On body dysmorphia, misogyny, body-shaming, the Silicon Valley, and being pretty: Or, why I practice yoga.

I finally got back in the yoga studio yesterday. Oddly, I did not want to go. This is very unusual for me – I am pretty dedicated to my practice and I know without qualification that no matter how I am feeling, I always feel better after I go to yoga. Still, I did not want to go.

I had not been practicing for several weeks. There are lots of reasons – there always are. For one, I got really sick in the first week of June. Like really sick. I imagine if you live in the Bay Area you got some variety of this sickness or know someone who did because it was insidious and vicious. After days of a sore throat that prevented swallowing anything, talking much at all, and sleeping soundly – all amplified by the fact that I was in the final week of instruction at school dealing with surly teenagers and oh yeah, also packing up for a major job transition – the sick morphed into some sort of monstrous hacking chest cough. “At least it was productive.”

The Pantone array of my phlegm rainbow.

And then some.

This lasted from 7 June through 17 June. I realize that this is not actually an eternity, but whatever.  In this same time I conducted final projects for around 100 students, graded said projects, deleted untold numbers of unauthorized selfies on my phone, tried to be an adult and be mad at my students for participating in the very-rapey senior streak that happens at BHS but still endorse my one student who dressed up as a giant dick as a protest statement, packed up my classroom wherein I downsized 20+ years of my “teacher life” into fewer than 10 boxes, said goodbye to some people I will really miss, was mature enough also to say goodbye to some people I will not miss at all, watched every minute of the NBA finals (okay, except for 28 minutes of Game 4, which I am certain contributed to the longevity of my illness), got my hair done and attempted to get headshots for my new job (not wildly successful), packed my bags and went to the wilds of North Idaho to visit my parents with my boyfriend.

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NBD.

While en route to Idaho I read Roxane Gay‘s new memoir, Hunger. It is an important read for a lot of reasons, but I found it especially significant as I was spiraling into my 1980s-programmed body dysmorphic mind as a consequence of the 80s (obviously) but also from being sick and a little depressed, overly tired and not being able to do the things I have convinced myself I must do in order to feel a certain way – which no matter how much I wish was not connected to how I look, is completely connected to how I (think I) look.

This is not a new problem, nor is it a particularly unique problem. One of my favorite (now former) coworkers and I have an ongoing “joke” when we get teased by our young  female students of color for having “no cakes” [a term I had to actually research via Urban Dictionary after my girls were first discussing my said lack of cakes in class while I was writing on the board] telling them that we grew up in the 80s, so no cakes is a win for us. Sometimes I have gone so far as to say – out loud – that one of my adolescent goals, in spite of Sir Mix-A-Lot, was to be a stick insect. I know this is not exactly true (in my personal chronology only) because I co-opted the expression from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones  many years after high school, which only goes to show that my body issues are not bound by any decade. Interestingly, this year I inadvertently served as a nutrition guide for several of the young women in my class as we often found ourselves discussing how we felt hungry – or not – and how our food was influencing our energy levels in various capacities (many of them are incredible dancers… and wondered why they felt like shit after a breakfast of Hot Cheetos.) Also of note, these students are some of the most honest and authentic people I know about body reality – as well they embrace reality literally and figuratively. One of them was the one dressed as a giant dick in the streak. They get things I never even thought of at their age. They somehow escaped the neuroses that I continue to adhere to in spite of many supposedly healthier, confidence-inspiring, and therapied years later.

So, feeling shitty, literally and figuratively, and then reading Gay’s book gave me pause. In particular the articulate way she wrote about how/why women are viewed and valued in society and how maintenance of said ‘value’ is inherently dangerous spoke to me. I thought about how almost always the best compliment a person can think to give a woman is that she “looks like she has lost weight!” or that she “looks so tiny!” I thought about all those coveted compliments, and their intentional double entendre. They punctuate the times in my life I was certain I looked best. When I returned from living in the ashram in India and had stopped having my period because I had lost so much weight, I felt so proud of how everyone loved how I looked (except for A – she said I looked sick. She was probably right.) Still, I think about how my clothes fit then and I get pissed off with myself now.

At this point I decided to stop at Yoke’s north of Sandpoint to buy a bunch of fashion magazines and then go back to the parentals house and drink a ton of wine. Seems legit. I did not go to yoga. And I continued my self-care by rewarding every hike with cold beer. I was on vacation after all. And I told my boyfriend, who truly and sincerely does not have a single issue with how I look (not to be confused with having not a single issue with me, btw) that if he posted any photos of me I had better look thin. Repeatedly.

Typing that really highlights how completely annoying that must have been.

On my return to the city, I knew I would be going back to yoga. But for the first time that I can really remember, I felt uncomfortable about it – like not in shape enough to be allowed to take care of myself or something. I have heard about this phenomenon – even seen it in action, remember this peach? I know rationally it is totally fucking stupid. But there it was taking up space in my brain. And, just to be clear, I have a totally healthy build, there is nothing wrong with me. I am 5’10” and weigh between 150 and 155 pounds (I can push it to 160 easily and have been down to 140 and some change in my adult life – see the India reference above) but I really am just, you know, fine.

