Open any fashion magazine, and chances are, you'll see women there who look absolutely perfect: sleek, skinny, happy, fashionable, and well, living a fairy-tale life with the equivalent of that Diet Coke commercial guy drooling all over her. It's hard, in the face of all the billboards, ads and commercials we see, not to compare and contrast our own, usually more real-world bodies.
Cellulite, stretch marks and bad hair days, jeans that suddenly can't zip and bags under the eyes in a morning mirror don't help with our feelings of imperfection.
Yet for many, these feelings become their constant state of being. I get emails every week from girls, aged 14, 15 and up who are not allowing themselves to eat--or they're binging and purging because they're suddenly getting curves, and they think they're fat. I work with them, through yoga, and by encouraging them to be who they are, not fixate on what they lack, or they will forever be looking, and finding things to improve.
So many of my clients share their body issues, which are seemingly endless. Once, a well-known actress with a body the world covets approached me and asked how she could lose 10 more pounds in 2 weeks to prepare for a shoot. "You could remove your arms," I thought, but instead implored her that enough was enough. There was not a shred of fat on her body to lose. She left, dissatisfied with my answer, I could tell.
This superficially focused yet deeply-ingrained striving for some unattainable, deprivation-based goal can easily overcome a good life, and swallow it whole. And those feelings can turn deadly for some of us, or at the very least, consistently ruin our days. I know--I took my desire to look more like the women I see than the woman I am to extremes. I suffered from disordered eating for years, until finally finding the strength to like, and ultimately, even love my body (stretch marks and all!) in the empowering practice of yoga.
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I began using food in my teens as a means to get back into control after one parent's illness and both parents' divorcing, but ultimately it was the obsession with looking perfect that took over. I wanted to be loved, adored, and glamorized like the actresses and models I saw--though I'm 5'8", and muscular, not taller and super thin like so many models.
Trying to force my natural shape into an unnatural one by bingeing, then fasting, sometimes for days, was taking its toll on my health, and my self-esteem. How I looked and what I ate (or didn't) was ruling my life. And no matter what I did, even at my lowest weight of 100 pounds, it seemed there was always someone skinnier, happier and better dressed than me. It seemed there was no end to my inner critic's voice, telling me, "I'm not good enough...I want to be her."
I hit rock bottom after undergoing a medical procedure that spun into a rare illness, and almost killed me. My doctor said that my immune system, having no food to fuel it, and my nutrient-depleted body simply couldn't fight me back to health. I realized then that it was better to be imperfect and alive, than perfect--and dead.
Besides, perfection is a ridiculous ideal we take mostly from the photographs in magazines, and people in the movies. And it's a futile quest.
My husband, who was a celebrity and fashion photographer for years, let me in on a little secret: everyone he's come across, whether they be famous, or models, or famous models, need a little help to look their best. Maybe they have bad skin, or cellulite. Some parts need to be hidden, or turned just right. Add great lighting, and the all-important Photoshop session at the end of the shoot, and you've got "perfection". Unfortunately, the fact that it's faked perfection doesn't often get through to those teenagers I meet.
When I saw this video from Dove, showing the process of turning a regular-looking woman into a supermodel, I was shocked. I asked the hubby if this was common in his world. "Oh, yeah," he replied.
"That's what we do."
I have a good friend who is a top fashion model. She is gorgeous, no doubt. But she has her own imperfections--thighs that jiggle, and genetic, stubborn deposits of what she calls "back fat". She hides her trouble spots during shoots and on the street, and though she's stunning, she still worries about those things she can't change.
I now co-own The Fierce Club, where we teach models and celebrities, among others, and I can tell you, they are more like the rest of us than one might think. In fact, when I recently saw one A-lister walk in, I didn't even recognize her. I thought she was just some average Jane...no makeup, not particularly fit. It's incredible that we put so much pressure on ourselves when the reality is that we don't have to.
It's honorable to want to improve oneself, to gracefully note the beauty of others, to stay healthy and exercise regularly to maintain physical fitness. But when it tips over into something that destructively takes over your mind, heart and body--it simply isn't worth it.
Being as life's too short, and there's so much else to do with our time and energy, I invite anyone who struggles with a poor self-image to find a healing modality, fast. Whether it be yoga, playing Scrabble with the boys at the pub, salsa dancing, writing the next Great American Novel, start turning your mind away from the Ego trip of lack-oriented thinking, and find a new appreciation for what you do have, and with it, a way out of the self-hating cycle and back into falling in love with who you are.
