For the month of December, lululemon athletica wrote about different ways to Fuel Happiness on their blog. One of those ways was to nourish your connections- to take seriously the relationships you’ve brought into your life, and to seek out new ones that will support and challenge you. As an introvert, I tend to forget about this facet of happiness. I like to think that I can do everything by myself, for myself, and I can do it better than if I brought in other people to “complicate” things. Of course, this isn’t true, nor is it conducive to any capacity of growth, and so it’s something I consciously have to work against in my life.
Not too long ago, a photographer reached out to me on Instagram seeking collaboration. They wanted to make art, explore their budding passion, and I wanted some high-quality photographs of me practicing asana to have for my website and other projects I’m working on. With “nourish your connections” fresh in my mind, I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate and step outside my little bubble of “I’ll get it done myself.”
It was definitely worth it, and I got some beautiful pictures that I feel reflect who I am and what I represent quite well. The colors, the atmosphere, the organic nature of the photoshoot really speak to what I hope I convey through my writing and teaching. But as I was reviewing the pictures, I noticed some thoughts bubbling up as I focused on the minutia of the images.
“The way my bra strap is digging into my arm makes me look weird.”
“I wish my shirt wasn’t so sheer in that photo.”
“The way I’m bent over there isn’t very flattering.”
“My smile looks crooked.”
Now, I’ve come a long way in terms of self-confidence and security in who I am and what I look like. But I’m in no way above feeling kinda crummy about myself from time to time. And it can be difficult to see pictures where you perceive that you don’t look “good enough”.
The key here being the word enough.
I, and many other people, often get caught in the trap of not being, having, or doing enough. It can be extremely easy to fall into a cycle of always wanting more. Wanting to be more confident, more beautiful, more intelligent. And when we are presented with what we perceive to be concrete representations of ourself, things that will display to the world who we are, it’s easy to get hung up on the fact that they aren’t enough.
When I saw some of the pictures, my instinct was to focus in on what they weren’t saying about me. They weren’t showing that I was comfortable enough in front of a camera to get a good smile, they weren’t showing that I was lean enough to not bend over without a little tummy roll action, they weren’t showing that I was flexible enough to have a dizzyingly deep backbend. My mind zeroed in on what I thought they were displaying about me, and more importantly, what I thought they were implying about my worth.
But of course, taking a step back, it’s important to understand that these represent a single moment in time. They display one moment where I looked, performed, came across that way. The day of the photoshoot, my hamstrings were way too tight for the splits, and just because I couldn’t quite slide my way into full hanumanasana, doesn’t mean that I never have and never will. And more importantly, just because I think I look awkward or uncomfortable in a few poses or snapshots, doesn’t mean that that is who I am.
Here is what these pictures are: they are 100% accurate.
I’m not hopping onto the cover of a magazine any time soon, so these photos aren’t being photoshopped to make me look a certain way. My body is being presented exactly as it appears in real life- that’s me. In real life, sports bras give you this weird underarm fold between your shirt and arm. In real life, your belly folds when you bend over. In real life, your smile is kinda crooked and a little forced, because, guess what, someone told me to smile.
Once upon a time, I was in the midst of an eating disorder, and understanding this would be much more difficult. I would have no concept of what a normal body really is and should be. I would have no way of escaping my perception of how flawed I was and appeared to be. I would have no way of overcoming the insecurities I felt about how I looked and compared to the photos of people around me who seemed to have it all figured out.
Here’s something no one really tells you about anorexia recovery: the thoughts never go away.
You will always looks at a photograph of yourself and zero in on what you see to be “not enough”. You will always think you could look better, happier, more put together. You will always, always have insecurities about the way you look in your own skin.
Recovery doesn’t make them go away, it makes them lose their power over you.
I still have those negative thoughts when I see pictures of myself. I still sometimes skip putting a picture on Instagram because of the way I look in it. I still sometimes wish I looked a different, “better” way. I still compare myself to other people. Because I’m not perfect. No one is.
But today, I am so much more focused on what I do than what I look like.
My mom said to me the other day, “Your shoulders look so broad!”
A few years ago, that would have been absolutely devastating to my self esteem to hear. But today, I’m proud. Because those broad shoulder and wide back and muscly legs say one thing about me: I’m strong. I’ll kick your ass at a chaturanga contest. I’ll hold chair for a million years if I want to. It’s my body and it looks the way it does because I’ve worked long and hard to bring it back from being weak, fragile, and mistreated.
Seeing yourself in high-definition is an experience I’d recommend to anyone. To see yourself photographed is to see yourself through someone else’s eyes, to be presented with all the little folds and creases and wrinkles in all of their glory. Because those aren’t flaws, and they don’t take away from who you are- they are who you are.
It’s humbling. And empowering. Because leaving those negative first impressions behind is what recovery, growth, and confidence is. I spoke about this in my classes recently- the idea of there being a “first thought” and a “second thought”.
The first though we have isn’t always an accurate representation of who we really are. It’s oftentimes a combination of what we’ve been told by the world and people around us. So when we have a thought like, “Oh, I look bad in that picture,”, what we’re doing is comparing what we’re seeing to what we’ve seen in other people and places in the world. We’re comparing it to standards we’ve been told and trained to have.
But the second thought is who we really are. The follow up thought of- “Yeah, but I actually look like that. That’s how I should look in that picture,”- speaks more about your self-confidence and worth than anything else in the world. Having those negative first thoughts is okay, normal, and natural, but making it to the second thought is how we can become the greatest and highest versions of ourselves.