I’ve always been critical of my physicality.
From the time I was born to elementary school right up until today, my attention has always been called by the nature of my physical body–and not necessarily in a good way.
It started when I was young. I could swim before I could walk and growing up in the hot Florida sunshine meant that my mom kept my hair super short all the time. It was easier for her to manage, and it kept the green sheen from developing since I spent massive amounts of time in some form of water. The side effect was that more times than not, people thought I was a little boy.
“What an Adorable Little Boy!”
I distinctly remember being about six years old when my dad and I wandered into the local deli for sandwiches and Orange Crush (my favorite!). The man behind the counter told my dad that I was “an adorable little boy,” just after I’d made some likely obnoxious comment about something I wanted.
I remember angrily stomping my foot at the man. Promptly proclaiming, that I was not, in fact, a little boy, but rather, a little girl. With that I turned around and stormed out, leaving my poor dad to apologize and pay for our sandwiches. I don’t think we ever went back to that deli.
After the anger subsided, I burst promptly into tears. This wasn’t the first time that someone had mistaken me for a boy–and it wouldn’t be the last.
Years later, we moved to California. A big school, lots of kids from all walks of life, and a mortifying moment in 7th grade. I was still swimming and my hair was still very short. There was a massive school event where they marched the entire 7th, 8th, and 9th grades into the gym and then dismissed us by classes. As my class marched first across the wide expanse of wooden floor, some 9th grade girl stood up, pointed at me and yelled, “Hey are you a boy or a girl? Why’s your hair so short?” I kept my head down and walked faster.
The Physical Becomes Emotional
Why did everyone care so much about how long or short my hair was? What did it matter? What did it say about me? Am I a bad person because I look different?
The way that I internalized that experience as a child became the way I interacted with the world as an adult. I turned it into this sense that my physicality was “wrong,” or “not right” in some way. I wasn’t skinny enough. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. My hair was always too short or the wrong color.
I know that EVERY high school kid deals with this in some way or another during their teen years. I know that every one of us has some story just like this that we can still tap into and still experience in some way. I know that we all still carry these moments with us and let them affect us in the present.
For me, that sense that I wasn’t good enough led me into some pretty terrible personal decisions in my adult life eventually resulting in an awful marriage and long, drawn out, divorce.
I stayed in jobs far longer than I should have. I allowed sketchy males in my life to be verbally abusive. I dated terrible men. I let someone who “loved me,” tell me I was fat and ugly. I let all of this reinforce the idea that I wasn’t good enough and I was never going to be.
I’m not going to lie to you. It took years of therapy, hard work, and tremendously tough moments to be O.K. with what I look like and who I am today. It has taken a lot of yoga to get to just be O.K. with who I am, physically. It took a lot of time spent with my dog, and my loved ones, getting out of my head and into my physical space.
It happened really slowly, too.
I got into a new business. I met people who thought I was smart and funny. They liked me for being nerdy and liking “boy things,” for wearing my hair in a ponytail, for talking like a truck driver, but also for being sensitive and girly, too. They liked me for being me, the real me…the one who had been hiding all that time, the one who liked boy things and girl things all at once.
As they encouraged me to continue to be, well, me, I became bolder–more sure of myself, which in turn brought more encouragement. It became this rewarding cycle that eventually brought me to where I am, today.
After my divorce I got back to my practice. I needed time to just go inside and figure out who I was and what I wanted. I needed to let go of those constructs of who I was supposed to be–those things that told me I wasn’t enough and never would be. Yoga was my path and I still work on it all the time.
Recently, I started going back through some trainings I did with Senior Iyengar Teacher, Carrie Owerko, roughly a year ago through Yoga Journal.
In one of the lessons she writes:
“Many people have been taught to keep their head down, their limbs and abdominal region in; to comply and conform to someone else’s idea of what they should look or be like. Something as simple as embodying expansiveness from the feet to the breath can feel awkward or even scary.”
I get that. I can still see that 12 year old with short hair walk across the gym floor with angry tears in her eyes. I can still feel that fury well up. I still see the scars of those moments that I carry forward. But that doesn’t mean that I still buy into the idea of being less than.
Sure, it still creeps in from time to time. Sure I have moments of doubt, just like any normal human being. But now, I know how to deal with that a little better. I don’t have to be just one person’s vision of perfect. I can be my own.