Yoga and Body Image

You can’t.  You don’t belong.  Look at you.  Everyone must be looking at you and wondering why you are even here.  Why are you here?  See you couldn’t do that pose either…you should stop coming to these classes. 

Oh voice in my head…you suck.  You always suck.

Thanks to a Groupon, I have been doing “Corepower Yoga” for just over 3 weeks now.  I’ve gone 13 times in 23 days.  I have not been this consistently active since I was working out at 5:30am multiple times a week in my 20’s, even though I had a gym membership for over a decade.  Not even when I was training for half marathons, not even when I was training for my cycling century did I work out 4 times a week.  This should be an accomplishment.  This should be something awesome that I’m proud of.  I’m doing something great.  But no, the voice in my head just wants to use it as a podium to remind me that I’m not good enough.

Contrasting the idea that I think I can’t do something and the fact that I’ve run 13.1 miles multiple times and pedaled myself 100 miles around Lake Tahoe is sort of hilarious, but it’s a example of my true Gemini dual-identity and the constant struggle I have with how I see myself.

Let’s back up.  I have gained 30 pounds in the last 6 months.  After spending a large part of my life trying to find a consistent weight and battling anorexia, I have spent a good 5 years solid within a few pounds without much effort.  I make fairly good choices about what I eat, and I do crazy things like join Team in Training to keep me moving.  I’m aware of my triggers that make me skip meals, and I have an awesome support network that I reach out to when I notice I’m slipping.  Apparently in the last year between the change of job, the move and turning 36, something broke my groove.

Looking in the mirror lately crushes me.  I mean, it’s always been that way.  I have never been okay with how I look at the moment.  Even when I was 120 pounds, I wanted to be skinnier.  It took a lot of therapy to realize I wasn’t suddenly going to wake up and look like a playboy model with flowing curly hair, a perfect ass and ample boobs.  I finally got comfortable in a place where I felt “healthy”.  I was in a great relationship with someone who appreciated my body and was mostly validating.  (He clearly wished I had bigger boobs, but that’s another story.  The only win in being heavier is suddenly having boobs for the first time in my life.)  But really, even when I was knocking out things like the century, I was feeling that I hated my legs.  It’s weird to look back at pictures of me younger and think “damn, I was freaking hot…what happened?”  I try and remind myself that when I’m 40, I’ll probably look back and be thankful for the looks of my 30’s too…but I just can’t get to a place where I’m okay with my body.

It already doesn’t help that I’m not stylish or fashionable, but going up two full sizes in half a year hasn’t helped me feel comfortable getting dressed in the morning.  There hasn’t been one attractive picture taken of me all year, and that’s kind of a problem since I work for a company in the photography industry where everyone is ALWAYS taking pictures of you, and I’m dating again without a way to confidently market myself.  The funniest part is that as much as I give myself so much grief about everything about my looks, I don’t care enough to change anything.  You’d think with as much brain power as I spent wishing I could put together an outfit or accessorize, I’d actually put some effort into learning make-up techniques or shop somewhere other than Old Navy or buy something other than jeans.  But no, I use the more logical part of my brain to remind myself that someone will love me exactly how I am, exactly how I dress.  I’m lovable for who I am, not what I look like.  Then why can’t I love myself that way?

So back to yoga.

I royally screwed my hips overdoing it when I was running a few years ago, and I can’t even walk 3 miles these days without causing some pretty severe pain on my left side.  I want yoga to be the thing that gradually strengthens my hips and my core.  I need something that I can feel active in again that doesn’t wreck my body.  I need a “thing” to distract me from the challenges in my life.  I want this in my life.  But my hips continue to be a challenge and the voice in my head is being a bitch.

I really love this yoga studio.  A lot.  The teachers are amazing and supportive.  The classes are totally my style.  It’s sweaty.  There’s music.  I know it’s supposed to be a practice.  It’s not a competition.  I’m doing something good for myself.  But throughout the class I find myself in the frustrating situation where not only do I feel like everyone but me is an expert yogi, I am also limited by the lack of strength in my hips.  My left side isn’t willing to bear the weight of a simple tree pose, and sometimes I feel like doing one more crescent lunge will break me.  Then there’s the fact that it feels like everyone looks like a ballet dancer and I feel like a giant beast in XXL spandex.  (And why don’t these girls sweat like I do – it’s 100 freaking degrees in the room?!)  I may not be able to balance but I’m flexible.  There’s moments when a teacher will comment on how far I can stretch or bend and I’m so proud.  I have never had arm strength, so my feeble attempts at chataranga don’t bother me that much and the fact that I am able to plank at all, or keep my thighs off the ground when I’m in upward facing dog is a win.  When I walk out of class, no matter how much I struggled, I feel amazing.  But every day when I think about heading to class, I start to doubt myself all over again.

