When we were 16, my stepsister and I used to talk incessantly about what swimsuit we would get for the summer. For me, being out of shape and thinking I was overweight (if only I knew then what I know now about how a 5’4″ girl is not fat if she weights 120 pounds!), that swimsuit needed to be a one-piece in a dark color, perhaps with a pattern to distract from what I was sure were hippo hips. My stepsister, shaped more like a short Barbie doll, focused with laser-precision on the bikini for the summer. One year, it was a black bikini, which worked well with her baby-oil-basted tan, and the next, it was a white one, which contrasted with her tan even more so.
Summer was a time when the body was right out there, and any flaws I had seemed magnified among other teenage girls, who had a propensity for colt-like legs and actual round breasts rather than the triangular-shaped ones I was growing (in a time before padded, push-up bras and bathing suit tops, such differences were more noticeable). I hated summer, and not just because of the heat and humidity.
When I first started yoga classes, no surprise that I wore oversized t-shirts and sweatpants. But as time went on, I read articles and listened to teachers, all suggesting we aim for more form-fitting clothes so that we and our teachers could see our alignment better. I think there’s more significant reason for showing what we’ve got beyond alignment though. When I can see how I’m really shaped—lumps, bumps and all—I also get to face the reality of being myself beyond hallways of shame or dark rooms of distortion.
So here I am, years after I began, in yoga pants and a tank top. The kind of body-hating inventorying I used to engage in would take too long and keep me from having time to actually do yoga, so I just have to go with what I have. Particularly when it gets hot—and it gets Wicked-with-a- capital-W hot in Kansas—and I’m in little stretchy shorts and the thinnest-fabricked tank top I can find, I rise into Mountain or fold into bends with the awareness that I don’t look the way I thought I had to look when I was 16.
Instead, I’m a summer body woman, a mosaic of muscular bits and flabby bits, flexible expanses and tight restraints, breathing, and sometimes, breathing very hard. There’s no white bikini in my future just as there wasn’t one in my past, but instead, there’s something much better: a love of being alive, a gratefulness for my beautiful-but-not-always-pretty body that has endured, surprised and delighted me, and the ecstatic ability to move, align, reach and forgive.
I am often reminded when I see patients in my office who are tall like me but weigh less and look VERY thin to me: “I used to weigh that amount”–and I thought I was fat! So many years we spend hating our bodies….I’m 50 pounds heavier and happier with my body than I was when I was 25. This is a great essay, Caryn. Thank you!