I’m standing at the top of my yoga mat, facing the wall of mirrors, and checking everyone out. That lady over there on the blue yoga mat has perfect legs. The Instructor is talking about grounding and breathing but I can’t stop staring. Her legs are toned and lean and her thighs don’t touch at all. My legs are toned but they’re so much bulkier than hers, and my thighs definitely touch. They always have, even when I was a teenager, starved down to my smallest. I guess it’s genetics but my mom’s thighs don’t touch so who knows. Everything on my body is just too wide. I could start running again to get leaner, but then I’ll mess up my back and it’ll hurt even more than usual. “I’m fat and my back hurts” has been my frustrated mantra for well over a decade. When I was doing gymnastics as a kid, I kept getting stress fractures in my low back and it’s been sensitive and achy ever since. I know back pain and body image issues seem unrelated but they’re both about feeling uncomfortable in my body, despite all the physical and psychological therapy. Ugh.
We’re in downward facing dog and I’m already sweating since the yoga studio is literally one hundred degrees. My doctor basically forced me to retire from gymnastics when I was thirteen and I’ve been a hot yoga person ever since. I make sure to press my palms into the mat so I don’t irritate the old stress fractures in my wrists. Sweat is dripping from my belly since I’m not wearing a shirt over my sports bra, nobody at this studio does. It’s too hot here. I’m proud of myself for being shirtless in front of all these people. It took me a couple months to get comfortable with it, especially with the wall of mirrors so you can “check your alignment”. Or obsessively stare at your body. Sometimes when I really can’t deal with my reflection, I don’t wear my contact lenses to class. The instructor tells us to roll our heads around and my neck crackles and pops. I store tension in my body like a squirrel storing acorns for winter, except I do it year-round and it fucking hurts.
Now I’m facing the mirror, lunging into warrior one and I can see the outline of my abs but there’s still that fluffy blanket of fat over top. The instructor reminds us to inhale deeply but I hate how my belly looks when it’s full of oxygen. I envy the lady to the right of me with her defined abs and no extra pudge. One time at gymnastics practice when I was a little kid, I remember seeing my teammate on the uneven bars, and noticing how her belly extended over it. She reminded me of a robin or some other little bird with a round belly. I didn’t think she looked bad but I remember staring down at my own tummy and liking that it went out less than hers. I wonder if flat-tummy lady is comparing herself to me and feeling high and mighty. Or maybe she’s too happy to notice me at all. Ouch, my fingers are getting tingly so I put my arms down by my hips to stop it. Another shitty, long-lasting side effect of the nerve damage I did to my spine.
There’s a woman to my left who is definitely bigger than me, but I don’t feel superior or anything. It’s ridiculous how grossed out I get by the rolls my belly makes in forward fold, but on someone else I think it’s cute. Just natural. I hope she feels good about her body and isn’t comparing herself to me and getting upset. I mean not that I’m much to look at obviously. Sure, I understand that I’m not morbidly obese and I’m pretty certain I don’t see myself as larger than I am, but I just think I’m a bit bigger than I need to be and if I was a little smaller I’d look a lot better, and be happier and more lovable and… yeah, I know, I hear myself too. “I wish I was skinny.” How original. Women are always trying to make themselves smaller, take up less space, fully disappear into the ether. I get the messed-up ideology. And, just for the record, I don’t know how much I weigh. I only ever step on a scale at my yearly gyno appointment and even then, I don’t let myself look. I know the number will just make me crazy and it’s an arbitrary measure and blah blah blah.
We’re in balancing half-moon and my hips make a loud pop because that’s what they always do. All of my joints tend to slide out of place. I don’t know, just one more thing about me that’s a little off. The instructor is talking about gratitude. Right, I’m grateful for my body and my body is a reflection of nature and I am strong, I am powerful, I am… so much fatter than that lady over there. Ugh. Why does my brain have to do this? Why does it have to tell me to shrink and rid myself of all softness? I’m aware of how pointless and destructive these thoughts are but I still can’t seem to stop. I’m totally brainwashed by the media with the glorification of thin bodies and I constantly compare myself to skinny movie stars which makes me feel like an ogre. And even if I am actually smaller than someone else it holds no value in my mind. It’s messed up I even compare like this at all, embarrassingly shallow, but I can’t stop. Just like how my joints can’t stop popping and my back can’t stop aching.
I search through my memories for the billionth time, trying to remember someone calling me fat, but there’s nothing. At all. No asshole ex-boyfriend or critical mother to blame for my insecurity. It’s all me. And if for some reason I’m not obsessing about my size then I jump to scrutinizing my face. My nose is too big and my mouth is crooked and my cheeks are too round. Too fat. Back to thinking I’m fat. Ugh. Take some deep breaths and do your side plank, which I’m nailing by the way. My balance is perfect and my biceps hold me up so well that I’m not even bothered by their bulkiness. Honestly, I’m really good at yoga. I glide through my high to low plank like it’s nothing. Upward-facing dog, nope, can’t do that. I do baby cobra instead, because up-dog aggravates my back. Look at me, modifying poses out of compassion for my body. I know the yoga helps release tension and correct spinal alignment, but will I ever be able to do back-bends without pain? Or just go a whole day without something aching? My head hurts. Literally and figuratively.
Modifying again for wheel pose, the biggest back-bend of them all. The instructor says to press your palms and feet into the floor and lift your hips high, but I just hang out on my mat. I miss doing wheel. Flashback again to being a calorie-restricting teenager at yoga class and doing wheel pose even though it hurt. The instructor had me grab onto my ankles and she lifted me up by my back, to floating wheel. I was in awful pain for days but damn, the pride I felt when the instructor thought I looked light enough to pick up was everything. Those were the days. I mean actually no, not at all, since I was miserable and having a full eating disorder, but floating wheel was cool, can’t lie.
Now I’m in half pigeon and my hips are wide open and I’m so much more flexible than skinny legs lady. Take that. Shit, I’m comparing which is stupid since this isn’t a competition. But I’d trade my flexibility for those skinny legs–ugh oh my god that’s such a pathetic thought. Deep breath. I am grateful for my body, I am exactly the way I am meant to be. . .but still, wouldn’t it be nice to be a size two? No! No, it won’t, because “wherever you go, there you are”. I know that it doesn’t matter what size I am because I’ll still find flaws and trick myself into believing that the thinnest girl in the room is also the happiest. Changing how I think is the only real solution here because this is all about wanting to be someone else. Someone who actually accepts who they are.
It’s final resting pose now, savasana. My hips and knees click as I straighten my legs and I put blocks underneath them to take pressure off my back. I’m drenched in sweat and feeling that mildly-dehydrated bliss and I know I worked hard. Sure, I didn’t pay attention to my breathing or the present for 99% of the hour, but I was here and I did the poses and I’m grateful for my body and I’m so sorry for the shitty, judgmental thoughts. Being alive just kind of hurts sometimes.
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