Liz Norell

Musings on life, love, and yoga

Category: Body image/acceptance (page 1 of 2)

I love you too much to cheer on your weight loss / diet / lifestyle change

Because I am a woman, because I live in 2017, and because I interact with other women, I run across someone on a near-daily basis who is seeking affirmation for her latest weight loss, diet, or diet-pretending-to-be-a-“lifestyle change.” Perhaps a friend posts on Facebook something about how they weren’t even trying that hard this week, yet they somehow lost another 2 pounds!! Or maybe another post on Instagram proudly shares a before-and-after shot after a juice cleanse.

Scores of people will respond with laudatory comments, things like, “What are you doing?!?! Share your secrets!!” or, “Keep it up, girl! You got this!”

But I don’t. Instead, I quickly and consciously retract my itchy fingers and sit on them, lest I drift into Sanctimoniously Unsupportive Friend (SUF) mode.

I'm tired, bossLike John Coffey in The Green Mile, I’m tired. I’m so tired.

I’m tired of living in a world where women feel they are only to be celebrated when they lose a few pounds.

I’m tired of listening to women congratulate other women for subjugating themselves to a culture that is always, forever telling women to be smaller, to take up less space, and to be quieter.

I’m so endlessly friggin’ tired of celebrating what is almost always a choice to slim down made on the recommendation of (or as the result of shaming by) medical professionals … a choice that will nevertheless leave my friends LESS healthy.

I’m tired of the world telling the people I love that they are less worthy when they have an extra pound. Or twenty. Or a hundred. Or a thousand.

Frankly, friends, I don’t care what you weigh. I see your beauty, and I celebrate it.

How many times has each of us tried to lose weight? Do you know how often diets are successful in helping individuals keep off the weight long-term? Less than 5% of the time — if we’re being really, really, REALLY generous. Is that because we all lack willpower? Is it because we don’t want it bad enough? Is it because we’re inherently lazy?

No, no, no!

If losing weight required only motivation and willpower, we’d all be successful the first or second time around and move on about our lives.

Dieting or trying to lose weight for the sake of losing weight means declaring war on your body, turning off your instincts, and forcing yourself to deny the wisdom of the ages. It’s unhealthy, it creates stress, and it rarely works.

So friends, no. I will not celebrate your weight loss. I will not cheer on your latest lifestyle change. I will not join you in making bread, sugar, dairy, or any other kind of food the enemy for the sake of losing weight.

You have more important things to do than lose weightInstead, I will continue to love you for who you are way, way far away from the weight-loss efforts. I will applaud your accomplishments. I will compliment your beauty as a person. I will not applaud genetic privilege, nor will I shame the lack thereof.

Our world is hurting. So many people need our help. The issues that face us as a global community matter far, far too much to waste our time and energy on something that Does Not Matter. Your ability to help others, engage in meaningful action, and love others is not even slightly dependent upon a number on a scale.

Instead, friends, please put away the diet books, motivational Instagram accounts, shakes, cleanses, and orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with “healthy eating”) , and instead embrace your body’s inherent wisdom. A HuffPost article reads:

At its core, food freedom actually has nothing to do with food. Instead, it’s about being in a loving, accepting, and trusting relationship with your body – and with (all parts of) your self.

Think about it. If you truly loved, accepted, and trusted your body, you would listen to her. You’d honor her cravings. You’d allow her to enjoy the act of eating. You wouldn’t cause her pain by eating too little, too much, or foods that don’t make her feel good.

Instead, you’d seek to give her pleasure by choosing foods that make her feel energized, vibrant, and alive.

To sum up, friends, I love you. Right now, just as you are. I don’t need (or want) you to risk your future health by pursuing weight loss, regardless of what “lifestyle change” wrapper you put it in. No number can represent your self-worth.

Listen to your body. It is wise beyond measure.

Daring Greatly

Brene’ Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, takes its name from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt in April 1910. He said:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,

because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worth cause;

who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Does this speech leave you as breathless as it does me?

LionAs I read this, and imagine the great TR speaking at the Sorbonne in Paris in his uniquely passionate and animated fashion, I imagine a great lion staring down battle, prepared to fight as long and as hard as he must.

TR is the man who, in 1912, was shot in the chest … and went on to give a rather lengthy speech (you can read the full text — and it is FULL! — here), because, as he said, “there are just a few more things that I want to say to you.”

