The Wasted Energy of Weight Obsession – Body Self-Consciousness is Dragging Us Down
I saw a postcard on Post Secret today that hit home. (If you don’t know what Post Secret is, check it out here.) It showed a woman behind bars, but it appeared to be bars of her own making as it looked like a normal house behind her. The secret says, “I Weigh 416 lbs…My Body is a prison. I get no Parole. I thought I had good behavior.”
I don’t weigh 416 lbs, nor have I ever. But for women, I don’t think the number matters. If we are anything but model thin we feel unworthy. We won’t even get into wrinkles and sagging jaw lines as we age! But it is true that as we get older, it is harder to keep the weight off and stay fit.
I’ve been teaching yoga for 6 years now. There’s nothing like walking around in tight clothing in front of mirrors for 90 minutes to keep you focused on your body. As much as I try, I will still feel subconscious in a room full of skinny yogis. I will think to myself, “I’m the heaviest person in the room.” I will then think, “Yes, but this body can do amazing things. Poses I never thought I could do. I am capable and my practice is strong. I have more worth as a teacher than my BMI.” And I will feel better…for a little while.
I have yoga clothes that fit well, and when I wear them I feel good. I have yoga clothes from a skinnier time that still fit, but not so well. I never feel good in them. And regardless of what yoga clothes I have on, I feel like I’m trying to use my clothing to “make my body look good.”
It occurred to me one day that it is ridiculous, and quite frankly the definition of insanity, to use my clothes as a tool shape my body to look the way I want it to look. It doesn’t work. Yes, some clothes look better than others, but that has to do with the clothes, not my body. If clothes are too small, it doesn’t matter what size you are, they aren’t going to look good on, and your body will look ridiculous. Same thing if the clothes are too big. My body is what it is. Which led me to another thought.
I may compare my body to other people, but I am never judging those people. Furthermore, I never think in a yoga class, “Oh girl, you should NOT be wearing those shorts!” Never once have I thought that. In fact, I have never thought anything about anyone’s clothing other than, “Those are cute pants,” or “Too bad that top has a halter strap around the neck otherwise I would total ask where she got it. I hate halter straps. They pull on my neck,” or “My God! This is a hot class. She must be burning up in that long sleeve shirt!” I think nothing of what other people are wearing compared to their body type. Why can’t I allow myself the same courtesy?
There is a teacher I admire who is middle age, has had children and in no way has the “yoga” body. She is always wearing short shorts to teach hot class and half-way through class she tucks her shirt under her sports bra exposing her tummy. As I was contemplating how ridiculous trying to use clothes as a tool to shape my body into what I want it to look like, I thought of her. She owns her body.
She owns her body.
She is not apologizing by trying to cover up. And in owning her body, she is respecting her body. Huh. What a concept. Maybe I should try this. What would happen if I were to wear more exposing clothing to teach class? Could I get over this body image thing?
That same afternoon I saw this teacher at the studio. She said at one point her mentor told her she had to get over her body and try wearing more exposing clothes. She said it was scary when she bought her first outfit and wore it to class. She said it took a long time to get over it.
So I committed. I would try wearing either shorts with a full top or leggings with a sports bra to teach my hot classes. I didn’t have the courage to do it in the one flow class I teach. And frankly, the teacher said she hadn’t had the balls to wear the exposing clothing to practice in a flow class. Baby steps, eh?
I did this “clothing experiment” for two weeks and I can tell you it was difficult. I’m not going to say terrifying. But what was terrifying was watching my thoughts as I taught in said clothing.
First, I was surprised that wearing the shorts and exposing my legs didn’t bother me half as much as exposing my belly with a sports bra. I’ve always been self-conscious of my legs. They are the farthest thing from long and lean. I’d say they are more dwarf quarterback legs. Now, I have friends reading this right now that are thinking I’m over-exaggerating. However, when you are constantly comparing your legs to Jennifer Aniston, yes, my legs are those of a dwarf quarterback. But when wearing the short shorts, I was confident because they looked strong. (Despite the varicose veins and wide calves. Remember, baby steps!)
