My Body Image, My Self: Weighty Stories of Self-Acceptance, Part 1

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Sociologist Melanie Klein Wants Everyone to STOP Body-Snarking!

In this six-part series, Yoga Journal asked six women participating in the Practice of Leadership conversation on Saturday, July 12, 2014, what body image means to them. Disclaimer: It’s positive, pop-y and powerful. And yes, as a yoga community, we do believe experience is everything.

Meet Melanie Klein, MA, a writer, speaker and Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College, where she teaches Sociology and Women's Studies. She’s also co-editor of Yoga + Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body (October 2014) and co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition.

YJ: The most empowering image of a female is…

MK: ...one that is authentic, an image of a woman being uniquely herself—not a commodified, objectified or hypsersexualized image that has Photoshopped the life out of her. An empowering image of woman doesn’t erase her lines, signature features, curves or angles. Authentic images of women are diverse, directed and informed by the perspectives, stories, moods and interests of the women themselves.

YJ: How would you describe your relationship to your body image? 

MK: It has fluctuated over the course of my life—from a lack of awareness in early childhood that allowed me a unique sense of freedom to disappointment, frustration and anger. After decades of active work and practice, while I am more satisfied with my body image and my relationship to my body, the struggle is not over. I still vacillate between feelings of peace with my body image to ones of dissatisfaction. The difference is that I no longer allow my frustration to determine what kind of day I'll have. I am able to notice my feelings, move through them and let them pass. I am less vulnerable to the state of my body image at any given moment.

As a result, I feel relieved of the tyranny that a distorted and negative body image had on my life for many years.This creates more time, space and energy for me to focus on the bigger picture and contribute to society in a fuller, more meaningful way. Making over my body and conforming to a narrow and unrealistic standard of beauty is no longer one of my biggest aspirations. It no longer determines my capacity for joy. And that’s liberating and empowering.

YJ: What scenario taught you more about self-acceptance?

MK: Yoga, both physical asana and seated meditation, was the tool that allowed me to truly cultivate self-acceptance and self-love.

YJ: What has your physical body taught you about your emotional self? 

MK: My physical body has taught me that it has moods of its own and that I need to honor and respect those moods if I am to honor and respect my whole self. In listening to my body and practicing accordingly, I have gained profound wisdom that extends well beyond the mat. It has allowed me to develop self-care practices, establish boundaries, communicate more effectively and develop deeper compassion and empathy for myself and others.

YJ: What has been your most dangerous experience with body image in your personal life or culture?

MK: Deep in the throes of disordered eating, compulsive exercising and self-hatred, I put myself at physical risk repeatedly in order to conformto socially constructed standard of beauty,because I thought it would make me happy. All my life I had gotten the message that being beautiful and thin determined a woman’s value and self-worth. I thought the gains were worth the risk.Sadly, that message is continuously perpetuated through media culture, and girls and women gamble with their health in the pursuit of an aesthetic that often actually undermines their physical and emotional health.To me, this is dangerous and toxic.

YJ: What can we do as a community to support women and create a body-positive culture?

MK: We can become more media literate; support companies that diversify the images they distribute; advocate for change; create new images that expand the current perception of beauty; celebrate role models that are more than just their face or their breasts; stop the negative self-talk; stop body-snarking; lower our levels of mediation; and educate others on these issues. And in this, we grow acceptance and live our practice by being conscious and present.

YJ: Choose one: Body, mind, soul.

MK: Impossible! Unity. Balance. Harmony.

YJ: If you could speak to your physical body, you would say, “_________.”

MK: I am profoundly grateful.

YJ: And she would say back, “______.”

MK: Don’t forget to make plenty of time for play and deep rest.

Join us this Saturday to hear more about Klein’s personal experience with body image at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Or head over to our Facebook Practice of Leadership group to join the conversation. But first, read Part 2: Lululemon Lead + Optimist-Mom Rachel Acheson on Finding a Loving Inner Voice.