25 Lessons I’ve Learned in 25 Years: Body Love

This is the second-last installment in which I will be focusing on body love, body positivity, self-love, all that juicy feel-good stuff. More specifically, the conversations we have about our bodies & how the practice of loving our bodies is a radical, political act.

I have delayed posting this out of my own self-doubt & consciousness. Not only because this is a sensitive subject, but also as a writer & a woman living in the Age of Instagram. I find myself thinking, “Who is going to read this?” “Who is going to care?” I have been spewing this negative self-talk and as a result finding it hard to share my work. Which is the exact opposite of what I have written below. I want this post (and all of my posts for that matter) to make you feel good. So here I am sharing it regardless of my fears & doubts.

I was inspired earlier this April by the effervescent yoga instructor & teacher, fellow writer, entrepreneur extraordinaire and all-around rad & fierce woman, Ally Maz. Ally led an unreal “vibez & vinyasa” class at the BLOOM Prairie Yogi Pop-up in Winnipeg. She spoke about our yoga practice being political & how showing up for ourselves and our bodies is radical & revolutionary.

When we show up with our own well-being, our own bodies, as a priority, we are throwing our fists in the air. We are cursing capitalism, patriarchy, The Man. We are giving a big ol’ middle finger to the powers that control our thinking, that force us to compare ourselves to each other, that tell us over & over again that we are not enough.

On some level we all struggle with self-esteem. We can thank the media-at-large and patriarchal social norms for that. We’re too big, too small, not feminine enough, not masculine enough, too tall, too short, too this and not enough that. Fill in the blank with the flaw of your choice. We are never enough. But as always, I’m here to tell you the opposite.

Ugh, that word alone. Enough. There is no growth found in “enough.” There are no lessons to be learned when we settle for “enough.” We are so much more than just enough.

With that in mind, please enjoy the following lessons! I hope you find the courage to love that beautiful body of yours.

16. Say ‘thank you’ when someone compliments you. (!!!)

Somewhere along the way, growing up, I was made to feel that I wasn’t deserving of compliments. Because I’m fat, I shouldn’t believe people when they say I’m pretty. That’s the way my mind worked, anyway. To this day that thought strikes a pain in my heart. I was bullied by my peers, my “friends,” colleagues, juvenile lovers, and family members into believing I wasn’t good enough to receive compliments because of my size (which in retrospect, was not big at all).

The media told me I wasn’t good enough for compliments either. I needed to change this, that, and the other thing before I would be worthy of someone’s attention, time, and desire. I had to be slimmer and wear certain colours & patterns. I couldn’t wear skinny jeans or form-fitting dresses. I was only worthy of someone’s time or attention when I transformed my body or covered it up to look the “right” way.

Because of that conditioning, I didn’t take people seriously when they gave me a genuine compliment. I was the fat girl. “Beautiful” and “sexy” were not words I accepted. Even if they were coming from someone I trusted or even loved. I cursed them for lying to me!

I had such a deep hatred for my body and subsequently my entire being, that I didn’t allow anyone to truly see me. Whether it was a friend, partner, or lover. I was never naked, in mind or body, for anyone. It took having my heart shattered, stomped on repeatedly, to realize – this is my only home. This is my only body. And at the end of each day, I only had myself to hold those broken pieces & put them back together again.

Yoga sparked that body love journey too. About six years ago I stepped into a yoga studio & the relationship I had with my body changed. I realized what my body could do, how it could move, and how good all of that felt. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the thinnest or strongest in the room. It just felt so good. I took that good, yummy feeling off of the mat & allowed myself to be seen naked; body & mind. Now, I allow compliments to flood in. And I return them with a big smile & a “thank you.”

17. Only shave when you want to.

This lesson is a bit simpler. When I was growing up, body hair on women was much less socially accepted than it is now. (And there is still a long way to go). For some strange, patriarchal reason, the bodies of women have been policed so harshly that we aren’t allowed to have one stray hair where we aren’t supposed to. Even advertisements for razors show women shaving a bare leg or armpit. While men’s razors are advertised shaving a full beard. Makes sense.

When I first found hair on my body where it hadn’t been before, I felt an inherent need to remove it. I was ashamed. And I didn’t really know why. But, I took it in stride nonetheless.

While visiting my grandparents one summer in my youth, I asked Jodie, my grandma, if she had any shaving cream. I was going to shave my legs just like the many times before! (Keeping in mind I had never once done this). I wanted to feel pretty like the other girls with no leg hair. And somehow I felt cleaner more pure without it. A few nicks & gashes later, I had my clean, hairless legs. 

How “clean” became synonymous with “hairless” is beyond me. Obviously, that rule only applies to women. Do you think a man with armpit hair is questioned for his hygiene? But, armpit hair on a woman; “Go take a shower. Remember to shave!”

I know women that shave, wax, laser, grow it out, dye it. And I know men that have done the same! Do with your body hair what you will. Because it is just that – your body.

And if that dude you had over last night doesn’t appreciate your beautiful hairy body, then he’s not worth another seven seconds of your life, darling!

18. Others will judge you no matter what. Don’t judge yourself.  

As long as you like you, that’s all that matters. Or, it should be, anyway. Getting there, to a place where you like and appreciate yourself, can be more than a struggle. It can seem unreachable. I can definitely vouch for that. But it is not impossible.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I have not always been okay with how I look. I haven’t always loved myself. That’s an absolute truth.