Exposing my belly made me feel far more vulnerable. While teaching I was constantly looking at my belly. It was nice to be able to demonstrate drawing in your ribs to activate your transverse abdominis, but that seemed to be the only positive point. There was one day that I was so preoccupied with how my stomach looked I was distracted from teaching.
That’s when it occurred to me that while teaching, especially when in tummy exposing clothing, 40% to 75% of my attention is focused on my body. That is a fucking lot of energy to be putting toward worrying about how your body looks.
What a waste. Seriously.
And I know it’s not just in the yoga studio that I waste that much energy. It varies depending on what I’m wearing, who I’m with, where I am, but I would say at least 30% of my energy is focused on my body image at all times. Again, what a waste.
What could that energy be going toward? If I wasn’t worrying about my weight, where would that energy go? Maybe I would focus more on my other goals in life. We all have those “I’d love to…” things in our life. Thinking about how much energy I waste focusing on my body has made me wonder just how much it is truly holding me back. For reals, ladies. Anyone who has been overweight can relate to the thoughts that basically say, “When I lose the weight, my life will begin.” It is sucking up our energy like a black hole that leads to nowhere.
I now have this theory that learning to own our bodies will give us that wasted energy back. That wasted energy is stealing away our time, our self-worth, our lives. I feel so strongly about this idea that I relate it to flushing money down the toilet and hoping that it ends up in the bank.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’m going to say that is actually the definition of suffering. This obsession with our body image and the daily re-committing to our diets isn’t working. It is living in a vacuum with no air for our personalities to breathe. If we could somehow change our thinking and accept that our bodies aren’t ever going to be perfect (and if they could be, what kind of life would we be living to maintain it!) I think everything would change. Buddhist believe suffering is caused by resisting pain. Instead Buddhist believe that by accepting that pain is a fact of life and nothing will ever remove it, you end the suffering aspect. We are suffering because we refuse to accept that our bodies are imperfect, and always will be. Instead, if we could focus on accepting our bodies aren’t perfect, but instead are beautiful in their imperfections, we might focus on eating healthy and to feel good instead. Maybe, just a baby step maybe, we would not eat crappy food because we would be in touch with our bodies and notice how crappy we feel the next day.
For example, my mother-in-law is gluten-free. Now, she isn’t gluten-free because she is trendy and knows wheat is bad. She is gluten free because she is literally gluten intolerant and if she eats wheat ends up in bed for two days with horrible gut pains. The rest of us think, “Oh, how horrible. No flaky croissants! No Nothin’ Bunt Cakes! No pizza! No ice cream cones!” She doesn’t think that way. She looks at a table full of pastries and all she sees is pain. She has no desire what so ever to eat any of those yummy things.
For those of us with pets, we easily love them for their imperfections. The ear that hangs weird, the constant drool hanging from their jowls, the stinky farts, the bed hogging. Furthermore, we know that if something is bad for our pet and will make them feel sick the next day, we don’t give it to them. Why can’t we give ourselves the same love?
The idea that I waste 40% to 75% of my time is focused on my flabby stomach and the flesh hanging from my upper arms and fat under my chin makes me so angry now. It reminds me of when I watch a bad movie and I think, “I want those two hours of my life back. What a waste.” It is such a waste to think so negatively about myself. That energy could instead be used so beautifully with thoughts and ideas about my life and all the beauty in it and putting energy into the things I want to do. My life should be more than focusing on a puffy body and how to fix it. I am definitely worth more than that to this world. I have so much more to offer. We all do. Women are amazing. Regardless of the bumps and crevices of our bodies, we are elegant and strong and witty. We have so so so much more to offer to the world. And fuck all the rest of it that tells us none of those things matter if we have a muffin top. What bullshit.
Own your body. It’s yours. Let it radiate with power.