TR fought in many arenas in his lifetime; his battles had unmistakable national and international import (to take one minor example, he traveled a river never before fully explored in Brazil, nearly dying in the process; it now bears his name).

To be sure, Teddy Roosevelt remains my most favorite president of all time (I’m hardly alone in this), and stories of his bravery and leadership abound. His willingness to put himself in the arena, as it were, was unmatched in his time (and rarely matched since). When I think of daring greatlyI think of TR.

I won’t ever face nearly certain death at the hands of rainforest; I won’t maneuver international politics to make way for a vital canal to join two great oceans; I won’t have a timeless child’s toy named after me. But I do take my inspiration to step outside the lines of the comfortable from TR.

As I think back over the last nine years, I recognize the evolution of my willingness to dare greatly. Nine years ago, daring greatly meant spending the better part of eleven months trying to extricate myself from a poisonous relationship. In TR’s words, that effort was replete with error and shortcoming; ultimately, though, I was successful in extricating myself with minimal collateral damage. I dared to imagine a different life for myself. The intervening years have been filled with their ups and downs, but the through-line has been a steady increase in both my capacity for and willingness to engage in daring greatly.

And yet, there’s still so much more I want to do; more daring ahead, more risk-taking, more coloring outside the lines. For someone who, fundamentally, fears change and worries incessantly, embracing TR’s challenge of daring greatly does not come naturally.

I believe that our life has many seasons; I believe that we are ever-evolving and changing to meet our current season, with its unique challenges and opportunities. I have never been very good at sitting still in life and just letting the present be what it is; I’m always looking for a new growth opportunity or cool way to stretch myself. As my dear TMP so often says, “You tend to overcommit.” And yet, as he also recognizes, it is that tendency to overcommit that makes me uniquely Liz. Who would I be if I weren’t constantly going out of my way to help others? What would my life even look like? Perhaps it would be calmer, but it would almost certainly also be less fulfilling and far less interesting.

These are the twin impulses: All change is bad, but stagnation is unacceptable. The yin and yang that comprise the soundtrack of my inner voice.

For the last week, I’ve been listening to these two voices battle it out over a choice I’m weighing. I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to explore a completely new skill set, one that has no obvious fit with my life as currently constructed and that would require significant sacrifice of time, emotional energy, and cost. A big part of me thinks that now — having JUST FINALLY gotten a tenure-track teaching job, ha! — is probably the exact wrong time to take on a new, consuming  project with no clearly obvious benefit to my life at present. Can I not just be content with a new, awesome job with completely amazing colleagues and students?

Can I even type that sentence without a snort of recognition?

Because I am Liz.

I summoned a dear friend to breakfast yesterday to talk this out. I did a brain dump with TMP at dinner last night. Ultimately, they both said similar things: There is no ‘right’ answer, and whatever choice I make will be the right one. They’re both right.

As I’ve sat with this today, though, I keep coming back to one thing, over and over … this challenge, daring greatly, ultimately comes down to taking the leap and entering the arena, even when you’re not sure how successful you’ll be in the fight.

I haven’t totally decided to move forward, but I’m definitely leaning that way. And once I get it all sorted out, I promise, I’ll tell you all about it.

 

Three (really hard) things we all benefit from doing

What does it mean to be empowered?

Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people looking for you find you.That’s the question we began with this weekend, as we stood in our power, took up space, and connected with our tribe.

Each of those things defies the ability of mere words to communicate what is so much larger than a single thing or feeling or action.

To “stand in your power,” you must first recognize your power, feel that power, work through your issues and fears and insecurities, and embrace the gifts you offer this world in unique and necessary ways.

To “take up space,” you must first recognize and reject diet culture, which tells all of us — but especially women — that to be small, quiet, and deferential is morally superior to being large, fierce, and confident. Taking up space unapologetically is a radical political action. It cannot happen if you don’t find the courage to believe that you deserve to exist exactly as you do, without diminishment or reticence. Shunning diet culture opens the way to redirect abundantly your time, money, and energy into actions that serve to boost women (and men). It robs the world of energy, time, and resources that break spirits and kill vitality in the uniquely pernicious way of this disempowering culture. Less is not more. More is more.

