Like many people, I’ve had a love hate relationship with my body most of my life.
As a child, my body was a mode of transportation, its movement synchronized to the demands of my immature mind. I didn’t give my body any thought as it efficiently and effectively carried my head and limbs to soccer, dance, school and wherever else my parents insisted I go.
My teen years were filled with sports and copious amounts of time spent outdoors. My body a vessel, propelling me to experience all life had to offer.
It wasn’t until I started high school that the view of my body wasn’t only about how it performed, but how it looked and was judged by others.
As my body went through the metamorphosis of puberty, my small frame began to change from the string bean of my youth, to a more aptly named shape – an hourglass. The top of my hourglass quickly filling up.
The appearance of this extra weight on the front of my body was hard for me to adjust to and made me very conscious of the gazes of others, particularly men. Being raised by conservative parents, my top heavy body made me self-conscious. Instead of embracing this change I tried to hide it under clothes, feeling too exposed to show any skin.
My large chest often collided with my effectiveness on the gymnastics floor and lacrosse field, impeding my progress in my athletic endeavors.
Never the less, I persisted. My love for sports and being part of a team helping me ignore, or deny the ever present weight I carried on my shoulders.
My boyfriend was enamored with my heaving chest. He couldn’t understand my desire to hide it when his desire was so opposite mine.
This change in my body created more than a physical alteration to my shape. I was not prepared, nor mature enough to handle the mental process of accepting that I was no longer a little girl. At this time in our culture, my changing body introduced me to an advertised expectation of how I should dress, look and act. Advertisements driven by a male dominated culture. My mother, being emotionally unavailable, was no help other than to tell me and my sisters “Don’t wear make-up, you’ll look like a slut” or “don’t dress like everyone else” then left us to fend for ourselves, her words creating more self-consciousness.
I came of age in the 1970’s when men didn’t hide their physical advances on women for their physical attributes driven by genetics, not choice. Where previously I had been firm in who I was, I now had an added burden of a body shape that attracted desires I had no ability to filter into categories of honest feelings, or lustful emotions.
The first serious relationship I landed in became the relationship I stayed in until I got divorced, with a few short dating flings in college. My chest appendages were not lost on his desires, made clear through his words that my shape defined who I was. My youth, and lacking self-confidence embraced the praise, rarely standing up and correcting his mis-guided priorities.
In life, our bodies morph and change. Women more so than men. Women’s hormones run amok as our bodies get ready to bear the fruit of our existence. Our teenage years introduce us to the first major change of puberty. Our twenties morph us into baby making machines. Our thirties, if the babies were made, change us into mothers, the sustenance for life of our young. By the time we reach our forties, our morphing bodies begin to slow hopefully allowing us eventual ownership of our shapes through years of wisdom.
But in our male dominated culture where looks are king, it’s often our female minds that stay behind wishing to maintain the youth of our bodies.
Adjusting to change isn’t only physical. Bodies change whether we like it or not. How we adapt mentally and view these changes has a large impact on our self confidence, self-esteem and acceptance of ourselves.
In hindsight, I felt insecure about the size of my chest, which in my youth was not in proportion to my small stature. As I aged and after the births of my three children, the size of my chest decreased as the confidence about the other shapes of my body wavered.
My husband willingly pointed out and offered to “fix” my diminishing chest while I quietly reveled in it’s new diminutive size. His comments about other women’s chest sizes not lost on me as we sat on the beach, his eyes following the bounce of breast. Those comments searing into my soul as I tried in other ways to make my body acceptable to his unchanging gaze.
I went to the gym admonishing my weight in the many mirrors throughout the room. I stepped on and off the plastic lifts of my aerobics class. I set up early morning walking dates with other mothers who could only find time to exercise before getting our kids off to school. This was the age of Jane Fonda, high impact aerobics and breaking sweat to create the shape our culture demanded.
I worked hard to shape my body into what I thought my naturally thin husband and our male driven fashion industry wanted my 5’4” frame to look like. My body could never be what it wasn’t, tall and thin.
In reality what really needed to change was not my body, but how my eyes and brain saw the reflection of who I was in the mirror.
I didn’t grow up during a time where female wisdom was a virtue of strength. Feminists were defined by their anger, not the true definition: social, economic and political equality of the sexes. I was in a marriage where how I looked was more important then who I was. This distinction creating a deflated self-confidence. I didn’t know how to stand on my own two feet.
It wasn’t my body that was the problem. It was how my mind, and the minds of those around me who I gave my power to, drove the decisions I physically shaped to myself.
Now with the wisdom of age and hindsight, I’ve learned that there was never anything wrong with the shape of my body. Had I left it be the strength it was, it would have looked the way it did. My body was and still is beautiful and powerful. My body is the making of genetics, what I feed it, how I treat it and how I use it. I’ve learned to do all of those with honor, adjusting my vision accordingly.
My education in Yoga and Health has taught me that none of our bodies are the same. That some people struggle with physical issues around their bodies that I will never understand. I know that how we choose to view our bodies isn’t always based on a mirror but often driven by words that are said to us, images that are sold to us, food that is marketed to us, and the perception of who we should be, based on cultural beliefs around shape.
I’ve learned that as long as I take care of what I put in my mouth to nourish my body, I exercise so MY body feels free and healthy in it’s everyday movements, and I treat others whose body shapes are their own, with the due respect they earn, I will be healthy. In mind and body.
I have learned that if my breast size makes me more acceptable to someone other than myself, they will not be acceptable to me. I’ve learned that thin doesn’t mean healthy and often means the exact opposite. I’ve learned that I am strong not because of my shape, but how I view and relate to my shape.
I’ve learned the meaning of the saying that beauty does come from the inside and that many physically attractive people are some of the ugliest people I know.