Disclaimer: This post was originally entitled "To the mother who implied I should be ashamed of my body." It was pointed out that an eye for an eye is not the answer, and I agree. So I've changed the title and some of the content to focus more on the issue I wanted to discuss: body image.
The overarching theme for the month of February here at YBC is to Love Yourself, and today I want to talk about body image. I won't lie to you. Sometimes, selfishly, I design and create content because I need help in those areas of myself. The theme of loving yourself this month? Ding, ding, ding. I needed that reminder because I'm unnecessarily hard on myself. And the last few months have been tough for me personally. But I'm trying to work on it.
The other day, I logged in to amazon to check out the ranking of my book Namaslay because it's one thing to write a book, but it's another thing to try to sell it. (If you're interested, you can search instagram with #NamaslayBTS to learn more about the Behind the Scenes process of writing and publishing this book.)
I noticed there was a new "critical" review of my book, and so I clicked to check it out. Yikes.
I've been working hard at developing thicker skin, and so honestly, I initially laughed it off.
But then, I started to feel sad about the message that was essentially conveyed, and my immediate response was:
There are two major things happening in this woman's review that irked me. The first, is that it's implied I should be ashamed of my body and "half my bottom" hanging out. To that, I shake my head.
Let's stop being ashamed of our bodies
So let's address what's worn on the cover - a leotard and leg warmers. I explained the process behind choosing a cover on instagram a few weeks ago. And, I don't know. I guess there are a lot of different things that bubble up for me. If I spring to the defensive, I'd say, "You'd see more skin at a hot yoga class," or, "The great Patthabi Jois wore less."
I don't think it should matter what I was wearing. We should not be ashamed of our bodies. Ever. Teaching our daughters to be ashamed of their bodies is the beginning of a long and complicated love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with themselves. I know from experience.
I remember a time my family was at the beach. I must've been around fifteen. I'd forgotten something in the car, so my mom and I walked back to retrieve it. I was wearing a pair of shorts and my bikini top. I remember it being this white and green halter top style that I loved so much. As we walked, we past a man who couldn't have been much older than my dad, and he stared at my chest so blatantly that my face burned bright red. My mom handed me a towel to drape over my shoulders and I remember feeling so insecure and uncomfortable and ashamed. Like I'd done something wrong.
Many of you know that I spent a significant amount of time in Europe of the last five years or so. I remember the first time I went to the gym in Germany. Now, gym culture is just different in Europe from the United States, and one of the things that really stood out was everyone's comfort in their own skin. It seemed like everyone was running around nude without a care in the world! Wait, wait, let me back up a bit.
So, the few gyms I belonged to over the course of the time I was there always had a spa section. The spa section had a number of different saunas with different temperatures and humidity levels, as well as different hot tubs and cold tubs, and one gym even had this private outdoor sunbathing area. But there was one catch - everyone was naked.
You'd go with a towel wrapped around you, drape the towel over the hot tub handle, and enter completely nude. Same with the saunas. Same with the outdoor sunbathing area. You'd see people ranging in age from six years old to seventy-five, and no one looked at anyone twice. Not one person. Nudity was a non-issue.
It was such a non-issue for them that it made me question my own, well, issues. Why did I feel so embarrassed? Why was I so uncomfortable in my own skin?! I mean, there'd even be a little biergarten area and parents would go with their adolescent children, everyone toweling off from the hot tubs and then they'd sit and eat ice cream together, laughing and chatting away like it was no big deal. Because it wasn't a big deal to them.
And that was really something to experience because I realized that we, in the US, have such a very different experience. As children, we're told to cover up once we reach a certain age. There's a sense of urgency to it, especially when you hit puberty, and then talking about bodily function suddenly becomes very hush hush.
It's actually incredibly detrimental to our health, as Dr. Axe touched upon in the book Eat Dirt. In the beginning of the book, he discusses how his mom's cancer aggressively came back, and he flew home from med school to see her and help her. He sat with her and asked about her digestive health and she said she had a bowel movement maybe once or twice a week for the past ten years! When he asked why she never mentioned this to her doctor, she said, "I just thought it was normal." He goes on to say it's really important to talk about this stuff. The state of our health relies on it. (Side note: After reading that paragraph in the book, I emailed Carley and said, "Can we do a poop series?" And that idea evolved into the 30 Day Yoga and Gut Health Program.)
Somewhat related: I despise the phrase TMI. Nothing is TMI in my book. When it comes to our mental and physical health, there is no such thing as Too Much Information.
Anyway. My point is, screw being ashamed. Ashamed of our nakedness. Ashamed of our bodies and their functions. It's a waste of time, and it's not healthy to have those feelings. In fact, negative self-talk has a physical, chemical effect on your body.
I spent a lot of my teens and twenties feeling embarrassed about my body. I'd nitpick every little indent in the backs of my thighs where my cellulite lives (and yes, I have it, and no I'm not ashamed of it anymore, because it's freaking normal!). I spent a lot of time feeling angry at myself and comparing myself to other women around me. I can't speak to what it's like for a guy, but for a pre-teen or early adult female, there are messages all around us that we are not good enough. And it's not from the cover of my yoga book, it's from the cover of magazines with articles about what you can to do to alter your body so you can get the boy to like you. The messaging places importance on being x, y, or z for someone else. Not for yourself.
