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By Erinbell Fanore
It is not my body that is heavy, but my relationship to it. As a yoga teacher, I am embarrassed to confess how caught up I am in my weight and shape. I have long stopped stepping on scales or counting the calories I eat, but my inner dialogue and debate about how I feel towards my body rages on. Like all relationships, this one has a long and many-sided history.
One part of me loves my body: it’s strong and soft, flexible and fluid. I can comfortably stand in skin-tight clothes and teach yoga. When I move or dance, I take joy in my body and its ability to freely creatively express itself.
Another part of me has a very old habit of envying body shapes that are impossible for me to achieve. It believes that they are better than what I have. It shames me for any extra curves and believes my worth is linked to how I look. It can go to the extreme of thinking that if I gain weight, my yoga teaching might become less authentic.
A third part of me is exhausted from this 30+ year old war. It wishes I could see my body with kindness. It is amazed how even though my husband has been looking at me with love and enjoyment for the past fifteen years, that this hasn’t yet debunked my body issues. Although my body has grown and shrunk several times, his love for my body has never abated. If only I could see myself through his eyes instead of my clouded ones.
There is also a fourth part that finds this all ridiculous and attacks me for being so small minded as to think my body shape matters. As a yoga teacher, I should be beyond that, more evolved. But I am not. I am ebbing and flowing in this complicated relationship with my self and my body.
I know I am not alone in this heavy relationship. Others struggle with me. We tangle our worth up in the numbers our weight adds up to, in our shapes, curves, lack of curves, in our height and size. We try to control our food intake and push ourselves to more physical exercise. Then if we slip up, we beat ourselves up.
Why does weight matter so much?
Instead of fighting with the parts of me that are judging me and pushing me to improve myself, what if I could turn to these hurt and tender parts and offer them a safe haven, an unconditional place of acceptance in my self, regardless of their views?
What if I could turn to the 9-year-old in me who was shamed? The one who was cornered beside my house by two friends who taunted me, “How much do you weigh?” “Come on tell us!” “How much do you weigh?” What if I tell her it’s understandable that she was ashamed? What a horrible thing to happen! And instead of offering this part of me reasons to feel better, or to forget what happened because it is over, what if I let her feel ashamed?
What if I turn to the teenager in me, the one who went on diets that didn’t help? The one whose cheeks still burn at remembering unpacking her lunch at school one day, which contained a strange mix of food, when her friend turned to her and exclaimed “Oh, you’re on a diet!” “No I’m not!” burst out of me in a mix of shame, failure, and a need to cover up. Instead of moving away from these painful emotions, what if I could open my heart and willingly feel them?
What if I could turn to the yoga teacher parts of me? The one who thinks she needs to lead with courage and perfection. The one who believes her body must be fit, healthy, and beautiful in order to teach. The one who believes I should be beyond this body issue nonsense. What if I let these parts feel weak, unsuccessful, and fat?
What if I let myself feel fat?
Of all the emotions and feelings I listed above, this one is the scariest. It feels ugly: full of spite, blame, and disgust. It feels undesirable and unwanted. But what if instead of trying to change it or deny it or prove it wrong or believe it, what if I loved it? What if I could love the fat in me? It would take a huge amount of courage. More than I have yet had.
In these political times of hate, fear, and war, where I pray for peace and connection, I see the need for me to acknowledge the war I have with my body. No, with my relationship to my body. For over 31 years, I have engaged in a daily battle. I have tried to suppress, ignore, and belittle—a complicated mix of emotions, memories, ideas and ideals I have about myself. It’s exhausting. Perhaps the kinder I am with all these parts of me, the kinder I will be to others, especially to those I dislike or fear. Perhaps the more connected I feel to all of me, the more I will feel connected to others.
This is scary for me. Therefore instead of hiding in my inner world, I am sharing my story. And I am hoping others will share with me. So as I try to let go of the need for more (better, sexier, more beautiful, more intelligent, more evolved, kinder, fitter, more), I won’t feel alone. So that as I willingly turn to the murkiness inside me, I will feel held in a supportive community. And hopefully my sharing and self-excavating can be of support and help to others.
So here I go, heavy step by heavy step, I start to allow myself to feel and maybe even love my fat.
Erinbell Fanore was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. She holds a Bachelors of Theatre from York University (Toronto), Canada and a Masters of Theatre from University College Cork, Ireland. Erinbell is also a 500 hours Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher. She has been teaching yoga and mediation full time since 2007 and continues to write and direct. www.yinyogaberlin.de