Friday, April 22, 2011

Spring Cleaning My Closet

I've been happening onto more blogposts about yoga and body image lately. These are old blogposts; as far as I know I'm not riding the coattails of a trend. Ah, body image: that old bugaboo. Maybe he's the monster in our closet we tried to tell our parents about. We knew he was there; we knew his potential for destruction. If only our parents had turned on the light and exposed him for what he was: just as likely to be Cookie Monster or Elmo as he was to be Jaws or Predator.

Sorry for the House-style metaphor: What I'm saying is, there's no avoiding having thoughts and feelings about your body, and if you're human, there's no avoiding ever having negative thoughts and feelings about your body, either. The way to keep those occasional moments of frustration with how your body fits into the latest trend in jean cuts from blossoming into a deadly flower of self-loathing, punishment, and potential mental illness is to focus on cultivating a healthy perspective on the issue, and to fight for all your worth to keep your opinion of your body from being based solely, or even significantly, on how it looks. This is infinitely more manageable a task if your parents laid the groundwork for it in your very early years, and yes, too, I'm simplifying a very complex issue, but this is valid:

If you value your body based on what it can do, you will always have a sense of appreciation and fondness for it. If you value your body based on how it looks, or worse, how it looks in comparison to the unrealistic idealistic-to-this-time-place-and-culture figures that are so readily available to us, you're setting yourself up for some serious unpleasantness.

In the name of total disclosure, I'm 5'1'', roughly 100 lbs, pear-shaped, and due to a fondness for using my body, and for feeding it things that are good for it and the planet, I'm in great shape: slender, fit, and toned.

Soooooooo, yes, all that love your body BS is easy for me to say.

Yes. It's really easy for me to say. I struggle constantly with living it. Not because I'm a perfectionist, or because I'm struggling with/recovering from an eating disorder. I'm not. I know I have an unusually attractive according-to-the-standards-of-the-time-place-culture-I-was-born-into-through-no-effort-of-my-own body. It's really easy to give myself the once-over in the mirror, and go to bed happy. Why work toward valuing myself based on capabilities, let alone character, actions, etc? What fun would that be? This so easy! I look good in a bikini, therefore I'm a great person who's achieved inner peace. Done! I'm the freakin' Buddha!

Surely the does-not-compute alarm is going off by now. Aside from the fact that valuing yourself based on your appearance is shallow, and does not lend itself to self-fulfillment, and there will always be someone out there who can send you into a tailspin by looking better than you do, it gets worse.

If I take the easy way out and judge myself, satisfactorily, based on how I look, that's how I'm going to judge other people. This isn't a theory: I did this for years without realizing it. Oh sure, when circumstances forced me to get to know someone and they were a great person I stopped noticing how they looked, but that didn't stop me from assuming there was something bad about them. My view was so skewed, I earnestly believed that the universe would reward me at every turn for how pretty I looked, and punish the less fortunate. I looked for this pattern to play out, and when I didn't see it, I suffered anxiety, and low self-esteem. If I'm not being rewarded, I must not look good enough! I must have gained weight!

It wasn't until I decided to spend Lent of 2009 exploring how I viewed myself and other people, and our bodies, that I realized the extent of my unhealthy and dangerous attitudes. It was a pretty severe wake-up call. I'm glad I kept a written record of those 40-odd days.

So, no, I don't know what its like to be overweight. I don't know what it's like to have an eating disorder. I don't know what its like to hear voices in your head constantly tell you you aren't worth a damn because you don't look a certain way. I do know what it's like to be one of those voices in other peoples' heads.

I am so sorry.

It seemed worthwhile to add my version of the body image story: the rarely told one. I've already poured the oil from my alabaster pitcher. I've cried enough tears to wash road-dusty feet, and my hair is long enough to dry them off afterward.

Condemn if you choose, but as someone very wise once said, "Let he or she among us who is without sin cast the first stone." Ahimse means to do no harm. Harming our own bodies with negative actions or thoughts is no less destructive to us all than harming others with negative actions or thoughts. Truth be told, if we're doing one because of body image issues, odds are good we're doing the other as well.

We all, absolutely every one of us in this country, could use a big dose of self-love (and no, I'm not returning to the sex topic just yet, haha).

You are amazing: the temple of a divine spark. Your body enables you to do incredible and beautiful things, even if you're Stephen Hawking. Take a moment, before you do anything else, and just thank yourself. Thank all of us. Love all of our different, beautiful, big, small, curvy, flat, squishy, firm, funny, weird, unusual, altered, differently-abled bodies.

Please, love your own. Send beautiful, loving thoughts and energy to yourself. If we're all connected, you'll be serving us all.

Live Omily,

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