In many ways, my long fight with Lyme disease was my biggest blessing, because when you're bedridden, unable to walk, and have a partner who has to physically dress you because you're too weak to dress yourself, you realize what a waste of time all that angst was, all that negative self-talk. You realize how good you actually had it. There was a point during that bedridden period of my life when I thought to myself: The way I treated myself these last few years was awful. I'm sick of feeling angry at myself. I'm sick of comparing myself to other women. I'm so tired of never feeling like I'm enough and living life constantly on the defensive.
And it was then that I decided that when I got better, I would live my life on purpose. I would go after what I wanted. I would stop nitpicking. I would embrace my body. I would try to empower myself, to lift myself up, to know in my heart of hearts that not despite any and all imperfections but because of any and all imperfections, I was perfect just as I was. Because I am already enough.
And you are too.
We all are.
It's the entire premise of the Namaslay life philosophy I write about in my book - that all people, regardless of what they wear and what they look like, are deserving of self-care, love and respect.
But man. To read this woman's three sentence "review" on my book that says she wouldn't put it on her coffee table because "half my bottom" was hanging out for her daughters to see? That got me.
And it wasn't the negative review. If you hate my book, that's ok! I know that you can't please everyone, and it just means that the book probably isn't for you. It's not for everyone, and I'm okay with that.
Let's stop comparing ourselves to others
The next thing going on in this review is comparison. "I'd rather my daughters be inspired by strong women like Seane Corn and Shiva Rae."
When I read this, my first thought was, Ok, this is implying that I'm not strong. That the deep depression I fought through has no significance. At that point, the Lyme disease had begun affecting my brain to the point that I could see people talk to me, could hear them talk to me, but was lagging on be able to formulate the meanings of their words. My fear of a steady, daily decline in my cognitive health kept me up at night. But perhaps overcoming those issues don't convey strength to woman who reviewed the book, which is fine. Strength, I suppose, can mean different things to different people. But it stung to write about my toughest times being so sick and how it changed the whole way I live my life, only to have some stranger on the internet write it off. On the other hand, I understand that's the chance you take when you put your story out there. And again, I understand you can't please everyone.
Seane Corne and Shiva Rae? They are awesomely brilliant women. Period. Full stop. End of story. But I believe that all women are strong. Why not acknowledge that every woman brings something to the table regardless of if she is Seane Corne or Jane from down the road? Now more than ever, we are stronger together.
And PS, here's what Shiva Rae wore on the cover of a book. Or rather, what she didn't wear. And guess what? She is still a brilliant, fierce woman whom I deeply respect and admire. Her cover is a non-issue for me.
Women - and men - are not more or less important based on what they wear, or what they look like. There is more to everyone than meets the eye, and I believe that comparison does nothing but silence your own inner greatness and hold you back from your true potential.
But, real talk? The comparison thing is something I still struggle with. Like when I take CrossFit classes, for example. Those women are strong. Like, really strong. My muscles don't look like theirs, and the only time I can only put up the weight they put up is in my dreams. So I often feel tastes of insecurity, inadequacy, and embarrassment due to my lack of strength. But I force myself to shut those thoughts down because it's not worth it. I remind myself that have my health, and that's my greatest wealth. The whole reason I am there is to build strength, I tell myself, so why not just acknowledge where I'm at, acknowledge there is room for growth and then just keep it movin'?
Let's switch up the self-talk
In a time of picture-perfect social media newsfeeds, it's easy to dive down the rabbit hole and start to feel serious FOMO, or feel like you're not good enough.
I must've read a hundred different articles and blog posts about people feeling inadequate from yoga instagram accounts. I used to feel that way when stumbling across an account featuring the most gorgeous 180 degree standing split (mine is a 90 degree angle most days). But after a while - I'm not sure how or when it happened - I started to look at my physical practice with an attitude of, "Ok, this could be fun," and give various poses a try without any expectation, and without assigning any value on whether or not I was able to do the pose. Instead of looking at social media posts in a way that made me feel bad, I started looking at the posts as lessons. I'd watch the videos, trying to figure out what muscles were engaged here, what strength was required there, and how can I learn to do it myself? When I switched up the thinking, I not only felt better, but I found myself inspired. When I put my own ego and insecurities aside, everything changed. The posts starting serving my own growth as a yoga teacher and student.
Let's appreciate ourselves
The other day, I received a facebook message from a girl I went to school with. She's had a rough life, but she is a hero of mine for coming up through the foster care system, birthing four children, overcoming a heroin addiction, and killing it at life one day at a time. She recently emailed me saying, "I hate this body of mine, and I need to lose weight, what can I do?" The first part of my response told her I wasn't going to help her unless she turned that thinking around and gave thanks for that body of hers. That body that has endured so much abuse and neglect. That body that has given life - LIFE! - to four precious children. That body that has been stuck with needles more times than either of us can count and been nearly brought to death by heroin. That body that gets her out of bed every day so she can be the best mom she can, so she can go to work, so she can provide for herself and her family. We need to appreciate ourselves. Period. Regardless of what the exterior looks like.
My point is, let's teach our daughters to love themselves no matter what. Let's teach our children to love and respect people no matter what they look like or what they wear. Let's celebrate all women - all people - knowing that every single one of us is going through something. Let's lift each other up. Let's look in the mirror every single day and say something nice for a change. Because every single one of us deserves it. Every single of us is doing the best we can, and that is enough.
Now let's go out there and slay. #Namaslay.
Let's talk: How do you keep your insecurities at bay? What's your relationship like with your own body image? Any tips to anyone out there struggling?