My Body as Public Property

Yesterday I had lunch with my co-teacher, and I was bitching about the lame pasta salad the cafeteria was offering and he said, “yeah, you’ll probably need something more than that with all your hot yoga,” and I replied with “I know man, I can’t believe it, I’ve lost 30lbs doing hot yoga.” His response shocked me, as he said:

I know. You can tell. Bethany (my friend and co-worker) and I were talking about it the other day. You look good.

There was nothing weird about his statement, though it did catch me off guard. Because I spend a lot of time in my head, I rarely even notice that I have a body. And after 31 years of life as a woman, I have rarely had moments of body image issues (related to weight, because I’ve certainly had insecurities about my height). I don’t hate my body because a) it’s super functional (carrying my brain to and fro is a necessity) and b) it brings me quite a lot of pleasure. It wasn’t until I was pregnant, though, that I really started to notice how my physical body was suddenly on the public stage. Grannies and co-workers and grocery store clerks all had some comment, ranging from “oh, you don’t look pregnant,” to “oh, you’re having a boy,” to any number of other random things. Fortunately nobody touched me, but I for that I blame my 6’1 frame and badass-I-will-cut-you-if-you-come-too-close attitude.

So here I am, a regular practitioner of bikram yoga, 30lbs lighter (yay, I’ve lost the baby weight finally! and actually weighing less than I did at my wedding), and I’m suddenly…doubting myself? Feeling anxious? Feeling uncomfortable in my own skin? Not exactly. Even Boof has noticed, that the regular yoga practice has only increased my confidence level. I feel more in control tune with my body. I feel strong, and flexible, and sexy. And I’m not even focusing on weight.

But.

But.

As someone with an anxiety disorder, I worry. A LOT. And I’m starting to worry about things like:

What if I really like being thin and then I gain weight? And then I start feeling bad about myself for gaining weight? And then I develop an eating disorder?

Yeah, my brain works like that.

But it is an interesting experience suddenly being more in the public eye with how I look. I look back at pictures and I can’t really see much of a difference, though overall 30lbs is quite a lot of weight actually, and think I looked fine before, but definitely feel more fine now. Does that make sense?

 

 

A Yogi Named Mellow

I went to my first evening back-to-work yoga class. I was feeling vulnerable. Tired after a long day of work. Guilty that I had whisked Potamus from daycare and got to only spend 1.5 hours with him in the evening before I left again for my class. But there I was, ten minute early, alternating between savasana and easy sitting pose, when Mellow came in.

There she was, sitting front row. And in the ten minutes before class she was engaging in all sorts of yogi acrobatics. Full splits with head to knee. Full ekapadarajkapotasana (king pigeon) pose. All with a half-smile on her face, and her long hair in one sweet french braid, wearing cheetah panties. Yeah, panties.

I mean, bikram yoga is pretty notorious for the minimal clothing, but I can mostly tell the difference between yoga bottoms, which look like bikini bottoms, and underwear. And she was wearing underwear. Her seductively intimidating warmup, with her six pack abs, and slightly glowing skin, made me feel like a giant slob. And while there are plenty of super-awesomely-in-fit practitioners that I see in every class, it was this attitude oozing from her that was both better-than-and-humbler-than, which made me want to gag.

And so I spent the entire session down on myself. My balance was off in the standing poses. I couldn’t cool myself down during the floor poses. And generally altered between feeling like crying and wanting to punch someone. Maybe it was a test, on pushing through when it’s distracting. Or a giant metaphor about how balancing work-life is the theme of the week when the balancing poses are so hard for me. Because, with hindsight, it wasn’t aboutĀ her, it was about me. I got distracted. And jealous. And down on myself. I focused on things I couldn’t change, and forgot to breathe and be proud that I was there after a long day of work. She’s probably a very lovely person, but I was jealous and annoyed, rather than filled with awe, respect, and a silent congrats that she had gotten to such a limber state.

How do you deal with comparison/jealousy in your physical fitness endeavors?

Zen Pen Invitation

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Last year I had the privilege of meeting in the home of Courtney Putnam, my wonderful massage therapist/reiki practitioner. Not only is she an amazing, healing, bodyworker (is that even a word?), but she is also an amazing artist and writer (and blogger!). All last summer she hosted a weekly “Zen Pen” group, where we met and wrote together. She has this amazing way of guiding, creating prompts, and giving opportunity for writers to get outside of their ‘head’ and write from their body. She says:

What’s different about ZenPen is that it is body-based. What that means is that during the writing process, we will tap into the wisdom of our bodies. Our minds can only get us so far — and sometimes our minds play tricks on us or lead us down roads of self-criticism or limitation. The body holds all the information, wisdom, and experiences we’ve had in our lives. It plays no tricks. It tells us the truth.

And this year Zen Pen is being offered as an e-course! I am excited to being (August 5th) her 6 week series, and am planning on sharing, here, some of the body writing that I create. But, since I love you all dearly, I am inviting you to participate as well! For only $59 for the 6 week Zen Pen E-Course, how could you resist? So, if you’ve been looking for some inspiration in your writing process, and want to get away from that critical voice, then join me in ushering in the fall with a little Zen Pen! Head on over to the e-course description to get a better understanding of what is being offered!!

