Positively Body Positive

My  mom has been sending me pics from my childhood & youth over the past many days. As I looked at myself in picture after picture, I wondered why and how I had such terribly poor body image back then! Not surprisingly though, I was often overcome with fresh waves of discomfort – largely sadness, at how I spent so many years not truly loving the one person I had to love fully & wholly – ME! Instead , I bought into the ideas of perfection from everyone else, what I should like, how I should dress, what to show & what not to & just ended up feeling not good enough – for anyone or for myself!

If I were to go back in time and meet myself in those pictures, I would spend all my time and energy telling myself how beautiful and sexy and gorgeous and intelligent and ENOUGH I was.

Luvena rangel
A few days before I started University. Probably at my worst when it came to body image.
With my siblings when we visited India, a year before I returned home from University.

When I returned home from University, I had lost a lot of weight. A male friend who knew me from pre-Uni days, admiringly & suggestively objectified me by saying, “I wouldn’t mind coming over to the pool to see you swim now! It would be worth a sight!” I brushed off the sexist remark as a joke (Hah! I know! I actually brushed it off!)… but what he didn’t know was that I wore a one piece swimsuit with extended legs to cover the scald scar on my thigh! What he also wouldn’t know was that it would take me forever to get into the pool and I would wait forever more on the sunbeds until the crowd cleared so I could quickly get into the pool before anyone ‘saw’ me. I’m not kidding!

I think of it now & I hurt for that young woman who had such a terrible time growing into herself and was able to dress up & come across as someone who really had it sorted! I am still just so amazed at how that happened! Best part was how absolutely unaware she was at the time of some really hot gym instructors & members chatting her up while she waited to get into the pool because all she could think of was, “When will they leave?” [I speak more about this in another blog coming up next week.]

A year later, my boyfriend at the time suggested that I needed to lose weight before he took me to meet his family. As I look back, that relationship, which lasted for a quite a long while, and was one of my most significant relationships, was toxic af! It had elements of control, of gaslighting & withdrawal… and everything else that would have red flags about what we know today to be balanced & healthy relationships. Yet, to everyone around, we were the ideal couple… who checked all the boxes! I hid my weight from him. He once asked me to stand on the weighing scale and I refused, heart pounding…. guess how that date ended! Another time, I was hungry and he refused to buy me a sandwich.. lol.. It is funny now, to think that I, Luvena, this Luvena, went through that. But I did.. I think I should title this post “FFS”

Anyway, while admiring attention still came easily by, the background chatter always muttered things like, “You’re not good enough!”, “Thunder thighs”, “Does that cute bra come in a larger size, I wonder?”, “Argh! These jeans don’t fit!” And… the admiration just didn’t register! I couldn’t, wouldn’t & didn’t see myself as anything but lacking!

And now, in 2020, I look back and wonder what I was thinking back then? Why?? Why did I ever have to believe in the crap that I was told about my body? To eventually believe it so much that I ended up being all those things AND loving myself.

2017 & counting. This photoshoot from early 2019

Am I done with the work already? Heck no! I still have a few bad days – but mostly, somewhere along the way, over the years, the self loathing had dropped. A few months ago at a YTT graduation ceremony a student told me that I looked beautiful. Since I was wearing a sari, I turned around & raised a surprised & amused eyebrow at Shobhit, my dear friend & fellow yoga teacher and said, “Oh! So this limited effort qualifies for me being beautiful!”

He shrugged & straightfacedly replied, “Of course you’re beautiful!” I was taken aback. He said it less like a compliment more like a fact – our friendship is unique: blunt enough to say it like it is, and compassionate enough to keep it safe, real & caring. Not to mention, we laugh a lot & have great Facebook Lives, but…… he went on to tell me 3 things, according to him, that made a woman beautiful in his eyes:

  1. Resilience (to experience pregnancy and menstruation)
  2. Devotion (motherhood and other roles)
  3. Emotional Intelligence (in all areas of life)

Which is interesting because another male friend & I had a deeply philosophical conversation once – which touched upon our sense of self & confidence – even when we are unaware of it. He said, “A woman who is totally unaware of her attractiveness and yet exudes it with complete confidence alongside holding an intelligent conversation is beautiful and sexy!”

My friend, Jo-Ann, told me this yesterday: “This applies to both sexes and/or all genders. I find women equally sexy when they can converse. I’m not interested in a romantic way but definitely think a sexy woman is one whose mastered the art of good convo. I think it makes any human so attractive.

It gives me pause to think what I feel about how anyone defines beauty. It isn’t about the beauty of anything after all! Resilience, yes, strength perhaps, eventually, the intelligence to have depth of conversation & thought. It is a primal attraction to grounded strength with which we exude every bit of ourselves – all our bodies in unison.

