On Looking at Myself
February 10, 2015

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This story begins when I went to a hot yoga class a few months back. I was dressed inappropriately, which is to say that I had worn a t-shirt and long yoga leggings—fine for a normal vinyasa class, not so fine for a hot room. I was melting (more than is intended), and at some point near the start of class, I got bold and took the t-shirt off and did yoga in my sports bra.

I wasn’t going to mention this incident on CR, initially. But when I told Steven how the whole experience had made me feel (which, as you’ll see, is the point of this post), he strongly encouraged me to blog about it. I disagreed, with emphasis. “Oh, come on,” I said. “That’ll seem painfully navel-gazing” (to come across as navel-gazing is, I think, every blogger’s perennial fear). Steven was resolute, and insisted that others might appreciate hearing about this topic, as they seem to appreciate about other body image related issues. In the end, I decided that he’s right. I also decided that I should spend some time thinking about why I greet the instinct to talk about my body—no matter the circumstances—as “navel-gazing,” vain, shameful, or embarrassing.

I think part of my hesitation is the discomfort I feel with some visions of body positivity that I encounter online. These include progress photos of weight loss or fitness journeys, “fitspiration” photos (which I’ve written about here), and body selfies that strike me as aspirational, intended to instill a sense of “I want to look like that.” I know that these images are intended to celebrate personal triumphs, to inspire others to stay motivated in the quest toward being more fit or more healthful, and—sometimes—to celebrate positive body image. I know that part of my discomfort stems from the fact that these images convey (to me) a kind of confidence that I’ve never had, and that’s my problem.

But I also know that these kinds of images can be deeply triggering for the many men and women who struggle with disordered eating or body dysmorphia. I know that they can be very disincentivizing for people who are trying to recover, because recovery is often about learning to accept our bodies as they are without our imposed dietary and exercise efforts—a goal that can conflict with the culture of fitspiration. I could go on, but the point is that sometimes, for reasons that have everything to do with my own baggage, I can’t relate to the impulse to celebrate the body, either through images or by making it visible to others.

Throughout the course of ED recovery, I’ve tried to find different ways of appreciating my body. First I went through a fitness phase; if I couldn’t control my body through restriction of food, then I’d control it through a quest toward being toned and trim. I bought fitness magazines religiously and worked out far more than I enjoyed; there was one summer of college when I spent more than two hours at the gym each day. I told myself that this was all about wanting to celebrate being “strong,” but in the end I had to recognize that it really wasn’t. It was all about the fact that I no longer had my thinness to revel in, so I had to find something else, and I was hoping it would be a toned physique.

Then I went through the “fake it till you make it” phase. I wore clothing that was far more form-fitting than anything I’m naturally comfortable with in the hopes that, If I could dress in a way that implied self-confidence, then maybe I’d actually learn to feel confident. This phase also included more wakeup than I wear now and more time spent in front of mirrors than comes naturally to me. It was what I thought women who were proud of their appearance did—they paid attention to their looks, they wore clothing that showed off their figures, they highlighted their attributes and features. (As I write this, I realize exactly how silly and presumptuous it all sounds.)

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In the end, I let go of all of these different ways of “framing” my body. Ironically, what gave me the most peace was simply to spend less time thinking about my body altogether. I feel tremendously grateful for what my body allows me to do: move, feel, think, and express myself. But at a certain point I put an end to the scrutiny I’d been giving my physical appearance. I stopped spending time in front of mirrors. I stopped examining my thighs in yoga pants. I stopped caring about makeup. I gravitated toward clothing that was billowy, layered, and boxy. To some extent, this was/is a matter of personal preference (I’ll take boyfriend jeans over skinny jeans any day). But wearing loose stuff also allowed me to stop devoting excessive thought to my shape. I don’t know whether this was good or bad, but I know that it allowed me to move on.

The danger of this tactic was—maybe still is—a sort of refusal to acknowledge or look at my body. And when we refuse to face something, when we allow it to become a great unknown, it’s much easier for our fears and anxieties to warp it into something it’s not.

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When I was a kid, I thought my body was monstrous. It wasn’t exactly about feeling big or about feeling ugly, though I felt those things often. It was about feeling as though there was something strange and other and a little hideous about me. The feelings began at a young age, and they paved the way for my anorexia.

I never think of my body as being monstrous anymore, but I do still have days or weeks where it feels ungainly or awkward or large or wrong to me somehow. When this happens, I tell myself to snap out of it, and I try to stop thinking about my body altogether. I focus on work, friends, yoga, cooking, writing, sex—anything that draws me out of that headspace and into a frame of mind that feels more rational and clear. But my tendency in these moments is to dissociate from my body a little, to shut it out. And I’ve realized only recently that, when I refuse to look at my body for days, when I fight my boyfriend about purchasing a full length mirror for our apartment (something I went years without), or when I cover up with loose layers, I’m creating more space for warped perceptions to run free. I stop worrying about my body so much, but I also don’t have a chance to see myself as I really am. The monster, to use a clumsy metaphor, gets stuffed back into the closet; it’s not visible anymore, but we still believe it’s there.

