Illustration: dcatcherx ; )
Curvy Yoga Consciousness
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST ANNA GUEST-JELLEY
One of the awkward things about writing is having people you know read it. You know, those folks you usually refer to as friends, coworkers or even (horror of horrors!) family. Yes, my family reads what I write (even, probably, this).
I mean, what could be worse than a conversation that goes a little something like this:
Family Member A I really like your blog! It’s great!
Me (Foolishly.) Thank you! How sweet!
Family Member A You know, I’ve struggled with body image issues, too. I just never really know what to do about it, you know? Got any great ideas? (Hopeful laugh fades into shrug.)
Me [Imagine a short video of me looking into the distance, pretending to be thinking, while having a mini-meltdown.]
You mean people – people I know – want to talk about this? Not in platitudes? Like, for real?
From inner voice to interaction
You see, I used to think that just not fat talking would free me from negative body talk, but now I’m not so sure. It’s one thing to take certain sayings out of your language; it’s something else entirely to have authentic conversations about it with people in your daily life – and invite them to meet you there.
Whether I like it or not (mostly not), though, this is where it’s at. It’s uncomfortable conversations with your mom, best friend, second cousin, yoga friend you just met, and neighbor down the street.
You know it, too, don’t you?
And now? Now we have to figure out what’s next. When I say these conversations are awkward, I mean we’re not socialized to have them. In my experience, we’re more often taught to view the body as “other” than “us.” By making it an “other,” it’s easier to subject it to critique – and weather others’. So when the reality of putting body positivity into concrete language with our peeps hits, nervousness and uncertainty have a way of popping up. Because the problem isn’t only what to say, but also how.
Putting words together in a positive way
And this is where we can look to guidance from others who have charted a similar path of connecting how we talk with our values. Nonviolent Communication (NVC), as framed by Marshall Rosenberg in wonderful books such as Speak Peace In a World of Conflict: What You Say Next Will Change Your World, is a form of empathic communication that is an excellent model to consider. It’s not so much about deleting things from your language but rather restructuring what you do say.
The lovely yogini Judith Hanson Lasater and her husband, Ike K. Lasater, have a great take on this in their incredible book What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication (informed by Rosenberg’s work). They boldly and aptly claim that “what we say matters–that is, when we speak, we change the world.”
I see people who try to change the way they talk about their body tend toward one of two extremes. The first (and my preferred method) is silence or a change of subject. For example, if a friend shares that she’s feeling guilty about the cupcake she just ate, I don’t want to shut her down.
I also don’t want to commiserate. So sometimes silence feels like the best option (and sometimes it may well be), but it isn’t opening any further opportunities for conversations, either. And since many of us have been taught to bond over body commiseration, it can even come across as out-of-touch or rude.
Body image police
The other thing I’ve seen people do is whip out their Body Image Police badge (not literally, but there’s a first time for everything!). The BIP are there to give you immediate feedback: “Actually, cupcakes are good, and you shouldn’t feel bad about eating them. You should let yourself enjoy life more and not worry about what you eat.”
While well-intentioned, this also isn’t a welcoming entryway to a conversation. It may leave the person feeling less bad about what they ate–but only in exchange for feeling worse about how joyless and sad their lives are (which, of course, isn’t true–and certainly can’t be judged on eating or not eating a cupcake).
Although I don’t think the NVC model can be lifted up and placed over our desire for body positive talk, I do think it’s evocative of a middle way that focuses on cultivating inner awareness. I’d say the same is true for thinking about how to talk about issues related to our bodies and body image–for getting down to the brass tacks of it.
Get to know what you think
Step One is to just check in with yourself. In the scenario above with my family member, my initial reaction was to think of how quickly I could fake an injury or illness to get out of the conversation. My second was to see that this person was asking me for something, and I had to figure out how I wanted to answer that invitation. This looks like seeing how I’m feeling about this situation: my relationship to this person, where I am with my ideas and feelings in this moment, etc. It’s also doing some work ahead of time to think about how I want to show up for these conversations in general.
Step Two is to acknowledge what you’re willing to share. This sounds time-consuming, but you can do it quickly–especially with practice (something with which we’re intimately familiar as yogis!).
Many factors will affect your decision, including those listed in Step One. For example, in this scenario, I’d want to think about how comfortable I am being transparent with this person (and to what extent). Other possible factors include what I’ll think if they share this information with others, how much I really want to get into it that day, what I’m doing next and when, what color toenail polish I have on, etc. (Okay, probably not really on that last one, but you know what I mean–this is an individual process, so if your toenail polish color affects it, go with it.)
Simplicity can open the way for solidarity
Step Three is wading in.
This is far from an exact science. And if it sounds simple, that’s because it is – at least in terms of structure. What’s not simple about it is that it’s often in direct contrast to how we’re taught to talk about our bodies, which usually includes any number of vague descriptions and cliches infused with self-doubt and loathing.
What we’re talking about is just gettin’ in there and seeing what happens in a way that feels safe and appropriate. Sprinklin’ some curvy lovin’ into your convos and seeing what shakes out. The simplicity belies something pretty radical when you think about it (and especially when you try it) – it builds solidarity and has the potential to help us in our own lives, relationships and even communities.
That’s something I think is worth going out on an awkward limb for.
Anna Guest-Jelley is an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night, and a puppies’ mama all the time. She is making her way through life with joy, curves and all. Visit her at her website Curvy Yoga and on Facebook and Twitter.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.