But also makes me doubly certain why we need to be more vocal in our appreciation and acknowledgement of body image issues and the fact that body positivity needs to be reinforced in our children & youth. Fatphobia is real and its talons dig deep and pierce the heart.

The ability to truly own and love and accept ourselves fully, unapologetically and unabashedly is something we don’t need permission for from anyone but ourselves.

May we give ourselves to be whole, loved, loveable, gloriously sexual, generously available to ourselves  in every shape, size and limitation and still be totally true to ourselves – and do so with ease, grace & comfort – because the work isn’t easy.

The unlearning is not easy….but it is wholesome & nurturing & has all the ‘Oh So Good’ feels!!!!

And also because, well, what other way is better?

Naked Yoga? To be or not to be…

This thought’s been long brewing but last week something snapped. I came across an Instagram post of a yogi I followed and she was naked. Completely naked. But here’s the thing.

1. Nothing on her body surprised me – I had all those bits on my body too.

2. Nothing about the image surprised me – I’ve seen naked bodies all my life – personally & -professionally – naked bodies – alive & dead – in the room, on the lab table, in text books images as well as media showcasing highly graphic & provocative imagery as well as body positive movements. Well, an anatomy teacher really can speak body parts without flinching… but… this was different.

This one upset me…. on a very different front.

I felt offended as a yogi.

The picture was supposed to be a symbol of body positivity, acceptance and a rebellious act against body shaming, etc Her body, her pictures – I didn’t care about that. But the caption included a reference and gratitude to yoga for allowing her the courage to do that & the ongoing conversation and comments with people signing up to practice with her or learn from her to be able to come to that level of courage and/or body acceptance.

Now, hang on a minute.

I agree with a lot of people working in various ways to make peace with their bodies and learn acceptance and self-love, but…. that is not yoga. Yoga can help amplify the process, but it is not the reference point for nudity and instagram following.

Anyway, the algorithm apart, I was offended for the culture of yoga.

I felt hurt & sick to my gut that a practice that comes from a place of conservative society is used to navigate body positivity through nudity.

Like, seriously?

Do we have to be naked to truly accept our bodies?

And more importantly, why did one need to connect the power of yogic practice with the attitude shift to pose in the buff on IG?

While I’m quite the liberal for an Indian or even for an Indian yogi, I do understand the culture of my roots and of heritage. And this felt offensive & disrespectful. I may be your liberal Indian yoga teacher in contemporary times, but I’m not radical to disregard the sanctity and devotion – the honor and respect that I was trained to offer to the practice or the culture of my practice. I do not mean ritualistic – I mean respectful.

What I fail to understand is how some of the yoga teachers seem to talk yoga philosophy and yogic wisdom, but it seems rather textual instead of fully living it. And others take a very tangential approach by making references to certain yogic terms and terminology, but basically working on other aspects of holistic wellness and referring it to yoga – but painfully, not practicing yoga or honoring it.

Practicing yoga doesn’t mean you suddenly dress in Indian clothes, put on a bindi or tilak and dress in a sari or dhoti – heck! even I don’t do that! But it certainly does not mean you work on body acceptance, post nude pictures and claim that to be a result of yoga. It is not.

I’m not suggesting that yoga teachers across the world observe a set code of conduct that includes behavior, but a certain level of decorum especially attributing it to the origin and roots of yoga could certainly be worked in…?

As for me, I pose for the camera, yes…and I love it… but  most certainly, I am not going to pose naked in the name of yoga. I would probably feel it disrespectful to my teachers, my lineage and my students to do that. I may be liberal, but not at the cost of disrespecting a tradition and culture of the practice.

Who is fat shaming after all?

A few days ago I came across this article on my social media about a girl who went from 100kg to 64kg with pure determination and that her story was bound to truly inspire the reader. (I choose not to share the article here)

Curious to know what the story was, I read through the article and then found the girl’s social media pages with her personal comments and responses. My mind was already processing the story, the circumstances and coming to my personal thoughts on it (that I share here) – and, needless to say, I did not exercise my privileged right and power to hit the Like button.

Here’s why…

The report began with this:

fatsh

And I disagree – because it is not a given, it is not a free-ticket, and it is not true for everyone.

I agree that fat shaming is a global, social epidemic. It exists and yes, we experience the effects of it – from clothing to ridicule or even the assumption that being overweight equals to being less active or mentally & intellectually slower that your lighter counterparts. Yes, that list exists and there is a movement happening around for it… and that is not the reason for this post.

Here was my observation:

For all the inspiration that this article was supposed to generate, the journalist, the commentators and most importantly, the inspiring girl herself, in my opinion, failed miserably by adding salt to the injury of those who are still being fat shamed. The story was an blaring indication that she not only succumbed to the fat shaming, but, in fact, still continues to fat shame herself. Her motivation to lose weight because fat was ugly, shameful and needed to be taken off was a slap on the face of those she was supposedly speaking up for.

