I did a yoga photoshoot yesterday. I was asked to be the subject in a local photographer’s shoot entitled “Crushing It: Portraits of Women Athletes.” My first reaction to even being asked was “Wait, what? You think I’m an athlete? You think I’m crushing it??” Hello gremlins!
In the days leading up to the shoot I was sure I would nail it. And not nail it in the sense that the photographer would get a great shot – I knew she was talented and would get the shot she wanted. I mean nail it in the sense that I would feel like a million bucks, comfortable in my own skin, as if I would all of a sudden magically transform into a total yoga babe.
But as the day of the shoot arrived, I started doubting myself, again. I still can’t hold a handstand in the middle of the room. Nor can I run very far or fast at the moment thanks to a knee/hip injury I am trying to heal. And I have to take at least one of the races I’m signed up for this year off my calendar due to said injury…
So … let’s get the straight … you still think I’m Crushing It? You still think I’m an athlete? Okay…
And then of course I had to analyze my body. No, wait, I had to deeply criticize my body.
I do not have the defined muscles like some of the other incredible subjects in the project. Even as I changed into my outfit for the shoot – a sports bra (suggested item) and yoga pants that I tried on that I picked out believing yeah I can totally rock this – I started to doubt. No, I went further than doubt – I started to really tear myself apart.
I started to see the softness around my belly button. My familiar pooch – it’s definitely still there, and probably always will be. Thought to myself why won’t it just disappear? To me the sports bra dug in and created even more softness around my chest, arms, and back. I thought to myself “is she really going to want this in her photograph?”
I could feel myself sinking and slipping deeper into that bottomless pit of self hatred.
As I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror at the studio where we were doing the shoot, I felt that familiar lump in my throat and the tears started to swell. Tears of shame about my body. That somehow the fact that I have a softness to me means that I am bad, that I am a failure, that I cannot possibly be an athlete who is crushing it. You can’t crush it with softness. Right?
But the tears were also a sadness that I could beat myself up in such a way. That I have been conditioned to criticize. To constantly look for my flaws even when at first glance I don’t even see them! I fast forward past “You look great!!!” to “What the fuck were you thinking Maggie picking a SPORTS BRA for this photoshoot??? You can’t pull this shit off.”
As I gathered my things and started to leave the bathroom, I gave myself one last glance in the mirror, I saw where my underwear cut into the softness around my hips leaving a dent, and said to myself “It doesn’t matter what you look like. That’s not what they see, that’s not what they care about.” And if I’m being totally truthful here, it’s not what I want to care about.
And then I started to do the yoga. I started to do the poses. I started to wash away the bullshit…. almost immediately. It felt like I was coming home in my body. I loved the softness of my belly that lengthened as I curled into a backbend. Conversely the strength in my back that supported me while being soft enough as if it were uttering “I love you.”
It was like all the mindfuckery had vanished. Just like that, it was gone.
The next day I put on my clothes to go or a run. There was that familiar puffiness around the top of my waist band. I took a moment to look at myself in the mirror, then felt, palpated the puffiness. I thought to myself, it is what it is. It’s me and it’s beautiful.
I know through this work that I need mantras. I need positive self-talk to pull me out of my own bullshit and shame. And the cherry on top is the yoga asana practice. Somehow it just seals the deal. It eases me into a perspective on my body and my self that allows me to really believe “hell yeah, I am crushing it.”
Bowspring in action. Letting my belly be! Photo by Alley Maher. Another very talented local photographer.
Why can’t we see ourselves in the same light that others see us? Why oh why is it so terribly challenging? And why do we habitually resort to the self-criticism and judgement? It’s second nature to us.
Can you imagine if we talked to our friends and loved ones in the same manner we talk to ourselves?
I will say that through years of working on this I recognize the struggle may never fully go away. That I will have those moments where I define myself and my worthiness based on my appearance. Where I find myself slipping into ripping myself apart. But the work of practicing self-love comes and sweeps me up like a good friend picks you up from a bad breakup.
And I begin to turn off the negative self-talk and turn on …. believing. Believing that I am worthy, I am capable, that I am a hell of a lot more than enough. And believing that I am crushing it … softly.
If you’d like to see Irene Penny’s photo that was selected for the show (and all the other subjects she features), it will be on display Thursday May 21 6-8pm at Athleta – Westport, CT, 103 Main Street.