I have to be honest, I’m both excited and nervous about the discoveries I’ll have in this 6 week course. Last summer I learned so much about myself, my hopes, dreams, and really solidified some truths that I hadn’t been able to grasp with my anxious mind. Can’t wait to start, and hopefully see a bunch of YOU all over on the secret FB group or here in blog-land šŸ™‚

Bread Dough Breathing

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Today was big for me. As much as I’ve crowed about my pretty good body image, even flaunting my adorbz swimsuit in the great Pacific Ocean, I have yet to go to hot yoga in shorts and a sports bra. The room is full of hairy-backed middle aged men, gumby tanned women who have, after class, proudly proclaimed their excitement to go home and eat a salad (true story), and a wide range of others, including a diminutive blonde with amazing dreadlocks and a girl who wore a sweatshirt around her waist the entire workout (wtf?). Almost everyone is stripped down to their bare necessities, but there has been one thing I haven’t seen: pale postpartum belly flab.

I was nervous in the locker room. I had brought a safety tank-top that I could throw on if I needed, but I decided to be tittseyĀ and just GO FOR IT. So, there I was, sweating alongside Sasquatch (seriously) and ashram-goddess-reincarnate. I could see my bare belly in the mirror, but from the distance it looked different than I’ve seen it before. My stretch marks swayed side to side, back and forth, in ardha chandrasana and sweat rolled down.

And, as we were lying in shavasana, the teacher instructed us to belly breathe. And I noticed this image in my mind, of my soft, white, doughy belly rising and falling…like bread dough. In the heat, dough rises, you punch it down, and it rises again. Takes the whole ‘bun-in-the-oven’ metaphor in a different direction. Rising, falling, baking in the warm room. Bread-dough belly breathing.

Bathing Suit Body

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Bathing suit season is upon us. It’s a time that many women dread, as it comes unexpectedly (after a few cold spring months were they vow to do a few more crunches to get ready) and then one day it’s here. But, to be honest, bathing suit season has never really bothered me in the body-image sense. My love of being in the water, of being in a swimsuit to SWIM, that I never paid much attention to any nagging voices that might persuade me that I would not beĀ good enough to wear that swimsuit this year.

But, as I’ve gotten older, and spent more time around women with significant body image issues, I find myself slowly analyzing my body. Post-baby, with 20lbs still lingering on an already-too-big-frame (according to the magical medical science BMI standard), it’s been a little rocky to try and think “hmm, maybe I will stay a size 18, instead of getting back to the 14/16…how would that feel?” and the fear that another baby will make me balloon even more.

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But, I’ve got to be honest. The ocean calls. And my love of being in a swimsuit (I used to own 17…as I was a lifeguard and swim instructor for 5 years!) has outweighed my tiny nagging doubts about my ability to pull of a bathing suit in public. There are blogs and articles talking about mothers not being in the picture, and I think that’s selfish of mothers…get out there, get in the action, even if your slightly bigger saddle-bag thighs are out there in the picture, too. Because, to be honest, I think my 85% adventurous spirit is outweighing the 15% of nagging body fears, and nobody really gives a damn about it, but me. Right? I mean, I’ve never gotten a negative comment about “flaunting” my white fleshy legs out in public…

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So here I am, soaking up the sunshine on the Oregon Coast, spending a good twenty minutes out in the water wave jumping by myself. My body felt strong, not perfect, but able to carry myself out into the water and I had the biggest smile on my face ever. And, even when I realized that I would have to walk back to the campsite in my bathing suit, sans towel (Potamus stole that towel, little bugger), I was okay. Because so what if people notice my bigger-than-normal white thighs…I mean…they need to tan sometimes, ammiright?

So, are you going to rock your bathing suit body this summer season?

I’m Beautiful

Yesterday I read an amazing powerful post over on Offbeat Mama, entitled “I’ve started telling my daughters I’m beautiful.” What struck me about this article was how strikingly beautiful the words were on the page and how they fit perfectly with the subject matter of the post. Not every author can have that magically difficult combination. The words are so powerful that I want to quote them,but have difficulty chopping the writing down into those bite size pieces to try and hand out. Much like beauty itself, this piece needs to be taken in one sweeping gaze, so I’m going to quote it all, here, and then respond:

I’ve started telling my girls that I think I’m beautiful. It’s been so easy to tell them how beautiful THEY are, because it’s obvious. They are the thing beauty is made of. They are the reason we started worshipping beauty. They sparkle and dance. When they’re sleeping, they turn into soft cloud babies, little perfect tufts of white on the moonlight.

There are a lot of people like me. Women who know things. Women who have seen things. Women with diseases in their livers. There are a lot of women with scars on their arms and words that carry themselves like sparrows. There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down.

