My Body is Perfect Thanks (Part 2)
Let's Do This
"Okay, I surrender. Let's be friends. Let's chat. Let's figure out what is next for us now that we are on the same team. Let's figure out how to carve out a new path, a place where we both exist in harmony, where we can move mountains, where we can do amazing fucking things now that we aren't at odds. Let's do this!"
After that tropical beach photo shoot (missed the first post? Read it HERE), I began to see my body in a new light. I began to look at my own dimples, my curves, my stretch marks from a place of compassion, rather than self-loathing. Instead of viewing these normal (YES, I said NORMAL) bodily traits as imperfections, I started to consider them as more of a roadmap, showing all of the paths that my body has traveled in her 32 years.
I started to appreciate the softness of my belly, as a reminder of having accomplished my most profound and meaningful task to date: growing, protecting and then birthing two healthy humans into existence. SHE did that- this body, that I had regarded with such scorn, she suffered through two anxiety-inducing full-term pregnancies (and two additional pregnancies that led to miscarriage). Despite the bleeding on and off for the first 20 or so weeks of each pregnancy- despite gestational diabetes, despite needing an induction both times...this body did it. All on her own.
I started to view my legs, which were often an area of insecurity, as powerful pillars of strength. These jiggly thighs have enabled me to climb mountains, kick my legs to swim in the sea, run in the yard with my babies. These legs, despite my own criticism of her appearance, have carried me through LIFE. They have walked me through the darkest valleys and back out into the sunshine.
Built for Function
I don't remember how old I was, (perhaps high school age??) when my doctor mentioned that I had "birthing hips". Hmm, okay, but what the fuck does that even mean? I was nowhere near birthing a child, and I was uncertain of how to interpret this information. "What do you mean birthing hips?" She explained to me that women with wider hips often find childbirth to be smoother experience, because the pelvis doesn't have to broaden as much to accommodate a baby in the birth canal. Three days of induction, two hours of pushing and the blazing ring of fire I experienced while almost-ten-pound Hunter was crowning, proved that this theory was a lie...but in retrospect, in a way, I appreciate the fact that this doctor was trying to re-focus my view on my body as one of FUNCTION, and not just aesthetics. YES- the female body is built for much more than just birthing humans. YES- viewing my body as simply an incubator for other humans would be a severe understatement of her profound function and ability...however, our bodies ARE built for function. They are built to be a vessel, a protective envelope for our spirits. They are meant to function as a collective powerhouse, giving us everything we need to carry us through this time on earth. And appreciating her function was one of the first steps, for me, to begin to love my body in all of her glory.
At the outset of 2019, I made a resolution to start practicing yoga more regularly. In my new journey of finding a place of love and appreciation for my body, I decided that out of all of the forms of exercise and physical movement that I could choose from, yoga was my most favorite. It was a good physical workout, but also packed a double-whammy punch of being a really positive outlet for my mental body as well. I made a promise to myself to attend 1-2 yoga classes a month...but like most New Year's resolutions, my plans didn't turn out the way I intended.
I started attending yoga classes 3-4 days a week. The more I practiced, the more my body craved the movement. One of the things that I initially felt intimidated by (and now, one of the things that I hear most often from my students...YES spoiler alert, I ended up loving yoga so much that I NEEDED to learn to teach) was the fact that most of the yoga teachers and students I knew were svelte, fit and thin. My body looked nothing like the petite, tan and simply gorgeous yoga instructors I saw in my Instagram feed. I shopped local yoga studios for awhile until I found a couple that felt like home: with teachers and students of all shapes and sizes, practicing together collectively but also individually. Modifying postures as need be, respecting that everyone's body is as unique and special as the spirit that resides on the inside. Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all practice, despite what the models on the cover of fitness magazines would lead you to believe.
Running a full-time business and raising two small kids meant that attending a live class wasn't always doable. I purchased some props and began setting aside time to practice at home as well. One day, I decided to set my phone up to record my practice. "What does my body LOOK like while I practice yoga?" Growing up as a competitive dancer, and practicing always in front of a mirror to perfect my posture, ensure my hips were aligned and my feet were in the proper position...I was genuinely curious to watch my body in motion. And once again, just as I felt when I first viewed those beach pictures in the Dominican Republic, I felt a little awe struck. That was me? That body that flowed from asana to asana, those strong legs that could hold tree pose forever, those strong arms that could press the ground away in downward dog...that was me. This body was made for these shapes...and these shapes were made for this body.
Unlike many other forms of physical exercise, yoga calls upon the individual to work with the self that flows from the inside out. Dropping into your body, giving yourself permission to mindfully move from one posture to the next, focusing less on perfection and more on the personal experience of the practice; and at the same time, allowing the mind to release the background noise, to let go of the need for perfection and focus itself on the present moment. This was movement made for me. This was an outlet in which my mental body and my physical body were able to be present in harmony. One could not function effectively without the other. The postures always felt more "right" when my mind and heart were also invested 100%...when my whole self was in the shape rather than just the physical body.
