Riding the Waves of Body Expectation & AcceptanceFebruary 22, 2020
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is a 2020 Featured NEDAwareness Week Partner. The following is a YBIC National Eating Disorders Awareness Week post that highlights how the practice of yoga can be an integral component in the effective treatment of and on-going recovery from eating disorders and disordered eating. The shares included are from those who have first-hand experience with disordered eating or from those who are called to share their body acceptance journeys.
I have a fairly petite bone structure and have generally been slim and slender my whole life. As I entered my 30’s my body’s version of ‘slim’ started to transform. I started to see the physical changes, reminding me that my body is ever-changing and creating a new ‘normal’ baseline for itself. In hindsight, I realized that I’d been conditioned to buy in to the standard definition of a ‘nice body’ because I had one. As I grew older my body began to deviate from the norm I was used to, at which point I started noticing the layers of societal conditioning I was exposed to around beauty and health, particularly that of girls and women.
I was in therapy for reasons unrelated to body image and the more I explored the root cause of my suffering the more I began to challenge the logic behind my feelings of inadequacy and its implications around my self-worth. The practice of critical self-inquiry led me to challenge other aspects of my identity. I soon noticed that my perception of beauty and health was in fact deeply shaped by societal conditioning; i.e. being thin, toned, and having taught, flawless skin, was not only ‘normal’ but it was admired, it was sexy, and it represented health. To top it off, having a petite frame and an overall clean bill of health I felt even more pressure to meet that standard because.. well, I had a genetic head start, so I had no excuse?
The path from awareness to complete body acceptance, is indeed a journey of self-compassion and healing. As I entered the awareness phase I started giving myself permission to look at bodies differently. I started to think for myself – what a novel concept! I started finding languageing for a more personalized definition of beauty and health. I started to notice the sensations which arise when I look at my naked body in the mirror. It was alarming, feelings of disgust and sometimes frustration arose when looking at certain parts, my heart would pick up speed and I felt my temperature rise – “If only [this] wasn’t so [that] then I’d be happy.” It was a conditional acceptance. But, at least I was noticing, a crucial step in embodying self-love and acceptance.
I also started to pay attention to how damaging societal messaging is on the identity development and self-worth of children. Many assume that children with my body type are immune to the harmful social conditioning the media has on their identity. But trust me when I say this, no one is immune. Please do not assume they are not impacted if they already ‘fit in’ to the standards. When my niece was born my body image awareness practice deepened. I began to make it a priority. Consciously working to shift from awareness to body acceptance.
This part of my journey took center stage when I started a yoga teacher training. Therapy introduced me to self-inquiry, Yoga gave me room to delve even deeper, moving from mind centered awareness to mindbody awareness. Over the course of 4 months and 200 hours of training I took a deep dive into asana practice and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a foundational text in Yoga philosophy which offers a collection of observations and ignites endless avenues for self-inquiry and discussion.
I was introduced to an embodied practice of self-compassion through my Yoga practice; I began to pay attention to where in my body the stories ‘imperfections’ land. I began to look in the mirror more often and allow myself to feel into the visceral reactions that arose. I allowed myself to be with that discomfort and to explore how I can consciously redirect those reactions of discomfort to responses of self-compassion. Yoga allowed me to lean into my awareness of body shaming and energetically shift towards unconditional body acceptance.
I am currently riding the waves of my journey to body acceptance. Day-by-day I practice shedding the layers of conditioning and reconnecting with my truth, letting go of someone else’s version of what my truth should look and feel like. I am at a place where I have moments, sometimes days, of self-sabotaging thoughts around my body. But more importantly, I have days, sometimes weeks, rooted in self-love and compassion. I am able to look in the mirror, naked, and not only see but feel the beauty of my entire being; the powerful, heartbreaking and empowering stories this body has been through. I feel proud, I feel grateful, I feel alive. This is my beautiful. There is calm in my eyes and slow and deep breaths, as a gentle wave of self-love wash over me and bring me to tears.