They called Kino “thunder thighs.” I called myself “deformed.”
What did they call you? What do you call you? Wait, I don’t want to know.
I already know you have a story because I have one too; yes, it resides here in these petite white woman inches of me. Having such a story goes with the territory of growing up female in this culture. But let me spare you the gory, easily glamorized “rubberneck at the traffic accident” details that we love to devour. Suffice it to say that while I never dove down the eating disorder rabbit hole, I was brainwashed into a disordered perception of my body for most of my life from age early teens through my almost where I am now-ies. Oh no, it began way earlier: I hated my body before I even possessed it. Once in possession, I called myself “deformed” because I had hips that dared to make their presence obvious. In short, I was battered, dipped and fried in the same thin-tiny-ass-with-a-side-of-boobs, laud the weight loss, ridicule the subversive curves heritage that you were.
I’m not going to write a revelatory “I was obsessed with hating my body once” story today because why be redundant? This story has already been told. A lot:
A runner confesses to hating her thighs; a friend from Colorado writes of surviving both self-starvation and bulimia—oh, and then there are all the friends both real and virtual who reveal body image miseries, ranging from a new mom to a yoga teacher to a successful and smart professional to a business owner to a grandma.
I’m wearied of this endless loop of body-hating conversation. I’ve had enough of f—d up functioning in this wasteland of disorder-survivors, active in-the-trenches sufferers and flippant self-denigration relishers. I’m sick of teaching yoga classes only to hear women dissecting themselves and reporting on their body weight from two decades after they’ve just come down from standing on their heads. But really, I’m over this society that periodically gives lip service to body image issues — cue John Oliver’s Miss America rant (is it really a surprise that in 2014 the claimed number one provider of scholarships for women doles those funds out based on the scoring of a girl’s ass in a swimsuit), Yoga Journal (can you blame them for the body shaming issue, really, when the “how to hide your thin-tiny-ass-with-a-side-of-boobs-defying actual body” has been the bread and butter of ever other magazine?), Stella McCartney backlash over a skinny model-o-gram (wait, is the notion of a skinny model really a surprise?) — only to do nothing but leave the world exactly as it was before, leaving my daughter, your daughters, your sisters your wives, your unborn children—not to mention their male counterparts — at the mercy of this tragic and wasteful insanity for lifetimes to come.
Please, I’m not being dismissive. Your stories are important. My story is important. But can we please, please, stop for a moment and ask why we hear this story so much?
They called Kino thunder thighs, I called myself deformed, and I bet you call or called yourself any number of negative things about as often as you floss your teeth, or more –
It’s possible. After all, I did. I changed the way I spoke to myself in my head, I changed the way I spoke to others, I changed the way I see the world. I no longer call myself deformed. Hell, I wouldn’t change my body for anything. This development was a long time coming. Here’s how I did it (but let me be clear that I am talking about negative body image culture– NOTHING I am offering here is a substitute for medical help for those suffering from an eating disorder or severe image disorder.):
1. I threw away my scale. I don’t know what I weigh. But I can tell you what I weighed every year of my life from the sixth grade through my late twenties. For the past six years or so, though, I couldn’t tell you. When I go to the doctor, I instruct the physician not to tell me. I turn away from the scale. An ex-dancer and body image distortionist who always used to know her weight, I do not need that numerical trigger. Really, who the f—k cares what you weigh?
2. I stopped consuming poison. Oh, I’m not talking food. I’m talking magazines, television, and even people. As a child I was taught to hate the adult body I would inevitably attain. Everyone told me something would be wrong if I developed hips; everyone told me that the way to be was tall and lean. When I say “everyone” I mean the television ads and TV shows, news media and social commentary, my toys (Barbie, anyone?), my ballet teacher, not to mention one of my least-favorite ex-boyfriends (“you could afford to lose a little weight in your hip area”).
It’s unfortunate that these messages — wait, did I say message? “Message” sounds so soft, so innocuous, so sweet; just a little “ping” on your phone. No: I’m referring to a tsunami of information that crushed the world around it, giving the measly, mealy slice of “reality” left behind and thus visible the appearance of being fixed and finite. That shitty reality lauded the skinny and slim-hipped and punished anything other. It still does.
It wasn’t fair to grow up trapped in this wreckage when the genetic likelihood, even as a very skinny and tallish child, was that I would become a petite, curvy-hipped adult. So from the time these strange appendages on my hips morphed my body into something closer to its current iteration, I detested myself. After all, that is what I had been taught to do.
In my late twenties I began re-writing the curriculum.