To do this, try my 3-Step Process to Start Digging Yourself Again:
1] Out Your Inner Hater: Claim your fears and negative perspectves about yourself by completing the sentence, "Right now, I feel like I really hate my____". By owning where you're at instead of hating yourself for hating yourself, and adding guilt onto shame, you can begin to see other, more positive avenues more clearly.
2] Question Your Motives: Ask yourself if this wallowing is making any progress towards your stated goals of confidence, inner strength, peace, and rational self-improvement? Hint: probably not. So why do you continue with it if it's not serving you to get where you want to go? Hmmmmm?
3] Use It...or Lose It!: Apply your natural stubbornness to either take action to change the things you can, or surrender the fight against that which is, and turn your mind towards more positive ways to move towards health, happiness and prosperity. And, as the old saying goes...have the wisdom to know the difference.
Now, after years of using these 3-steps to turn self-loathing into self-acceptance, and enjoying confidence that has never been higher, I can give you the yoga program that worked wonders to bring me back into balance. As you'll see below, I made DVDs based on my style and my teachings about coming back into a strong core connection with oneself. They might resonate with you, too.
One of them is called Yoga for Weight Loss and Total Body Transformation, and I don't want you getting the wrong impression. Some people want and also need to lose weight. Obesity can be just as dangerous as being too thin. However, there is a point when you are at a healthy weight and then you can continue to work on transforming your strength, flexibility and proficiency in the poses, rather than worrying about the scale.
After my first few months of doing yoga, I found myself wanting to eat properly so I could be strong enough to get into handstand someday. I was, finally, sick of spending my precious lifetime obsessing about the size of my thighs, and instead freed myself to enjoy a meal with friends, to love, and be loved, and to move through my life with energy and vitality.
Yoga taught me to CTFO [Chill The F#@k Out] when my anxiety over how I looked threatened to swerve me from my healing path. My mantra became "I'd rather be strong and happy than perfect"--which turned out to be perfect after all.
The lessons of a living-in-balance practice, whether yoga or something else, reminds each of us to broaden our perspectives and take a wider view of our reality, one that includes our blessings, full potential and positive attributes, to create our own truth out of those new possibilities instead of remaining stuck in the tunnel vision of low self-esteem and disempowering truths.
When I began to stop staring at myself in the mirror, and began to expand my peripheral vision to include the blessings around me, I saw how lucky I really was. I have a lot of love and opportunity all around me. I live in a place where I have access to healthy food, and exercise. I can go online anytime to find information about how to eat, or chat with women who are struggling and succeeding and supporting one another to emerge victoriously from their dieting hell. I have all the tools I need, as many of you reading this now have, to make the shifts towards inner strength and health that you crave.
As an unforeseen bonus, though I was eating more, my body actually transformed into what I'd wanted it to be all along.--strong, supple, graceful. I didn't gain 100 pounds as I'd feared, even though I was eating 5 times a day instead of one. Where I was once skinny and flabby, with no muscle tone, I became lean and muscular, and I looked better for my frame. In a twist of fate, I am now often asked to model for yoga and fitness articles and have stories written about me in the press, so I appear in many of the same magazines I used to use as proof I was imperfect.
The difference is, I'm no longer killing myself to get there.
My confidence returned as I reclaimed my true shape--and my true self--once more. Yes, it was a journey, and yes, there were days when I regressed, and definitely YES there are days when I look at my thighs and still hate them. But with discipline and commitment, I've had far more healthy days than not, and eventually, they have become my new lifestyle.
If you're stuck in a cycle of giving yourself a hard time for your perceived shortcomings, you can learn to love your strength, your ability to love, your cute pinky finger, or any other aspects of your physical self that you can appreciate. And a yoga practice that's right for you will help you trim and tone in all those familiar places.
But best of all, it can lead you towards the things that really count in life: self-acceptance, the confidence to live out loud and be happy, and eventually, to own yourself as the wonderful, imperfect you who is perfect after all--just as you are.
Striving for an ideal that isn't reality, and doesn't even last (we all get older, honey) is a huge waste of a good life. Here's something that's not: Getting some great exercise that helps you look and feel your best, while helping you remember that in the end, how much passion, and love and fun you had matters most--not the size of your ass.
For a complete yoga program that will keep you healthy, fit and toned, try my bestselling DVDs: The Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga: Total Body Transformation, and Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga: Power Hour videos! Other great video teachings can be found at Gaim and YogaJournal.com. I'm not there (yet!), but you will find your best teacher, whoever you resonate with!
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