So when I went to yoga the other day and took off my shirt, it really was a big deal. It was a big deal because, no matter how far I’ve come, I’m rarely able to spend much time looking at myself in an exposed state. To practice yoga in front of a mirror without much layering was, I realize, a step for me. Let’s be honest: I didn’t only remove the extra layer because I was hot. I did it because I wanted to know what it felt like to be the sort of person who could face her body without flinching or distorting or turning it into a big deal. I looked around the room at my fellow yogis, and I was inspired by how many of them were wearing very little clothing. They weren’t doing this to make a statement or because they naturally ooze confidence (though if they do, good on them). They were just doing what’s natural in a 100 degree room—staying cool. And they weren’t allowing self-consciousness to get in the way.

A funny thing happened when the t-shirt came off. I looked in the mirror and saw something that I don’t often see: my body, undistorted. It was neither big nor small nor strange nor special. It was just a body, like all of the other bodies in the room. It had what might be called imperfections, and I didn’t care. For the first time in a long time, I was able to see my body in an exposed state without passing judgment. And amazingly, I made it through the class without doing much scrutinizing at all. The experience wasn’t meaningful because I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw. It was meaningful because I was able to view my body impartially, and after I’d done that, I was able to move on.

Do I think that this will change my customary yoga attire or my way of dress? Probably not, or maybe just a little. But it was a good experience for me. As with so many things about recovery, my relationship with looking at myself is all about finding moderation. To spend too much time on my appearance evokes memories I dislike, memories of mirror checks and pinching and lifting up my shirt so that I could examine my belly twenty times in a day. I also don’t find it very interesting, and I’d rather be doing other things. But to disavow interest in my appearance altogether is also not a solution; it is, in fact, a convenient way of refusing to actually heal or address the fact that, from time to time, I have a warped perception of the way I look. It compels me to turn away from my body, and in turning away, I only perpetuate the kind of dissociation and distortion that can characterize eating disorders in the first place. There’s is a healthy middle ground, and maybe that yoga class was a foothold upon it.

As always, I’d love to hear whether or not this resonates with you guys—especially the theme of refusing to look at ourselves, and what the consequences are. It’s also worth noting that fellow vegan blogger and body love warrior Emily Nolan Joseph has created an entire community surrounding the idea the topless yoga can be a healing experience. (You can check it out here.)

Later in the week, a special Valentine’s Day dessert, and a post about a cool food photography workshop that I took recently. Until then, thanks (as always) for letting me share.

xo

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Categories: Food and Healing

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    34 Comments
  1. I know I have come late to the party of this post, but I just wanted to say how much I loved it. Learning to love your body is so much more of a journey than simply regaining the weight or giving up the self destructive habits. It is almost as though we need to swing to opposite way of body obsession into body ignorance, only to find our way back to the middle after that. A wild swing calls for an equally wild swing so that we can find moderation. <3

  2. You have such an incredible ability to put into words the thoughts that run through my mind and the feelings that echo in my heart. Thank you for having the courage to “get real” with your readers… and for pouring positivity into every recipe referral you post… and for every interesting article you share your views on. You are by FAR my favourite blogger on the interweb. 🙂
    All the best, always!
    -MDVinCANADA

  3. Once again I am wowed and so appreciative of all you are willing to share with us (thanks to Steven for nudging you on this one!)
    By the time I got to the bottom of this post, I realise I had given my full & complete attention to every single thing you had said, even though I had just spent the past hour quickly skimming posts of all of the blogs I read and feeling rushed & pressed so I could at least give some attention to all of them. But this really struck me, and I am definitely struggling with this. I’ve been through most of the phases you went through and am just about now finding a happy medium.
    “Ironically, what gave me the most peace was simply to spend less time thinking about my body altogether.”
    I’m working on this and I’m slowly making progress and it’s definitely helping. This is a huge and valuable piece of advice, not just for people with an ED or even those recovering, but for everyone. We spend far too much time consumed with how we look and how to improve and we need to find happiness with how we look and that will start to translate to how we feel.
    I was recently at an ED support group meeting and was talking about how I’ve made such progress in recovering from my ED, but that body image was still a huge thing for me. One of the girls suggested I cover up my mirror completely so I didn’t have to look at myself. I smiled and thanked her for the suggestion, but it saddened me. I don’t want to be completely consumed by how I look and obsess over it, but I don’t want to have to cover up my mirror either. Here’s to finding a happy middle ground.
    Thanks Gena =)

