What Do You Love About Your Body?
In one of my recent yoga classes I asked my young yoga students, all elementary-aged girls, to think about what part of their body they loved. To my surprise, before answering that question, almost all of the girls launched into why they didn't like their bodies. Why don't you like your body, I was curious to hear. "You feel fat", "You want to be perfect", and "Boys make fun of you." I wasn't prepared for this dialogue but I shouldn't have been surprised. Magazine articles with pictures of anorexic models, TV shows with skinny actresses, it is the world we live in. I tried again, attempting to promote positive self-talk in my best yoga-teacher way, "But, what do you love about your body?"
After a quiet moment, one academically talented, very self-reflective little girl answered, "I love my brain." Two more girls opened up by offering that they loved their families. A sweet and tender response, I thought to myself, but I still wanted these girls to talk about what they loved about their body so I asked the question again. Finally Maggie told the group that she loved her legs because she could now walk without braces. Now we're getting somewhere, I thought. Grateful to walk and loving her legs! Melinda, a 5th grader, her eyes now wide, told us that she, too, loved her legs but because her legs worked so well....she was a dancer. She said she couldn't imagine life without being able to tap. I could see her mind racing as she contemplated Maggie's weak and bent legs.
Then Cindy responded. Cindy has had more physical problems and hospitalizations than any tender young soul should have to endure in her lifetime, and she was only in 4th grade. After she had sat and thought for some time and had listened to what the other yoga students had to say, she replied, "I love my hair." "Why?" I was sure the girls wanted to know. It was the one part of her body, she explained, that hadn't failed her. With ocular muscles that inhibit her eyes from moving up and down or side to side, throat muscles that make it impossible for her to eat and swallow unassisted, wrists that don't work without painful braces...Cindy loved her hair the most; her long, beautiful blond hair. Bless these tender young yogis, I thought to myself as we began our asanas with our intent mindfully in place....what do I love about my body, indeed.
Research has found that girls as young as 5 are overly focused on their bodies in such a way that when they feel fat or unattractive (something we might think of as a superficial feeling), they actually feel badly about who they are as a person (in other words, their self-esteem is damaged). I certainly have had my issues with my body over the years. How many times have I asked my husband, "Do I look fat in this?" How many jokes have I made and how many products have I bought to tame my wild and curly hair? It's only now because I workout several times a week, eat in a healthy way (most of the time!) and study and teach yoga and meditation, have I come to feel pretty good about my body and about who I am as a person.
As class came to a close, Cindy, the young yogini who was so grateful for her long and healthy head of hair summed it all up, "If you don't like yourself, then you won't like what you see in the mirror, anyway." Amen.