Friday, January 8, 2010

On My Mind

One of my intentions for this year (and for this blog) is to write on Fridays about my attempts to parent Cowgirl using the philosophy of Yoga as a guide. Among the foundational principles of Yoga - Nonharming, Truthfulness, Nonstealing, Moderation - is Contentment. This is something I continually aspire to and struggle with in my own life. One of the biggest roadblocks to contentment within myself is body image.

I recently read an article (where? Oprah's magazine? I've recycled or collaged the magazine!) where a mother and daughter talk about the pain the daughter felt from her mother's efforts to "help her" avoid being heavy as a child. While the mother's motives were to shield her child from the pain of being overweight in a culture that prizes slenderness, the daughter received and absorbed the image of herself as unlovable as she was and only worthy of affection if she was thinner.

This article has haunted me for weeks now. Weight, body image, feelings of not being worthy - this is all too familiar and painful terrain for me. As a child, I was overweight and I remember at an early age feeling rejected because of the way I looked. I grew up at a time when every female adult around me was talking about dieting and food scales, weight watchers cookbooks and appetite suppressant caramels were familiar items in the kitchen. I can still remember my mother's diet "danish": take some low fat cottage cheese, mix in sweet n' low (saccharine sugar) and spread on top of a toasted english muffin. Sprinkle with cinnamon and place in broiler until the cheese begins to melt and bubble. 35 years later and I can still vividly recall the tang of the fake sweetener with the melted cheese.

I wasn't even in high school when I tried to do a liquid fast for a day. I made it until 10 am and then had to feel my teeth crunching into something, anything solid. Now, as a child I had horrible eating habits and I am not exaggerating. Sugar was the only food group I knew and I knew it well. So my weight was not generic, but my eating choices and habits were inherited. So I did need to change. Unfortunately while rejecting the foods and eating patterns of my family, I also rejected the body that had first suffered abuse through sugar and then was to be further abused by strict discipline.

So I swung wildly in the opposite direction and thankfully some healthy habits did sneak in like eating salads, vegetable and low fat proteins. Unfortunately my body was still the enemy, something that was capable of letting me down and had to be monitored at all times. I think for 2 years my lunch was whole wheat bread with 2 slices of tomatoes (this I called a sandwich) and an apple. My weight dropped below a hundred pounds and girls in school came up to me and asked for my diet secrets. Only one boy who had know me since first grade was honest enough to say to me, with annoying regularity, "you're too skinny!" Somehow I knew that although I got seemingly positive attention while thin, people still were not knowing or liking me for who I was inside. My diet victory was hollow and I was skinny and still miserable and a small voice inside let me know there had to be a better way.

To this day, I cannot explain the exact progression from unhealthy to healthy my body and attitude took. I do know Yoga has taught me to see my body as my ally in spiritual living. The school of Tantra yoga teaches that our having a physical body is a gift that allows us to experience the world and through that experience we can come to know the divine. I firmly believe this as I tasted the divine when I was in Greece eating the ripest, sweetest, juiciest peach of my life. Sunlight, earth, rain from the heavens and nectar of life was embodied in that single peach.

The great yoga master Iyengar has said "If our body is a temple, then the Asanas (postures) are our prayers." I need a healthy, flexible, strong body to carry the stirrings of my heart into the world. Yoga has mentored me in a new relationship with myself and while negative habits creep back in, still it is a healthier relationship built upon respect and love.

And yet ...

How do I share with my daughter these hard learned lessons? I want her to have a healthy relationship with her body and a sense of self based upon values of respect, kindness and compassion; to measure herself not by how she looks but how she thinks about and treats herself and others.

I have no answers yet. I just know I cannot shield her from the pain of rejection, the pain of comparison in a culture based upon outward appearance. To try and shield her might result in her believing there is something "wrong" with her, something to be hidden away from view. It is a tricky act. What I hope I can provide for her is positive values to live by. I hope I can use the teachings of Yoga that have helped me to help guide her. Ultimately, it will be her path to walk. I just pray I will have armed her with the right map.


  1. Wow Lis, what a powerful blog post, I can identify with you on so many levels. One of my major goals this year is to release the negative body image that I have carried for so many years. I know how much richer and more positive my life will be if I can only rid myself of that horrible inner critic, who whispers so many negative thoughts on a daily basis. I love the teachings of the yoga master you mentioned and will take this advice on board in my quest for a healthier relationship with my body.I fully understand how important it is for you to pass on your wisdom to your daughter, you will find the right path; she is very lucky to have you x

  2. Beautiful post!!! I have two daughters, oh how I wish that I could help them avoid these same things!