Plus my yoga studio is downstairs from my house, so seriously, not to cop a phrase, but just do it already.

Before I went downstairs for yoga, I caught up on some breaking news out of the Silicon Valley. For those of you who do not follow this kind of stuff, the gist of it is that it seems like finally some of the rapey, bro culture in the tech/venture capital world is getting called out with some actual consequence. This is due on large part to the investigative work of people like Sarah Lacy at Pando.com and it would be worth reading her stories about Uber (she warned us all about them years ago) and Binary Capital (the story of whose behavior inspired this worthy purchase.) I read the latest article (Binary related) and left a comment on the post expressing my surprise that people seemed to be taking umbrage with the photos in the story and not the actually rapey/gropey/assault covered in the story.

Clearly it was time to return to yoga.

As soon as I sat on my mat, I felt better. I always do and I know this. It felt safe, and positive, and welcoming. LIKE.IT.ALWAYS.DOES. I was so glad to be back in class.

When I got home I saw that someone had responded to my comment and tried to (re)explain her counterargument to me – a position I had totally understood, just disagreed with. She kept coming at me doing that thing people do who believe that if they say something over and over and over again they will get people to agree with them. This is not an effective approach with me. When she would not stop I went to her Facebook page to see who she was. She describes herself thusly: Wellness Professional. Practice Financing. Personal Health. Relationships . I am not even sure I understand what that means as a single declarative sentence. She also has an unbelievable number of public photos (odd considering this was her beef about the original post in question) of which I could have poached any. Here is one that gives you an idea.

Sally Albright: What’s she look like?
Marie: Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.

As soon as I saw her, I had an immediate reaction that maybe I should rethink my behavior in the comments because of how she looked. I am completely serious. It was this weird thing like, no matter that she could not spell (true statement) or that she was being totally patriarchally-bound (also true) and generally snotty (💯 my opinion) she suddenly mattered more, or was someone I would want to be allied with because she was hot (this seems rather objective – although this too can be misleading).

Acknowledging this reaction, I was so pissed at myself for wasting all the good intentions of a yoga class (which, for what it’s worth, was amazing, re-centering, welcoming, challenging, and generally perfect while I was there) to come up against this. I closed Facebook and turned on Law & Order SVU (as an aside with added context in this post, when I saw Roxane Gay speak last spring she talked about how she watches this show incessantly so I have accepted that this addiction of mine is okay.) Sitting there watching an episode I have probably seen ten times, the power of social media compelled me and I found myself (again) scrolling through my feed where I came across two articles (shout out to Colette for both posts). One I will only screenshot because it deserves no hits, and one I will link because it should be widely read.

The first article is by a random white guy (not a doctor) telling people they are psycho if they do not have kids. He claims to have three. I feel confident he did not birth one of them. The second is about the privilege of prettiness by Janet Mock who should need no introduction, but if she does you can go here.

These two articles present diametrically opposed ideological bookends to my earlier train(s) of thought. To be fair, random-not-a-doctor-dude was not only calling out women, (but really, who has the babies after all and what valuation is placed on those women who do/not) and let’s not forget how women’s bodies are dissected in terms of how they change (or should change) around pregnancy and childbirth (this was also “coincidentally” covered extensively in the fashion magazines I purchased to enhance my dysmorphic slide while in the wilds of Idaho. )

Janet Mock talks eloquently and effectively about the privileges that looks bequeath upon those who manage to meet the societal mark of having looks. Her take is especially valuable and addresses intersectionality with great clarity.

I sat and reread Ms. Mock’s article. I thought about Ms. Gay’s book. I revisited Ms. Lacy’s story of the women founders in Silicon Valley being groped and demeaned all the while maintaining necessary (literally prescribed, it turns out) appearances in order to get entry to the club (though not necessarily a seat at the table).  While it is not directly tied to the chitta vritti I’m currently battling, it all explains perfectly why we – I – would be so caught up in appearances, why I might freak out if I feel “fat” because I missed a yoga class, why I might rethink my “place” in taking a stand against a pretty girl (would I have felt different if she had not been traditionally attractive?)

Our appearance is often the primary currency with which we – women – are able to trade: it is a core element of my societal value.

While I was in Idaho I was talking a with a friend – a sister, really, because I have known her since she was in utero – who is now 28 (I think that puts her in a different generation than me). We were talking about how we have capitalized on people’s prejudices at various times (specifically we were speaking of fake-woke-feminists vs. blatant sexists) and it got us talking about bodies and image. She said, “Yeah, you know? I have decided that if my body works and does the things I want it to do, then I look just fine.”  I hope she really, really means this. I don’t know if I am there yet, but as they say: #goals.

I do not look the way I think I look. I know this when I see photos and I am surprised positively or negatively by the image looking back at me. This is my issue. But my concern about my value to this society – my actual self-worth – is not some internal psychosis. It is real, and it has been put on me, though it has become my cross to bear.

And this is why I went to yoga again today.

And why I will go tomorrow.

Is that truly getting at the heart of this matter?

You be the judge.

 

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2 thoughts on “On body dysmorphia, misogyny, body-shaming, the Silicon Valley, and being pretty: Or, why I practice yoga.

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