There are a lot of people like me, because we’re all the same. We’re all blood and electricity. We’re lonely under the gaze of god. We’re all wet with dew and swallowing hard against DO THIS, CONSUME, SHUT UP and BE AFRAID to die.

All of you women with lines on your brow, with cracks between your fingersā€¦ it’s been a long winter. All of you, you are beautiful and so am I.

The thing is, my children are perfect. I am the grown up, so I’m supposed to show them everything about life. When they wake up in the morning, though, I stare at them and they’re new. They teach me everything. They are babies and they teach me what it means to be a person. It’s easy to see that they’re beautiful.

I am slow and I am tired. I am round and sagging. I am harried. I am sexless. I am getting older.

I am beautiful. How can this be? How can any of this be true?

I don’t want my girls to be children who are perfect and then, when they start to feel like women, they remember how I thought of myself as ugly and so they will be ugly too. They will get older and their breasts will lose their shape and they will hate their bodies, because that’s what women do. That’s what mommy did. I want them to become women who remember me modeling impossible beauty. Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don’t know what to make of ourselves.

“Look at me, girls!” I say to them. “Look at how beautiful I am. I feel really beautiful, today.”

I see it behind their eyes, the calculating and impression. I see it behind their shining brown eyes, how glad they are that I believe I am beautiful. They love me. To them, I am love and guidance and warm, soft blankets and early mornings. They have never doubted how wonderful I am. They have never doubted my beauty. How confusing it must have been for them to see me furrowing my brow in the mirror and sucking in my stomach and sighing.

How confusing it must have been to have me say to them, “You think I am beautiful, but you are wrong. You are small and you love me, so you’re not smart enough to know how unattractive I am. I know I am ugly because I see myself with mean eyes. You are my child and I love you, but I will not allow myself to be pretty, for you. No matter how shining you are when you watch me brushing my hair and pulling my dress over my head. No matter how much you want to be just like me, I can’t be beautiful for you and I don’t know why.”

It’s working, a little bit. I’ve even stopped hating myself, a little bit.

I’ll be what they see. They see me through eyes of love. I’d do anything for them, even this.

I am beautiful.

by Amanda at http://www.lastmomonearth.com

I am struck by this whole piece for many different reasons. I mostly think of my mom, who wanders through my memories without makeup and with a quiet confidence that I sometimes think, now, bordered on obliviousness to looks. She was gorgeous, tiny, dark hair, and olive skin that didn’t need foundation or blush or blemish covers. While thin and much smaller than me, she was never a dieter or someone who was concerned about weight. And her confidence passed on to me. I guess there was concern when I was a child that I was growing too fast and was too thin, but for all the stress and subtle messaging I received about other areas of life, being self-conscious about my looks was never one of them. While I never thought of myself as “beautiful,” I certainly did not think I was ugly. And even now, with stretch marks and extra poundage, I still do not see myself as ugly.

And yet, recently, I was surprised to see, when I took a cell-phone picture, how much like MamaE I seemed, which made me take a step back and evaluate my own relationship to familial beauty. The family I grew up with looks nothing like me, with their dark hair and olive skin. And the mother I do look like has been ravaged by meth and alcohol and Joe Camel. How can I see myself as beautiful, when my face is turning into hers?

I was perplexed by my emotion in relation to Potamus as I read this, as it is geared towards mothers of girl-children. But it makes me think about his view of women, and what he will see as he looks at me and then looks around at women he encounters. If he ends up in a relationship with a woman, what will his expectation of her be in relationship to beauty and body? And I think of Boof and his relationship to me, how it has been influenced by his own mother, and sisters. And how my own relationship to myself has been influenced by those women, too, and for all the love I have for them, I have also noticed a sense of comparison and bonding over body image or dieting that I did not have before they entered into my life.

I am still beautiful, even if I struggle sometimes.

Body Image

With my smart phone glued to my fingers, especially during nighttime nursing, I have noticed myself compulsively reading new mom forums. Some of the posts or questions I find humorous or insightful, but others I find downright annoying. I am especially annoyed by young twigs who whine about their post-partum body.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really want to be 250 during my pregnancy, for even at 6’1 that felt quite heavy and WELL over what my normal heaviest was. And despite the fact that I only lost a quick 25 and am would love to weigh less because it feels so much better, overall I am not condemning my body for the metamorphosis it went through to make me a mother.

Overall, I have always seen my body as rather functional and not something to hate, so when I read breastfeeding mama’s refer to their “gumball pink” or “floppy skinny” nipples disparagingly, I get annoyed…and then actually feel sad that is their perspective. When they complain about stretch marks I wonder why, as I had a growth spurt in HS and have always loved to touch my fading stretch marks on my love handles because it is a reminder that I grew from a child into a woman. Perhaps I am a unique woman in this way, that very rarely have I had any body image issues, least of all now postpartum. Of course I am not perfect and think it would be nice to have skinner jeans or perkier breasts, but overall I feel good inside my skin. My legs are strong to carry me. My hips wide enough to birth a child. My breasts full of life-sustaining milk for Potamus. It’s all beautiful, really…