March 28, 2013

Learning to Love My Body…Sometimes. ~ Steph Auteri


Photo: Steph Auteri

The woman on my yoga DVD—tall, blonde, lithe—lay down on her back and lifted her legs up and over her head, into plow pose.

Her toes rested lightly on the floor behind her…her stomach was perfectly flat. She looked as if she had been folded in half, like a piece of paper.

I tried to contort myself into the same pose. My cropped pajama pants, the waistband cutting uncomfortably into the area beneath my stomach, strained at the thighs. My feet hovered in the air.

I felt as if I were squishing all of my major organs.

While I was still struggling to reach the floor behind me, the Perfect Yogi bent her legs and wrapped her arms around them, her knees in line with her ears, her entire body a tight, little ball. “Yeah right,” I muttered under my breath, feeling the air gasp out of my lungs as I teetered precariously from side to side. I gave up on grabbing my legs, instead flinging my arms out to the sides.

My husband walked over from the other room and paused behind me. I could sense him standing there as he looked back and forth between me and the TV screen. He took a sip from his glass of soda, ice cubes clinking against the sides. His skinny jeans hung low and baggy on his hips.

“She’s doing it better than you,” said Michael, before continuing on to the kitchen and rinsing out his glass.

I watched the TV screen out of the corner of my eye as the instructor slowly unfolded herself. Her spine lengthened out, one vertebra at a time, until she was lying flat on her yoga mat, legs extended. I flopped out of the pose in one, graceless motion.

“Thanks a lot, jerk!” I shouted to Michael, slightly out of breath. “I already know she does it better. You don’t need to tell me.”

As I lay there on my yoga mat, I turned my head to the side so I could glare at the back of Michael’s head. He hadn’t said it outright, but I knew what his comment really meant.

Yoga skills aside, I was fat and out of shape.

People are always talking about the Freshman 15, but what about the Wedding Bells 30? According to a study conducted by professor of nutrition Penny Gordon-Larsen at the University of North Carolina,Chapel Hill, a recently-married couple is twice as likely to become obese as are people who are merely dating.

Not only that, but the prognosis is worse for women. Even females merely living with their boyfriends have a 63 percent increased risk of obesity. Not fair.

I never believed in the Freshman 15. I didn’t gain much weight during college, despite the fact that I finally had access to Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms and booze. But when Michael and I first started dating, about a year after I’d earned my undergraduate degree, the pounds started piling on.

Gordon-Larsen says this is because established couples are much more likely to spend their time watching TV together rather than engaging in more physical activities. And it’s true. As Michael and I grew closer, we went to McDonald’s more often and spent most of our afternoons in his bed, watching B-horror movies.

The fast-food marathons, coupled with a mostly sedentary courtship, didn’t do my body any favors.

Even after we moved in together and eventually married, I didn’t feel compelled to change my eating habits. Instead of spending time in the kitchen, I focused all my energy on work, fashioning meals out of vending machine fare at my various jobs. I bought high-sodium Smart Ones and Hungry Man meals at the supermarket and frozen DiGiorno pizzas. I ordered in pizza and Chinese. When I was feeling especially domestic, I boiled water for pasta. After all, carbs were my favorite food group.

When I eventually abandoned my long work hours to become a full-time, at-home freelancer, I embraced the extra time I had to finally experiment in the kitchen. But it was too late. Despite my turn for the healthy—which eventually morphed to include an enjoyment of hoop dancing, afternoon walks and yoga—my weight didn’t budge.

After years of poor nutrition and a mostly inactive lifestyle, my pants were stuck at a solid size 14. Which is fine. I don’t mind curves. But I felt overweight. I felt heavy. In my gut. In my thunder thighs. In the breasts that had gone from a 34B to a 36C.

What made it even worse was that Michael and I were at each other’s goal weights. He was the 135 pounds I wished I could be. I hovered closer to the 170 pounds he hoped to someday reach once he was able to add on some muscle weight.

And he wouldn’t let me forget it.

Sometimes, as we lay at opposite ends of our living room couch, watching the latest DVR’d episode of Castle or Up All Night, he’d flick the fat on my thigh so that it jiggled. Other times, he rubbed a palm over my belly and murmured “baby,” insinuating that I looked pregnant.

One day, while folding the laundry, Michael held up a hideous pair of cotton granny panties—white with tiny blue polka dots—that managed to cover the great expanse of my muffin top and the even greater expanse of my ass. “Really?” he asked, an eyebrow raised, the corner of his mouth raised into a smirk.

I looked at him, in skinny jeans that looked oversized, legs like delicate saplings, all angles and sharp edges and concavity. I knew he was teasing me. I knew he was self-conscious about his own scrawniness, and had learned to develop a sense of humor when it came to body image. Still, in that moment, I hated my body.

