"You're so lucky," she said, "I wish my eyelids creased twice." We were 15 years old, and a friend and I were reading a magazine about make-up. The focal points included Wet 'n' wild, blushes that drive him crazy, and now, me. Nevermind that before those words left her mouth and entered my consciousness, I had never acknowledged the idea that something could be right or wrong with my eyelids.
But at that moment, a new world opened up to me, one in which a minute feature that I had previously deemed un-noteworthy, was on the chopping block something to be noticed, judged, and added up to my value.
Is it safe to say that all of us have had experiences like this? That moment when we learn how to perceive our bodies from outside of ourselves? That moment when, for example:
You were told your body could be compared to a fruit.
In a magazine, you discovered what colors to wear based on what part of yourself needed to be concealed.
You went on 'expert's' diet whose own 'thinness' convinced you of their qualifications to advise your body.
You learned to track and police your body according to the numbers on the tag of your pants or the little half circle on your scale?
Somewhere along the way, most of us learn how to think about our bodies using judgements and assessments that have crept from the outside world, in.
Like a lot of women, I learned this skill very early on. Before I had the chance to learn that what I deserved was to feel good in my body, I learned it was important to have a "good" body. I learned this before I learned that I could find joy in my body through dance and movement. Before I could be in this body, and move and shake this body, I had messages subtly cuing me to build a relationship with my body that wasn’t truly embodied.
As a kid, I was an open door for messages about how to morph it into fitting external standards of perfection, about the false binary of good and bad clothes, good and bad facial features--- good and bad bodies. Along the way, many of us get convinced that how we experience life is measured by external factors.
Remembering the gifts and wisdom our bodies offer us can help us reconnect to our own intuition, preferences and desires. It can lead the way to a more meaningful and self aware life when we can recognize:
Joy as a ray of warmth or energy on the insides of our arms and torsos
Embarrassment as bright red heat on our faces
Anger as tension in our jaws and tightening in our chests
Attraction as butterflies flying all over our insides.
These are all messages that we rely on to stay safe and be guided. It’s the way that we can feel our own authenticity, know our boundaries or needs. These feelings show us the way to our authentic strengths and vulnerabilities. There is no end to the possibilities that open up when we intimately know our bodies from the inside.
As an adult, I have a lot more power about the messages that I take in and send back into the world. The one that’s often been the most transformative is also the most basic: to be human is to have a body.
A few years ago, in a yoga teacher training, I heard a teacher say that we get different pictures of the body depending on what tools we use to examine it. For a long time, my tool kit included externalized measurements. It’s a powerful shift to exchange these tools for the most important ones that we’ve all had since birth- attention towards our present-moment internal experience.
Lucky that for all of us, this tool always with us. We can keep making the choice to return to that awareness and pick it up again. And of course, everything is practice. When we free up the space to receive the wisdom and the information our body has to offer us, we have to trust that staying aware of our sensations is at least as important as external sources of measurement. And to do so, we have to start with the basic assumption that all people and their circumstances are individual and that every-single-one-of-us deserves to feel safe, powerful, appreciated, valued, and in control of our own experience.
That kind of relationship with our bodies that allows us to be living, breathing, moving, feeling, sentient and changing. It empowers us to make decisions about how to eat, how to move, how to dress, who to love and what words to speak with our own genuine selfhood. Our decisions don't have to come from outside of ourselves- not from women's health, not from your mom, and not from a past or future image of yourself. It frees us from the endless instagram feed of directives from 'experts' who may or may not have our best interest in mind (or want to sell their book).
Because at the end of the day, when all is read and consumed, no one but you has access to the most primary information: the way that you, and only you, feel.