By Brie Mathers
I have a t-shirt that I wear that reads I'm perfect across my chest. I love the double entendre. To me it's saying To be imperfect is to be perfect.
It turns perfection on its head and shakes it out kind of like an old boyfriend used to do with me whenever I got obsessed with how I look.
He would shake me upside down until I got my giggles on every time because he loved me for who I am and wanted to dump any other false notions I might have out of my brain. He was a great teacher for me.
Self-acceptance is not only a loving message in this day and age, it's a smart one. Hating our bodies and obsessing about our looks eats up a significant amount of our energy and attention. This renders our intelligence contracted up in rote, conditioned patterns of behaviour that not only cause us to suffer, but inhibit and impede us from blooming our deeply needed voices into the world. Only when I reconciled the crappy conversation I was having with my body could I open and offer my panache to the world. Here's my story. Is it time for you to re-write yours?
My story has been written. I know hunger. I know the insidious voice that declares war on the body. I have lived the cold nights beneath a thousand useless blankets. I too once beat the life out of my body at my own hand, pulled the hair from my head and still felt that the punishment lacked severity. I too whipped the streets with my feet a thousand lashes over, sweat spraying, heart caving, voice playing. I too lived the guilty life – never good enough, fast enough, smart enough, nice enough. Never thin enough. Never enough.
The first time I felt fat I was four in the bathtub with my big sister, already skinnier.
The next time I was six. It was before ballet practice. I thought I looked fat in my leotard. When my first grade teacher, the adored Miss Vanderkran asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I said "light as a feather."
Don't even get me started about age 11, the year both my winter coat and snowsuit left me feeling like the Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.
But it wasn't until I was fifteen and had just won the second largest track meet in North America for my division that I decided to do something about this fat problem.
Yo-yo dieting began; the voice of self-loathing was the hand that yanked that yo-yo up and down. Mostly down. My heart rate plummeted to 36 beats/minute. The Canadian Olympic track and field coach took me out for lunch to get me 'back in the game.' I was on a different track, playing a different game in a different field. Destination: emaciation.
Then came therapy. Freedom with food may have given my organs what they needed to keep on breathing but it couldn't touch the tyranny of image. While I promise here and now to stand up tall and command a beauty re-defined – deeper, subtler, softer, more diverse, truer – I would be lying to not admit that to arrive in this place I have over and over been swept off my feet by the glossy knight of image. Even if I know that all that glitters is not gold.
I was in a flurry of long-term health consequences that had resulted from my self-imposed starvation. When the floodgates opened it was donuts and cookies and chocolate bars all in the name of being free with food, all the way leaving me with a wicked yeast infection that lasted years, yes years, no I still can't eat a piece of chocolate cake without a flare-up and it has been one hell of a decade-long quest to put my health back together.
My search was for truth. I resisted anti-depressants and have all along been committed to the road less travelled, despite the overwhelming lows I have endured. It was during a horrific bout of homeopathy, that I finally broke down and began practicing Zen. That's right. During a period of residential training in a Soto Zen monastery it was 4:30 am mornings for me as I sat on the four-inch-high cushion and stared down a white wall. I remember crying to my teacher as the pain coursed through the muscle beside my collarbone. She smoothly responded by clearly telling me to sit up straight and feel the breath and the body, her eyes twinkling. Somehow, when I left the interview I felt as light as a feather.
Light as a feather. Isn't that what I was really after all along? Turned out that mindfulness practice was the best gift I've ever been given. Why? I got over myself. I wasn't lighter physically. I was heavier than I had ever been. But I had recognized that the only reconciling of the crappy conversation I was having with my body was to see that thoughts and feelings, no matter what they are – and even bodies, no matter how they are – come and go. Meaning is created, ideals invented. In the case of our current socio-economic climate to support the interests of the beauty, dieting, and cosmetic surgery industry. Our only constant amidst the insanity is the awareness in which it all arises.
What I learned: the pursuit of being any different than how nature would have me was a colossal waste of energy. It didn't work. It made me miserable. It shrank my passion and my world. My vision is to offer other girls and women a skill set that enables them to shirk off all that crazy pressure and recognize the beauty of reality: their bodies as they are. We can have way more fun here if we do!
MY INGREDIENTS FOR OUR RECIPE FOR EMBRACING YOUR BODY AND YOUR LIFE: