I’m standing at the bathroom mirror in a lady’s room in the bar, when a couple of girls approach the sink, compacts cocked and ready, high pitched chatter relentlessly filling the air. As I finish washing my hands I hear them start in on the all too typical exchange regarding their bodies. The self-deprecating body conversation was as common place, complaint oriented, and mutually agreed upon exchange as any weather or politics conversations you’d hear. The reinforcement of negativity around certain parts of their bodies and mutual complaints was as tight as a choreographed tap dance. All seemed right with the world to these ladies, having a poke at their “oh so awful bodies, problem areas” as they collectively reinforced their commitments to unfulfilled desire for perfection.
As I stand with my hands under the dryer, I’m reminded of a commitment I made at age 19. I simultaneously feel deep gratitude for that 19 year old’s wherewithal, and strong desire to transfer such resolve over to these ladies. But I shake the rest of the water off my hands, pull the door open, and exit the room.
Rewind several years to me as a college sophomore attending the top dance conservatory BFA program in New York. The putrid hatred of body fat and curves was as prevalent as acne and beer. But I had had a series of awakening moments that year, which led me to do two things. One, was to pack my bags never to return to any institution or organization where it was perfectly acceptable to tell an 18 year old girl whose body/weight index rivaled that of Olympic swimmers: “Why don’t you lose a little weight.” And two, to make an unwavering promise to myself to never speak about my body, neither within my own mind, nor to anyone else with negativity. My promise was: To love this amazing vessel which I’m privileged to drive my soul around in on planet earth for approximately 80 or 90 years, without criticism until the day I’m kicked out of it.
The day I made the commitment to love my body, I did have to go on a diet. It wasn’t a diet of eliminating fats or carbs. It was one for my mind. I had to identify what I valued vs. what values had been programmed in me by (in my case partially the dance world) but also by marketing campaigns. I learned that marketing efforts exemplify some story-line that is always slightly out of reach for most people. In doing this the product always seems to be something that will get us that one step closer to that fantasy. If a person looks up at a billboard, and sees someone who already looks just like them, there’s nothing to fix or change, therefore the product being sold holds no value. Once I understood that my own ideals had been influenced so heavily by someone else’s agenda to make money off of me, I worked hard to vex all that crap from my brain, and created a filter to screen any new visuals coming in. Upon entry through my eyes or ears, any marketing materials are tagged with: “their trying to sell you something.” I had decided that I alone would be master of what I value and hold beautiful, and I never once looked back nor questioned this commitment.
20 years later, the one ingredient that keeps my body, super hot, beautiful, and illustrious, is just one thing, and one thing only: That promise. The promise to Love my body. There is literally not one diet, plan, or exercise routine that will make your body into something beautiful, if you don’t absolutely, unconditionally love it. Conversely, any exercise, or food plan that you attempt out of: anger, frustration, hate or criticism for your current body, will definitely fail to give you a beautiful body. Even if, you get skinnier than Kate Moss circa 1992, it will fail because it’s root intention is to right some kind of wrong. Nature doesn’t wear the accusation of “wrong” too well.
To disavow yourself from the very thing worthy of only gratitude, is in it’s magnified form, a form of self-annihilation. You’re alive! For goddsake. You know how much work it took to get you here? To put together this body? Billions of cells working together at exponential speeds to split and re-split and organize themselves for all kinds of operations that you’re not even aware of. It’s like a 500 person corporation where the CEO communicates only in chemicals. While exercise and food choices made for your body out of love for your body, and a desire to nourish it well, and keep it strong and healthy, are guaranteed to result in unquestionable beauty, those same choices made out of discontentment, or negativity will serve only to cause you ill health and non attractiveness. Case, in point, I won’t want to hang out with you, if you’re going to bash your own beautiful body. It’s boring, trite, and so 1980’s.
Need proof? Next time you’re walking around town, observe the people who pass by who you identify as “beautiful.” Then think about the attributes that you associate with this beauty. Are they words that describe shape and form? Like skinny, long legs, big eyes, full breasts? Okay, if so, now try again. The next day notice all passers by and see if you can identify the following qualities in people: Confidence, joy, grace, radiance.
While you may feel a strong pull to judge others by their shapes (as you might do to yourself) ask yourself genuinely, which of the two groups of women that you identified as beautiful, actually really seem beautiful to you? The first group of shapes and form, or the second of qualities?
Even if you still answer the first, I invite you to explore why. Where did the ideals come from for shape and form measurements? Are they your ideas, or did you get them from sources around you? How did you personally feel when you did the second exercise identifying people’s outward beauty that was rooted in an inner relationship they had with themselves? What was your mood like in doing each of the two different exercises?
One day as we all jumped into a hot tub in my best friend’s backyard, I remember just looking at the way my friend carrying herself, and I asked her: Where did you get your confidence? She answered with a description that was similar to my own story:
“As a teenager, I was a size 16, with a triple D cup, dark skinned girl in a sea of skinny blond California chicks. I just had to decide I was beautiful, and believe it with every fiber of my being. So that’s what I did, I just believed.” Her belief is reality. When my friend walks into a room, she radiates. Her smile comes through her eyes and she laughs with ease. She’s one of the most beautiful women I know.
In addition to that “mental diet” I put myself on back at that crucial juncture, I also had to do something else. I had to identify what I thought was beautiful. I remember specifically thinking about, if I wasn’t in the room and my name came up, what would I want people to say about me? What do I say and feel about the people who I currently look up to in my life? The list came out easily: Kindness, fun, generosity, easy going, confident, intelligent, graceful, playful, healthy, happy.
These became my new solid pillars of my idea of beauty. These were things that when at a party, and wanting to feel beautiful to the opposite sex, I had actual control over. I could relax and be happy, and engage with others, I could carry myself with grace and confidence, I could listen to people and take an interest in them. Now beauty was in my power regardless of what looks I was born with.
The love for my body has led me away from hanging out with people who were committed to relentless self-deprecation, and toward people who share these values. It has led me away from habits that harm me, and toward habits that serve a healthy body and mind. It led to a sixteen year career teaching yoga, which is my version of sharing this concept with those girls in the bathroom (in a setting where people are seeking my opinion). Even as my body has gone through changing weights over the years I never once waivered in my loving commitment. I never shrink or hide my body. I buy clothes that highlight it without flaunting it. And I for the most part, I always feel beautiful.