Every body tells a story. Every inch of us has something to say, and some parts say more than others. Everybody has a different relationship with their body. Athletes and models obsess over their bodies, usually for different reasons. Gamers tend to forget they have bodies or would rather not think of them. Like it or not, we’re all stuck with one. And just like books, you can’t judge them by the cover.
Around age eight my ballet teacher asked me to bring my head to my knees and she drew a finger down my spine. “You have a curve in your spine,” she said. What she meant was, I had curves in the wrong places. A friend of my parents practiced various types of “body work” (for a NorCal town in the 80’s it was not the norm) and I began receiving cranio-sacral treatments, lessons in walking, breathing and other stuff I didn’t understand, but always felt better afterwards. I most definitely did not talk about these sessions at school with my friends. It was weird enough that I went to them, I was not about to have a conversation that led to why I went to them. I knew that if someone looked close enough, my body would betray my crooked story.
To my amazement, I continued to grow taller over the years even though my spine continued its wandering path across the longitudes of my back.
At age 13 my junior high school had scoliosis screening and I was swiftly sent to get X-rayed and appointed to a physical therapist. I religiously followed the prescription of exercises to balance the muscles along my spine. But something unexpected happened and I was frightened away from my own body. I sprouted muscles.
Even as a kid I was athletic, so I was already proud of the puny legs that I thought of as ballerina beautiful. But these new muscles were something different. They curled around my shoulders and popped out at my biceps. The double mirror in our bathroom betrayed me with a view of a back that reminded me more of the boys on the swim team than the delicate ballerina I really wanted to be.
Big muscles on a 13 year old girl were not a cool thing and I was not one to want to stand out. It was still winter and no one had seen me in a tank top yet, so I stopped the exercises and went on with my ballerina dreams. The aches of a twisting spine were worth social normalcy.
In high school my athletic spectrum broadened and I started other sports and again, the muscles came back. But this time I started to think it might be okay. In my junior year of high school my world view (in other words: the view of my own body) changed. I saw Terminator 2 and the muscles on Linda Hamilton’s character blew my mind.
For the first time in my life I saw a woman represented as smart, determined, strong and beautiful all in one. She could be tough, tender and still be sexy. She could do pull ups. It was revolutionary. She was a badass and she was my hero.
My relationship with my muscles did a 180 degree turn. By college I had developed a steady relationship with pain from the two opposing scoliosis curves and the vertical twisting in my spine. I threw myself into athletics- running, swimming, biking, climbing, yoga, surfing. Anything to strengthen my body and feed the soul I’d been depriving since childhood.
When all the women on my college swim team went to buy dresses for a formal dance together we laughed and complained about not fitting our shoulders into the gowns made for petite princesses. This was a relieving contrast to my puddle of tears in younger years when I realized I was never going to look like the other girls. Turns out I was just looking at the wrong girls.
While at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs I sat in the cafeteria with my Junior National triathlete teammates and watched the rhythmic gymnasts file down the line with their plates of food. We would typically be on our second helping by the time they got their scant plates approved, or disapproved, by their coaches and sat down to eat. They were the size of nine year olds. Impossibly tiny powerhouses that we all felt sorry for because they looked so hungry, but were not allowed to eat what they wanted.
On our way back to the dorms I remember seeing one of the speed skate racer women. She had the biggest thighs I had ever seen. I was pretty sure she wore Lycra tights just because nothing else would fit.
It dawned on me that all of these weird athletic bodies had quirks unique to each of them. Skiers and skaters with enormous legs, gymnasts with their short stature, shooters who don’t look like athletes at all. I wondered if each of them had felt like a weirdo before they found their sisters of similarity.
My own body continued to change with each sport that I focused on, but my perspective changed even more. With each injury and the chronic pain caused by my scoliosis I fell into a rhythm of equal parts play hard and restore soft. Slow methodical yoga became my primary pain management plan with the benefit of refining proper joint motion and posture. Most of all, I care less about what anyone thinks a woman should or shouldn’t look like.
These days I’m complimented on my muscles and only occasionally embarrassed by my bulging calves or bony chest. My attention is less on the outside and more on the inside. Keeping healthy, injury free and shooting for the long term are the goals. My relationship with my body now is more about where it can take me and the joy those ‘places’ (literal or figurative) can bring me. I wish the same for all women.
The origin of the word yoga literally means to yoke or join together. Specifically the mind, body and spirit. Now that I’m recently laid low by a shoulder dislocation, I’ll have plenty of time to restore, gather the mind and spirit together, rally for the body and rejoice in all the things my body enables me to do.
We all have something different that makes our bodies special. I’m proud to be strong. Whatever you have, be proud of it.