Perhaps I'm extra sensitive when other people talk about their weight or weight loss around me, given my history of recovering from bulimia and its many tentacles of behavior that loop around body dysmorphia. But there's this thing I've noticed happening lately when women around me are saying things like, "Look how fat so-and-so celebrity got," or "I heard this tip for weight loss that I'm going to try," or "I can't eat that right now — I'm trying to get my body ready for bikini weather."
I start to wonder, "Wait ... are they thinking that way about me, too? That I should lose weight? That I need to be more fit? That I shouldn't eat this?"
Through a lot of self-study — svadhyaya in yoga — I've learned that most people are focused on themselves, which means that others are much more likely to be worrying about what's going on within them than with us. That, and most of us are much more critical of ourselves than we would ever be about anyone else in our lives.
Because health and wellness are my profession, I'm surrounded by people who have healthy physiques. Living by the coast in Southern California, there's no shortage of people exercising while enjoying the sun and sea, a lot of whom also have perfectly built bodies according to societal standards. I don't know how hard they work out, what their diets are like, or what sacrifices they may make to look that way — perhaps some of them are naturally lean and some of them use artificial means to get their ideal shapes.
What I do know is that I was once working with a trainer in Los Angeles who was helping to rehabilitate me after foot surgery, and when I started talking negatively about my physical appearance, he stopped me short.
"Judy," he said strongly, "We live in L.A. This isn't a natural representation of what the rest of the world looks like. You have to remember that all the beautiful people in the world — the entire world — come here to make it big in Hollywood. What you see isn't real."
Since then, I've combe back to his words again and again as a reminder that when I start to place my happiness on how my body appears rather than the deeper gratitude I'm blessed with every day, I become more miserable. I also try to remember that you can never judge anyone's insides based on their outsides. Often, the people who look like they have it the most together are actually some of the most depressed and unhealthy individuals around.
When I hear another woman start to judge her appearance or that of a stranger, it makes me feel uncomfortable, especially now that I've begun to lead yoga groups for an eating disorder center where I interact with women who remind me of how deeply dark, painful and confusing the journey to loving our bodies can be.
Working there reminds me of how important it is to be mindful of what I say, how I think, how I am. Because I'm aiming to be the best teacher I can be, I want to live with integrity.
I want to change the way we think about body image into an outlook that's nurturing and supportive of ourselves and others, rather than attacking and competitive. I used to think that only women suffered from this ideal, but the more I open up about the topic to men, the more guys say, "Hey, we worry about how we look, too."
If everyone is doing this, if everyone is feeling badly about not looking the way media has portrayed the ideal aesthetic of beauty, then what are we doing? Why are we pushing toward a goal so far away from us that we feel "less than" all the time? Why are we not celebrating the fact that our hearts are beating, our lungs are breathing, and our eyelids are blinking open and closed to see the wonders of the world?
We are the ones who create the media. It's not some amorphous entity out there. It's right here. It begins with us.
I understand the idea of not taking things personally and that when someone expresses a concern, it reflects more about them than it does about me, but I can't help feel included in the funny-looking glass when I hear someone making comments about their bodies.
What if we approach ourselves with compassionate care rather than an instinct to point out flaws? Could it be that when I express how much I love myself, it'll inspire you to look at yourself in the same way?