I can remember the first time I became self conscious about my body. Like many firsts, it wasn't bad, and it wasn't good. Let me take you back to grade seven- I recently came back from a cross-border shopping trip with a t-shirt that read "MYSTIC" across the front and I donned that shirt proudly. One day while wearing it at school, a guy friend made a teasing remark about "Mystic Boobies" (with gestures to match) and WAM- I suddenly became aware that I had tits.
For many years after, I only became aware of my body when others pointed things out. In grade seven, while wearing a halter top, someone commented on my back and bringing sexy back (there aint no sexy in grade seven.. gross.). Perhaps the most notable comment was in grade eight when my aunt told me I got fatter (in reality- not fat at all) which was the beginning of a terrible downward spiral I openly admit to being my "ED" phase- as in eating disorder.
You'd think in the midst of ED I'd be pretty body conscious. And I was- in a way. Except I wouldn't call it body conscious so much as self conscious. What's the difference you say? Well my image of myself at the time was so warped, I wasn't truly aware of what my body actually looked like. I just knew it wasn't good enough because I didn't think I was good enough.
My "self" and my "body" were one and the same. My body was my identity.
Once again, I only became aware of the frightening state of my body when others pointed it out. Eventually I put weight back on and from then on, I have had this disconnect with my body. I didn't want to think about it as a part of my "self" or spend time obsessing over it so I pushed any bubbling insecure thoughts away. And we all know what happens when you avoid things- they don't really disappear.
While it's been years since the "ED phase", I noticed that even up until recently these bubbling insecure thoughts continue to arise. However, the way I see my body now is drastically different thanks to a regular yoga practice, than it was in University and high school where I simply worked out.
As I always like to say-
yoga teaches us to feel our bodies from the inside out.
Instead of focusing on what the form or shape looks like, we learn- "Oh! That's what it feels like to move my right glute that way." or "Oh! Those are my hip flexors!". Yes, most movement-based practices give us the opportunity to become body conscious. How is Yoga different?
Well- Our bodies are not simply the vehicle to get us from point A to point B- with parts to upgrade or trade in or "fix".
At the same time, our bodies are also not our identity. [Disclaimer: Now this may start to sound a little too spiritual- but bear with me and/ or deal with it.] Yoga philosophy talks a lot about our "true selves" vs our "ego". The "ego" believes the body, along with our jobs, roles in life, the things we own, are representations of who we are. I could write pages about this but I'll save it for another time. On the other hand, the idea of a "true self" is the idea that
we are having a human experience.
Our bodies are the only tools we (the soul/ "true self"/ whatever you want to call it) have to navigate this human experience- to actually feel the waves of the ocean, to watch sunsets, to hear music, and to experience joy.
If you've gotten this far and you're like- cool story bro but I'm not spiritually inclined. All good. Your body may not be a temple for you right now but at the very least think of it as a house. It's not the real "you" because you're the one living inside- but that doesn't mean you don't feel connected to it. It's a place for you to have friends over and enjoy company, and it's a place to take comfort in after a long day. You need it to survive and thrive and while it's not your dream home and there's probably something to "fix"- you love and live in it just the same. You to your home is your true self/soul/whatever you want to call it to your body. When we focus on getting our bodies to look a certain way, we are no different than the neighbour who is constantly spending his weekends doing home renos and looking for ways to improve without ever really being satisfied. At the same time, when we treat our bodies simply as a means to get by, we don't have a home, we have a hotel room. Things start to break down (like our health) and we aren't around to be aware of it.
So what does one do?