Then In 2009 I began a yoga teacher training program that required a six-month abstention from television and celebrity gossip magazines. Fueled by an incomprehensible soul-crushing battle with Time Warner, my husband and I threw away our TV, and with it my Real Housewives, America’s Next Top Model and so on addiction. We haven’t looked back.
So for almost five years now I’ve stayed clear of celebrity gossip magazines, women’s magazines (including fitness-zines and now Yoga Journal too), most television, though I’m not a Luddite or Puritan: I watch a few select programs through the miracles of Hulu and Amazon—I’m partial to Chef competitions, go figure!). I don’t subject myself to a barrage of information that will undoubtedly scream at me: something is wrong with you! Your lashes aren’t long enough! Your body is too this or too that! And maybe the worst take away of all: the message that the only thing that matters about a woman is what she looks like.
And yeah, that poison can include people (that boyfriend got dumped, though not soon enough).
So, go ahead, call me crazy (at least I’m not the only one) for not knowing about the latest celebrity diet craze or “who wore it best.” What I think is insane is the idea that you can repeatedly hear and see the neon sign that women’s bodies are too fat, hippy, or old (and much worse) without turning that vitriol against yourself.
3. I practice yoga. One of my first yoga mentors, Lesley Desaulniers, once said that yoga is all about relationships: with yourself, with others, with the earth. Yoga, and here, really, I am talking about asana, changed my relationship with my physical body in a positive way.
It began in the strangest of places: the 105 degree, mirrored Bikram yoga room. There, scantily clad by necessity, I realized something: I had no idea what my body actually looked like. One day the reflection in the mirror would assault me with it’s imperfections, but the next day that same reflection would stare back at me, gorgeous. Bikram may have changed my body, but more importantly, it started to change my mind about my body.
I now practice Ashtanga yoga. Through this asana practice my body became my respected ally, not my adversary.
It’s hard to hate on my body after it’s risen before the sun, kept me alert enough to steer a thousand-pound piece of metal across state lines for a fun-filled morning of bending myself in half, tucking my legs behind my head, and jumping through my arms repetitively. I guess the practice has provided an experience to focus on all the amazing things my body can do, which doesn’t leave as much space to focus on what I believe it lacks. Or as Don Draper would phrase it, I “changed the conversation…” ~ Krista Block
Like Krista, I stopped feeling alienated within my own skin. Something about this daily ritualistic asana practice reaches me on a subcutaneous level, brings into a view a too-long hidden spark of divinity, encourages me to hear the hum of my own power uncluttered by the vicissitudes of daily life and over the din of rampant social media—including the torrent of negative messages floating around everywhere no matter what my diet of media and television and people looks like.
“Yoga” means union, as any 200-hour yoga teacher training graduate can tell you. And I’m telling you that this practice of yoga asana brought me into union with my own body.
4. I’m not stupid. It doesn’t matter what I edit out of my life– the reality is one day I’ll be at the pool when in walks a woman sporting a bikini-clad body of the type I thought existed only as a result of the fantastical workings of Photoshop. As my mind bounces invisible quarters off of her body, I get to work, finding the line, finding myself amidst the thunderclouds that have rolled in. This is where my yoga practice comes into play. Samastithi, or equal standing, is the pose I am looking for in all the asanas, no matter how circular or crazy they appear. In this moment at the pool, I look for it in my consciousness.
It’s not enough to shut the triggers out: I’ve had to find where I am, my true North, my line, my equal standing even when I come face to face with the negativity that has historically set me off. “Asana is like a house protecting one from the heat of the sun.” So of these three steps I’ve taken, let me circle back and say the yoga practice is the most important one.
5. I need your help. The number on the scale might not pose an issue for you–heck maybe you’re less sensitive to the media messages (though, I must be honest, our consumption of crap only leads to more production of it)—the point is, start asking yourself why you think so poorly of yourself and figure out what you can do to rewrite the curriculum and change the conversation in your own head. Maybe the yoga isn’t for you. Okay, then find the thing – yoga, climbing, painting—whatever it is, that connects you to yourself and to everything.
Let me get to the reason why I am writing this, finally. I have a three-year-old daughter. Can you help me, please?
One day she’ll be sitting next to your niece on the bus as your niece describes the hideousness of her thighs. One day, maybe next week, she’ll overhear a group of women in the pool locker room wailing about how “fat” they look in their swimsuits. One day she’ll hear you talking about how much weight some starlet has gained since having a baby. One day she may hear your kid forcing herself to purge during her freshman year at college.
Maybe not. Maybe she will hear something quite different. I can imagine it.
But first we need to change the conversation.