How one woman found yoga, eased her inner hunger, and started loving herself. Follow Kimber as she shares her journey to loving her body, the joys and sorrows of yoga teaching, and venturing into the wilderness of writing and publishing.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Big Bad B-Word

“Bless you.”

For some of us, these two words cause our eyes to roll up into our heads.  For years I inwardly groaned whenever someone used “blessing” in a sentence.  The occasional outer groan might have emerged as well. 

Blessings were the exclusive purview of priests and parsons, whom I effectively avoided by spooning with my pillows on Sunday morning.

I did have some empathy with the southern use of “Well, bless his soul,” which carries the silent sentiment, “Damn fool.”  When my 10 year old son preferred to duck away and stare at his shoes instead of receiving a blessing from an aged Nepali holy woman in Kathmandu, I recognized in him my own old discomfort. 

But over the years, “blessing” has not only crept into my vocabulary, but set up a lively shop, weaving its colorful threads into my emails, songs, yoga teaching, art; almost nothing is untouched by its deft hand. How did this happen?  

 My whole view of blessings changed when I stopped thinking of them as abstract holy utterances and realized that more than anything else, they are free, unhampered, unrestricted aspirations.  Aspirations for what we want for ourselves and each other and the world.  What do you want for your best friend?  What do you want for your family?  Your community? 

Blessings are little articulations of our intention for life.

We want the people we care about to be happy and safe, loved and healthy.  A blessing is a way of saying, “I know things suck sometimes, but I care about you and I want you to have an awesome life. I want your work to be successful and satisfying.  And I hope you have plenty of time to dance like a damn fool and laugh until you can’t breathe.” Or something like that.     
In Buddhist metta (or maitri) practice, you meditate and offer blessings to people you naturally, effortlessly love, so that you connect to the warmth of your own heart.  You imagine them and repeat to yourself:

May you be happy, may you be well, may you be full of peace. 
After a while of that, then if possible, you turn it toward yourself:
May I be happy, may I be well, may I be full of peace.

Eventually you can turn the aspiration/blessing toward “neutral” people and then even toward difficult people.  Of course if you experience yourself as a difficult person, you might find the second step kind of challenging. 
But what do you wish for difficult people?  That their lives be worse?  Really?  If difficult people are unhappy, does that make your life easier or harder?  If our difficult people were happy and content wouldn’t they most likely be… less difficult?  If we wish difficult people well, we’re wishing ourselves well and the people they might otherwise harm.  It’s win-win. 

If you are your own difficult person, then wishing yourself well is wishing other people well too.  It’s an aspiration to love ourselves enough to create less harm in the world, use fewer Styrofoam cups, and squash fewer toes. 

If your body is your difficult person, why wish it ill?  Maybe you’ve had a difficult relationship with your body your whole life, or even just an indifferent one.  By wishing your body well, you wish for more peace toward your body, you aspire to take care of yourself, and be positive and encouraging towards yourself.  If you actually were more at peace with your body do you think you’d be happier/kinder/more fun/less stressed?  Yup.  You’d be making the world a better place. 

 May my body be well, may it be happy, may it be full of peace.

Offer it to your body, to every part of your body. Rinse.  Repeat. See what happens. 
Give blessings away for free.  Let your aspirations try out their fluffy wings and launch themselves headlong from the nest.  It’s worth a little eye rolling from your friends.  Who knows when the b-word will emerge from their lips?  Anything’s possible. 

Love Your Body Blog Part 72

Friday, August 3, 2012

Beautiful, Sexy, and Fat: A Love Your Body Role Model

Have you met Hilda? She’s the playful, funny, active, strong, and gorgeous pin-up girl illustrated by Duane Bryers from 1957 into the 80s.  She’s also fat.  And she’s sexy.  These last two adjectives don’t often fit together in our modern culture, but they were not always the antonyms they are treated as now.  In another era Hilda was considered healthy, desirable, and zaftig, but if she showed up in the typical doctor’s office nowadays, she’d likely be sent out the door with a handful of dieting brochures and strict admonitions about cutting down on the sugar and fats and showing up for gym bootcamp.

Yet she was a successful calendar girl not in spite of her size, but because of it. 

I first met Hilda many years ago at a friend’s house, where framed illustrations of her frolicking and cavorting at the beach lined the wall above the tub in the bathroom.  It was love at first sight.  Hilda does everything… swims, sails, paints, plays outside wearing nothing but flowers, ropes cows, climbs fences, loves nature, plays guitar, and enjoys a good book in her rocker garbed in her favorite red-long johns.  Sure, she was originally painted as a calendar girl for the enjoyment of straight men and the depictions are totally sexist. 

She’s still my hero. 

