and defeat to myself.” – Buddhist proverb
“I don’t want this shirt to be too fitted. Nobody wants to see this.”
She pointed to her belly and laughed in a self-deprecating way. I looked at her body, and I was perplexed at what was so disgusting that she needed to hide herself in a shirt two sizes too big. I even noticed my inner-critic chiming in with, “Well, if no one wants to see her at her size, then I must be highly repulsive to the general population.” I’d like to say that this was the only interaction of it’s kind that day, working at the t-shirt table at a local yoga event. It wasn’t.
All afternoon I watched ladies fidget, unfold, and refold shirts. I asked, “Do you need help finding a size?” They would reply more with insecurities about their size. In an attempt to be encouraging I would say, “Well, I’m wearing a large,” Maybe a naive part of me believed that they would feel more confident: “Hey if that girl can wear that shirt, SO CAN I!” I would watch them as they would look at my body up and down, and 95% of them would reply, “I think I need a bigger size.”
I’ve gained about 20 lbs since getting married that I’ve been unable to get rid of. (To be honest, I wasn’t that crazy about my body 20 lbs ago either.) But even now with more weight on me that I would like, I have moments where I feel proud of my body. I can do Chaturanga, hold full Navasana for 10 long breaths, and run for 3 miles without stopping. This belly and the body attached to it can do some cool shit, but on that day, if someone rolled up with a liposuction machine, I would have tackled all of those people to get parts of myself removed.
When I hear people talk about themselves so shamefully, I cringe inside. I spent a lot of that day telling people to stop hating their bodies, but all the while, I was really talking to myself. So, many beautiful women kept repeating, “No one wants to see this,” and those voices ultimately won out over my own. I feel like these self-image wounds run so deep among women that when we get together, we begin talking about our perceived flawed bodies. Instead of building each other up, we just end up competing and comparing just like I did at the t-shirt table:
“Oh, you think you look bad? Well, then you must think I’m hideous!”
“At least you’re young! Imagine what it’s like being this size at MY age.”
“You don’t have anything to complain about, you are thin.”
Instead of supporting each other, we decide who gets to feel bad and who shouldn’t. I’m still fighting that same self-acceptance battle. I know it’s a cultural issue. I know it’s bigger and deeper than “lose 30 lbs” (because I have, and I didn’t really care for my body then either). But I don’t know how to fix this other than to get really curious about my own behavior. I know that I eat to avoid feeling things sometimes. I also know that when I feel socially insecure, my mind instantly blames it on my body. (i.e. This stuff doesn’t happen to thinner, prettier people, etc.) And that’s pretty much all I’ve come up with.
So, I’m starting there. I don’t know how to make the millions of women of the world love and appreciate their bodies, because I’m still working on it too. While telling the women in my life, “OMG You are beautiful! Love yourself dammit!” was honest and meant with good intentions, it was just another way of saying, “I don’t want to talk about this because that would require me to feel my own pain.” When I see a woman hating herself, I have to come to terms with the a part of myself that I keep hidden. The part that turns to the side and wonders if her belly is bigger today. The part that secretly weighs herself in hopes that the scale is moving the “right” direction. So maybe the next time I hear some women talking about their bodies I can make a different choice. I could shun and shame the conversation and preserve my ego, my beliefs of myself another day, or I could choose to feel the responses inside. To let the wounds come to the surface to get some air. To feel the loss of the body I thought I should have had, and instead of it hardening my heart, let it open me up. Let it guide me all the way to who I really am. The being that exists beyond a number on a tag or scale.
Yes, that all feels so possible and so true, and then I still hear a part of me say, “But, do you think that will make me thinner?”
I’ve got a lot of work to do.