Thursday, May 29, 2008

Self Love

This post was partially inspired by Dirty Rotten Feminist's Sunday night question: "what are you vain about?" and thus i must give her credit ;)

Today's post is a positive one, leading up to a personal experience I wanted to share with all of you, however vain or insignificant it may seem. It's the experience of how I came to love my body.

I work out, regularly. Have done so for the majority of my life. I have recently begun training for a triathlon that I will complete in September. I belong to a gym with a pool for which I pay way too much money. I realize i'm privileged by this but it's the money I pay every month that helps motivate me to get my ass in gear and not miss workouts. I, unlike lots of people, love exercise. I love using my body and taking advantage of all the things it can do. I love feeling powerful and strong and challenging myself in physical ways. It isn't about looking a certain way anymore. I wasn't always this forward thinking. When I was younger, I would exercise despairingly, desperately trying to fit into some unattainable standard of beauty that was burned into my brain by fashion magazines and the popular girls. As an adult, my relationship with my body and the concept of "beauty" and "sexiness" has slowly developed, but we all struggle with our daemons and this has always been one for me, until recently that is...

Over the past year I have noticed a woman at my gym. She is gorgeous. She is fit. She is powerful (can lift more weight than half the men). I watch her perfect abs glisten with sweat and she stretches, or run, or bikes, whatever. She is perfect. Or at least as close to my perception of "perfect" as i'll ever see.

I've been watching her for months, mustering up the courage to talk to her, to tell her that she motivates me daily. Literally, I stay on the treadmill longer and lift heavier weights if she's around. Unknowingly, she pushes me and I thank her for it daily. Fast forward to yesterday: I walk into my regular Wednesday night spin class and she's there, on the instructor bike, gearing up to sub! The class was great and finally gave me an excuse to talk to her. I asked her some trivial question about her cycling shoes and we got to talking a bit. During the conversation she told me that i was in great shape and had done really well in her class. Me! Coming from her! I wanted to shake her and tell her that i've been watching her for the past year, that she inspires me, that i look up to her, that i think she's gorgeous, that i may have a crush on her, but i didn't tell her any of that. I simply smiled and thanked her. I remembered why i loved my body and that it was nice to be noticed for working hard and staying focused.

When did I start loving my body? I remember the moment vividly. It was Sunday morning and i got up early for yoga. I finally got into a routine of going weekly and hadn't let myself skip a class in 5 weeks. I was finally starting to see improvement in my poses. I was getting good, balanced, and i couldn't believe it. That Sunday i woke up extra early and decided to go for a quick run before class. I got to class just as the instructor was starting and the room was more full than usual. I wasn't able to secure my regular spot in the back of the room (where i could be unnoticed). I was forced to put my mat down in the front right side of the room, surrounded by mirrors. There was no hiding now, i had a mirror in front of me and one to the side. I felt like everyone was watching me downward dog. Ok, I'm sure they weren't. But i did get paranoid surrounded by all those mirrors. Until finally, something clicked. As I glimpsed in the mirror through the Adho Mukha Svanasana triangle created by my arms, torso, and legs I saw the perfect lines of my body as they contorted in the poses i've been working on for months.

I noticed the muscles on my back and shoulders tighten to hold the pose. I watched as they glistened with sweat. I became obsessed with watching myself glide into the poses. In that moment, I became completely vain! I was never one to spend much time in front of the mirror. This was all very new to me, and I loved it.

I especially loved what my body could do. The strength I had to hold myself up and the balance and flexibility to maintain the poses. That's when i realized it: i loved my body. I loved the strength and power my body had and the facility with which i could use it. I loved the lines created by my arms and shoulder muscles and the endurance and awareness i had from using my body regularly. I had done it, I had achieved one of my life goals, to love my body. I never thought this was possible, I was the girl eating nothing but clementines for weeks at a time during high school. I was the girl running 10 miles a day, on a treadmill, getting nowhere (literally and mentally). I was the girl studying body image and feminism in college, trying to convince myself to love my body. I was a hypocrite. And I hated myself for that. But finally, that morning in yoga, over a decade after my battle with my body began, something clicked and i fell in love with it.