I’m realizing that yoga has come to my life at the perfect time.  I need a new testing ground for battling the voice in my head.  I am in need of a place to practice for an hour telling my inner critic to fuck off.  I think that’s what running and cycling were as well.  Physical challenge is a place where I can work out the larger battle I have in my daily life.  I need a routine.  (Something I’ve been lacking and searching for since I uprooted my entire life cycle of a decade earlier this year.)  Maybe through this practice I can learn to find silence in my mind outside of the mirrored room.  I need this class.

I have to find acceptance for my limits, but not let them make me quit.  I have to keep myself within the four corners of my mat, not looking at myself through the eyes of anyone else, including that brat that lives between my ears.  I have to silence the voice that tells me I can’t and focus on what I can.  I am showing up.  I am “lapping everyone at home on the couch.”  I am doing just fine.

Shut up bitch.  I can do this.

“I hate my legs”

I had just finished putting on my bikini in Puerto Vallarta last week and was standing in front of the mirror adjusting all the appropriate bits. I wasn’t happy.

“I hate my legs.
*pause*
“Tori Nichelle Porter, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! You’re grounded!

That’s how I talk to myself sometimes, in case you were wondering…

Standing in front of the mirror, I took in the stretch marks and cellulite. The bruises and curves screamed out their imperfections. I was at least 20 pounds heavier than 2 years before when I stood in the same city to take in some beach time and I was dreading this minute since I booked the ticket. One of the reasons I didn’t go in December is that I thought I could do better than that for a beach body. Here I am 10 pounds lighter, and training for my first cycling century but it doesn’t feel better. It definitely wasn’t good enough or my best. Two years before I was on a path to run 5 half marathons in 15 months. I remembered I was fit then. I remember eating anything I wanted. I remember I got hurt and I stopped running and I gained 30 pounds. But almost immediately after I found myself wallowing in self-hatred with my statement above, I remembered something else.

At some point in that running year, I remember sitting in an ice bath following a race. I had just made my body go 13.1 miles on the power of my own legs and was using the torture of immersing my body in ice to heal myself. I remember looking down at my legs through the water. “I hate my legs” came out of my mouth that time also. It was bullshit then too.

burncosmo

My struggle with body image and an eating disorder is something that I’ve dealt with for a long time, and have never been very private about. I’ve been very lucky to have come a long way in the last 10 years since things were nasty and I wasn’t eating, but I will always carry with me some part of me that ties physical beauty to my value. “I’m a 7” I said in March when I was sizing up my potential luck on the dating market. I know I’m cute, and look rockin’ in a pair of tight jeans, but there has always been a part of me completely dissatisfied with my appearance and incredibly envious of those that I deemed better than me – prettier faces, cooler hair, expert style and makeup, curvier chests – anything I could minimize on me in contrast. Being introspective and fairly enlightened in a lot of things, I have always struggled with being able to identify very logically that my worth is not in my appearance, that I am more, and yada yada yada. But it has also always boggled my mind that I could equally acknowledge all of that as completely reasonable and then still hate what I was working with.

The day I was sitting in the ice bath, I was delirious, but I caught the irony of my statement almost immediately. How could I hate these pieces of my body that just performed beyond expectations? How blessed was I that I was able to put one foot in front of another for mile after mile? I made a mental note that I needed to write about this then. How ridiculous that I was focused on the external appearance in such a moment of triumph?! I’m an idiot. We live in such a fucked up world!

You would have thought that moment might have stuck with me. That maybe after having started training for this century race around Lake Tahoe and feeling the most accomplished I’ve ever felt in my life that I’d have some continued appreciation for my body. But no, that wasn’t the case. Instead, I found myself looking back over my shoulder and critiquing my curves and focused on the weight that I’ve gained since last time I’ve had to show that much skin publicly. GROUNDED!

I spent so much of my 20’s hating my body and when I look back now I hate myself for not appreciating that. What was I thinking hating that?! So I consciously know that when I’m in my 40’s, I’m going to be wishing for this. But I slip. It’s freaking hard being a girl. We get it from every direction. Even from ourselves. Sometimes you gotta check yourself.

I don’t hate my legs. That’s a bit of a silly thing to say. My legs have been fantastic to me. They are used legs. They are well loved legs. They are my best-loved legs. I am so grateful for them to have taken me on all these adventures all over the world. These legs have stepped foot on 3 continents. These legs have ran races, cycled mountains, balanced in bikram, driven miles, walked cities and danced in the desert. THESE legs. I don’t hate them. I actually really love them and think they are amazing. But I hate that I hate them.