"It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry about." Amy Poehler
One of the womanly things I was taught to be sorry about was my body.
Messages of body-shame came from all over.
From sermons on the sin of Eve and the consequences of pain in labor and silence for women.
From purity culture, which said that men would want sex and women wouldn't.
From magazines and billboards and movies and TV, where women were perfectly thin but also big-breasted.
From porn, requiring constant performance and perfect availability, or else.
Wrong, bad, never-enough: that's what was going on my in head when it came to my body.
Here's an example. My body took me up this mountain in Canada in 2012, and I didn't like this picture because my stomach wasn't flat enough. Also I thought my arms were too big. Note the placement of the backpack, hiding my leg. That was not an accident. There might be cellulite. Somebody might see it.
I've exercised moderately my entire adult life, walking and/or hiking consistently several times a week, year round. I've always been a medium-sized person.
And I've hated my body almost the whole time.
I've hated my thighs.
I have hated my hips.
I have hated my belly.
No matter how thin I was able to be, I could never be exactly the right shape.
I remember wearing a pair of size 6 Abercrombie & Fitch corduroys, back in 2006, and hating that curve at the top of my thigh that never, ever goes away.
Size 6. Hating my thighs.
It started to seem a little irrational at that point. I'd always thought, "If I can just get thin enough, I'll like how I look." And it didn't happen. I got thin enough, and I still hated my thighs.
That's when I realized: this is about my brain, not my body. This problem is in my head, not in my shape.
Within the last few years, I've worked on appreciating my body more.
I still exercise, 30 minutes every week day on my treadmill, because exercise is good and I want to be healthy.
But I've tried to stop worrying about every single bite of food that goes into my body.
I've allowed myself to eat french fries and dessert.
I've gained weight. I'm the heaviest I've ever been.
I've been trying to let myself be okay with that.
Not always successful, but not constantly obsessing, either.
I've started to feel like it's okay to be okay.
My body isn't spectacular, but it's okay.
That felt like good progress with the mess in my head.
And then Patty was diagnosed with ALS.
And there's nothing like watching my friend lose her physical functioning to suddenly put a whole new light on the body I've got.
I can walk across the room, bend over, and pick up the leaves my dogs dragged into the house.
I can get out of bed whenever I want.
I can roll over.
I can butter my toast.
All that feels like a freaking miracle right now, let me tell you.
Who cares what actual shape my thighs happen to possess?
My thighs WORK.
They've worked faithfully for 50 years.
They've carried me all over the world, into all the beautiful and terrible places.
This belly that pooches and flabs?
It has nurtured four amazing human beings into life.
It has cradled my children, been the lap that is safety and home to them.
These arms that wobble a bit in the breeze?
They have held Love close, through seizures and puking and grief.
They have given Love away in countless embraces.
This body of mine?
This body WORKS.
And that is more that just okay.
I started going to yoga this summer, because trauma expert Bessel Van Der Kolk says yoga is one of the best things you can do for yourself, and I've been feeling like I need all the help I can get right now.
I'm not sure what I expected from yoga. Lots of stretching and breathing, maybe. I've gotten that, and it's been great.
I didn't expect the emotional impact, though.
The very first class I attended is a "yoga for dummies" thing, an hour of basic stuff that I got through pretty well for an abject rookie. At the end of the hour, the instructor had us lie down flat on the mat with a foam block placed under our backs, so that everything was flat on the mat with our chests pushed up high. When I lay back on that block, it was like an egg cracked in my chest. Almost a physical sensation. And I began weeping. I'm laying on a yoga mat, sweating, with tears running back into my hair. No words, no "issue," just a physical release of emotion.
Interestingly enough, that spot in my chest, that place where I felt the egg crack? That's where I always feel anxiety and distress. Right in the center of my chest.
As a counselor I know this: our emotions are chemical. Yes, we have thoughts and feelings about events, and we can talk those out in therapy, but there's a strong physical element to all of our experiences. That's why we take medication for depression and anxiety: it addresses that chemical element.
And apparently, yoga addresses that chemical element as well. The research says so, and my experience concurs.
The lady who owns the studio I've been attending, she is a body-love preacher. After years of hearing how bad, wrong, and shameful my body is, it's pretty weird to listen to how good my body is, how beautiful its lines are, how grateful we all are for this gift of a body.
Honestly, though, that's a sermon I need to hear. Early and often.
The picture above was taken this past Saturday during yoga class at a park in downtown Dallas. My daughter (in the peach top, behind me in the photo) has been loving yoga for years. It was her birthday, and she wanted to do yoga in the park, so we went.
At the end of the class, we lay flat on our backs, eyes closed, breathing gently and deeply.
My body had just done Warrior and Happy Baby and even a little Half Moon and some Tree.
The temperature was perfect, there was a breeze blowing, the fountains were splashing.
I could hear my daughter laughing with friends who had just arrived.
And this incredibly profound gratitude just swept over me with that breeze, and I wept.
When I think about how grace has brought us safe thus far, and how grace will lead us home, all that journey of grace happens inside this body.
This body that I have hated and picked at and obsessed over--this body has brought me all this way.
And I swear on all I hold dear: I am DONE hating this vessel that has carried me here so faithfully.
I am finished with rejection and envy and despair.
Instead, I receive this body as the treasure that it is, this miracle that functions exactly as it should.
I will love this body, this gift.
I will feed it delicious food and offer it fabulous drinks.
I will take it to beautiful places.
I will stretch it and soothe it and have really good sex with it.
I will give it rest and peace.
This body is beautiful.
This body is mine.
I receive it with all the gratitude that is in me, and I will love it and enjoy it, because it was declared from the dawn of time to be "very good."
And so it is.
So it is.