January 15, 2012

Inspired by a naked butt. {NSFW}

A few weeks ago my friend and fellow yoga teacher and altruist Ryan posted a picture of his naked butt on Facebook.

Standing in a hot spring in Iceland, with his long crazy dreadlocks hanging down his back, he shielded his eyes with his hand as he looked off in the distance. I’m looking for you tonight at 5:30 yoga was the tag line. The comments ranged from your butt rules! to are you looking for your pants? to my comment—I officially declare this the best picture ever.

Please don’t misunderstand. My adoration for the photo had little to do with Ryan’s naked butt and much more to do with his bad-ass-edness. My friend Ryan—all crazy dreadlocks and ZZ Top beard—feels not one shred of shame in his body. He’s so comfortable with his human form that he posted it up there on Facebook for all to see. I was completely inspired.

And then I saw this:

And then…I read this article written by one of my personal heroes, fellow Elephant contributor Julie JC Peters.

…And then I read this article about plus size models ranging from size 6 (yup, that’s me! just call me plus-size-Suzie) to 14.

I’m not sure if it was all the talk of anorexic models and objectified and sexualized yogis in panties and a bra juxtaposed with my friend Ryan just standing in that spring in all his glory. Or maybe I’m just at an age where it just doesn’t matter anymore, but I suddenly decided to stop feeling like my body was never good enough (for who? for what?) .

For 40-plus years I have been in a dysfunctional relationship with my body.

Like one of those old couples that you see in a restaurant who just sit there in silence—this was where my body and I had ended up. It was as if we were being forced to spend time together and we accepted that, but we weren’t going to like it—I’d be damned if I was gonna acknowledge her, let alone recognize anything good about her.

I’m quite aware that my relationship with my body is not uncommon—and I know how I got there. Growing up in a household that not only did not acknowledge nudity as a viable option for the body—but avoided anything remotely snuggly or nurturing (like hugs and kisses) didn’t help. On top of that, I was a teenager in the 70s and 80s. Justin Bieber has more of a chest than the top supermodels of the day, and it pains me to recall my teenage years thumbing through Seventeen magazine being reminded over and over that Pheobe Cates and Cheryl Teigs—the boob-less supermodels of the day—were the apex of physical perfection. Damn you size C boobs! I wished and begged my mother for breast reduction surgery, to which she replied you want a smaller chest? Lose some weight (thanks, mom). On top of all that, I engaged in a self-sabotaging and pointless (and secret) competition with my sister who was one year older and always at least one size smaller than me. My whole teenage life I struggled to just fit. into. her. clothes! Because she was skinnier and skinnier was better.

It had to be true—I read that in magazines and magazines don’t lie.

It’s no wonder that when I found and married a man who objectified my body, I stuck to him like a leech to a plump thigh. After all,  if I wasn’t going to appreciate my body, at least someone would! The intended effect was not realized.

It turns out it wasn’t really as easy as just deciding to love my body. But when I thought of Ryan’s butt picture and felt inspired. I grabbed my phone, took a picture of my butt and send it to Ryan with a note: Inspired by you, you bad ass! 

And I felt something amazing.

Well, actually first I felt shame. What did I just do? OMG What will he think? How dare you send someone a picture of your naked body! and on and on..But somewhere in that moment I realized that I was coming face to face with some serious self sabotage. By constantly feeling my body was either A. never good or B. good enough but being good enough came with obligation—I kept myself hostage. I did that. Of course in the end my relationship to my body had become so estranged that we hardly knew each other anymore.

I thought of my days in art school, where I would show up to the studio with my charcoal pastels and pad and think nothing of the person posing there in front of me. Our models ranged from young women to old men and everything in between and we saw the body as a form. Lines, planes, curves and shadows. I looked at my picture and began to see my body this way. I began to appreciate my plus size 6 form as a series of curves and lines and shadows. It suddenly came clear to me that though my body is my form, it isn’t me—not really. I was reminded of the quote

We are spiritual beings going through a temporary human experience.

This was my human container—my human form—but the essence of me was spirit. It was fascinating—and liberating.

And this particular human container of mine is also a pretty bad-ass—not because it is chiseled, honed or can stand in a one finger hand stand while playing Mozart’s Concerto in G Major on the violin with its feet (because it is none of those things)—but because it made (from scratch!) and then birthed two human beings. Big ones. And I appreciate that’s nothing to sneeze at. I notice that the form of my body also carries with it markers of my life. Injury scars, pregnancy stretchmarks, childbearing hips and tattoos marking marriage and divorce. As they say in art school—Form follows function.

So because of Ryan’s butt picture, I have started a new relationship with my body. I appreciate its form—no matter what dress size. I appreciate its function—whether I can press up to handstand in lacy black underpants or not (anyway, I’d like to see little miss yoga push out a 10 1b 10 oz baby on that nice new yoga mat of hers!) and though I don’t let too many people get physically close to me these days other than my cats kids—I feel confident that by putting my relationship with my body first, the rest—whatever that looks like— will follow.

Here’s to the rest of my human experience—and to my repaired relationship with my body.

Thanks, Ryan.



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