  4. Darling Gena,

    This post was great and I found myself relating strongly to your feelings on your relationship to looking at and acknowledging your body. I self-depricate all the time about avoiding my naked figure! It’s one of those jokes you make that gets mild laughter but only ends up hurting your own feelings!
    I think we share a certain baseline comfort-level that might fall way more on the modest side compared to most people/women- even before accounting for experiences with disordered eating. In this way, it makes working on body confidence a game of figuring out when we are being our authentic selves and when we are giving in to the desire to avoid ourselves.
    It’s interesting that the more symptomatic I have been with eating issues, the less likely I am to do things that are fear inducing or shame-causing like check on my bank account or reach out to friends to spend time (food dates, sometimes fairly anxiety-provoking.) Like spending yoga class in a sports bra, these things kind of require personal courage and personal responsibility.
    Conversely, when I challenge myself to not avoid my body, or my responsibilities to it, through nutrition and emotional self-care, those actions permeate to other areas of life.
    “…when we refuse to face something, when we allow it to become a great unknown, it’s much easier for our fears and anxieties to warp it into something it’s not.”
    The encouraging part is finding yourself in comfort- even joy, after and when you’ve overcome the fear of the great unknown. No matter how small they may seem to the outside world. When, in your memory’s eye, you can recall a time when every meal of every day was a struggle to trust yourself, you can never discount such triumphs.

    xoxo C

  5. As always, I’m inspired and moved by your courageous and vulnerable sharing. Bravo for taking off your t-shirt and all that signifies. xoxo

  6. First- thank you for sharing.

    Secondly – I can resonate with this deeply although in a slightly different way. During my ED I certainly dissociated from my body + soul but for me being naked was never an issue (yup I just wrote that…). It can be scary and terrifying and certainly isn’t for everyone but I do credit it with allowing me to stay somewhat connected to physical myself through the many ups and downs of the last few years. I continue to encourage my clients + students to devote time each day to being in some state of undress because its been a powerful and healing force in my life.

    A big triumph from 2014 was starting to dress for my body as it is now. I resisted “fashion” quite a bit. This was due to a lot of reasons: I’m a minimalist and thought fashion + minimalism couldn’t mix, my body didn’t fit into any of the shapes any magazine featured (what happens if I’m petite aka under 5’4 AND apple shape?! *gasp*), and I was a bit afraid of fully showing up. Interestingly, Instagram style challenges + selfies — being more visible to myself and others and, admittedly, getting positive feedback about my outfits as I got better at dressing ME as I am NOW — were a big part of this transformation. I also started paying more attention to how my clothing affected my mood (a statement Kait from a year ago is rolling her eyes at!). The style challenges helped with getting me up and dressed, even on days when I work entirely from home. Some days definitely still call for my oldest sweatshirt, leggings, and fuzzy socks but most of the time this isn’t what fuels me. I’m still fascinated by it!

    All that being said, this post has me thinking quite a bit about ways I might avoid looking at myself. Keeping busy constantly to avoid “bad” feelings, not getting rid of clothing that makes me feel less than stellar, and hiding my body at times are certainly things I still struggle with although it feels like less and less.

    Thirdly – a big shout-out + thank you to Steven!

  7. Good for you, I’m glad you posted about it! I had similar feelings, not from an ED, but during pregnancy, it was hard for me to look at my body. I know others feel the same, especially post-partum. Three of my good friends and I participated in the 4th trimester body project this past summer, where you get photos taken in your undies. It was uncomfortable at first, but in the end so freeing.

  8. I relate to this story so, so much. Thanks you for sharing it. I am always self-conscious about how I look when exercising. I mostly get through it by not thinking about it–there are no mirrors in the exercise part of my gym, I generally don’t practice yoga in a mirrored room, and I’ve always spent ballet classes looking at others’ feet instead of the mirror. And I’m always wearing slightly oversized T-shirts and some sort of leggings or pants (except in ballet, where it’s just shorts over tights). I hope I’ll someday get to the point of being able to do what you did in that yoga class.

  9. What a beautiful post, G! I can’t tell you how relieving and validating it is to see others have been where I’ve been and continue to fight the good fight. The struggle is real, for so many of us, and processing and sharing our testimony is really the best way to further heal our hearts and minds. And others, too. It begins to lose its power and grip on us, and we see it through different lenses.

