Remember a few posts ago, around the new year, when I talked about setting a New Year’s Theme? Mine was to love big and live bold. Well...it’s time to really cash in on that mantra for this post. It’s time bring out the “big love.” Big love for our bodies, that is. It’s time to be bold and bring up something that is vulnerable for me in many ways and I think it is for lots of people.
It’s time to talk about body image.
I love my body, I love my body not...I love my body, I love my body not… Sometimes I feel I am on an endless cycle of standing in front of my mirror, pulling rose petals off one by one, trying to decide if I love my body or not. And honestly, some days I do, and some days I don’t. I can stand in front of the mirror and look at my body with so much love it’s bursting. Love for letting me move and dance, love for housing and caring for my three boys while I was pregnant. Love for its strength and it’s flexibility, love for letting change in. But other days I can look in the SAME mirror at the SAME body with so much hate. Mostly hate for how it looks, how it’s not as skinny or toned as it used to be. Hate for how it’s a little wider and softer. I battle it on a constant basis and it’s a real source of anxiety for me. Especially in the last few years or so.
I know I am not alone in this. Women are subjected everyday to what the world views as an ideal body and if you don’t fit into that very limited mold, well, you’re not quite beautiful. It’s crazy to me that with as many beautiful, diverse body types that there are in this world, there is only one that society deems worthy enough to put in magazines and on tv. How can one body type accurately represent women as a whole? How would we not feel as though we are lacking in the body department?
My body issues became a mental issue that had nothing to do with my actual body.
Personally, starting a regular yoga practice has helped me in my body image crisis. It’s helped by making me stronger and more pliable. It’s such a great feeling to watch your body grow in strength and accomplish a difficult asana. Yoga has also helped by bringing more awareness to my body and my femininity, which has in turn brought me more confidence. And confidence is beautiful!! But if I am being honest, yoga has also contributed to my body image insecurities as well. Yoga culture can, unfortunately, replicate idealized and impossible images of beauty.
This new day of instagram yoga is really quite remarkable. It’s brought yoga more mainstream and widely known, and as much as yoga has helped me in my life, I think the more people know about it, the better! But really, it’s hard to adequately portray yoga in a photograph and a few words. Yoga is so much more than a thin, toned body in a sports bra and “yoga” pants doing a yoga pose in front of a fancy backdrop and then adding an inspirational quote about following your bliss!
If you are into yoga at all, you probably follow a few yogis on social media. Maybe you even follow a yoga clothing line or two as well. And by so doing, you have now been subjected to the portrayal of a “yoga body.” You’ve all seen this body. It’s thin, it’s toned, it’s flexible. And it looks amazing in the sports bra and yoga pants that are being sold either by a clothing line or by a yogi who got that outfit for free and so now has to mention said clothing line. So of course, this is what you must look like and wear to be a real yogi, right? It’s a bit disheartening that western yoga has turned into this, but it’s not just the yoga community. Media has been like this for years, selling a whole bunch of “stuff” off of people's insecurities. It just so happens that yoga was my weak spot. And in the name of deepening my yoga practice, I inadvertently deepened my body image issues as well.
I was following all these yogis with thin, toned bodies doing gorgeous splits while balancing on their hands and the little voice in the back of my head started to speak up. You know that voice, the one that says, “Your body doesn’t look like hers.” “You have excess stomach that sits over the top of your “yoga” pants, and she doesn’t.” “You’re not as strong as her, or as flexible as her.” “You must not be a real yogi.” “You’re not skinny enough, strong enough, flexible enough.” “You are not enough.” And then one day I woke up and I had a severely skewed body image, enough that just looking in the mirror would bring me to tears. I couldn’t imagine my husband could be attracted to me. I would see women who all wore a pant size other than a size 4 and think how beautiful and confident and fantastic they were, but would never be able to look at myself that same way.
I feel quite self conscious revealing these inner thoughts because if you were to look at me, I am thin. You might think that I am extremely self centered and seeking attention with these thoughts, but I assure you that is not the case. My body issues became a mental issue that had nothing to do with my actual body. In my mind I had built up what I thought to be a perfect body and when mine didn’t meet those self imposed standards, that little voice would rear it’s ugly head. And all those images I mentioned earlier, blowing up my instagram feed, were not helping. Any sort of body or eating disorder are more about mental health than actual body health.
“Too often, the reflection we see in the mirror is a grossly distorted image of ourselves influenced by our experiences, interpretations, and expectations. As a result, much of our dissatisfaction (and disappointment) with our bodies and compromised self-esteem is a result of an image not rooted in reality but grounded in an illusion.” - Melanie Klein, Yoga and Body Image
Every body is made differently and I understand that. And some people work so hard and it’s their passion to have a toned, defined body. And I have the utmost respect for them. Seriously, it’s extremely hard to get your body like that and if you have done it, I tip my hat to you. But it’s hard to tell someone’s sincerity from a photo and a few words. Are these yogis I was following truly wanting to share part of themselves, be vulnerable, and/or teach and give something to others?? Are they a true representation of yoga and all it’s parts?
I am learning that I want to be more than just a body.
There is not a one step, quick fix in this area of women, body image and the media. I don’t have the answer on how to make it better. But I do know that we are not meant to fit into one mold of acceptability. We are meant to be different from each other, to have our own unique way of thinking, way of acting and way of dealing with life. And this includes our bodies, which are all uniquely beautiful and strong.
Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and beauty is more than just skin deep. I am learning to love my body, even with it’s imperfections. I am learning to accept and even love the changes that it goes through. Whether it be from aging, or hormones, or growing humans, our bodies will go through changes. Trying to stop these changes can greatly affect your joy in your body. We must lean into them and let it be proof of a life well lived!
But most importantly, I am learning that I WANT TO BE MORE THAN JUST A BODY! Be creative, be smart, be kind, be a dreamer and be brave. Be ANYTHING! I am more than just my body. You are more than just your body. And the sooner we can accept that truth deep into our souls, the more we will be able to look in the mirror and truly see our beauty.