…and other truths yoga taught me about my body dysmorphic disorder.
I was talking with a very good friend of mine today. I haven’t known this person very long – maybe 18 months or so, but we got very close very quickly and I adore her. Several months ago, she moved out of the country and we speak mostly via Facebook Chat now, but we’re in contact nearly every day. While we were very close when I saw her in person several times a week, the distance between us has somehow opened the door for us to be really truthful with each other about all kinds of things. Today we talked about the big one that we share: we both have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Now, okay, she might not classify her self with that, so I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but I *do* have this disorder and have been diagnosed with it and have lived with it forever, so yeah, I can talk about myself. And her words and experiences sound an awful lot like mine, so you do the math. Anyway, the interesting thing is that our stories are almost identical. The tapes that play repeatedly in our heads are vile, evil, cruel, and vicious. They say the same things : you’re ugly, you’re fat, you’re worthless, you’re a failure, you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough, etc. Word for word, same exact tape. We could be the same person… except, check this out:
I’m short and curvy (meaning, I have hips and big breasts and curves,) and she is very tall and very thin. Our stories and our tapes are the same, our experiences are the same, but our bodies could not be more different. How does that happen, you ask? It’s easy: our tapes and our experiences and our mirrors are dirty fucking liars.
Before Yoga Sol opened in our permanent location, we sublet space in a belly dance studio. The walls were covered with mirrors. This makes sense for a dance studio, but was crippling for a yoga studio. As a student, I was always distracted by what i looked like in certain poses. Did my belly stick out in Vira II? Did I look fat in Navasana? Was I skinnier than at least one other person in the room? Please note, this had NOTHING to do with alignment. Occasionally mirror can be helpful for alignment (if you’re practicing by yourself or if your teacher is an idiot,) but that’s not what this was about. This was about vanity and competition and finding a thousand different ways to love and / or hate myself. As a teacher, I noticed that I wasn’t alone in this. I would teach a class and watch people catch sight of themselves only to then suck in their stomachs or to arch their backs seductively (and dangerously,) or to catch a glimpse of a person behind them doing a more advanced variation of an asana and then push themselves beyond where their body was ready to go leading to injury.
Clearly, I was thrilled to see no mirrors in the design plans for Yoga Sol’s forever home.
Now before those of you who know me go getting all up in arms about how I’m the perfect size or shape or how strong I am or any of that stuff, let me be very clear: I know this already. I know intellectually that I am not fat nor am I unhealthy nor am I unattractive. I know I’m stronger than your average person, I know I am healthier than I have ever been, I know, I know I know. This isn’t about that. Not at all. And this also isn’t a blog post about loving yourself as you are, regardless of weight or shape or size or health (although, I do think that those are very valid and important lessons to be learned.) This post is about the lies we tell ourselves. Well, okay, it’s about the lies I told (tell) myself and how yoga helped (helps) me see them for the dirty futher muckers that they are (contemplate that maybe they aren’t exactly true.)
The mirror lies. Want proof? Go to a store. Try on a piece of clothing. Not socks or a scarf, people. Try on jeans. Ohhhhh yes, jeans. Try them on in the fitting room and really study your reflection. Buy them. Then come home and put them on and look at them in your mirror at home. Look the same? I’ll bet not. If they do, congratulate yourself for having the exact same mirror and exact same lighting conditions as the store. More than likely, however, it will look different. YOU will look different. And, if I were a betting gal, I’d bet diamonds to dollars that these wretched lying mirrors will change the way you feel about yourself because suddenly, you don’t look the same.
I ask you, what kind of creepy destructive bullshit is that?
Yoga can be like trying on jeans if you’re not careful. You can have a great practice and feel exceptional and light and free and expressive and wonderful and powerful and glorious and radiant and like a rock star …. and then you look at the person next to you and realize that you look as though you ate the other half of that person for lunch and your hand is no where near the floor and what exactly do you mean that not everyone chokes to death on their mammaries in Salamba Sarvangasana? Goddamn it! Suddenly now that radiant glorious exceptional light and expressive person is replaced with a troll who really doesn’t belong on the freaking mat and can’t we please just go out and hide under the covers already? Guess what? It might not look like a piece of shiny glass, but looking at other people in class is exactly the same as looking at mirrors and what have we learned about mirrors? They are dirty fucking liars.
We ARE beautiful and light and expressive and exceptional and wonderful and powerful and glorious and radiant and rock stars and we DO belong on the mat (and in jeans and, apparently, in string bikinis,) but the mirrors are broken. They are liars. They are untrustworthy and misleading. All of them — all of them, that is, except one. Only one mirror tells the truth. Only one mirror shows us the way things really and truly are and, here’s the kicker: this mirror is not one you see with your eyes. Nope. You can’t hang it on a wall or put it in your purse. You won’t have 7 years of bad luck if you break it nor will tell you if someone is a vampire or not. No, this mirror cannot be broken, cannot be sold or damaged, cannot be dirtied or stained or cracked. The only bad thing that can be done to it is that it can be ignored because this mirror, the one and only truthful honest dependable mirror there is is the one that lives inside of you. It is the one that always shows your goodness, your worth, your loveliness, your inherent beauty and grace. It is the one you see when you close your eyes and just move. It is the one that tells you to stay in pigeon just a little longer, the one that says it’s okay to take a few more breaths in Savasana, the one that shines like a diamond when you breathe deeply and bend gently. It is the one that says, “Right there, that feels perfect,” the one that says, “You are strong,” the one that says, “look at all the progress you have made!” That mirror is the ONLY mirror that isn’t a dirty fucking liar. That mirror doesn’t show shapes or sizes. That mirror shows light and love and grace and worth. That mirror shows the truth – and it is the only mirror you need.
I still hear the nasty tapes. I probably always will. It’s a disorder and not one that will likely ever go away, but I can learn to ignore them. I can learn to recognize that they, like mirrors, are not telling nor showing me the truth. I can choose to look inside instead of at other mirrors and other people. I can learn to let all the other mirrors break (at least in my mind,) and focus on the one inside. I can breathe. I can bend. I can practice – and all things, even acceptance, is coming.