    I can’t tell you how much I relate to the ever- occurring body haunting days. I think the really only time that I fully embraced and accepted my body was when my ED was at it’s most active and chronic state, and in some creepy way, all was right in the world. I would go to hot yoga and be so carefree and untimed and wear a bikini! I would have no problem sun- bathing at the beach without modesty and I could freely dress what I wanted. The common, “oh, I just have a super fast BMI, hence why I’m small- boned” was a commonly used catch phrase when I’d get questioned about my petite frame and those delicious coconut lemon muffins I just baked and devoured.
    These days it’s a wholeeeee different playing field. When I entered into the next stage of my recovery of weight restoration, with it came a whole new plethora of getting work done with the body dysmorphia piece. I woke up everyday just not feeling like myself due to the foreign earth suit I was now residing in– it just didn’t feel like me and I didn’t want to showcase it anymore in the ways I had formally in my sick days. Hot yoga meant wearing all black and baggy; showering in the women’s wing meant more caution and modesty, and I rarely if ever chose to wear shorts or summer attire on the warmer days. I told myself if I have to love and nurture this new body, sure, I will, but I certainly won’t do the same publicly. Feeling overly uncomfortable, unfamiliar and disconnected from my newly physical and not knowing how and when this adjusting to would happen. It’s so challenging. It’s still challenging. Nobody else can do the work for us, no matter what one says or encourages us, it still won’t mend the empty shattered body dysmorphia, and it just circles right back to us. To travel back to the heart and love and embrace ourselves on a deeper level; with food, relationships, solidarity, mindful movement, self- care, etc 🙂

    Thank you for this beautifully articulated post, G— so grateful for the CR community!

  10. You have no idea how much this resonates with me, Gena. Thank you so much for sharing. This post was beautifully written (as all of your posts are) and I could identify with so much of it. Though I’ve been in recovery for a few solid years now, I still struggle with body dysmorphia and it can be very frustrating at times. I know that for me, my body image still gets worse when I’m under stress or anxious about something. At times, I think I see my body how it actually exists, without distortion, and some days I’m ok with it. Other times I know what I’m seeing is a distortion and it is those moments when I have to remember that a) what I’m seeing is not the real deal and b) my body isn’t everything. I am happy that you were able to have the experience of seeing your body and moving on, because I think that’s a phase in recovery I haven’t reached yet, though I want to, and know it’s possible. It seems for me that it’s just taking time for my body dysmorphia to normalize, as it appears to keep decreasing the longer I’m in recovery. Thank you for sharing your experience with us! I love your body image posts!

  11. Others have briefly touched on this, but I just wanted to share my experience, in case anyone else felt similarly.

    I definitely agree that extreme focus on one’s appearance isn’t the road to confidence; however, I do think that the choices we make about clothing are inexorably tied up with our confidence–and it seems like that fact comes out a lot in your post.

    For a long time, I just assumed that no matter what I wore, or what I did with my hair etc., it wouldn’t make a difference: I was going to be fat, ugly, frizzy-haired no matter what. But I remember some point where I put on a dress and I thought, hey, my body just IS like this, and this dress looks pretty good on my body the way it IS. So wearing clothes that I thought were fun or flattering on my body-type wasn’t a direct route to body confidence, but it definitely helped. I suppose it’s a bit of a chicken-egg problem: you can’t gain confidence by wearing flattering clothes unless you already believe it’s possible for you to look good. So, maybe telling people to “dress confidently” isn’t good general advice, but I think that feeling more confident when wearing a certain piece of clothing is a real (and often positive) experience that women have.

  12. I really like this post! To me, there’s a strange contradiction with what I wear and how I want to be perceived. I’m definitely much more comfortable in loose, relaxed clothing, but, in the back of my mind, I want people to see that I have a nice body – even though it seems like I’m always trying to hide it. Confidence plays a part in this, but I think it’s also a fear to embrace the unknown. I don’t know what others would think of me if all the sudden I started to dress differently. To me, it seems like I would be changing my identity in a way. Something I have found that helps me move past these thoughts is going shopping with a supportive friend – she makes me go outside my comfort zone in fashion but also have fun and look at myself in the mirror.

