“I felt like shit about my body most of my life.”
– Melanie Klein in Yoga & Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body
I remember when this cute pixie of a woman walked into class on the first day of my massage therapy training at the School of Integrative PsychoStuctural Bodywork over 20 years ago. I was absolutely certain she had it all going on. She was fit, adorable, energetic, and bright… she just oozed confidence and self-assuredness. I felt even more awful about myself.
Disappointment with my body, frustration, dissatisfaction, and shame started at an early age and lasted years. I know a lot of people can relate and have had similar experiences no matter their age or background. Statistics show that toxic body image issues have increased in scope and severity across sex and gender, sexual orientation, age, size, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and culture as well as physical (dis)ability. Discomfort in our bodies, shame about our bodies, efforts to manipulate and control our bodies despite its protests and needs, as well as the endless negative self-talk denigrating our bodies is all too familiar across the human spectrum.
My story isn’t groundbreaking. Not at all. That’s what makes it so important. It’s far too pervasive and incredibly toxic. Your body image story and body relationship is important. It’s important because a negative body image impacts our mental, emotional and physical health in a laundry list of ways. Far too many people experience overwhelming low self-esteem and spend an exorbitant time, money, and energy trying to “fix” the perceived problem. Not only does this impact and limit the individual, but it also strikes a blow for the entire society.
What if we utilized these personal and social resources to cultivate skills, talents, and interests outside our “body project”?
What would become possible?
What if we saw ourselves as enough?
What if we accepted ourselves as we are at each stage of life?
What if we moved beyond accepting our bodies and began to truly embrace them?
What if we spent less time focusing on the size, weight, and shape of our body (or the bodies of others) and spent more time focusing on the critical political, social, and economic issues that need attention?
So, no… body image issues aren’t groundbreaking and new, but they’re more important than ever to solve. Let’s not allow this normative pattern of negative body image experiences to be considered “normal.” It’s not and this can be changed.
Do you know a great place to start?
Make a decision and a commitment.
As I wrote in Yoga & Body Image, “Feminism freed my mind and yoga freed my body.” That’s where I began to understand, deconstruct, challenge, and reject the messages I’d absorbed my entire life.
This is how I began a shift in my body image paradigm.
And then I stepped onto the mat and learned to listen to my body. I learned to be present with what my body needed moment to moment. I learned how to practice acceptance, forgiveness, and gratitude. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are a powerful way to practice and embody a new body image paradigm.
That’s how my shift was deepened.
Are you ready to make a shift of your own?
NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.
Melanie C. Klein, M.A., is an empowerment coach, thought leader and influencer in the areas of radical self-acceptance, authentic empowerment, and supercharged confidence. She is also a successful writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. Her areas of interest and specialty include media literacy education, body image, and the intersectional analysis of systems of power and privilege. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016), co-editor of Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016), Yoga Rising: 30 Empowering Stories from Yoga Renegades for Every Body (Llewellyn, 2018) and the co-editor of the new anthology, Embodied Resilience through Yoga (Llewellyn, 2020). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and lives in California. melaniecklein.com/
Photo by Diana Feil