My body hate didn’t make things any easier in the bedroom.

When we first started dating, Michael’s bony hips left bruises on my inner thighs. Now, with the extra padding down there, I found myself experiencing a more psychic pain. I burrowed under a pile of blankets every time we had sex.I insisted on keeping my clothes on… until the last possible moment. As my husband peeled off my panties, sliding them down my legs, I couldn’t help but look at the white bulge of my stomach, the dimples in my thighs, and feel disgust.

It was impossible to relax—to allow myself to feel aroused—when I felt so self-conscious.

As I lay there, Michael hovering above me, trying to turn me on with the sheer heat of his own lust, I wondered how he could possibly find me sexy when he’d spent so much time validating my own body insecurities.

How could he be turned on when I was wearing those hideous granny panties? Or the purple pajama pants with the cats on them that his mother bought me for Christmas?

Was it really so simple as seeing my nips through my thin pajama top, or watching me make the switch from sports bra to regular bra? And what did that even mean? As I asked myself these questions, I didn’t feel like the wife he had fallen in love with. Instead, I felt like an empty receptacle for sex.

In my saner moments, I knew I was being ridiculous. After all, more weight meant bigger boobs! (And Michael was definitely a boob man.) I also knew Michael didn’t mean anything with the jokes and jabs he made at my expense. He grew up using humor as a defense mechanism against his own insecurities, and truly expected me to react in the same way to the things I was most self-conscious about. Still, remembering those truths wasn’t always easy.

Sometimes, however, I managed. Sometimes, I managed to love the curves I had, and to feel proud of the things my body was capable of.

Like at last year’s Yogathon. Just over a year after my losing battle with the Perfect, DVD Yogi, I signed up for a 12-hour, charity yoga marathon a few towns over. I had been attending classes at a local studio for almost a year at that point, and had finally mastered plow pose (among others). I was still overweight, but I was stronger. More flexible. More in tune with my body.

So an hour into the Yogathon, though I was already sweating, I felt good. Energized. Prepared for anything.

I sat cross-legged on my yoga mat at the back of a high school gymnasium, surrounded by about 100 other yogis. I sat with my spine erect, my neck long, my hands resting palms-up on my knees. I had already completed a one-hour flow, a long series of standing poses, binds, and countless chaturangas and I was warmed up, my blood flowing. I breathed in and out through my nose, waiting for the next cue.

When the instructor jokingly asked what we’d like to do next, a voice floated up from somewhere in the center of the room.

“Handstands!” someone shouted, and we all laughed.

“How’s that for pacing yourself?” the instructor asked, laughing along with us. There were, after all, still over 10 hours of yoga ahead of us. Then he looked around. “Well, why not?” he finally asked. He gestured to the far wall. “I don’t expect you to have a center-of-the-room handstand, but why don’t we all line up against the wall?”

I raised my eyebrows—pretty sure my body wasn’t up for this. I looked around, to see if anyone else was taking him seriously. People were already unfolding their legs, pushing up to their knees, waiting.

“Come on!” he said, clapping his hands together. “We’ll get a photo of all of us in handstand. It’ll be great. Everybody in 3… 2… “

And with that, we sprinted over to the wall and began kicking ourselves up. Legs floated through the air, one by one. Feet hovered above hips. The event photographer stood poised to take the shot.

I kept flinging myself against the wall. Kicking myself up halfway. Falling back. Flinging myself against the wall. Falling again. Swearing under my breath.

And then it happened.

I flung myself against the wall. I kicked up. I didn’t hold back. And suddenly I was flying. Upside down. Arms trembling. Knuckles turning red. The blood rushing to my head. My hair fell into my face and tickled my nose. I blew it away from my mouth.

I could feel my tank top flop down, revealing my belly. I could feel the air against my skin, the push of the waistband just below my muffin top. But at that moment, I didn’t care.

My arm muscles flexing, my core engaged, my legs stretched out above me, thunder thighs and all, all I felt was a great joy for being part of that moment.

The perfectly toned body? That could come later.


Steph Auteri is a freelance writer who has been published in Time Out New York, New York Press, Inside Jersey, and a slew of online women’s lifestyle magazines. Though she’s spent the bulk of the past 10 years writing about sexual health, her heart belongs to yoga. And cats. And that stash of peanut butter truffles in her desk drawer. Seriously, though, she’s in the midst of her first yoga teacher training program, and looks forward to sharing yoga with everyone. Whether they like it or not. Learn more at stephauteri.com, or stalk her at twitter.com/stephauteri.

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Asst: Terri Tremblett/Kate Bartolotta

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