  13. I had such a similar experience just this past weekend. I’ve been in a yoga teacher training for 9 months and will have my graduation at the end of this month. The other yoga practitioners in my class are supportive, diverse (in all senses of the word, but it’s perhaps particularly relevant here to note that we represent a diverse range of body types), and tapped into the internal practice of yoga. I’ve been in recovery for 2 years and both yoga and veganism have played a big role in that process. They have both helped me view both food and my body as a opportunities/tools for me to care for myself and for the world, to make statements about where my political/ethical allegiances lie. And they lie with me, with the earth, with workers, with care.
    I’ve certainly been in yoga classes that felt like platforms for body performance- showing off the depth of your posture or your own thinness or beauty in some fashion. I have found classes and teachers, however, who help me see the beauty in each expression of a posture, in trying to exist fully in your body in each moment (without judgment).
    My teacher training is in hot yoga (not bikram, but hot vinyasa and hot stability style called niyata) and our practices get really hot. And I have never taken off my shirt. In fact, I’ve noticed that I’m the only person in the room who wears a loose t-shirt instead of a tight fitting yoga top.
    I’ve gained what I think is a healthy amount of weight in the process of recovery. I’m always timid about that statement, unsure if other people can see my history in my body. I don’t look like a girl who used to be so skinny that she stopped bleeding, that her bones became porous, that her bones showed through her dry, brittle skin. Do I? Do I want to? I don’t think I’m a skinny girl anymore. I usually think that’s a good thing. I certainly feel more at home in my body. I certainly feel more able to move through my life inside of this body.
    And I took off my shirt last week in yoga. Sweat pouring down my back, I pulled off my top and pressed back into downward facing dog. And I did wonder if those around me were judging me. Did I look thin? Did they think I was too big to shed that layer? Did they think I thought I looked thin? These disordered, compulsive thoughts running around in circles. And then I had that same moment that you described of looking in the mirror and simply seeing a body. Not something fat or thin. Just a body in a posture. And that was a beautiful expression.
    I clearly have a ways to go. But I’m working on it. And your words help.

  14. Wonderful post — one that is indeed navel-gazing, but in the best way. For anyone who has had body image issues (which is to say, most of us), a moment in which you can, as you put it, view your body with a neutral gaze is totally empowering. I spent a lot of years without an “official” ED, but many disordered habits: working out for hours, making myself work out if I thought I had eaten too much, eating very little throughout the day to “save up” for a big dinner out, pinching my tummy to “check” if it felt chubby or thin, avoiding wearing certain clothes, etc. Slowly, through a regular yoga practice and a positive relationship, those habits and mindsets faded away. They still exist, but I’m better able to recognize them and move through and past them.

    Now as a yoga teacher, I can see how many students come in and remain entirely focused on what their body looks like throughout an entire practice. Seriously, I’ve seen men and women literally stare at themselves in the mirror the whole time — not to adjust a posture, but to check themselves out. It is sad and disheartening, but I get it; I’ve been there. So the fact that you were able to be in your body on your yoga mat, yet actually shed a layer (literally and emotionally) of protection or of control over looking a certain way, is so amazing and powerful. I’m so glad you wrote about that moment and honored it, because it does matter, to you and to many, many others.

    The thing is, I still have plenty of moments wherein I err on each side of the spectrum. There are days when I feel “above” my body, yet completely detached, and other days where I feel hyper-focused upon it. I find my yoga practice to be a really useful tool in managing both. Yoga brings me back to my body, and it also reminds me that it’s *just* a body. But it’s a duality, something that goes back and forth. It’s not like you land on self-acceptance and then you’re good to go. It takes constant practice and awareness.

    On a similar note, I used to wear a ton of makeup as well, and remained extremely focused on always looking perfect (how shocking that these two experiences are related, right? ha). It had gotten to the point where if I didn’t carry foundation with me, or have access to a mirror, I would get physically anxious. (I know – how crazy is that?!) Luckily, I recognized that something wasn’t quite right about that, and I slowly started to make myself wear less makeup as an experiment. First, less eye makeup. Then less bringing makeup with me to places “just in case.” And so on. Now, when I look in the mirror and see my face — just the way it is — I realize that I’m seeing ME. Trust me, I still enjoy a bright lipstick and my eyelash curler and a little foundation, but I also feel like, finally, my face is just my face. Just like my body is just my body. It’s what I’ve got, and I like it, more or less. I definitely have days where I see myself and pass judgment in the mirror, but more frequently, I see myself and then carry on with whatever I’m doing… which is pretty awesome.

    Thanks again for your words, as always!

  15. As always, your writing is so beautiful and honest and it resonates so clearly with me. I feel like I go through stages where I look in the mirror (of which my apartment now has many) and see a distorted image: someone with huge thighs and hips and a belly that sticks out a little. It’s in those moments that I have to suppress the urge to revert to my previous practices of controlling my eating and exercise habits to a strict/dangerous degree. For me, the scale is a whole other monster as well, probably more so than a mirror, because the numbers on the scale seem so scientific and permanent: a (seemingly) direct assessment of me.
    Anyway, thank you again for your writing. It’s so great to know that I’m not in this struggle alone and I’m so happy for your triumph 🙂

  16. I’m really glad that you decided to write this post and share this experience. It’s so complex, and the feelings are so deeply rooted its easy to understand why the never(?) really go away but may morph over time. My experience has been the same. Since having children, I appreciate my body in a very different way than I ever have, I think I am finally at peace mentally. At the same time, I am so keenly aware of my fear that my daughter will spend her life hating her body, wishing it were different, and engaging in the same unhealthy mental and physical behaviors that I did for so many many years. I honestly don’t know how to prevent this. Is it some magic combination of emphasis on the right things, education, leading by example? At 2 years old, she is so proud of her body–in that crazy and fun way that only 2 year olds can be. And my wish for her is that she always loves it as much as she does now.

