“I read something yesterday that spoke to me, like a lot,” she said while we were running along the lakeside path in the early morning sunshine.
“Oh, yeah? What was that?” I asked.
The sky was brilliant blue and the water like glass this morning. The trees are bursting with varying shades of vibrant green leaves and the lilacs are in full force perfuming the air as we ran by.
“That we view our bodies like a work in progress,” she said.
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, so I said, “Oh, tell me more about that.”
She went on to say that because we are never satisfied with our bodies we are always “working on them.” We view our bodies as something to “fix.”
“I get it. Like we don’t see our bodies as something we inhabit, but as something to change before we can accept them.”
I don’t share this often, mostly because I’m so open about other mental health challenges I’ve had (PPD, PPA, PTSD, and panic attacks), but my mental health challenges started with anorexia at 11 or 12, and then graduated (is that a thing?) to bulimia which I struggled with until my early 30’s.
I’m also quite sure I struggled with orthorexia in my 20’s when I ate only vegan, organic food, no refined sugar, and if gluten free was a thing back then, I’m sure I would have cut that out too. I was HARD CORE, meticulous in what I ate, and felt extreme guilt if I ate anything outside of my strict diet for a long time.
Although I’m no longer at war with food and my body anymore (thank GOODNESS), some things are harder to get over, like how I view my body.
One of the things I started doing in my early 30’s that helped a lot, was to just stop looking at myself. From the time I was a preteen I would obsess at physical appearance. I’d analyze the enormous space (sarcasm here) between the bottom of my nose and my upper lip (I always felt it should be shorter), and felt my lips should have been bigger.
I stared and pinched at my belly that was never flat enough, my waist that was never tiny enough, or squeeze the bulk of my inner thighs demanding them to be smaller. I’d stand in front of the mirror arching my back so it looked like my waist cinched smaller and the gap between my thighs widened.
I’d stare at my breasts longing for them to be bigger so I could be “better proportioned,” so I’d buy the most padded bras I could find to create the illusion breasts closer to the ones I wish I had. Now, when I hear those thoughts, I ask myself, “Better proportioned compared to what?” Bodies are proportioned in the way they are! And by the way, who decided what proportions where acceptable anyways?
Once I started teaching yoga full time, I stopped wearing make up because I was sweating so much in heated studios. This meant I didn’t look in the mirror as much anymore. I’d groom my brows and make sure I didn’t have spinach in my teeth, but that was about it.
And do you know what? I’m happier for it. Sometimes, because I really don’t look at myself very closely anymore, I’m a bit surprised. These days I’m noticing that my face is definitely aging as the lines around my mouth are getting deeper and see the skin on my body becoming more crepe-y (is this a word?) and getting looser as I’m getting older.
The most profound shift has come from my Mindfulness practice. It didn’t happen all at once (I wish, I’m a slow learner), however over the years it has taught me how to be accepting and loving towards my body. The simple practice of fully being in my body and inhabiting it has helped shift the focus from “fixing the body” to “living in the body.”
When I’m fully Mindful I don’t have to convince myself that the body is the vehicle for the soul. I know it. The body is not something to be judged, fixed, or worked on, it is a holy vessel that houses the soul. Without it, we would have no human experience at all, because all of our senses, thoughts, and emotions are processed through the body. And when you think of where it came from? Two itty-bitty little cells that decided to dance and create this whole skin suit I get to live in? It’s a fucking miracle.
Oh! AND, it also makes other skin suits with their very own soul living inside of it. Mind. Blown.
I do hope that one day, every time I look in the mirror I will see the miracle, that I know to be true in glimpses, that my body is. It has survived so much trauma, helped keep me safe, has provided so much joy and pleasure, it has grown a healthy baby, it has survived a fucking pandemic for fucks sakes.
In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite poems about body dysmorphia that always makes me cry, so it might make you cry too. It’s by Holly Holden, and it’s worth printing out and reading daily…even if it makes you cry.
Today I asked my body what she needed,
which is a big deal
considering my journey of
not really asking that much.
I thought she might need more water.
But as I stood in the shower
reflecting on her stretch marks,
Her roundness where I would like flatness,
Her softness where I would prefer firmness,
All those conditioned wishes
that form a bundle of
She whispered very gently:
Could you just love me like this?”
Workin’ on it Holly….
Now you, tell me: do you struggle with body dysmorphia too? Which parts of your body are the ones you only “see?” Are there tricks you use to help you manage those feelings, and what are they? I’d love to have a little thread going in the comments to support each other, so please share them in the comments below!
If this is a thing for you (like so many of us), you are SO not alone and no matter what you are beautiful… regardless of what the fucker who decided what “proportionate” says. He’s just trying to make a buck off (y)our shame.
PS. This is only one of the benefits of my Mindfulness practice. One of the biggest ones is how it’s helped me parent in a conscious and intentional way by helping me see my triggers, self-regulate, so I can respond as the mom I want to instead of the one I default to. If this interests you, click here to get on the Mindfulness For Moms Waitlist.