Photo: CC, Skatebro.
Curvy Yoga Consciousness
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST ANNA GUEST-JELLEY
Sometimes when I’m around my family, they want to break out the old photos. You know what I mean, right? Trip down nostalgia lane. Like the time my younger sister snuck 3-D pig earrings (not joking!) in her backpack for her elementary school picture.
To her utmost surprise, those kinds of secrets are hard to keep–especially when the yearbook photo proofs are sent home. But you should see her smile: beaming with pride at her gorgeous earrings.
While I generally find these experiences fun (sans looking back at some pictures of my bangs. Oh my, were those high!), one thing always stands out to me more than anything else.
I don’t look anything like I thought I did.
Internalizing body image
In all those occasions I mentioned – especially, say, every year but the last few – I always felt fat. And before you get on me, yes; I know that fat is not a feeling. So to be more specific, I felt ashamed of my body. And I had no idea how it looked compared to others’ – not in terms of the more subjective aspect of beauty, but in the more concrete realm of size.
When I look back at these old photos, I am always shocked. 99.9% of the time I looked significantly smaller than I remembered. This isn’t to say I always looked “small” (whatever that means), but that I looked different than I felt. The more removed I become from those moments in time, too, the more true that becomes.
Picture from last week? Almost unbearable (although I’m getting better about that). Picture from ten years ago? Adore.
What you can’t feel is what you can’t see
I believe that one of the reasons my image of myself and the reality of my body are finally starting to converge is because I actually, actively connect with my body. (Whoa!) This is something I never used to do. In fact, I avoided it at almost all costs. Mirrors were worthless – they told me nothing. At least nothing I could trust.
So instead, I trusted this job to my sister. She’s my confidante – the only person I could ever trust with the depths (or at least closer) of my body loathing. When she and I were out somewhere and I was feeling especially open, I would whisper to her: “Am I as big as that person? What about that one over there? Is she my size?”
I realize how terrible this sounds, but it wasn’t only (or even primarily) about reassuring myself that I looked “better” than someone else. It was about trying to grip onto reality.
While this was about obtaining some concrete (at least in my mind at the time) data, it was also obviously rooted in my anxiety about my body. There’s an undertone of reassurance here that I now find disconcerting – ”I don’t look that fat, do I?” I was always relieved when my sister said no. (But come to think of it, I don’t think she ever said yes.)
My oracle, my sister
What I find most interesting about this story now is how clearly rooted in subjectivity it is on so many levels. We all have different perspectives and motives operating at any given time. I asked my sister for the “truth,” but she may have (aka probably did) interpreted this to mean the truth I wanted to hear.
In addition, who knows how well any of us can assess our own bodies or others’ from anything but a biased (not necessarily in a bad way) perspective informed by our own experience. The truth that stands out to me today is that the most I could handle at that time were the gentle affirmations from my sister that I was okay. I was enough–just as I was.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown writes:
Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are. Wholeheartedness is as much about embracing our tenderness and vulnerability as it is about developing knowledge and claiming power.
As much as I wish I could have come to yoga, self acceptance and intuitive eating earlier in my life, I see that – in many ways, I did. I just did it the only way I knew how at the time – blazing through a yoga practice, totally tuned out; catching fleeting moments of realization in photos; and connecting with my oracle, my sister.
Although these aren’t the glamorous and dramatic milestones I might hope for, I know I have to claim them as part of my process.
Responsible to ourselves
I’m sure that many of us can probably relate to this in one way or another – thinking we’re bigger/smaller, taller/shorter, stronger/weaker, more/less in need of glasses (I’m so in denial on this one!), more/less flexible than we imagine. For a long time, I felt like these discoveries just happened to me – like there was no other way for me to gather info about myself except via surprise.
As I’m sure you can imagine, while the element of surprise is interesting, it’s not the most productive (or timely!) approach. Instead, I wonder how we can create opportunities for leading this exploration ourselves. After all, it is of ourselves, so it kind of only makes sense.
Because when I’m looking back in ten years on photos of my life now – I want to remember, and feel in my bones – exactly what it felt like to be there, in my body, in that moment.
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.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.