  17. Well said! I particularly liked “[The experience] was meaningful because I was able to view my body impartially, and after I’d done that, I was able to move on.” Throughout my journey of self-acceptance, I’ve often tried to return to a sense of disregard of my body that I had when I was much much younger. Seeing the body as a vessel and an enabler of life, rather than a hindrance or source of frustration is a personal goal. For that reason, I’ve also struggled with the ‘self-love’ movement. While the idea is lovely and appealing, the reality (in my opinion) is that it still encourages an overemphasis on the aesthetics of body consciousness which is ultimately harmful for those who hyper-analyze themselves as it is. I’ve often struggled with the question, “Why is it so difficult to love my body?” when I should not be trying to love it necessarily, but rather trying to achieve a level of indifference to the aesthetic values and appreciation for the functional values.

  18. I relate to so much of what you’ve written here, and share your preference for boyfriend jeans. As I’ve shared here many times, my own recovery from anorexia was not predicated on my relationship with my body, which remains tenuous, rather on my (transformed) relationship with food. I do love my body in a way I didn’t, in that I care for it, despite the occasional disdain or discomfort (I guess I relate to it more as parent than lover/admirer, probably not a bad thing, to have overcome the navel-gazing aspects of my eating disorder), and I do have moments (wearing certain things, engaged in certain activities), where I inhabit my body fully and it feels just great, but I haven’t made loving my body a project. I *think* the problem I have with orthorexia (a disorder I have zero patience with, despite my long history of anorexia) is that it does just that.

    I am not sure we heal completely, I think we have, throughout our lives, a kind of asymptotic relationship with wholeness and we have to be okay with less than wholeness so we can invest our energies in bigger projects than our own health/wellness/spiritual perfection, etc. I’m all about self-actualization, but not as an end in itself, only insofar as it enables us to contribute in more substantial and meaningful ways. It is great when we get to that place where we’re comfortable taking off a t-shirt in a 100-degree room, but for my part, I’d still just as soon avoid those situations.

    I heard a great interview with David Wolfe recently, about addiction. The interviewer, Tommy Rosen, has this thesis that all addictions boil down to two primary addictions, food and relationships. I don’t know if I agree or not but I just loved David Wolfe’s response – I don’t recall his exact words but the gist of it was that eating for comfort can be just fine. My takeaway? We don’t need to get to this place of spiritual perfection where we no longer have desires or cravings if we are filling them in reasonably healthy ways. Similarly, I don’t think I need to get to a place of body love where I am fine with being scantily clad in order to be “healthy” or to use the word “recovered.”

  19. Yes, this completely resonates with me! I went through so many similar phases. What I initially loved about yoga was that I could feel my body and do amazing things with it without having to look at it as I had in dance classes. Sadly, somewhere along the way some of the same tendencies I’d had as a dancer crept in. I hadn’t dealt with the bigger issues, just pushed them way back. I began to notice my body too much to make the process meditative or healing. I started wearing dance leotards with my yoga clothes to make me feel “all smoothed out” and take the focus off. And while this did help for a while, it was ultimately still avoidance. More recently than I’d like to admit, I started wearing just a sports bra and some form fitting pants to practice a lot of the time. It’s really the outfit that most facilitates what I’ve got to do on that mat. And while i don’t have to look at myself in the mirror in the ashtanga room, it felt like the same huge step. I was like “hey, look at me, being all confident!” But also, in a way, I was waiting for the sky to fall the first time I dressed that way. And of course it didn’t. I guess I still have those days where my body feels “wrong” the way you describe, but those days get fewer and farther between over time. What an amazing feeling.

    And, on the topic of sharing, of course you should share. I’ve recently resolved to share more. I always worry that it will sound a bit “poor me” and that really isn’t the goal. I want these kinds of discussions to be helpful to those who are still struggling alone. But we’ve got to keep the discussion going to make more measurable progress. Kudos to you for putting it out there! I’m grateful to you.

  20. Great topic!
    Do you think accepting your body for what it is has something to do with being in a relationship with a man that is so loving, supportive, and accepting?
    When I’m in relationships, I usually feel great about myself, because someone is complimenting me and pointing out the good stuff I don’t see myself (or that I don’t believe myself).
    But when a relationship ends, it’s so easy to slip back into the mode of feeling “not good enough, not pretty enough, not hot enough, etc.”
    Does anyone else go through this cycle? How do I teach myself to believe all the positive things others may say about me, even when they are no longer around?

