A quiet, slow and deeply powerful sense of freedom was made possible when I declared a truce with my body. That sense of equanimity nothing short of astounding. It was unfamiliar, exhilarating and I welcomed it with every fiber of my being.
It didn’t happen overnight, though. It did, however, begin with the keen awareness that I was tired of feeling terrible and that my relentless battle with myself kept me from fully showing up to create larger cultural shifts for all marginalized groups. That awareness gave me the opportunity to make a new choice, the choice to be kind to my body by calling a cease fire.
My mindfulness practices in the form of yoga and Vipassana meditation gave me the space to recognize that another way of being and feeling was possible. I’d felt dissatisfied at best, full blown shame at worst since I was a young girl. I’d waged war and been immersed in the dominant culture’s toxic beauty culture for so many years that it seemed normal and unremarkable.
I felt overwhelmed as a young girl by the empire of images that dictated the worth and value of girls and women based on how well they met the dictates of the Eurocentric, racist, classist, ageist, ableist, heteronormative and sizeist beauty myth. It seemed impossible to measure up and daunting not to try. My body always felt too big, my voice felt too small. I felt constricted and trapped inside myself. It wasn’t until many years later in my first Women’s Studies class that I understood the connection. Patriarchy benefits from the silence and bodily control of women.
Feminism expanded and freed my mind. It liberated me from my own internalized oppression, the ways in which I’d absorbed and incorporated the larger culture’s harmful messaging about my body into my sense of self. Feminism gave me the theories and the language to understand my experiences through the lens of patriarchy… as well as protest against it.
Feminism also introduced the concepts of self-acceptance and self-love to me. In fact, it encouraged me to accept, embrace and learn to love myself as a revolutionary act. Feminism opened new mental doorways to freedom, but yoga freed my body.
Yoga as a consistent practice complimented my feminist teachings and revelations. Yoga and meditation offered an embodied path to learn and practice how to be at peace with myself because it was something entirely new to me. Each time I united and moved mindfully with my breath, I was presented a new opportunity to be present. Each time I sat in silence and became still, I learned more about myself and how my body felt (and what it needed). This was revelatory!
Each moment offered a fresh opportunity to practice forgiveness, kindness, acceptance and kindness. These moments weren’t offering more theories or heady ideas but new experiences that began to carve new habit patterns for myself, ones that allowed me to show up for myself more fully and compassionately.
When I ended the war on my body, I was finally able to feel peace within myself. That peace radiated from the inside out and felt like a long and much-needed exhale. When I stopped fighting myself, I could exist without constraint or pressure. That stillness not only allowed me to listen to the needs of my body, it allowed me to excavate my authentic inner voice, give it the space to expand and unapologetically proclaim my truth.
Personal empowerment is represented by inner strength, self – confidence, bodily autonomy, as well as having ownership and control over one’s self. Personal empowerment flows from the inside out, it can’t be defined and controlled externally. Ultimately, personal empowerment is marked by internal freedom and peace.
It’s an oxymoron to be at peace with one’s self or fully empowered while simultaneously warring with one’s body. You can’t be fully empowered when there is an ongoing battle to control or “fix” the body, to punish the body and force it to submit to our will. You can’t be empowered when there is lingering shame, guilt or blame.
When I made peace with my body, I opened the possibility of more…. being more, asking for more and expecting more. When I made peace with my body, I was presented with the opportunity to be fully empowered. I claimed myself for myself on my own terms.
That’s the magic and the medicine. As we claim ourselves for ourselves, we re-imagine, re-think and re-create what’s possible, not just for us but for everyone. This is the (re)evolution, one that integrates and acknowledges our whole self and recognizes the connection between our individual and collective liberation.
With each day, each moment, and each breath I continue to choose me. I choose peace. I choose to be fully empowered for myself and all those I support and serve.
In the same way self-acceptance and peace didn’t happen overnight, the practice never ends.
By Melanie C. Klein
Melanie C. Klein, M.A., is an empowerment coach, thought leader and influencer in the areas of body confidence, authentic empowerment, and visibility. 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 forthcoming anthology, Embodied Resilience through Yoga (Llwelleyn, 2020). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014 and lives in Santa Monica, CA. www.melaniecklein.com @melmelklein @ybicoalition
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