Sometimes I forget that I have a body.
As author Geneen Roth would say, most days I’m just a head with arms and legs attached.
In her book, Women, Food and God, she describes what’s underneath the fear/hatred many of us have of our bodies, and what to do about it.
These women, myself among them, are playing peek-a-boo the way young children do when they believe that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them. If I ignore my body, hopefully you will too, because if we all can see it we will all see what’s wrong with it…and nothing good can come from that.
If you’re thinking, “Why would you feel that way? You’re thin,” know that thin people have just as many body issues as everyone else. Often it feels like we aren’t allowed to, but somehow it’s okay for everyone else to have an opinion.
Case in point: a couple years ago at a networking event when I was lifted in the air by not one but two male friends as both loudly and jokingly guessed my weight.
At the same time in my personal life, the guy I was dating would make obnoxious pig snorting sounds whenever I went for seconds at dinner (after he had also portioned out my servings), or mentioned wanting to buy ice cream when we were in the supermarket.
This was not the first instance of overt and opposing viewpoints about my body, but it was probably the most glaring.
Maybe I learned to ignore my body, because I wished everyone else would. Maybe the real problem was how much I listened to them.
Two weeks ago, something changed.
My yoga teacher had decided that this was the day that our class would do headstands. I had last tried them years prior, and in addition to being intimidated, my neck couldn’t handle it. I gave up soon after.
Without hesitating, she explained how to position our forearms and head on a folded mat against the wall. Then we were told simply to throw a leg up, and have the other meet it.
Before I could protest, reminding her about my weak neck muscles, she was holding both of my feet in the air.
Ready or not, I was standing on my head.
I panicked that she would let go, and that my neck would snap. It wasn’t until I realized that she wasn’t going anywhere, that I started to pay attention to her directions to the rest of the class.
For a split second between the terror of falling and the desperate search for the strength to keep my legs in the air, I could feel my whole body, perhaps for the first time, and it suddenly made sense why I would want to take care of it.
As soon as my legs returned to the floor, a wave of emotion hit me. I wanted to run out of the room and cry my eyes out.
I stayed though, and as the class ended and I nonchalantly raced for the door, the instructor rested her hand on my arm.
“You did well today,” she said and took my hand in both of hers. “I could sense you were freaking out.”
Tears welling, I faked a half smile and hurried past her.
The next twenty minutes were spent in the solitude of my car in order to feel all of the emotion I was trying (not well, apparently) to keep hidden.
How terrifying it was to know that I didn’t have the strength yet and to be dependent on a relative stranger in order to keep me safe. How much work it must have been for her, that I was basically dead weight, and how I wasn’t progressing as fast as the others and I might never get there.
This wasn’t a thing I could figure out — the way heads attached to arms and legs go through life — and that made the thought of doing another headstand even more daunting.
Then I remembered what else she said: “Every time we do this, I’ll be right there with you. I’ll hold your legs as long as it takes for you to feel comfortable doing it yourself.”
I am not alone. What’s more, she can see all of me, and she’s still not going anywhere.
How wonderfully scary is that?
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