    • This is interesting. When I first started dating my husband I basically just stopped my disordered eating behaviors. And for a while things were pretty great. But after the initial excitement of being in love, I had to go forth and be myself for the rest of my life and I found that all the issues were still there. I’d stopped the behaviors, but kept all my feelings. It took a long time to deal with the underlying issues and I had to do it for myself, not for him. But on the other hand, I do still think he was a catalyst. He made me want to be my best self and embrace all that life had to offer.

  21. Gena; thank you! Your experience mirrors mine almost exactly. Since beginning my recover 6 years ago, I have tread the up and down path of love/hate with my body. Glances in the mirror have been particularly painful most recently, and set off a spiral of negative self talk and cravings to restrict. Hearing this from someone who has experience similar feelings is extremely helpful; thank you for sharing!

  22. I’m not sure I should be commenting. Or I’m not sure how to comment, maybe. I almost didn’t click on this entry, because I wasn’t sure it would be a good idea for me, given the title. But your deft touch is appreciated, as ever.

    I’m still so far away from the foothold you describe, but after a few large life events in the fall and first half of winter, I’ve recently been back to contemplating healing, specifically the unification of body and mind, accepting that the mind is the body. It’s the only way so far I’ve been able to approach the sort of dispassion (or as you say, moderation) I feel is key in having an engaged, but not hyper-aware relationship with my physicality.

    About a week ago, I listened to an old interview Krista Tippett did with Matthew Sanford, and he said of the mind and the body, “nothing happens to one that doesn’t happen to the other.” I found that almost revelatory in internalizing behavioral modification practices: the idea that breathing and methodical muscle relaxation are helpful for what comes through as anxious thoughts, and affirmations are helpful in times of physical distress. I can’t treat one without the other. There’s still so much control to let go of, and yet I still have so much guidance to give myself in forming new habits.

    So, yeah, dispassion. Trusting yourself to try. Good for you, Gena. That’s big stuff. I hope it continues to bear fruit.

  23. Thank you for sharing this, Gena. As someone who practices traditional hot yoga every day, I can absolutely relate. Standing in front of the mirror, breathing and sweating and working and resting — I am forced to have an honest conversation with myself every day. It is a courageous practice — every time I step into the room, I am forced to spend 90 minutes truly looking at myself. And in this room, I started — and continue to see my body as one whole being, and less like different body parts that I want to fix.

  24. Such powerful words, Gena. Thank you so much for writing this. You know, it’s funny. I worked as a lifeguard and swimming instructor for over a decade, so my every day work outfit was a bathing suit. From years of working in pools I can tell you that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, fitness comes in all shapes and sizes, and in general no body gives a shit about what you are or are not wearing to work out. I’m as comfortable in a bathing suit as I am in jeans and a t-shirt, and from years of communal showers and change rooms, I’ll get naked in front of practically anyone. But. I’m not sure I could have taken my shirt off in that yoga class. Why that is, I don’t know. Maybe because swimming pools are a world that I feel at home in, and a place where many people who can’t exercise in other ways come, so there are lots of bodies that are soft, old, or large, whereas a yoga studio is so often the home of the toned. As I get older and as I get busier, my own body doesn’t hold the same tone as it did 5 years ago or 10 years ago, and sometimes I get a glimpse of myself with no shirt on and start running through the usual criticisms. I’m not sure how to stop that, and I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try topless yoga, but your words have really inspired me to try. Thanks Gena.

  25. Beautifully told. Honest and strong. What some of my writer friends used to call “writing from the spleen.” So glad you wrote this Gena. I have so much respect for you, and all of you in recovery. I learn something every time I read one of these kinds of posts. Thank you. As someone approaching 60 in menopause, I’d say the shifting body image and distortion can still be a challenge, even without an eating disorder. But also there’s a lot more of that just “being”–however I happen to be in and given moment–and goodness, life is too short to examine myself in the mirror for very long. Here’s to more of that very healthy just “being” for all of us, wherever we are in age, recovery, or activity. xo

  26. You have no idea how much I needed this today, friend. This is essentially why you sparked a chord with me 6 years ago, and why I’ll forever admire you for just being you. Cheers love!

  27. This was a real pleasure to read. As someone who is still in the early stages of the journey of recovery, I really appreciate hearing these pieces of life “down the line”. I always find it interesting when I look at so many different women’s bodies and I find them all beautiful, but then I have a hard time thinking the same of my own!

