Updated: Jul 24, 2022
About two years ago, I made a serious commitment to yoga as a way to become better friends with my body.
We haven't been getting along for, well, my entire life.
I’ve always thought of myself as a “big girl.” It’s taken me almost 50 years to figure out that I shouldn’t have thought being a big girl was something to be ashamed of. Now, when I look back at pictures of me in high school and college, I am horrified that she would ever think she was fat. And when I think about what she was doing to look like that, I am sad.
Obsessing over whether what I was wearing made my belly pooch out or my thighs look heavy.
Spending an HOUR on hair and make-up every morning.
Trying every workout I could find: The 20-Minute Workout every morning. Jane Fonda. Cindy Crawford. Aerobics classes.
You name the diet, I was probably on it at some point. Atkins. Slimfast. Grapefruit. Juice. No carbs. No fat. No protein. All protein. Diet bars and diet shakes and diet pills. I managed to work in a few years here and there as a vegetarian, which I did enjoy. It often became difficult to maintain, though. The South ain’t exactly known for its vegetarian fare, and not eating meat in my family isn’t all that easy.
Besides, I love my mom’s meatloaf.
There have been times in my life when I was almost satisfied with how I looked. When I was in college, I had a black bikini that I was pretty proud of. After I got divorced, I worked out a lot (Tae-Bo, y’all!) and managed to get down to a size 8. I bought myself a pair of leather pants, got a tattoo, and got my navel pierced. After I turned 40, Joe and I both worked out and really watched our diet in preparation for what we originally thought was going to be sailing around the world. Turns out we RVd across the U.S., but that was just as good. I became a runner and trained for a couple of 5Ks. I ran 2-3 miles every day, and I got down to a size 10. I tried a few more diets, based on the latest science. The Engine 2 Diet. Paleo. Vegan. I had a better idea of what I should and shouldn’t eat. Not to say I never slipped up, but giving up soda, most processed foods, and anything with high fructose corn syrup had improved my health.
Then, I had to have a hysterectomy. I won’t go into the gory details. I am definitely glad I’m not being held hostage by a reproductive organ that gave me one very great gift, but was basically my nemesis since I was 12.
I understand not wanting to talk about this procedure in too much detail for fear of scaring other women. We don’t talk about what pregnancy and motherhood are really all about for the same reason. But we should, because I was NOT prepared for how my body would change. And I hated it. All that hard work, that attention to detail – all for nothing. I was right back where I started.
By the time I’d recovered enough to get back into running, my heart wasn’t really in it, and neither was my back, as it turns out. It was only a matter of time before hormones combined with nursing a bad back combined with not being as active as I needed to be turned into 25 pounds. As a last ditch attempt, I consulted a nutritionist, who put me on a really sensible but focused diet. And I lost 1 pound. Over three months.
There are so many other examples of things I did to try to fit into the shape I thought I was supposed to be. To get to the right size. To have the right hip to waist to bust ratio. To look good in a bikini. If we women were as honest as we should be with one another, I imagine we’d all have stories of an invitation declined, a dessert passed over. Times of staring at the scale, hoping against hope that this week it will reward your hard work with a lower number. Angry self-talk that berated you for a shorter-than-usual workout session, or missing one altogether.
Did I really want to spend the next 50 years of my life being that way? Always conscious of how my stomach pooches or my double chin? Counting calories? Being constantly at odds with a part of myself that allows me to do the things I want to do?
My body and I were not friends. I didn’t like it, and it was tired of being abused. We needed some serious counseling.
I’ve written elsewhere about my journey with Yoga With Adriene. When I looked back at that post to refresh my memory in writing this one, I could still sense the focus on what a yoga practice had done to my body, how it looked, whether it was acceptable. It’s no wonder, then, that my body gently told me to slow down through my Achilles tendon. Take it easy there in down dog, it said. Let me work on this. I’ve been working on my body, but I’m realizing I should be working with it. Listening to what it has to say. Getting to know it better. Becoming friends again.
I don’t have any revelations here. I think, though, that this worry about whether our bodies are acceptable has played a role in keeping women from taking up space in society, from using our voices as we should. And I think the world has suffered from that. Clearly, I’ve wasted a lot of energy trying to make my body conform to a specific shape. What could I have accomplished already if I’d put that energy to more important endeavors?
Perhaps it’s time we all made friends with our bodies so we can stop being distracted by things that don’t matter and start trying to save the world. Which we can do, ladies. It needs us now more than ever.