So what is fat shaming after all?

Here is the Google dictionary quick ref:

fatsh

To lose weight / shed a few pounds / trim up – these are terms everyone hears. I guess there is a place and reason for those discussions especially where the health and well-being of the individual is concerned. These discussions are serious, however, and are meant to be taken in a professional context discussing the repercussions of poor lifestyle choices.

Fat-shaming, or body shaming, is different. It is not a professional approach, but a categorical discrimination and social or psychological torment of an individual based on their weight or size… based on someone else’s misguided or misinterpreted purchase of a social stereotype of what a right body shape or size ought to be.

Body shaming is never in anyone’s best interests – it is a prejudiced, slighted perception intended to humiliate and denigrate another human being.

But… yes, there’s always a BUT…

But… if we notice, in these ideas, the definition is always one of finger pointing towards the perpetrators. We are all pointing fingers at the shamers for passing nasty comments and designing clothes with sizes that begin in XXS and end at M because they feel that XL is not even a body type!

But hey!!! What about the fat-shaming that some of these victims are subjecting themselves to!?

This motivating drive of this inspiring weight loss champion was the ‘appreciation and support of her friends and family about her weight loss’ and ‘fitting into smaller size clothes, which she always wanted to, and now she does’.

Technically, I should rest my case – but no, I have some more thoughts on this entire ‘shame the shamer’ nonsense.

At the end of the day, who is conforming to the social stereotypes? Not just the shamers but these victims too, who feel that they are inadequate because of their weight, shape or size. And when they achieve their self-obsessed weight loss, they join the bandwagon and body-shame too?

Is it only about the clothes that we want to wear? I agree that the fashion industry is still largely walking the pre-dated ramp, but we have more than enough bespoke designers, and I personally know some really good ones, who create fabulous designs and prêt-à-porter for the body you are in. (Message me, I’ll connect you!)

So it isn’t about fashion!

So what is it about then?

Health? Ok.. let’s talk about health for a mo…

Is it really about health?

fatsh

In other words, health is a state of well and happy body and mind. Good health is not necessarily not being skinny or not being heavy. Yes, biophysics and science indicate that weight plays a big role in the effort taken and toll on the body systems, but hey! I’ve been a big, curvy girl for most of my life and I still do a helluva lot of stuff and have the brains to justify my work!! (I’ve registered for the Pinkathon next month and I teach yoga .. to yoga teachers, for crying out loud!)

So what now? Does health refer to longevity? And does longevity really equal to a predefined number, or could it just be a predestined time? If we are uncertain of that fact, maybe we should just concentrate on being healthy for the sake of a joyous and balanced life – complete with the ability and accessibility to do the things we love and enjoy – with happy relationships with the persons we love and harmony in the social circles we exist in.

Wouldn’t good health mean a healthy respect for our bodies and treating them with care, respect and nurturing, providing it with good food, fresh air and movement? But no, our proposed role model goes on on to hashtag a delete carbs promotion too, so now apart from insult to injury, there’s a crazy fad diet involved.

I am upset at the misrepresentation. I am upset because we are now given a story that is asking us to make choices that are downright obsessive in nature. Spending the entire day (morning, noon and evening) walking and running to keep any stray fat away is scary. I was impressed, though, that she chose to run – but in her words, she chose to run away from all the negativity surrounding her and ended up on the road to transformation.

The transformation that would force the people around her to finally… accept her.

So there you have it – what it all boils down to … acceptance… Body acceptance.

But… here’s the catch, does she accept her body as it is even in this shape and size? I don’t know. I hope she does, eventually, because her words are still echoing the loud whispers of lack of it. And the people she has inspired and all rowing the same boat – the conformation to what they should look like and be like or feel like based on what media or social stereotypes define.

fatsh

Here’s my final point, if you’re taking a call to action for specific health goals – and if weight loss or gain plays a significant role in that goal – and when you approach that goal with a balanced plan that includes your body, mind, emotions and spirit, all being happy, I believe that you can and are entitled to lasting change and a healthy quality of life.

Minus the ‘obsession

But if, for whatever reason and as a backlash from the fad diet and crazy weight loss regime you choose to endure, you find back the weight that you lost (you get it right? to lose it and then find it?)… if you go all mental over it, then seriously… wtf?!

Hello!! People of the media!! There is enough and more of inspiration, healthy inspiration, out there that the world can do with – inspiration from skinny, toned, overweight as well as not-bothered-about-weight-at-all individuals. People making a real difference. STOP making heroes out of people who actually need HELP in making better lifestyle choices. STOP setting unhealthy and ridiculous benchmarks and trends that our youth, children and lesser informed audience may make. It is a responsibility we all share!

That’s it… rant complete (for today)…

Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts and opinions.