  28. I just have to say that I had a nearly identical moment several years ago in a bikram class. I documented it in my own journal and for some reason am deciding to post it here, because the resemblance just seems uncanny. I’ve had “eating issues” (anorexia, according to my medical chart) on and off since I was 15. I am 25 and doing better now, but I sort of go through phases. It’s a bit odd to read this now, since so much has happened since I journaled it out, but here goes:

    I went to the gynecologist that morning. The whole time I was sitting in the waiting room saying to myself, “I am going to tell them to turn me around; when they weigh me, I am going to tell them I don’t want to see because I know what this is going to do to me” and then they called my name and plunked me on the scale and I said nothing because I think I knew I wasn’t going to the whole time I was sitting there. My stomach knotted and I immediately felt so excessive, so undeserving, They led me to the exam room, where I sat waiting for my doctor. And as I sat there, I found myself growing more and more frustrated and angry. I just felt so helpless, so beaten down by myself, so unable to control even my mind. When I got home, I sat down to keep working on my paper, but my mind was just buzzing. Then I ran upstairs to my bathroom and took my home scale out from under the sink, where it still is, god knows why, and brought it into my room and put it on the floor. I don’t have a scale at school anymore, and for good reason. I can’t deal with the number. So there I am, sitting on the floor of my room looking at this horrible piece of white plastic for a few minutes, trying to decide what would be the best thing to do next. I ended up putting it in the bottom drawer of my dresser, under like 7 winter coats, shut it and ran back downstairs just to get away from it. I left the house immediately to make it to bikram. And when I got to the room, I stripped down to a bra and leggings because it is freaking hot in that room. I was standing in the front row, right in front of the mirror, which is kind of just torture for me because I still have trouble looking in the mirror straight on let alone when I am contorting my body into weird yoga poses. So there I am, standing there, just willing myself to look myself straight in the eye, praying that I wouldn’t allow myself to look below my shoulder blades, and finally I just kind of gave in. I thought to myself: I refuse to not to be able to look at my body in the mirror without being ashamed for the rest of my life. I am not okay with that at all. It was strange how hard I tried to look at myself with fresh eyes, to see myself objectively, whatever that means here. I started at my feet, which I’ve decided are very weird. Whatever. I don’t care about my feet. And then I moved to my legs, and everything was okay until I realized that when my heels and toes were pressed together like they were in most of the poses, my thighs now touch a little. This is a new development. For a split second, I honestly had to catch my breath and stop myself from quickly looking between all the other women’s thighs to make sure that theirs, too, were touching. Why did I do that. Wrong thing to do completely. So I tried to just push that one aside. Okay fine, I’ve been doing all this exercise and my thighs are getting more muscular. So what? Regardless of whether or not these women also have touching thighs, my thighs touch now and that is okay. And then I moved to my stomach and hips – the part of my body that I am legitimately ashamed of – and again, I tried really hard to just kind of clear my mind of ideas about how I ought to look, how I ought to be, how to deserve. My boyfriend always tells me that I have really high hips and that that’s just kind of how my body is, but that he thinks of them as one of my sexiest features. And for the longest time, I’ve just hated them and thought they were rendering all my not-eating, over-exercising, pushing myself way too hard efforts futile. Anyway, he used to have this gorgeous flyer on his door almost four years ago, my freshman year, when I first met him about seeing beauty as what we are rather than what we are not,and I realize that I do just the opposite everywhere in my life pretty much. But just here, in class, for a brief second, I had this moment where I loved this deep plunging slope from my small waist into my really high hips and I couldn’t stop admiring it. I sound weird, I know, but this never happens to me ever ever ever. Like I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment where I’ve actually liked the roundness of my lower half. And right then, I wasn’t looking around at anyone else’s body, comparing it to mine and making sure that mine was straighter and leaner with harsher lines and sharper angles. I was looking at myself straight on, and I was appreciating the way my body is, and will continue to be, regardless of my attempts to change it into something that it is just not. The feeling was ephemeral, for sure, but it was the strongest of this sort that I’ve ever felt. I just wish I could feel that way more often.

  29. Totally nailed it. .I avoid mirrors like the plague…how my clothes fit has way too much impact on how I feel about myself… I spend way too much time analyzing my body. Although I am finally at peace with food and eating, I have not yet come to terms with my body. So much of what you said resonates with me. I’m praying that I can get myself to the point that you are at. Thank you so much for giving me hope…you continue to inspire…

    • Karen, your words capture exactly how I feel and where I am. Thanks for sharing.

      Gena, I really appreciated when you said ” Ironically, what gave me the most peace was simply to spend less time thinking about my body altogether.” I completely agree and have recently been thinking about “simple pleasures” in life that I enjoy in each day and striving to be more mindful to enjoy the day I’ve been given rather than critical of myself or longing for aspects of my body to be different.

      Thanks for sharing!

  30. I am so glad you posted this as it hit home for me. I have struggled with my weight and self esteem for as long as I can remember. I have healthy periods and some times when it’s more challenging. Thank you for posting!

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