I’ve had an intensely hateful relationship with my body.
When I was in elementary school I was an average size. I ate whatever I felt like eating and was as active as any child that age. I played soccer and cricket with my friends after school, climbed trees and went to my Cadets club on weekends, I was fine.
Then middle school hit.
I quickly ballooned in that way seemingly every kid who falls slave to puberty does. I was still active but not nearly enough to compensate for my growing appetite. I was bullied about my size but not in the overt ways many kids are; it came in the form of ‘endearing’ terms like “ay, fat boy,” or “you, big man!” I never really let it bother me. The bullying got worse. It seemed like because of my weight I was the lowest on the totem pole and while my peers where growing into their bodies vertically I was growing into mine horizontally.
Then, in high school I found dance, started eating healthier (anything’s healthier than KFC every weekend,) and began making friends with people who cared about me as a whole person. I had my first serious girlfriend, then boyfriend, found community organizing work, and was generally happy. But I hated my body. Why? I’m not quite sure and I could probably never explain it but looking back, I was fine. I was approaching six feet tall and just about 170 lbs. Average…right?
Inside I hated everything about my body. I wasn’t tall enough. When I sat down I hated the folds of fat that would miraculously appear. I would judge every bit of myself when it came to my appearance. I’d look around at my peers and compare how much better than me they looked. And here’s the messed up part; even the folks who were probably overweight, I would create reasons for them being better than me, “he carries his weight well,” or “her style is awesome,” or “their personality makes them so fun to be around!” Why couldn’t I create these reasons for myself? Surely I carried my weight well and my style matched those around me and my personality was electric…but none of that mattered. Whenever I looked in the mirror (an occurrence I dreaded,) I would scold myself. You could be better. You could look better. You’re not good enough.
This deep illogical self-hatred followed me into college and it killed my self-esteem softly. I remember one night during my sophomore year when I was in a relationship with a loving and supportive partner I had too much to drink and the self-loathing came flowing out. We were at a party together and I began sobbing uncontrollably. She came over to ask what was wrong and immediately I’d begun accusing her of having a crush on a guy I was in a club with. It was indeed unfounded but in that moment it was the manifestation of my hate of my body that took over. She handled that meltdown with grace, reassured me that she loved me, and put me to bed.
My junior and senior year I vowed to get into the best shape of my life. Although I’d stopped dancing I’d started going to the gym regularly. Slaving away on the rowing machine or running five miles at a time.
I was going to love myself.
Then my senior year hit and my partying seemed to want a last lap of college as well. It quickly caught up with me and the pounds started to reappear. Then I moved to California, got it back under control, got into a great relationship and gained that comfort weight that seemed to make its way into my life. Then, a few months ago, as the cycle repeated itself I looked at photos from college and thought to myself, “if only I could look like that again…”
Wait a minute, when I was in college I hated my body, and now I’m longing to get back to that point? How fucked up is that?!
And even though I knew I wanted to make a change, I felt paralyzed. I felt like there was nothing I could do to maintain, to snap out of this vicious cycle, nothing I could do to be happy with my body again. I was ready to gain weight and just be. Surely, everything would be fine.
The signs of my weight gain were actually becoming real. I couldn’t fit into my clothes anymore. My skinny jeans became…let’s just say I had to lay down in bed to get them on. My baggy jeans became slim fitting. My dress shirts could barely fit across my chest. I hated every picture my friends were posting on Facebook. “Ugh! Why would you post that picture of me?!”
Then one day just around the holiday season while I was clicking through StumbleUpon I came across a remarkable quote by Teddy Roosevelt. It read, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I don’t know how such a simple quote managed illuminated such a dark place in my mind but that’s exactly what was happening, I had found a way to compare myself to every single person I saw and almost always, I was the one who came up short.
A couple weeks later I found myself at my first yoga class and I quickly began to compare my body to the ones around me. I was sinking fast. The practice began and as the intensity ramped up I’d started to sweat profusely. Now anyone who’s practiced heated yoga before knows that if you wear cotton material it clings to your body and makes it uncomfortable to move and my poor v-neck shirt was no different. But I couldn’t bring myself to take it off. Everyone would surely judge me. I waffled again and again sometimes bringing the shirt up to my neck and back down again. The lady next to me who seemed to see my awkwardness unfold whispered over, “It’s dark in here, nobody cares what you look like. They’re all too busy sweating their butts off. Take off your shirt, it’ll be easier.”
That was all the permission I needed. In one motion I pulled off my shirt and poured everything I had into the rest of that practice. At the end, I felt amazing. One girl who I’d met when I walked in came over to see how my first class ever had gone and she said “wow! You’re glowing.” I was. I’d found a place where I didn’t feel the need to compare myself to anyone there. This place was about me listening to myself and calming my monkey brain.
Two months later, I’m still on the journey of loving myself. With daily practice and healthy eating I am indeed losing weight but that’s not even close to my purpose of practicing (more on why I practice in another post.) I’d found an outlet for my mind, a place generated by love, a community without judgement.
Now you can find me parading around the local yoga studios without a shirt on because, now, I’m learning to love myself.