I had a very different post planned for today. I was trying to present the history of my relationship with my body and the evolution of my body image. However, when I was about ¾ of the way through, I read what I had written, and was alarmed to see how relentlessly negative I was being. It came off as overwrought and self-indulgent. It wasn’t uplifting to write, and it wasn’t uplifting to read. And no one needs that!
Then, last night, I attended a gorgeous performance by the San Francisco Ballet, and it really helped to put my negative thoughts about my body in perspective. You see, the reason I love ballet is because I consider it to be the ultimate art form – the human body becomes the canvas that expresses both visual and musical ideas in real-time as the dancers sculpt time and space with their movements. Dance is a wonderful celebration of the body as an expressive tool that releases the soul, creating a sense of freedom through the marriage of mind and body instead of their separation.
As I watched the dancers moving delicately across the stage, I realized that a lot of my past body image issues can easily be summed up by the concept of dualism: I thought that my mind was trapped by my body, and I wanted an escape. I saw mind and body as two distinct entities, and that one was good and the other bad. You can see how that would create some major issues with body image – if you think of your body as a something bad you want to escape from, you can’t have a healthy relationship with it!
However, I remember a distinct turning point in my life, around the end of college/grad school, when I realized that bodies are, in fact, good. They are a gift, not a curse. This put a whole new perspective on things: I should learn to enjoy my body, to celebrate and care for it, and stop trying to punish it. I took up dance as a hobby because of the pure joy it brought to my life. My journey to become a better inhabitant of my own body had just begun.
This was now several years ago, and I’m beginning to realize that this is the sort of journey that takes a lifetime. Recently, I’ve started to struggle with the emotional and psychological impact of gaining weight. I understand on an intellectual level that bodies change naturally with age, and that adding a few more pounds doesn’t make me “fat,” but it’s still hard. After putting myself through rigorous exercise regimens and various diet attempts that had no effect on the dreaded “number on the scale,” I have been tempted to give up. However, although exercise and a better diet may not have made me “skinnier,” they have made me much, much healthier than I’ve ever been before – and that is worth so much more than a number or a measurement. It’s just another step on the journey of understanding and celebrating the amazing gift I have been given.
And sewing can be a wonderful part of that journey! Sewing clothes is a way to express our individuality through our choices of color, design, and style. It has also given me a much better understanding of how my body is shaped, and why certain styles look better on me than others. And while at the moment I am tempted to focus on those parts of my body that I want to hide (um, HELLO TUMMY), I am also now aware of the parts of my body that I’m proud of and that I want to emphasize. As a pianist, I am proud of my broad shoulders and long arms. I want to make garments that accentuate my strong upper body (which, coincidentally, will also serve to balance out my tummy). Sewing gives us the ability to choose exactly what we put on our bodies, and that is an incredibly powerful and empowering tool.
So, in the midst of media that constantly tries to convince us of our need to “fix” our imperfect bodies, let’s aim to find joy in the gift of our bodies rather than despair in our flaws. Let’s boldly inhabit our bodies as proud yet humble recipients of the most amazing opportunity of all: living.