I took everyone’s criticisms to heart; starved myself to be slimmer, grew my hair long because men (much older than me might I add) told me I looked prettier that way, convinced myself that I was a runner so that I would have the body of one, hid beneath layers of clothing & make-up so I would hopefully be invisible. Every waking moment (and sleeping moment, to be quite honest) I thought about what other people would say about me, how they would view me, without even considering my own happiness.

I have been bigger than I am now, and I have been slimmer. Used a lot of make-up & gone out au naturale. Tried to fit into all of these different boxes that others wanted me to be in. Regardless of what box it ended up being, others would still pass their judgement, use cruel words, or straight up disrespect me because of they way I looked. Along with this body love journey, however, came the ability to hold my head above their judgments & criticisms and do whatever the fuck I wanted to.

Most days, I present myself to the world as a radiant woman with a big smile. I wear crop tops & high-waisted jeans even though my stomach is “too big.” I dye my hair every colour you could think of because why not? It brings a smile to my face & joy to the kids I work with. Piercings & tiny tattoos are sprinkled across my body because I treat it like a work of art. I continue to do so in spite of others telling me I won’t get a job or a partner based on my body modifications. Art is subjective. Not everyone is going to love your work!

Once I stopped caring what everyone else had to say and started listening to myself, I stopped hearing what they had to say too. The negative talk ceased to exist. However, there will always be people that don’t like you, that will ridicule you & try to put you down, that will refuse to understand you. When you start to understand yourself & figure out the complexities of all that is you, your world changes once again. You will be able to stand up a bit taller & smile a bit bigger.

Bottom line: You should like you!

19. Fat is not a bad word.

I have been called “fat” most of my life. But I am so much more than just “fat.” I am smart, talented, witty, strong, brave, confident, compassionate, grateful, honest, and the list goes on. Somehow, being “fat” erased all of those qualities.

J.K. Rowling said it wonderfully:

‘Fat’ is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her.

I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel?’

The answer is no. There are far worse things I could be than fat. And I refuse to hate myself, or my body, because it’s bigger than the woman next to me.

We are in the midst of a huge body positive movement. My Instagram is full of inspiring women that have reclaimed & redefined what it means to be fat or simply just promote body love on all levels. Because fat does not equal ugly or “less-than.” Because you are not defined by how much you weigh, or whether your thighs touch or not, or if you have a dimpled butt like me.

There are days I wake up and I am utterly dissatisfied with myself & my body. My thick legs feel heavier as I drag them to the bathroom. I look at my exhausted reflection & curse the dark circles that have made a home under my watery eyes. Rubbing my hand across my belly, I pick, poke, and prod. “Why does my body feel this way?” “Why don’t I look like I did last summer?” “Ugh, how many chins do I actually have?”

That’s a bad day. They are few, but they exist. As I’m sure they do for you. When I do have those days, I make sure to take time to appreciate my body & treat it with care. This fat body carries me through life. It holds me when no one else will. And for that I’m so grateful.

**For those who think I’m promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, or even obesity, I encourage you to: 1. Keep your opinion to yourself. It’s not wanted here. Or anywhere, really. 2. Fat does not equal unhealthy. Just as skinny does not equal healthy. We have different bodies. We have fat in different places. What is “unhealthy” is the shame & pity given by you, by the media & the mass market. Check yourself.**

20. Accept your flaws for then they are no longer flaws.

Accepting yourself, your body, for all that it so wonderfully is, is the first step to loving yourself. Accepting your rolls, stretch marks, scars, abnormally large feet (me), while under the pressure of a whole slew of institutions telling you to change all of those things, is so fucking radical. If you are on this type of acceptance journey, allow me to commend you! That is a big deal, my loves, because it is not easy.

Many a yoga teacher has told me that our practice is not perfect. We cannot compare ourselves, our abilities, or our limits, to the one on the mat next to us. No one is perfect! We are all flawed human beings who make mistakes and have unique bodies that belong to us & only us. So, when we accept those “flaws,” no one can use them against us.  We can continue our journeys of self-awareness and self-love. We can look at our lumps & bumps, our hairy bodies, or our weaknesses and say, “This is me. This is my body. I am going to love it & care for it. I may not fit into a perfect box, but I don’t have to.”

During BLOOM, as I sat cross-legged in this extravagant room at the Fort Garry Hotel amongst all of these beautiful & strong women, listening to Ally’s words & watching her connect with everyone, I had an overwhelming sense of peace with myself, with my body and my heart. I surrendered to that feeling. A feeling of peace that was necessary to move forward, on and off the yoga mat.

I also came to the realization of why I have practiced yoga for so many years. It is to create a safe & peaceful space within my body that I can turn to when life gets shitty, when I experience anxiety, when I need a hug. My yoga practice has fostered self-love. It has become political. Because loving ourselves is revolutionary.

With love, from my big heart to yours ~ zz


You can find Ally Maz & her inspiring words at http://www.alexmazerolle.com/ or on Instagram: @allymaz

Some other body-pos/yogi/witchy Instragrams to follow: @lizzobeeating @mybodywpg @wildembodiedwomen @glitterinthedirt @effyourbeautystandards

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