Learning to Love...Myself
As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch in my pajamas, arms sore from a fast-paced yoga workout this morning; legs sore from physical therapy exercises to get my knee back in running form.
What happened to my knee? I ran too hard, I guess. Busted something up. Either way, now I can’t run, can’t go to a spin class – y’all I can’t even do a god damn squat without flinching right now.
My first physical therapy appointment, my doctor moved my leg around a bunch and told me I had to take it easy and rebuild the strength in my thigh. No spinning, definitely no running, absolutely no squats.
“What am I supposed to do then?” I asked, voice cracking slightly.
My PT looked a little perplexed. She had given me exercises to do to start strengthening the muscles around my knee, and said I could keep doing yoga as long as it didn’t hurt. What else did I want?
“I’m just . . . I’m dealing with body image issues, and if I don’t work out, I feel like shit.”
That was three weeks ago. And it’s still true. In fact, it’s been true for most of my adult life, since I graduated from college and finally took responsibility for my health. Since then, I’ve tried a host of physical activities, from running to Jillian Michaels DVDs to barre and yoga. As much as I loved barre, I couldn’t get past the fact that when I was in the studio, I was standing next to a mirror. The mirror was supposed to help us check our form, to make sure we were doing the moves correctly; but it was really just a way to watch ourselves workout. To stare at ourselves – and let’s be honest, at everyone else – while we sweated it out for 55 minutes of utter torture, all in the name of the bikini body we all desperately wanted.
After a year or so of weekly classes, I stopped going. I couldn’t deal with the mirrors, with the constant seeking of perfection. I hated that I compared myself to other women in my classes. I kind of hated myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved how strong I felt during those classes. I’m a sucker for a good hour-long workout. But it wasn’t the workout that was getting me down. It was the feeling I got before class, that I wasn’t the right fit for the studio. I didn’t fit their image of the barre girl. (Bar girl, on the other hand . . .)
Since leaving the barre studio, I’ve found myself doing yoga every day. It helps me wake up in the morning (I wake up feeling like my creaky wooden floor), and it takes my mind off other things when I’m trying desperately to balance on one leg and breathe and tuck my tailbone. I’ve changed the way I eat, too. That’s been a whole other ride, of strict Paleo eating to going hog wild, and trying to find the balance in all of it.
And I guess that’s what this post is about, in the end. Balance.
It’s March now, and the weather is starting to warm up. Here in Boston, it was 70 degrees on the second Wednesday of the month, really a record for this time of year. Everyone broke out their summer clothes, like you do.
Time to shed the winter weight and get ready for the summer. Right?
Or maybe not?
Winter, especially in New England, usually means winter weight. I am 100% on board with the idea of eating everything delicious and soothing and homey during the winter. It’s a terrible season and if a giant bowl of baked macaroni and cheese helps me forget that my feet are still numb from being outside five hours ago, then I’m fine with it. Also, holiday treats. Mmmh. Yes, please.
But when the snow (or lack thereof) melts and the mercury creeps into the 50s, the thoughts of shedding the winter weight start to creep in. I see so many people out running (man am I jealous of them), training for their first 5k or for the marathon. The gyms and fitness studios are packed. The first month of the new year brings hundreds of resolution-makers to the mat, to the weights, determined to be more on the ball with their weight loss goals. And most of them stop showing up after about a month.
Did you notice how many Weight Watchers ads started cropping up around New Years? Just as you were finishing the leftover pumpkin pie, another Planet Fitness ad made sure you had second thoughts. Did you enjoy all the delicious food your family made this holiday season? That’s great, now get your ass to the gym.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Talk about imbalance.
I’m part of a private group on Facebook that has come together around a yoga channel. We share our successes as our practices grow, our frustrations, our challenges, our emotions.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts talking about body image issues. About people not being able to embrace themselves.
I know exactly how my fellow yogis feel.
When I told my physical therapist that I’m the kind of person that feels like shit when she doesn’t work out, I had to hold back tears. I choked, and I think she saw that I was upset that I wasn’t able to do something that kept my weight in check. I quickly tried to invalidate my own feelings my saying, “Ha sorry I know it’s kinda lame”, but it isn’t. It’s being honest with myself. With my physician. Someone who just wants to help.
Yesterday I saw a post from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls on Facebook. It was an illustration of a woman looking in the mirror, hugging her reflection. Loving herself.
I took it to heart.
So often we allow ourselves to be defined by things that have little bearing on how the world sees and values us. My weight and (vanity) size have nothing to do with how well I do my job, how much I love my partner or my family, how badly I want to graduate. They have no value to my friends, who love me because of who I am as a person.
Back to March. Back to the spring thaw, spring fever, the need to shake off winter and embrace the sunshine. But what about embracing ourselves? What about saying one nice thing about ourselves every morning; taking a few moments over coffee or tea to remember how strong you are, physically and mentally?
I have been challenging myself recently to be less critical of myself. To be ok with not lifting weights every day. With saying its ok to just do your leg strengthening exercises and give your body a break.
To accept my body, the way it is, today.
I’m currently writing my thesis, about museum collections, and a quote I have scrawled in my notes keeps coming to mind. “Collections are not static; they are dynamic organisms.”
It resonates with me because bodies, and people, are not static. They are dynamic. They change, always in flux, never in stasis. Always evolving, adapting.
I want to embrace my reflection and tell it “I love you.”
I challenge you, today, to take a moment to tell your reflection how much you love it. To embrace the freckles, the scars, the stretch marks. By all means, work hard to get the rockin’ bod you’ve always wanted. I know I love feeling my biceps and my quads, all flexed and strong. But don’t let that define you. Don’t let those preconceived notions of what a “rockin’ bod” should be distract you from loving yourself for who you are, in the present moment.
Breathe in, breathe out, I love you.
Now get out there and kick some ass.