The other day I was heading to the gym to spend some much needed time in the pool and sauna. But before I left I paused. I was feeling uncomfortable in my own skin suddenly and was dreading going. It royally pissed me off. I found I was asking myself where the confident, be yourself, don’t care what others think girl had gone? I wondered why I could go to a yoga studio, settle in on my mat and find my confidence again but when I go to the gym, it suddenly disappears.
One of the reasons I love yoga is that it has taught me to be self-accepting and non-judgmental towards myself. Something that can be very difficult due to a body that fights me all the time. Having several auto-immune conditions and health issues that I struggle with on a daily bases has made feeling like finding a place and time that I will thrive in is impossible. But when I settle in on my mat I feel hope. And acceptance. Both my energy and my muscles are effected by my health conditions. Some days I can be energetic and with minimal pain, the next I can hardly move. Learning to accept where I am today and what my body can do today is something that yoga has gifted to me.
I went ahead and went to the gym and toughed my way through it. I even enjoyed my time in the pool and sauna. But I found myself once again wondering where that confident woman had gone? The one that when she was in her early twenties decided she hated shaving and wondered why the hell she kept on doing it. And when she realized it was because of some societal standard of feminine beauty, she just stopped.
It was a time of accessing things and a time that it was easier to toss out the crap that society lays on us, especially as women, and just go forth and be who I am, as I chose to be. Oh it wasn’t always easy. I had to deal with the attitude of my employer and co-workers. I was called a hippy – like it was a bad thing. I was called a dike in a most derogatory way, and I mean how ridiculous is that anyway? I had a friend who was a lesbian and she was as girly as the next. Pure stupidity is what I dealt with. Oh and people’s discomfort. I found a lot of woman either judged immediately while others got really defensive because my confidence to let go of societies concept of what a woman should look like challenged their own conformity – though it wasn’t my intention to do so. I did like to offer the opportunity to think about the reasons we do things though – I think this was the beginning of my own path towards mindfulness. Being willing to examine why we do certain things and if we find the reasons are not good enough being able to let those things go. It is a slow and sometimes painful path. And sometimes you find yourself winding back around and touching on the same subjects again. Like what happened to me recently.
I didn’t shave my legs or armpits for over ten years. Then one afternoon, summer before last I found myself in the shower and looking at my husband’s razor. I was in a good place. Comfortable with who I was, but curious if I would like a shaven leg look after all these years. I wasn’t the least interested in shaving my pits, mind you. I liked that and over time have found that it can make feel sexy in its own way. I was hesitant. I remembered how I really did hate the maintenance of having shaven legs – I mean all that shaving, which I had hated with a passion. Was I willing to try it out for the sake of curiosity and be stuck with maintaining it or going through the process of growing it out again,which is not the best stage. Eventually I put the razor to my legs and peeled away over ten years of who I had been. I looked down at my legs and thought, “Hm. That looks really weird.” In fact it took me a few weeks to get used to it again. I liked the feel of the smoothness, but it disappeared so quickly. I went through the summer and then when winter came and I grew it back out again. And that was the pattern for this year as well. But this year I found I was feeling uncomfortable in public with unshaven legs, especially in places like the gym where judgement of bodies, your own and others reigns supreme. And there I was, pissed off at letting society and others ideas of beauty and what is accepted for women effect me. Damn it, I was above all that crap. I had worked at that for over ten years of my life as my lithe body slipped away from me due to illness. I had to ask myself, if you can’t handle the pressure, then why don’t you just give in and start shaving again full time?
The next day found me at a yoga class I had not gone to before. A new teacher. As I was settling onto my mat before class the teacher came into sight for the first time. She was a strong beautiful woman who radiated confidence. So when she raised her arms in the first few movements of class and I saw her unshaven arm pits the whole thing came home to me again. I had been like that. I wanted to find that place in me again. For my beauty to radiate out beyond societies ideas of what beauty is. To feel comfortable and confident no matter what I look like on the outside, whether I shave or don’t shave or have a slender body or a lumpy one. That I could find that place of self-acceptance and confidence and non-judgement off the mat as much as on, in places far less accepting of women who don’t follow the code of beauty set up by whoever determines these things, in places like the gym or the dance floor or anywhere else I might choose to go. So I moved through my practice that day with the intention to breath in confidence and breath out negativity. To glory in the strength my body was offering me that day, to find my inner strength and confidence once more and carry it with me once the mat was rolled up and I was walking out into the world beyond the comfortable place of my yoga practice.