If you look on the expressions on Hilda’s face, you see a carefree self-confident woman unafraid of a little adventure, who’s willing to embarrass herself, because life is worth the fun and the thrill of it.  She’s outdoorsy and active, but knows the charms of a warm fire and a soft bed.  She doesn’t think twice about wearing a bikini; her belly and her big thighs are part of her charm, and she knows it.  In fact, she must live someplace rather warm… you get the sense that her preferred dress would be nothing at all, that the flowers are added out of respect for the modesty of the viewer, but not her own.  She enjoys her body, and doesn’t see it as a barrier to climbing trees, balancing on a fence, or swinging on a tire swing. 

When it comes to body image issues, I think a good question to ask ourselves is “What would Hilda do?” 

Would Hilda be afraid to show up at the pool in her flowered swimsuit?  No way.
Would Hilda show up in yoga class, do her best, and rest with a sigh into savasana?  You bet she would.
Would Hilda stand in front of the mirror and give herself a hard time about her butt, and put herself on a strict diet?  Never. 

Hilda’s success as a calendar model over thirty years tells me something about men too:
Men find big women sexy.
Men appreciate women who are active, confident, and not afraid to make a fool of themselves. 
Men are attracted to women who are unselfconscious and enjoy their own sexuality. 

This may not be true for all men, but many more than you’d think, if not most.  By the way, for all those same-sex loving women out there, I have it on good authority the exact same thing is true for lesbians. 

If Hilda can be sexy and confident, why can’t you and I? 

Let Hilda be an inspiration to you, whatever size you are, remembering that your ability to love yourself is not decided by billboards, fashion shows, or your dress size.  Look for other Love Your Body role models all around you in the world.  They are out there.  I’m always on the look out for new ones, so let me know what you find. 
And finally, consider becoming your own Love Your Body role model, the person your friends look to as the embodiment of self-confidence and enjoyment in life.  It’s a role well-worth playing. 

Love Your Body Blog Part 71

Friday, June 29, 2012

Put a Stop to Food Judgments

A friend who’s working on loving her body told me that whenever someone comments on her food choices or how much she should or shouldn’t be eating she becomes defensive. She wondered if this was a normal, justified reaction or an extreme one she should work on.
Here’s the short answer: nobody should judge what’s on someone else’s plate. 
There’s something about our culture’s obsession with perfection and weight loss that’s turned many of us to street corner experts who feel entitled to comment to anyone nearby: “You’ll always be fat if you keep munching that cheeseburger/cake/doughnut/etc.”  Funny how the same reasoning doesn’t apply to a “normal-sized” person eating the same thing. 
But we can’t judge someone based on two flimsy facts: what they’re eating and what they look like.   
For all you know, they might be a weight-lifter, a dancer, or they might simply have a genetic make-up that results in their body looking exactly the way it looks, no matter what they eat or how much they exercise. 
We experience comments like this whatever size we are: our friend who says, “Oh you got the blue cheese dressing, I can’t eat that, too fattening.”  Friends like this can really suck the enjoyment out of a meal.  What you choose to eat is not up for public discussion or debate. 
Eat what your body loves to eat, do exercise your body loves to do, and don’t feel guilty about it.  
No one has the right to judge you or make you feel bad about your body.  You don’t have to take on anyone else’s neuroses about weight and eating. 
Ragen Chastain, who writes one of my favorite blogs, “Dances With Fat,” talks about the perils of Eating While Fat (EWF) and suggests the correct response to an unwelcome comment from a stranger about food is: “You are way out of line and you don’t know what you’re talking about.  How dare you?  Move on.”  Indeed, this response sounds defensive.  But hey, if you say something to this impolite stranger now, you might save some other person from having to endure the same rudeness later.  Think of it as performing a public service. 
That said, there’s a deeper concern. What about when you’re defensive when you’ve asked someone for their opinion? 
Years ago, when first trying to figure out why I was hungry all the time, I asked a nutritionist friend of mine to look at my food choices.  Boy, was I defensive.  Seriously, I had asked her to evaluate (read: judge) my eating habits, and when she did exactly what I asked her to do, was I mad!  Pissed!  Furious!  How dare you tell me to eat differently!  Even though I’m paying you to do just that….
Yep.  Something was screwed up.  The real problem wasn’t that I felt judged by someone else. It was that I was judging myself, giving myself a hard time for everything that I put into my mouth that wasn’t perfectly fresh, non-fat, sugar-free, organic, sustainably harvested, non-violently grown by fair-trade angels or locally unionized leprechauns.  Which basically meant nothing I ate met the strict standards I set for myself.  I was judging myself constantly and anyone else’s judgments (even the professional dietician I was paying) just amplified the self-criticism beyond any tolerable threshold. 
I would always feel painfully defensive about my food unless I stopped judging what was on my plate. 
My inner judge would never be satisfied, no matter how perfectly I ate, leprechauns and angels aside.  How do you stop judging yourself for what you eat?  The Buddhist practice of lovingkindness is a good start (I’ll cover that in an upcoming blog), but one sure-fire way to circumvent the inner judge is to eat for enjoyment. 
Close your eyes, feel into your body, and ask your body what it would really enjoy eating.   
Don’t be satisfied with the old cookies in the cabinet or the stale pretzels on top of the fridge.  What does your body really want?  When I ask my body the question, “What would you enjoy eating right now?” my body almost always comes back with images of ripe fruit, steamy greens, crisp salads with lemony dressing, and roasted beets.  Fresh eggs, juicy tomatoes, and goat cheese also make the top of the list.  My body almost never asks for anything in a box or a can.  Go figure. 
Find out what your body would genuinely enjoy, then make it or buy it, and sit down and enjoy every bite.   
When your body stops enjoying it, stop, and enjoy digesting it.  If you have a hard time figuring out what your body would like to eat, stand in the produce section of the grocery store, or better yet, in the farmers’ market, and ask it again.  Keep asking it until it answers you.  You might be surprised by how clearly it indicates its desires once you start tuning in. Listening to your body sounds simple, but it’s easy for your body’s needs to get lost in the hubbub of daily life.   
Listening to your body requires a commitment to yourself to pause and ask, over and over again, what it needs, and to listen to and feel for the answer.   
And then to be willing to meet those needs everyday.  Eating without thinking is easier, but much less satisfying and enjoyable. 
Then the answer to anyone who comments on your food—stranger, friend, dietician, inner judge, leprechaun—is “This is what my body needs right now.  I’d trust my body over your advice any day.”  
If they seem interested, you might ask them how much time they spend listening to their own body’s needs.  You might spark a change in their relationship with their body, too. 