Additionally, I found a collective sense of individualism in my yoga classes. While we were all mostly moving through the same sequence at around the same pace, and while I could emotionally appreciate the community in the room...I felt solo in my practice, within the four corners of my mat. I forgot to even notice the other people in the room, as I poured my soul into moving with breath, letting go of the mental work and just FEELING my body in motion.
Try a class from the comfort of your own home. We offer classes LIVE on Zoom and also ON DEMAND- sign up for class and take it at your leisure. Carve out time for self-care in your busy week. You deserve it...
It was a stark contrast from my mental and emotional experience in other forms of group exercise, or even just on the treadmill at the gym. I would always find myself distracted, watching other people work out, while I got in my 30 minutes of cardio like clock work. I would notice the cute college-age girls in crop tops and tight leggings, and long for the days before babies, when I was young and in shape too. And then I would get angry at myself for not appreciating that skinny bod while I had it! I would also watch the group of seniors that always happened to be there mid-morning, all lined up on their machines and sharing gossip. I remember thinking with fondness, "I hope I am on a treadmill with my bestie by my side some day, enjoying retirement". Sometimes my inner dialogue was one of simple curiosity...I just love people watching. But most of the time, this dialogue was one of comparison and insecurity..."why can't I look like her?" And other times, as ashamed as I am to admit this, it sometimes veered to "well at least I don't look like THAT". And as soon as the thought came to mind, my face would get hot with shame, as if I had uttered the words out loud. "Who the fuck are you to judge her, Mel? You don't know her story; she is more than just a physical body." I could look at a perfect stranger and feel instant shame for judging her body...and then I could look in the mirror and spend a good half-hour picking apart every minor flaw I noticed, with no shame at all.
Do as I say, not as I do, right? Why is it always easier to pour love outward than it is to let it flow inward? Raising a daughter has made me more aware than ever before that words and thoughts have power. When Haven was born, I vowed to not lead her down a path of negative body image. I would mind my words around her, and refrain from vocalizing negative thoughts about my body. I would ensure that in addition to telling my little girl that she is pretty, I would remind her everyday of all of the other amazing powers she wields: such as her strength, her determination and her quirky sense of humor. When I purchased decor for her nursery, I found a sign with a quote that read "Let her sleep, for when she awakes she will move mountains". THAT is the kind of momma I wanted to be...one who encouraged her daughter to seek out her own inner warrior, rather than wasting energy hating the envelope that holds her precious spirit...
The Hours Are Precious
Raising tiny humans is like looking in a walking, talking mirror. I can honestly say that my children have taught me so much more than I think I could ever teach them. Here I was, spending so much time and energy pouring SO MUCH love into these little people...and yet I wasn't willing to show myself the same kindness. Every time my sweet little man would give me big hug and tell me how much he loved me...every time my baby girl was at my side, wanting to do everything I do because I am her role model. "I am perfect to them. I am their everything...why can't I appreciate my own essence in the same way that my babies do?"
I was wasting literally HOURS each week in some form of focus on the way my body looked. Even though I had found a place of love and appreciation for my body that was increasing every day, I still could not let go of the obsession about her appearance. Counting every calorie, logging every step in my fitness app or Fitbit, in my effort to "be healthy". Changing my outfit 2-3 times because the previous choices "made me look bigger". Some days, I just felt like the ugly duckling. And on those days, these feelings bubbled up until they spilled over onto everything else I was trying to accomplish that day. It made me feel agitated and short tempered, and often times I also wasn't eating nearly enough food, which was making me hangry and even more snippy.
Meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and finding time to exercise or hit a yoga class started to feel like a full-time job. While I was no longer actively trying to "lose weight", I certainly did not want to gain any. "I can love this body as she is, but she can't get bigger". And thus, my intense focus on losing weight shifted more to a goal of maintaining weight, keeping things the same. "This feels like a full-time job" I once said to Brandon. Managing my eating, activity level and trying to pour kindness on myself anytime I walked by a mirror WAS a fucking full-time job. It consumed minutes of every day, which added up to HOURS and days of my life, wasted obsessing about a sack of flesh and bones that could just as easily be dead tomorrow. I'm not a morbid person but I am a realist: and the real fact is, any one of us can be dead in a moment's notice. I started to think about this fact...all of those minutes, hours and days I had already lost to obsessing about my physical appearance. How many more fun memories could you have made in that time? How many more minutes of your life are you willing to waste? How many more hours do you want to spend criticizing a body that has survived years of emotional abuse, at your own hands? How many more years are you going to waste, longing for the supple curves of your early twenties, when the man that has stood by your side for over a decade now can NOT keep his hands off of you at a size 16 or at a size 10? Who the fuck are you even trying to please? Who's opinion matters that much??
And then, the final question that really tipped the scales (no pun intended) for me: "what could I do with all of that extra time, if i didn't waste hours of my life hating my body or trying to change the way she looks?" And then, on an intuitive whisper, I heard the answer..."Whatever the fuck you want to..."
President, owner of Lotus & Compass Inc