How do we really get comfortable with our bodies?
The body image problem persists. And persists. And persists.
I came across this great opinion piece in the NYTimes last Sunday. Entitled “I Went Shirtless. You Can Too.”, this amusing and home-hitting article by Jen Spyra (a writer for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert) took me straight to my own experience with this subject.
Spyra tells a wonderful tale about forgetting her t-shirt one fateful day when at her yoga class. Forced to choose between skipping class and going without her “cotton shame tube”, Spyra decides that she could, for just one class, be a Bra Girl. Bra Girls, she says, have a tummy that while “appearing to be human flesh, is actually oiled rawhide stretched over laser-cut obsidian”. Once she decides to go for it, she
“opened the door and stepped into the hallway. It felt like walking into a mosque in light-up nipple tassels. I was sure a siren would sound to alert the Bra Girls that I had breached the perimeter, whereupon a mob would drag me out by my belly fat, or at the very least, a beautiful yoga teacher would take me aside and just gently say, “No.”
Sprya goes on to conclude that a) you too can become a Bra Girl with the help of the popular high-wasted tights, and b) that Bra Girl is really just a state of mind. Something you can adopt any time – with or without a shirt on.
I love this idea. But it also makes me think: What does it take to really get over our body image issues?
I’m a long-time practitioner of heated yoga and can honestly say that even on my thinnest days, I have never felt comfortable practicing without a tank top over my jog bra. I remember discussing my “weight-loss goals” with a consultant once and telling her that I would know I had succeeded if I could practice without a shirt. My belief was that if I could just get thin enough, I wouldn’t feel insecure about my body.
Of course, that is the exact mistake we all make. We believe that if we like the image in the mirror, we’ll eliminate the shame in our minds. In this video, Katie Willcox, founder and CEO of Natural Model Management, talks about how she hoped to change the way young women thought about their bodies by creating a plus-sized modeling agency. As she acknowledges, all that happened was that the young women wanted to be models.
Willcox points out that the problem is much deeper than the size of the models in our media. The problem is that girls and women have been socialized for decades – centuries – to believe that their value comes exclusively from their appearance and fame gained for their appearance, when the truth is: my body insecurity – and yours – is completely unrelated to weight or fitness.
There are many suggestions about how to deal with body image issues. And most of those approaches (talk therapy, movement therapy, practicing self-acceptance, among many others) are helpful at some stage in the journey.
But I believe that the most critical step is one that has to come first: recognizing the distinction between “fact” and “story”. In order to move beyond our dislike for our bodies, we first have to get very clear that there is a difference between the fact: “my body is shaped this way”; and the story: “my thighs are huge.” One is a fact without judgment. The other is pure judgment. It’s not until you can truly see the judgment for what it is, that you can begin to find a way to change it.
This sounds simple and obvious. And intellectually, it is. You can “get” that your body’s shape is what it is. You can also “get” that you have a story that you’ve created about the shape of your body – and that that story might be positive (rarely for many people), or negative. What’s challenging is taking the emotion out of it. And learning to neutralize the story, until you are only left with what is: the shape of your body.
Practicing meditation is a fantastic step in the right direction to separate fact and story. In meditation, we practice training the mind to let go of its natural tendency to jump from thought to thought, emotion to emotion. And in the process we can begin to see where we are living in the emotion of a story in much of our lives. If body image is a challenge for you, I definitely agree with Jen Spyra that you should go for it one day – and just be a Bra Girl (or Guy) — no shirt! See how it feels. Try to live for one brief moment in the “esprit” of the Bra Girl. It can be eye-opening. And I would highly recommend exploring meditation as a way to begin to truly separate, and then step out of, the emotional stories you live in each day. ~Melissa