I continued the class, sweaty from my run, obsessed with my body in the mirror, giving in to all the poses. Breathing. Relaxing. Challenging myself. It was wonderful. I gracefully moved through the warrior poses into locust, camel, cobra... I had control, I was focused, I felt strong. The class ended, but the feelings of euphoria and self-love that i felt that morning stayed with me, and hopefully will remain for a long, long time.

(no, that is not me in the photo, i just loved the image: the mountains, the water, the cowgirl hat... awesome shot)


Unknown said...

Great for you! You should be so proud! This does beg the question... do you love your body because you take care of it, or do you take care of it because you really have loved it all along!?!

My body-love is still being realized, but staying away from TV, magazines, and advertisements helps me to remember that my body is natural, whole, and beautiful the way I was intended to be, even if I am not a size 2.

This is a big step every person should reach, to love oneself the way you are. And no, it does not make you vain...

shrink on the couch said...

yay for self love! excellent and inspiring post, as I sit here wishing I excercised as diligently as you. Hats off to you and your good feelings about your body.

I think my self love story has more to do with feeling comfortable sexually. Until my late 20's I was way too self conscious in bed to fully enjoy what my body was capable of, until a lover (now my dh) helped me realize that every inch of me was sexy and desirable. It wasn't ALL about skinny thighs and buxom breasts. In fact it wasn't about any of that. It was about radiating heat and letting myself be vulnerable and receive pleasure selfishly. Yeah, baby. The gift (to myself) that keeps on giving.

Sydney said...

Interesting post - thanks for sharing. I'm on the path of body love and appreciate hearing how it worked for you.

For me, there is the giving up of the need to be skinny and instead focus on what my body wants. I am surprised to find out there is an athlete in me that is having a blast playing volleyball.

And like you, yoga is playing a role in my journey.


Radical Reminders said...

Julia - i hear ya on the staying away from media, it's toxic, and incredibly difficult to avoid.

phd - your comment made me blush a little :) but i absolutely agree... woooooooo :)

Sydney - welcome to my blog :) And i totally agree with listening to your body rather than the media... When i started eating what i was craving (even if it wasn't "fat free" oh no!!) i started being able to tell when my body wanted and needed. Also, eating locally helped - trying to eat as much as possible from the ground and not from packaged foods has helped me feel so much better and more in control and what i put into my body. I noticed you just read Eat, Pray, Love - from what i heard about the book it sounds like have a lot to do with introspection and listing to your body as well, i'll have to check it out.

Daisy said...

Great post, but I got too exhausted just reading it to comment at length.


Anonymous said...

Came via Feminste. Very nice post!

habladora said...

Loving your body for what it can do, rather than how it can look, is an amazing feeling. I do think men are encouraged to see their bodies as functional, and we are prodded towards seeing ours as purely aesthetic.

As a teacher, I watch young women struggle with body issues on a daily basis. The strange part is that, although I recognize the unhealthy mindsets in which many are stuck, I still don't know what to say or do to help them. Do we all have to come into self-love completely on our own?

Anonymous said...

I loved reading your entry. I don't think I am quite 100% there with loving my body. I struggle a lot with exercise, and the balance between health, and wanting to look good. So, I think for a long time, I have exercised for the wrong reasons (wanting to look good). I do want to love my body for what it can do more... just have to truly convince myself. I read a lot of feminism and even eastern philosophy (the zen aspects of process, not external rewards, that should be the goal) and curse myself for being a bad feminist, or buddhist. maybe someday, it will click for me, i hope...

shrink on the couch said...

sorry to make you blush, FG. but there ya have it. I can't quite say I'm all about self love on a daily, out and about basis. Its those big thighs and tummy, dammit. I'm working on it, though.

belledame222 said...

Nice post. I need to get back to regular exercise as well; I used to take dance and other movement classes all the time, and for a while now I've been down to one pretty low-key yoga class a week at most.