Last weekend, I attended The Body Positive training in Berkeley, CA. It was a reflective and inspirational couple of days, to say the least, and I needed some time to let things marinate before I could write about my experience. I met the most beautiful people and learned so much about myself and my own body image journey. It was emotional at times. Let’s face it, dealing with self-love and our perceptions of our own beauty is often a little jarring. It was important work for me to do if I am going to help people stop suffering and wasting precious time trying to fit into the warped sense of beauty that exists in our society. I’d like to talk a little bit about why I did this training, my own body image story and what my hopes are for doing this work in the world.
I developed an eating disorder when I was in my twenties. It started off pretty innocent. Growing up, I thought I was a little bigger than I should be and started losing weight the summer after my freshman year of college. It was a stressful time, transitioning from the life I knew in my small high school town to my new life as a college student in the big city. I started running and watching what I was eating. I worked part-time at a gym. When I went back to school after that summer, everyone told me that I looked so much better than I did before. I remember thinking, yikes…what did I look like before? What happens if I stop doing all of this? I was scared of “going back to the way I was” so for the next several years, I was completely preoccupied with losing weight, running as much as I could (hopefully away from my problems) and eating as little as I could while still pulling off good grades and a sense that I had it together.
Whatever lifestyle I created for myself in college was not sustainable in the real world. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t keep my weight down as low as I wanted to and I was deprived. Deprived from not having dessert for two years (maybe more) so I would inevitably fall off my diet and spend hours on the treadmill trying to run it off. I engaged in unhealthy behaviors to stay thin which resulted in shame and guilt. I was never enough and I couldn’t do anything right.
My mom is my main source of inspiration for improving my health and body image. I was 25 when she died. My mom was the most beautiful, wonderful, selfless and genuine woman I have ever known and I am so grateful that the universe chose her for me and me for her. She left this world much too soon and if nothing else, her passing taught me that life is meant to be lived and the only way to truly live is to cultivate love. This love is built within ourselves so it can spread as far as our eyes can see and our hearts can feel. Love is not a privilege. It is the nature of our souls. As John O’Donahue so beautifully articulates in Anam Cara, “the soul needs love as urgently as the body needs air.” As a side note, if you haven’t read Anam Cara, you should.
The last nine years have led me on a very non-linear path towards self-love and a commitment to being a part of ending the suffering that is body image dysmorphia and disordered eating. I believe that it is important to address improving body image across the lifespan. The attitudes that we have about our bodies are not exclusive to us. They directly affect those around us, especially children who are just beginning to cultivate their own self-image and self-love. I will be offering The Body Positive curriculum at middle schools, high schools and colleges here in Southern California and incorporating the core competencies of the model (Reclaiming Health, Practicing Intuitive Self-Care, Cultivating Self-Love, Declaring Your Own Authentic Beauty and Building Community) into my work as a vinyasa, prenatal and postnatal yoga instructor. I’m just getting off the ground here, so I welcome any thoughts you may have about where you think this work is needed and how to reach as many people as possible and create positive change. We all have a personal story related to body image and beauty and I hope that sharing mine has inspired you to share your own. I’d love to hear your stories as I devote myself to this important work and changing the conversation surrounding the definition of beauty.
Last weekend, the incredible and inspirational founders of The Body Positive, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott, asked us to share our beauty with the group. My beauty is my hands that are exactly like my mom’s. I remember her hands so vividly as they cared for me when I was a child, picked me up whenever I fell down and mixed the chocolate chip cookie dough on Christmas Eve. They are with me as I shake the hand of a new friend, hug my husband, cook delicious food for my loved ones and adjust the bodies of my yoga students and keep them safe in their postures. My hands are my beauty.
What is your beauty?
P.S. You’re beautiful.
For more information on The Body Positive and the movement towards helping people make peace with their bodies and lives, please visit http://www.thebodypositive.org/.