April 14, 2014

Don’t Envy My Body.

naked yoga

About a year or so ago, I taught a private yoga class for a group of women, most of whom where in their ’40s and beyond.

One day before class, one of the women asked, “How do I get a body like yours?” I laughed. I knew it was meant as a compliment, but I was still a tad shocked. Someone wanted a body like mine? Really?

I generally like my body. I liked it enough to pose for a local lingerie store’s advertising campaign using “real,” area women ranging in age from 20 to about 50. I boasted in the past that I have never been on a diet.

However, while all the above is true, I am still my body’s worst critic.

As I shared previously, I grew up with a mother who personified the stereotypical ideal way more than I ever did. Tall, with naturally blonde hair, and one of those very women with naturally large breasts even when she weighed only 100 pounds as a teenager, my mother could have been in Playboy in her early years. However, as she reached middle age, she struggled with being overweight and most of her va-va-voom looks were gone by then.

I was thin, but that was it. In fact, both my mother and grandmother used to joke that from the waist up I looked like a ballerina but from the waist down, I looked like a “peasant” (It was partly true. My overdeveloped calf muscles and short thick legs did look like they belonged to someone much stockier than me).

As I grew older, I became a master at showing off my assets and hiding my flaws (i.e., I learned dressing in all one color made me look longer and leaner). I also learned the “ideal” skirt length for hiding my big legs and would never  wear calf length dressed or skirts without knee-length boots that covered the calves completely. Also, given my association with professional photographers, I learned about flattering angles. In a nutshell, I became very good at making my clothed body look good.

However, when I became pregnant, I became acutely aware of the fact that all the clever dressing and tricks in the world couldn’t hide what was happening to my body. Despite the fact that my chief concern was having a healthy baby and I carried pretty small, I had no control over the changes. In particular, the changes in my breasts upset me the most.

While friends gushed that I was lucky to avoid stretch marks and be back in my old clothes in less than two weeks, the sight of my breasts a few days after giving birth reduced me to tears. I remember weeping before the mirror and knowing that they were never going to look the way they did. It was an even bigger shock after I stopped breastfeeding 13 months later and found that I had gone from a C cup size to an A. Indeed, I was probably smaller than an A. The sweet young college student who worked at Victoria’s Secret gently informed me that they did not carry bras my size and suggested I go to a specialty shop. I thanked her and then sat in the car weeping that my—in the words of an ex-boyfriend—”amazing” breasts were gone.

Shortly after I trained to become a yoga instructor, I made it clear that my classes were for all body types. I believed and still believe that. However, the checklist of my “flaws” was growing in addition to my aforementioned legs and calves, I also included my sagging breasts, cellulite, and various other things. The list was growing, yet I still thought I had a good overall body image because I was being “realistic” and did not have an eating disorder or exercise addiction.

However, the absence of those things and even my decision to model lingerie did not necessarily mean my body image was good, much less healthy.  As long as I was going to pick myself apart and hold myself to an ideal that could not be achieved even with plastic surgery was anything but healthy.

In retrospect, I wish I had told that woman that rather than envy my body or anyone else’s body, to appreciate her own (ironically, she did have a good body). Speaking as someone who has watched far too many people battle and lose to diseases like cancer and various auto-immune diseases, I can say that any healthy body-big, small, etc. is good or should be good.

It’s wish my that someday everyone can envy the body they have and not his or her friend’s, that person in yoga class, or some celebrity.

I hope some day I am capable of that, as well. Even if I am not, then I hope to at least do away with my the laundry list of flaws which are probably based more in my own mind than in reality.


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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: elephant archives

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