And finally, to “connect with your tribe,” you must first do the work to know yourself on a deep level. A tribe that stands in its power and takes up space does not abide by hiding the self in shame. You can’t shrink in the back corner and just observe. Finding or being present in a tribe requires active engagement, true vulnerability, and warm presence. Tribes absorb the vibrations of each individual member and amplify them, creating an energy out of the whole that far, far surpasses the sum of its parts. To step into this echoing space of love requires us to shine light on the shame we feel… a process that, as Brene Brown tells us, extinguishes our shame, because shame cannot exist in the light. That release creates space for love to flow in, and it does, coursing from one person to the next, filling cups of spirit and love and light as it flows.

But when you do these things, when you stand in your power, take up space, and connect with your tribe, you are transformed.

I am transformed.

Not 48 hours ago, I walked into an unfamiliar space, knowing less than 10 percent of the people in that space. Today, I walked out of that same place, a place that, for two days, felt like the bravest space I’ve ever occupied, and my spirit felt as though it had linked both with each person there and the larger collective we formed together.

It took me 39 years to find the gorgeous, courageous women (and a few men) who would become the foundation of my tribe. As I continue to stand in my power, take up space, and do the work ahead, I know my tribe will grow, and grow, and then grow some more. To be a part of this empowered tribe means moving through the world never more than an extended hand away from support of the most soulful kind.

It took me a year to make the journey inward that created the space to find and embrace my tribe. It doesn’t happen quickly, and it certainly doesn’t happen without scaring the shit out of you as you hit those calcified layers of shame and self-doubt and fear. But as you sand-blast your way through those defensive layers, you’ll reach your inner light. It shines brightly within, and it will warm the spaces you take it.

Imagine a world where we are all in this tribe, shining our lights brightly and fiercely. What power! What love!

I don’t pretend that’s feasible. Yet, I do know that when you feel someone’s genuine light shine on you, it has the power to change you.

So this is my work. I have found my light. Being with my tribe stokes its flames and brightens its color.

The light in me truly honors the light in you, even if you haven’t found it yet. I know it’s in there, and I will devote my time on this Earth to doing what I can to help you shine your light on us all. We need you.

Namaste.

A time for compassion

You know how sometimes, you get the sneaking suspicion that the universe is sending you a big, bold, messy message? That the world needs or wants you to hear that message, or to learn a lesson, or to bring forth one of your strengths or gifts?

Practice compassionYeah, so that’s been my February thus far. And the through-line is just one word: compassion.

I like to think of myself as a compassionate person, generally. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt, to act from a place of kindness and acceptance, to stay present. But, of course, I fail — we all do. I fail most often with those who mean the most to me; it’s too easy to find my attention buried in a task or digital device, to tune out the voices of those in the house when they want to engage with me. Merely being present with those around us is one of the best ways to show our compassion. Presence says, “I’m listening. You are important. How is your heart today?” (Aside: This last question comes from Omid Safi’s essay, “The Disease of Being Busy.” It’s delightful.)

So the world sends me these nudges that hammer home to me the importance of practicing compassion.

For example, the world’s sweetest, most gentle black lab puppy showed up in our neighborhood last week. He took an interest in all of us — my family, our neighbors, our dogs. Eventually, I caved and pet his sweet face, and he has been glued to my side almost constantly since. He has heartworms; he’s not microchipped; he needs a family. He just wants to be loved. And the universe says: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

I turn on the news in the evening and I see the carnage of the day. An executive order or action that has brought pain and suffering to those in the world, and my heart just aches. But an achy heart does no good, so I instead channel this energy into speaking out, writing letters, looking for ways to spread compassion within my bubble. Eventually, I will find a way to identify and help local refugees who desperately need a kind face and an open heart. (If you know of a way I can help, please do tell me! I can’t get anyone to return calls or emails.) With each newscast, the universe says to me: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

A week ago, I had just one lone student come to my Saturday yoga class. She had every expectation that I’d call the whole thing off, but I saw no reason for us both to just leave without doing anything. So we had a quiet, peaceful Saturday morning yoga practice. At several points, she just couldn’t stop herself from saying, “I’m so grateful you’re doing this for me.” But she needed a yoga practice, and I could clearly see that. The universe was saying to me: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

An endless wave of students email me with messages about how they’ve caught the flu, have to get a car repaired, or have any number of other issues that preclude their best performance in class right now. It would be too easy to dismiss these students; instead, the universe compels me: Liz, it’s time to practice compassion.

