Wednesday, March 3, 2010

EmBody Talk: Svasti, Yogini & Survivor

(Svasti getting a tattoo in Bangkok.)

Last week, I introduced this new interview series, but in case you missed it, we're here to talk openly and honestly about our relationships (or lack thereof) with our own bodies.

Open and honest is what Svasti is all about. Well, that...and brave and smart and curious and all those things I admire in my fellow Chicks on the Path. Read her. It's more than worth your time.

What is the first story that comes to mind when you are asked how you feel about your body?

I’ve got so many stories about my body, because in many ways it’s always been in focus. People have always commented on my body, almost as if it was public property and consequently I’ve never had an easy time feeling comfortable in my own skin.

The first thought I have about my body - even now - is “too big”. That darn monkey mind never stops with its negative chit chat, and I’ve had to really train myself not to listen. The reality is that I’m a 5’10.5” tall woman with naturally large breasts and a larger body frame than most women (my ex-fiancĂ© used to say: “You’re all in proportion and shapely but it’s like your entire body has been magnified in size from the average woman”. Nice, eh? Good thing I didn’t marry him!). This is the physical nature of my body and I’ll never be a tiny person no matter how much I weigh. Sure, I could get a boob reduction, but I can’t change my height or body frame...

I remember the growth spurt I had when I was 11 or so. I shot up taller than all my school friends and my synchronised swimming duet partner. All of a sudden, I felt excluded from schoolyard conversations as I had to lean down to hear what my friends were saying, while all of their heads were roughly at the same height. And my duet partner and I could no longer work together – she got another partner and I only ever performed solo after that!

The large boobs came in when I was 12-ish. The smallest they’ve ever been in my adult life is a D cup. It seems every man thinks he has the right to comment and/or ogle. It’s not uncommon for a man passing me on the street to say things like, “Wow, you have really large tits”, almost as if he can’t help himself. It took me a long time to stop hiding my cleavage under baggy clothing and take ownership of it for myself!

I envy women with smaller body frames because that’s my idea of ‘normal’ especially if they are as tall as I am. I often find myself covertly studying a more slender woman’s rib cage for example. I note how much tinier it is than mine and I wish genetics had dealt me a kinder hand in that respect.

Also, I think I have some kind of body dysmorphia because I’ve rarely been happy with how I look, ever. There’s photos of myself I can remember just hating on sight, but when I look at them now I can see that I was actually kinda pretty.

Do you weigh yourself? Why or why not?

I’ve had an on/off affair with the scales all my life. Mostly off. But I did weigh myself rather obsessively during a period when I was doing a LOT of exercise.

During the “on” phase, I was doing a lot of running, kickboxing and yoga. It was extremely satisfying to watch the scales point to a smaller number each time I stood on them. But then the opposite happened – I had a complex fracture in my toe and was inactive for twelve whole months. And then I had bone graft surgery! I put on a lot of weight during that period which scared me very much.

Around the same time I was dealing with post-traumatic stress and depression. A characteristic of PTSD is that the sufferer will do anything to avoid whatever it is they think they can’t handle - so no scales for me!

Right now, having recovered from all of the above, I still choose not to weigh myself.

Ultimately I’ve learned that looking at a number fuels my “too big” story. And I’m working on changing how I relate to my physical body, accepting and loving it the way it is. Although I’m now doing a lot of exercise again, I don’t want to be encouraged/discouraged by the scales. Instead I want my inspiration to come from how I feel in my own skin as a result of exercise and good food.

How do you like shopping for bathing suits and/or jeans (or any article of clothing)? How do you feel during the experience and after? What do you typically do about the feelings that are brought up?

Quite simply, I don’t! That’s partly a response to commercialism, but also it’s very much about everything that’s wrong with women’s fashion. For many women including me, clothes shopping is a serious emotional minefield. I live in a country where the average clothing size for a woman is a 14 (American 10-12 I think), and yet the stores are overflowing with much smaller clothes! There are even shops and certain brands that don’t stock anything larger than a 12.

Not to mention the issue of sizing being completely inconsistent. I bought my favourite jeans around twelve months ago but they are getting a little worn. So recently I tried to buy the same size in the same style, but they no longer fit! Why?! I am told things like “well they must have changed the pattern”. But WHY change it in a way that means I no longer fit into a certain size when I did before?

And when you already have body issues (as most women do), these kinds of experiences are demoralising. No matter how many times I tell myself that it must have something to do with marketing tactics or economics or some other factors that have nothing to do with me, it still bothers me.

I might be a bigger framed person but I’m not obese. I’m shapely. Why is it such hard work finding clothes to fit me? I really have no idea.

What unattainable/unrealistic Rules do you have for your body? (For example, some women believe that only a certain size is acceptable or that certain foods are “bad.”)

The best shape/fittest I’ve ever been meant I was a size 12 (American size 8-10). I liked how I looked then, but let me tell you a secret... I don’t think I felt like I deserved to look that good! Or, I didn’t think it could last. And guess what? It didn’t. Of course forced inactivity for 18 months didn’t help, but a secret part of me felt like looking so good was too much to expect.

