The time: Monday morning. The scene: my closet. The problem: what to wear to be on television. The challenge: the transition in weather makes me not want to wear long pants and a long sleeve jacket (my fall and winter professional wardrobe) but my spring wardrobe doesn’t really have anything that’s appropriate for television. The result: one suit, six pairs of pants, and one dress strewn across the closet floor.
After the television segment (where I decided on a flowy, bright colored tunic that I normally wear with blue jeans but instead ultimatlely wore with black slacks to be more professional), one of the interviewers asked if I was totally fine with my body.
Cue: closet scene.
The TV reporter’s question wasn’t unusual. A lot of people ask me how I feel about my body. I think they all want to know it is really possible to get past the body hatred free for all that sometimes takes up space in our head. Here’s the good news. It is possible. But it doesn’t mean you won’t care about how you present yourself (cue: closet scene). It does mean that caring about how you look won’t paralyze you any more. I’m at peace with my body is how I answer people’s questions. And here is what I mean by that: My body’s not as strong as I’d like for it to be and it’s not as picture-perfect as some bodies are, but the truth is that it responds to what I ask of it, it allows me to delight in life and has never betrayed me. That is not to say that I have never, in the past, wished that it looked different. There have been those times. What I mean by saying that it has never betrayed me is that it has gotten me through everything I have asked of it—100+ plus mile bike rides, long hikes, night times spent patrolling a beach in Trinidad to protect leatherback turtles, accompanying my father through chemotherapy treatment for an advanced lymphoma five years ago, waking for every wailing episode of my son’s infancy and then sustaining me through the next day in a way that allowed me to appropriately mother despite the lack of sleep. My body has done everything I have asked of it, and, for a long time, it did it with very little gratitude from me (in fact, I often betrayed it). When I think about how unkind I have been with my thoughts toward my body while it has simultaneously been so kind to my soul with all that it has allowed me to accomplish, I am humbled. I wish to not ever be that unkind to the vessel that I’ve been given to enjoy and experience this life again. So, that’s the promise I made to my body years ago. You’ve been good to me. I will be good, in all of its manifestations, back.
“What was it that got you to that place?” The tv reporter asked.
And the truth is that finding my passion did. Right after college, I taught at a high school that I loved and it was a place where I was needed. I adored my students, I poured myself into them, and, truth be told, I realized that I could do good, meaningful, life-affirming work (and I mean work not just like go to work 9 to 5 work but work like resonates with your soul could be volunteering or how you interact with your own children work) and the way I looked didn’t make it any more good, meaningful, and life affirming. I also realized that for every minute I spent absorbed in how I look, that was time where I wasn’t figuring out my kids’ needs, reading to make myself a better teacher, enjoying life to give balance to the hard work of teaching and coaching. So, I started giving less priority to the way I looked and more to the way I felt about what I was doing in the world. Finding my passion- that what I love to do is to help people authentically engage their lives and deliberately choose futures of their own imaginings; helping people realize that life doesn’t have to happen to them. They can make life happen- changed everything for me when it came to being body obsessed. I didn’t have the time and energy to be so body-obsessed because I wanted that time and energy for something else.
Now, back to that closet scene on Monday morning. All weekend, I had one idea in mind of what I would wear on Monday. And when I was putting it on, I wasn’t feeling it. The suit- which is this funky, nontraditional outfit that I love- is brown, and I think it just came across as too drab on what was promising to be a gorgeous spring day. I wanted to wear something else. I looked at the clock and made a commitment. You get ten minutes to figure this out, I told myself. And so I hurried. First, I threw on a dress, but it seemed too casual. My eyes darted to this bright top that I love and wear year round with dark jeans. I pulled it on. And then I pulled on three different dark jeans to see which one looked most professional. And then I thought, I can’t wear jeans. And so then it became the battle of the black pants. The black pants I had on when the clock hit ten minutes is what stayed on. It may not have been the perfect match for the shirt, but it allowed me to follow the parameters that I had set for myself.
Here’s the thing about how we look. It’s not a problem to care about the way you project yourself. The problem comes when you care so much that you paralyze yourself- you can’t get out of the closet, you can think about nothing else than how you look when you are at a birthday party for a friend, you say No to an invitation that you would actually love to enjoy because you have a bad haircut, a pimple, allergy face, you’ve gained weight. It’s when we quit living our lives, quit fully investing ourselves in taking pleasure, are unable to offer our gifts to the world that we’ve hit a major snag that needs fixing.
Body peace. It doesn’t mean that everything’s easy or that you feel you get everything right. Last night, I watched the clip from my interview. I had on way too much blush. I forgot that I flush when I’m on television and so I didn’t really need to put on blush, and I had put on my normal amount. I made that observation for next time and just moved on. And that is what body peace means: you move past the dis-ease with reason and know that life is about what you experience and offer, not just how you look doing it.
*originally posted on March 22, 2011