One thing I’ve noticed, though, is how compassion with others, almost by design, requires compassion with self. Kristin Neff is the expert on self-compassion (you can see her work here). Ultimately, compassion is about recognizing pain or grief, putting aside any judgment or critique, and doing what you can to nurture and support someone who is feeling pain or grief. Without compassion towards yourself, it’s much harder to truly remain present for and supportive of the pain others feel. But how to find that compassion for self in a world that is chock full to bursting with shoulds? Kristin Neff writes, beautifully:

Self-compassion is a practice of goodwill, not good feelings. In other words, even though the friendly, supportive stance of self-compassion is aimed at the alleviation of suffering, we can’t always control the way things are. If we use self-compassion practice to try to make our pain go away by suppressing it or fighting against it, things will likely just get worse. With self-compassion we mindfully accept that the moment is painful, and embrace ourselves with kindness and care in response, remembering that imperfection is part of the shared human experience. This allows us to hold ourselves in love and connection, giving ourselves the support and comfort needed to bear the pain. (Read more here.)

I just love this. At its root, compassion is about acceptance, kindness, and care. It’s support. It’s comfort. It’s presence, recognition, and kindness.

Over and over and over again, compassion just keeps springing to mind. The world needs so much more of it right now, and I hope you, too, will listen to the universe asking you to spare what compassion you can… both towards yourself, and towards others.

You be you

Be you. The world will adjust.Last weekend, I was with my — and I cannot stress this enough — absolutely AMAZING Cultivating Kindness group. These brave women show up each week to explore a yoga practice (many of them having never practiced at all, or never having done yoga in front of other people) and have a heartfelt conversation about what it’s like to be a woman in this world. We talk about the stuff that’s just hard: our bodies, our worries, our fears, our insecurities. It takes tremendous courage for these women to jump into a conversation considered taboo by society writ large, but they do it with grace, kindness, and love. It inspires me weekly. It is my happy place.

But this post isn’t about me; it’s about something one of them said last time we got together. We were talking about the short reading I’d sent them for the week, called “The Disease of Being Busy,” by the director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, Omid Safi. This essay first came into my bubble via a Facebook share by a friend, but it has stuck with me for a long time. He poses the essential question we should be asking people when we see them: “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?”

And one of the women in our group said that she feels like she’s forever busy, but that she rarely actually finishes anything. She says she’s really good at starting, but then something else needs done, then something else, then something else … and so she spends her days feeling ever-so-busy, but at the end of the day, she’s not sure what she accomplished. She expressed a desire to be better about this.

I was so moved by this confession, because what I heard was: “I’ve been doing this thing for my whole life, and I feel like I’m wrong.”

How often do we feel this way? I’d wager you feel this way, like, ALL the time. It’s as though we’ve absorbed this litany of rules about how we’re supposed to be, and when we don’t measure up, we internalize this as failure.

Obviously, this goes deep. And I mean, DEEP. We struggle against our biologically rooted desire to eat the damned cookie, because we’re not “supposed” to. We fight our desire to sleep longer, because we’ve gotta get that day started! We yearn for quiet, but when we get very quiet, we have no idea what to do with it because society values productivity, not quiet.

And so my message to this brave woman was something like: “You are successful. You have a wonderful daughter, a husband who loves you, and a job where you get to help people all day. What about your life tells you that you’re failing?”

The response? The quiet we all need, as the room contemplated whether it might be OK to just accept ourselves as we are, rather than fighting our very nature.

Obviously, we all want to strive to be the best version of ourselves. And if you feel like your inability to see a project through to completion on a regular basis is affecting the quality of your life, by all means strive.

But as I told my group, I spent about, oh, fifteen years agitating about the fact that I never started writing a paper until the Very Last Moment before it was due… in high school, undergrad, and through multiple graduate programs. And then, somewhere just a few years before I finally finished the blasted PhD, I had an epiphany:

My system works for me

Just because procrastination is often described as a plague or a battle to fight, it was clearly not impeding my academic performance or progress. So why was I so convinced I had to change?

What other things do I falsely believe are character flaws or personal failings that are actually working quite well for me?

This shift in thinking for me was profound, and I like to think that sharing this can make your life a little better, too. What if we stopped criticizing ourselves for being who we are, and instead directed all that energy towards doing the things that make our lives sparkle with the happy? Whoa, y’all. That could be a whole lot more happy.