I also have a belief that I will never be any thinner than a size 12 and this is probably true given my body frame. BUT, I also feel kind of frustrated by that – the “average” body for most people is the thinnest/fittest I can be!

I also think I have a rule that I don’t look any good unless I’m that size again. Believe me; I’m working on deconstructing these beliefs!

When have you felt best about your body? Or When do you currently feel best about your body?

When I’m doing yoga or swimming is when I feel the best about my body. Because at those times I’m not thinking about what I look like, just how I feel internally and how that expresses in terms of my yoga practice, or being enveloped in water (both are such sensuous experiences!). From the Mark Whitwell/Heart of Yoga workshop I recently attended, I learned the concept of “whole body breathing” which is completely mind-blowing. And I’ve always been a water baby literally, since before I could walk. When I’m in the ocean or a lake or river, I feel particularly at peace. How can I not love my body or myself when I’m doing yoga or swimming? It’s impossible to think bad thoughts in those times.

What kind of movement does your body crave or do you not notice this craving?

Yoga, meditation and dance are my biggest cravings but not the only ones. I never notice my craving for cycling until I’m actually doing it – wind flying through my hair, lungs working, oxygen pumping through my system. That’s always good, and luckily I ride my bike like other people drive their cars, so I do it anyway. I also love swimming, bush walking and downhill skiing.

But life doesn’t feel quite right without yoga and meditation. By yoga, I don’t mean stretching and turning myself into a pretzel – but tuning into that innate body-heart-mind-breath connection that makes me feel really alive, whole and perfect just as I am.

And I love to dance! My body misses the days where I used to perform as a bellydancer all over Sydney! Adding dancing of some kind back into my life regularly is one of the many plans I’ve made for 2010. So whether it’s salsa, belly-dance or just a boogie at live music events, dance is making a comeback in my world!

What story would your body like to tell if you were able to listen?

My body would say that while it’s a part of me, it is not who I am and I should not feel less as a person because it doesn’t look the way my conditioned mind thinks it should.

It speaks to me about my nieces (aged 3 and 12 months) and asks me what perspective on life and body image I want to share? If I want them to have a much happier relationship to their bodies than I’ve had, then guess what? I really need to get my act together because the best way to pass on confidence and self-acceptance is to BE those things. Walk the talk and demonstrate self-love and acceptance no matter what I look like!

My body also wants to tell me to just get over myself! So it’s not a perfect model’s body, or just an average size and shape. So what? It is talented. It affords me the gifts of yoga and dance. It’s generally very healthy, flexible, sensitive and strong.

In this life it’s the vehicle I’ve been given and sure, there’s certain things I can’t change about it... but so what? What am I going to do about it? Continue to despise my form every time I look in the mirror? NO WAY! Instead, I’ve been learning to compliment myself in the mirror whenever I think I look okay-ish [note, what I think is “okay” is probably what others might call pretty, but I don’t ever see myself that way].

And I’ll continue to look honestly but not harshly at my reflection, because I’m learning to see myself as really am and be okay with that, however I look. Once again, I’m doing a lot of exercise (yoga, cycling, jogging, personal training) and my body is getting fitter, slowly but surely. So my appearance WILL improve to something I consider more pleasing. But should my pleasure (or lack thereof) with how my body looks control how I feel about myself? No it shouldn’t! I recognise however that for now it does, and that’s an ongoing work in progress...

I relate to so much Svasti says here and I'm sure many of you do, too.

In particular, I find much commonality with what she speaks of at the end. How do people who have had eating disorders/disordered eating issues and body image issues in their do these people (including this Chick) get physically fit without falling into old patterns?

How do we feel good about fitness progress without relying so heavily on looking good to do so?

I, like Svasti, am still a work in progress when it comes to all of this.


Brooks Hall said...

Thanks, Svasti! This was an enjoyable read. You presented a capable, healing and positive outlook on what you see as your body-image challenges.

Brooks Hall said...
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Karin Bartimole said...

Both Christine's questions and Svasti's answers are thoughtful and thought provoking to take in and answer for myself. Thank you both for your honesty and clear minded examples of how healing the relationship with the physical self leads to wholeness of Self.

Lisa said...

Just saw this. Thank you Svasti for your honesty and insight, it is very powerful to read.
Boy, after lurking for months I have been commenting a lot, huh??? Hope you aren't sick of me:-)

svasti said...

Hey Brooks, Karin and Lisa!

Thanks for commenting here on my interview. I was so honoured that Christine asked me to participate and I sincerely hope that in sharing, we all learn to see ourselves and each other more clearly.

I look forward to reading more interviews in this series soon! xo

Christine Claire Reed said...

Lisa! How could we ever get sick of you!?!?! :)

Emily said...

I'm really intrigued by the second to last question you brought up for further discussion: how does a person recovering from an eating disorder handle caring for their body, striving to be healthier, without falling into those old self-destructive patterns? Is there an answer? Are there sources I could direct loved ones to? The body image discussion is far from over. Perhaps I'll join in this week!