22 Jan 2016

Why I Talk About Body Image

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11709626_10153199398183138_9036401742570056310_n“I’m not really clear on what you’re doing here. You’re just posting pictures of yourself doing yoga with no shirt on?”

“All I see is a woman with a great body showing off yoga poses and claiming it has something to do with body image.”

“What do you have to worry about? Leave the body image talk to people who actually struggle with their bodies.”

When I started my hashtag #noshirtnoshoesnoshame–which encourages yogis of all shapes and sizes to bare their bellies in yoga poses to promote body acceptance–I was nervous. I made the conscious choice to expose my body in a way I never had before. For the most part, I received positive and supportive comments. But–unsurprisingly, given the inherent negativity found in online comments sections–I also heard a small but persistent chorus of people asking, “What do you have to worry about?”

I get it. I’m a “skinny” girl. (Sort of. More about that later.) I have a handful of toned muscles and can fill out a pair of jeans pretty well. Most people would look at me and say that I’m close in size to the cultural ideal. I look fit and healthy and, by most measures, attractive.

And I still struggle with body image. And, despite comment sections that might want me to keep my mouth shut, I’m going to talk about it.

I’m going to talk about it because it’s my truth; I fought hard to overcome a decade-long eating disorder, and fighting lingering body image issues is how I choose to stay healthy. I’m going to talk about it because it’s a feminist issue; body image struggles are a reflection of how women are represented in the media and treated in public spaces. And I’m going to talk about it because I want to create safe spaces where other women–of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds–can talk about their struggles, too.

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Let me pause here and recognize my own privilege. I fully acknowledge that I benefit from thin 12321468_10153480807243138_2721759735707720528_nprivilege. I can walk into almost any mainstream store in the country and find clothes in my size. I don’t have to worry about fitting into seats in public venues or, worse yet, being shamed for needing a larger-sized chair. People are less likely to comment on the amount of food on my plate than my larger sisters (although that does happen sometimes). I also benefit from the “halo effect,” in which people unconsciously assign positive character traits–such as intelligence, kindness, and work ethic–to others they perceive to be attractive.

In most brands, I’m size 4/6. I hover between a Small and a Medium, depending on where I shop. I’m pretty evenly proportioned. My stomach (historically my “problem” area) is relatively flat and even has a little muscle definition at this point in my life.

But my body is far from perfect. I have cellulite. Everywhere. My thighs, my butt, my upper arms. I tend toward softness, making tone hard to come by, even for this exercise junkie. My muscle mass builds up in loose bundles, which makes me look bulky and solid.

And I’m far from immune to body comments. As a yoga teacher, my body is very public. People often comment on my size or parts of my body or how I look in clothes. Even when these comments are intended as favorable, they still make me self-conscious and remind me that women can never get away from scrutiny. Members of my own yoga community have gone out of their way to comment when I’ve gained weight or to compare my size or shape to another yoga teacher. While I may have “nothing to worry about” according to some, others want to make sure that I do worry about whatever perceived imperfections I may have.

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All women–no matter their size or shape–are told they aren’t good enough. Thin women can never be thin enough… to a point. And then suddenly they’re “too thin,” “anorexic,” and “disgusting”. If you happen to hit the magical right size, then your boobs or your butt are too small. Or your skin tone isn’t right. Or your nose is weird.

Or worse yet, you’re told you “have nothing to worry about” and are shut out of the body image conversation all together.

This is the most damaging thing you can say to anyone trying to share their own story, regardless of the details. This renders the person sharing invisible. It minimizes and de-legitimizes a struggle that reflects very real, very persistent problems in society’s relationship with women.

11393227_10153061536028138_4382772877596781767_nLet’s stop telling women that they don’t have a right to feel the way they feel.

Cultural body ideals are based on a variety of different opinions about what looks most attractive. Big butt, small butt, skinny, curves, muscles, no muscles. Because opinions vary widely, women end up ping-ponging between different representations of ideal and are left exhausted and discouraged, realizing that we’ll never be good enough, no matter what we do. Not a single one of us are immune from cultural scrutiny and “not good enough” messages. We’re all affected. All day, every day.

 

I talk about body image because I want to create a world in which all women are considered good enough. And I want to bring my sisters with me.

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