A Good Body
I’m tired of worrying about my body.
I know what you’re going to say. “You’re so much more than your body! You’re a wonderful friend and a loving wife and a brilliant teacher! You’re creative and intuitive and smart!” And I know. I really do know that I’m all that and a family-sized bag of chips. But as the beautiful and talented Backstreet Boys put it, “There’s something missing in my heart.” My self-love is deep, but it is not shallow.
For more than ten years I worked as a cater-waitress, surrounded by men and women who would unabashedly describe women as having “good” bodies. Sometimes even “great” bodies! These good and great-bodied ladies would be rewarded with an “Aiy Chihuahua!” from the boss, placed in the highly coveted “shooter girl” spots (i.e. they would get to drink all night), a spot behind the bar (ditto), and more shifts. They would get put on the gigs where the client had specifically requested “hot girls” and I would console myself with the conviction that just because my boss didn’t find me hot (and really, thank God for that), there were plenty of men who did. So what if I wasn’t his type? I put on my big girl Spanx and dealt with it. I was reassured by my two managers feeling me up and giving me the occasional spanking. (Yes, even though I was not a hot girl, I was still a sex object. Hurray.) Besides, did I really want to be working in a bikini? Well, no. I didn’t even own a bikini. I knew better.
My body has been described to me many ways. I’ve been called curvy or pear-shaped more than a few times. I’ve been congratulated on my pregnancy, and in one cringe-inducing instance, when I defiantly replied that I was not pregnant, told, “You should do some sit-ups, girl!” (This, by the self-proclaimed King of Sudan in a New York City subway, while my husband asked for directions. Even an actual crazy person thinks I need to do something about my shape.) Most commonly, I’m celebrated when I lose a few pounds. It’s never drastic – I’m not a very committed dieter. Like most women, my weight fluctuates all month long and I have occasionally worn a corset when I’m really trying to fit in, pun intended. That seemingly benign comment – “you look so good!” – is the one that hurts most, because it always makes me feel as though something was wrong with me before, or that people remember me as chubby.
After a month-long intensive yoga teacher training, I thought I would finally be thin. I thought I would have to buy an entirely new wardrobe for my toned and tanned bod. But all that extra exercise made me hungry, and I had enough on my plate (ha!) that watching my caloric intake would have sent me over the edge. I was too busy to worry. Well, almost.
It was hard not to notice that I was the biggest girl in the room. It didn’t help that our teachers would videotape our classes and post them on social media. There, I got a peak at just how great – and by great, I mean abundant, boundless, enormous – my ass looked in adho mukha svanasana next to all of my friends. When we practiced assists on each other, I often paired up with the thinnest girl in the room, an actual model, because in spite of the vast difference in our body sizes, I felt a strong connection to her. Her dark sense of humor closely mirrored my own, and she was honest. I would touch her gingerly, worried I would break her if I used my strength to help her get deeper into a pose, and she would tell me “more! more!” I always volunteered to go first, inwardly freaking out that she probably thought touching my soft body was disgusting. I mean, I really am being hard on myself. I vacillate between a size 8 and a size 10… but the thing is, next to these slim yogis, I could just as easily have been a size 24. It didn’t matter to me that I was strong, flexible, and could do as many chaturangas as any of them – I felt different. But Amy either didn’t care or had some acting chops to go along with her modeling skills, because she never let on and she would often wink at me and say “partners?” whenever we were told to pair up.
On my last day in Maui, with only three of the trainees still in town, Amy drove us to a spa in Kihei. My roommate, Alex, realized too late that she had forgotten her bikini bottoms. Amy had, for whatever reason, multiple bathing suits in her car and offered to lend Alex one. As she was fishing around for it in her trunk, she asked me if I needed one too.
“Okay, Amy,” I said, ready to confront what I had long felt was the elephant in the room, “that’s very sweet of you, but I’m wearing my swimsuit. And we could fit about three of you in it.”
I thought they would both laugh, or admonish me, but neither said anything. They didn’t object. They didn’t pretend they wished they could put on weight. They just left it, let it be one of the many things I said that didn’t require an answer, and we went inside. I realized that it just didn’t matter to them. We were already friends. There were probably things they liked about me and things they liked less about me, but my body just didn’t register as a topic of concern.
What does it mean to have a good body? You know that joke, “how do you get a bikini body?” Get a bikini. Put it on your body. I did it. I didn’t want to feel brave, but I did. I felt super brave. I knew my pale, wobbly belly stood out – one of these things is not like the others – but I soldiered on. I had actually brought a one-piece with me to Maui, but I didn’t wear it. I thought a tan on my belly would at least give the illusion of thinness. And I wanted so badly to be someone who was okay. And somehow, that is what happened. I realized that, damnit, I do have a good body.
My body breathes. If you have ever used your breath to help you through an emotionally tough time, you know what a miracle that is. My body heals. It literally heals itself. My body is strong. I can support the weight of my whole body in inversions on my forearms, on my head, and, I think one day soon, on my hands! My body lifts heavy stuff, like all the groceries I buy and cook and put inside of it. My body is flexible – it lets me get into an Instagram-worthy parivrtta utthita hasta padangusthasana and it lets my mouth say that three times fast. Some days, my body even floats in full lotus and I’m astonished by how easily I lift it up. My body tastes and touches and sees and hears and gets chills up and down it’s spine when one of my witchy sisters says exactly what I’m feeling.
I don’t have a good body. I have an incredible body. It’s fucking perfect, actually. And I’m officially done worrying about it.