Love Your Body Blog Part 70

Friday, June 1, 2012

You Are Not an Object

Yesterday I got to catch up with an old friend, sharing our lives over the last ten years and savoring each other’s presence.  I told her about the Love Your Body work that’s been my passion for several years now, and she mentioned that she’s never had any problems with body image.  Ever.  At all.  It’s completely mysterious to her. 
For those of us who have struggled with body-image issues our whole lives, people (especially women) who have always felt ease in their bodies are the proverbial “unicorns”… something magical you’ve heard of but never seen.  
Yup.  They exist.  My life is full of body-image conversations and every once in a while I meet a woman who says, “What you’re doing sounds cool, but it’s not relevant to me.  I’ve never disliked my body.  I don’t entirely understand why anyone would dislike their body.”
My theory about my unicorn friends, the big difference between them and me, is simple: they don’t objectify themselves. 
They don’t look at themselves from someone else’s point of view.  They don’t take on that critical, judgmental, outside point of view that’s impossible to measure up to.  They don’t compare themselves to airbrushed images on billboards and magazines.  They don’t judge their bodies based on their appearance, but appreciate their bodies’ health and well-being.  We can learn a lot from our unicorn friends. 
Unicorns have problems too.  They judge themselves about their performance at work, they have divorces, anxiety attacks, lose their keys, get lost in the big city, and take wrong turns down winding country roads. 
That’s life, right?  It turns out life is hard enough without treating ourselves like a vase at a yard sale, pointing out every flaw and crack every time we look in the mirror. 
We end up treating ourselves like a potential buyer evaluating a horse.  “Hmm… rounded shoulders, ribs can be felt but not seen, fat deposits along the withers…this pony’s been overfed.”  It’s exhausting to treat ourselves this way all the time.  It can ruin your whole day.  Maybe even your whole life.
You are not a pony. Your body is not for sale.  No one has the right to judge or evaluate it.  You are an amazing human being, so much more than the reflection in the mirror could ever show.
You don’t have to treat yourself like an object ever again.
But once we’re caught in the habit of objectifying ourselves, how do we stop? 
1.      Notice when you’re looking at yourself like an object. You gotta catch yourself doing it.  Look in the mirror and notice the first critical thought that comes to mind.
2.      Ask yourself: Says who?  Whose thought is that?  Whose point of view is that?  Who am I comparing myself to and why? 
3.      Remind yourself: this body is my friend, my home, my life’s companion.  It makes everything in my life possible.  Judgments are not welcome or necessary.  My body is not an object.  It’s a vibrant living being that deserves  love. 
4.      Feel your body from the inside.  Is it happy?  Is it enjoying life?  This is what truly matters.

Your body is not for the consumption of our consumer culture.  It’s for your enjoyment of life and the pursuit of your dreams. 
Once you’ve given up treating your body like an object, all that energy you used to spend giving yourself a hard time, you can now use to write your book, start that business you always wanted to try out, and finally finish the art project you’ve been dabbling with for years. 
You’ll still have problems.  But you’ll have a lot more energy to work with them. 

Love Your Body Blog Part 69