A few years ago it was impossible for me to stand naked in front of a mirror and silence the self-hate slurs that started swirling in my head. I’ve been battling body image issues, sadly, since the 7th grade. And though I’m proud of my body’s strength and ability today, it’s very much a work in progress. Even after years of self-work, some days the voices creep back in telling me I’m too fat, too skinny, too tired looking, too this, too that. I know a lot of women deal with this too, but we rarely talk about it. When I learned that I’m not the only person who hears these voices and that there are ways to silence them, they magically started to disappear.
I don’t want to gloss over the bigger (and I mean bigger) story that lies beneath this post, but I don’t want to derail. The short is, that I lost a significant amount of weight early in life. 40 pounds to be exact… two times. I was a “chubby” kid growing up and what my mom chalked up to be baby fat, was the onset of heavy, weight issues to come. Between 9th grade and my sophomore year of college my weight fluctuated drastically. I was “different” than other girls and so, I ate my feelings, and then starved my feelings. At one point between the six year span I went from 155 lbs to 112 lbs, and repeated the cycle again. In high school I counted Diet Coke as my lunch and acted as though it was totally normal. At the age of 23 I started approaching health and fitness as a long term commitment and less of a get-skinny-quick-fix. I started skiing, hiking, training and taking fitness classes regularly in addition to adopting healthier eating habits. Though my body transformed and began to take it’s intended shape and weight, I was left with a souvenir I’d rather not hold on to.
My belly. A flabby, squishy tire of tub around my waist that despite all the crunches, planks and mountain climbers I have done, or the sugar and carbs I have nixed, I cannot get rid of. My belly has been my Achilles heel. It’s held me back from intimacy and made me fearful of wearing certain clothes. My biggest fear about appearing on The Bachelor wasn't because I had one arm, it was because I knew I would inevitably have to be in a bikini on national television. The day I received my acceptance call from casting, I started online shopping for swimwear that would help me avoid the mortification ahead. I leaned into the one-piece swim suit trend with mercy, but extra fabric could only mask my insecurity for so long.
When I started working out with my trainer Debbie a few years ago, she observed that I had a hard time accepting compliments. Every time we had a session she would tell me I looked pretty, or healthy, or strong. And every time I would deflect the compliment or shut it down with self-hate talk. One day, Debbie stopped me in the middle of our work out – after I rejected one of her compliments – and asked me why I was so mean to myself. Caught off guard and a little embarrassed, I didn't know how to answer. She lovingly lectured me that I wouldn’t say such mean things to my friends about their appearance, so it shouldn’t be ok to say mean things to myself. I felt my face turn red. She was right. I was mean to myself, and my body didn’t deserve it. Working out with Debbie was the highlight of my week, not just because of the work out, but what she taught me. Debbie’s entire mission as a personal trainer isn’t to boot-camp people’s butts into shape, but to help people feel stronger and show compassion towards themselves. Debbie started giving me exercises to do in between sessions. Not training exercises, but self-love exercises. She’d often ask me to compliment my body, talk about the parts I love most, and to find positivity in the way I see myself.
Last fall I started practicing hot vinyasa yoga. Around the same time I was discussing my “belly issues” with a friend and she made a life-changing suggestion: shirtless yoga. Although simple in execution, the effects of practicing yoga in only your sports bra and yoga pants is actually quite liberating. Terrified by the idea in a good way, I gave it a shot. I showed up at True Yoga for my regular hot power vinyasa with Liz Little, and for the first time ever, walked into the studio with my midriff bare for all to see. I rolled out my mat and took to the floor in seated position, staring directly into the mirror in front of me, tummy out and all. It took a while to figure out if I liked what I saw or not. Admittedly, there were less-than flattering postures and moments I’d rather not think about, but for the most part I grew to love watching my body in the mirror. The way my body could bend and stretch free from the restriction of a shirt was empowering to see.
I only practice shirtless yoga today, and I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s humbling to show up and see with my own eyes that no two days does my body look the same. And that’s ok. Going to yoga shirtless has taught me to LOOK at my body for it’s strength and ability while practicing greater self-compassion. My body isn’t perfect and I may never feel comfortable wearing a bikini on national television, but I’m becoming more comfortable and confident in it every day. When I sit, my tummy still rolls over the top of my yoga pants, unless I do that thing where you pull your pants up over your belly – AND THAT'S OK. I encourage everyone to try shirtless yoga. Especially if the idea scares you.