by Erin LoPorto
My first 5 years of yoga only happened along side a VHS cassette in the privacy of my own home. I was terrified to walk into a yoga studio. I was terrified to fail, to be seen, to be seen as fat. I judged myself so harshly and was sure others would only see the bad I saw in myself. It wasn’t just yoga that was affected, my dreams of surfing, shopping and doing anything physical in front of others was also indefinitely on hold.
Today, I teach 10 yoga classes a week, using my body, my voice, my whole self. I surf, I bike, I feel comfortable coming in last when I am learning something new. My body is stronger, and I am more confident in my body. Who I am no longer feels separate from my body. I can no longer look at my body with criticism and blame because I feel its voice and support within me all the time. Today I love, appreciate and trust my body and myself.
But my body is the same size it was a decade ago when I was in hiding. It wasn’t an external transformation that made the difference – it was an internal one. What I’ve learned from working with dozens of people all shapes and sizes is that learning to love your body rarely comes from trying to change it.
What is Body-Shaming?
Body-Shaming is the action or practice of humiliating yourself or someone else with mocking or critical comments about body, shape, size, eating habits, or dress. Essentially is it judging the physical as though that were an accurate representation of the whole person – and unfortunately it is common practice today. Shame, embarrassment, self-hate, insecurity and isolation are common but silent results of sometimes casual and sometimes cruel comments.
Body shaming can come from media, from mothers, from friends. A recent study interviewing over 1000 people showed that 83% of men and 93% of woman have been body-shamed in their lives. It also showed that if you have been body shamed you are 34% more likely to body-shame and judge someone else.(1)
Have you ever heard: “You’re too skinny, too fat, too short, too tall to ever get a girlfriend/boyfriend… your nose it too big… your hair is too curly… you’ll never be taken seriously in that outfit…are you seriously going to eat that?!” You are not alone!
This kind of body shaming translates into a belief that if something were physically different about you, you would be better, more lovable, more capable and worthy as a person. It comes with a need to either hide or exploit this “bad” part of you in order control the way others perceive you. You might be dealing with body shame if you:
• hate being naked in front of your partner or wearing a bathing suit on the beach
• avoid having your picture taken because you don’t like how you look
• have a hard time standing up for yourself because you don’t feel powerful in your body
• have not gone to that class or applied for that promotion because you are afraid how you will look to people
Whether you live your life the way you want with occasional insecurities or if you regularly hold yourself back, it is possible to break free from the shackles of body-shame! It is possible to become a cheerleader and chariot for others!
From Body Shame to Body Love
1) NOTICE. Notice when you are internally judging yourself or someone else. Notice when you hear someone being judged – whether it is on TV, in a magazine, on the internet or in person. What deeper patterns are going on in yourself and in the world? What do people get out of judging each other’s bodies? When and why you do you find yourself believing the judgments? Where do you notice positive body messages being shared?
2) CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE. Gandhi said, “He who does not see God in the next person he meets, need look no further.” Most of us, thanks to the media, to fairytales, to cultural messages from our families have been very stunted in our ability to see beauty. But beauty, wisdom, grace, love… it is everywhere, and it is in everyone! Whatever your judgment is towards – create a quest to find beautiful people who hold those qualities.
3) IT’S WHAT ON THE INSIDE THAT COUNTS. Yes, you have a physical body that needs to be cared for – but there is also an intricate and vast inner world filled with a unique combination of gifts, strengths, passions and perspectives that only you have to offer. Have you spent time developing, understanding and awaking your inner beauty? Have you spent time falling in love with your true self?
4) ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. No matter what’s going on, no matter how you feel about yourself, you still need to love and care for your physical form on a physical level. The act of loving and caring will bring you deeper into the feeling loving and caring. Choose to recognize positive features when you look in the mirror. Choose to find the good. Choose to keep your body clean, well nourished, well rested, take it on dates and out for walks. Challenge your body sometimes – so you can know what it’s capable of. Give it a good massage to celebrate and appreciate it. Be devoted to your body’s care the way it is devoted to holding you.
5) YOGA. There are many styles of yoga you might fall in love with – but yoga doesn’t always have to happen on a mat. A dear yoga teacher of mine claims his first regular yoga practice was actually while playing tennis. Yoga is the experience of getting out of your head and into your body. It is about observing the union of your body mind and spirit in the present moment. Yoga takes practice. So, find something you can do everyday that inspires you to land in your body and feel every sensation with curiosity and non-judgment.
Body-shaming is a serious problem that affects most of us but some more than others. If you need more support than what this article offers, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, a therapist, teacher or someone you trust. I’d like to end the same way as I end all my yoga classes: I invite you to take a moment to bow to your own heart, to the light and love in you and the light and love that lives in all, “NAMASTE.” If we can practice living and seeing ourselves and each other from this place, there would be great healing, freedom and possibilities for ourselves, our bodies and the world.