So this is my challenge to you: What about your life or your fundamental nature do you wish you could change? Could it be that this aspect of your life is actually working quite well for you, thank you very much?

What would it mean to let that aspiration go?

What would it mean to accept yourself — nay, LOVE yourself — as you are, rather than as the thing society tells you that you should be?

 

Eating is not a moral activityPS: Not to get off on an entirely different rant here, but … for heaven’s sake, eat the cookie. Maybe not all the cookies (not that I will judge you even a teeny little bit if you do), but if you want to eat a cookie and you feel like eating a cookie, then eat the damned cookie. Forget what people say you’re supposed to do. Food fuels our body. Fuel is good. But food also brings us joy, and joy is GOOD. Food choices don’t make you a good person or a bad person. Food choices aren’t moral choices. It’s just food.

Life is short. Eat the damned cookie.

Books I read and loved in 2016

I was listening to Anna Guest-Jelley‘s podcast, Love, Curvy Yoga, this morning, and I heard her talk about her favorite books of 2016. And I thought — why haven’t I ever written such a list? It’s appalling, really. For someone whose first or second favorite hobby is buying books by the dozens (if you think that’s hyperbole, check in with my postal delivery professional), why haven’t I been doing best-of roundups for DECADES?!

So, without further fanfare, here are my favorite books that I read in 2016 (not necessarily ones that were published in 2016, it’s important to note). There is no rhyme or reason to the order — it’s too hard to choose just a few, much less rank them!

Incidentally, the links below go to Amazon.com with my affiliate ID. If you would like to support my writing and/or yoga teaching, much of which I do without much or any compensation, please use these links to show your support. Thanks!

Fiction
While much of the fiction I read is pretty terrible (I tend towards the 99-cent Kindle “women’s fiction” genre), a couple of the novels I read this year really stood out. Specifically:

  • Dietland, by Sarai Walker
    This book fictionalizes the growing movement of backlash against the diet culture. Plum finds herself on a bizarre mission to earn money for weight loss surgery, only … well. You’ll have to read this gem of a novel to see where she ends up.
  • In Twenty Years, by Allison Winn Scotch
    I absolutely love this woman’s novels, and this book was no exception. The characters and their adventures have stayed with me FAR longer than does the typical novel. It tells the story of a group of college friends who reunite somewhat unexpectedly twenty years after graduation. I strongly recommend this book.
  • Me After You, by Jojo Moyes
    I absolutely love this woman’s novels, too. They are always well-written and heartfelt, but in a way that lingers with you long after you finish reading. This sequel to her runaway bestseller Me Before You had me ugly-crying quickly and repeatedly. Nevertheless, it was WONDERFUL.
  • All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
    Alternating between the perspectives of a young French girl and a young German soldier during World War II, this book is eloquent and capitivating. I wish I could re-read it for the first time. It just captured my imagination in a way few novels do.

World Politics
This year, in an effort to become a competent instructor of world politics, I significantly expanded my knowledge of hot spots around the world… largely through reading narrative nonfiction accounts of these places. Here are my absolute favorites, books I think everyone should read:

Social Science
Y’know … the day job. I read a few books in 2016 that generally sharpened my thinking about politics and American government:

Yoga, Intuitive Eating, Being You, & Body Image/Acceptance
The biggest passion of my year has been this inward quest to understand, accept, and be present in my body. These books have resonated with me at a deep level:

  • Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life, by Kelsey Miller
    Holy moly, this book seriously changed my life! It was my first exposure to this thing called “intuitive eating,” and while it’s memoir (not manual), Kelsey’s refreshingly honest voice captivated me from the moment I began reading. And yet, I forced myself to spread this book out, because I found my mind so thoroughly exploded as I read that I needed breaks to process. I will never be the same person I was before I read this amazing book.
  • Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, by Linda Bacon
    This book also changed my life in extreme ways. It was so powerful and paradigm-altering that I bought nearly a dozen copies to give to women I knew would find its message similarly empowering. If you’ve ever struggled with thinking your body was the enemy, you simply MUST read this book.
  • Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, by Glennon Doyle Melton
    Every woman should read this book. It’s an incredibly honest accounting of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world, beautiful and brutal (or brutiful) as it is. Glennon Doyle Melton is a force to be reckoned with, and I loved this book so much I went to see her speak live… my only life author event of the year.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brene Brown
    Everything Brene Brown writes, speaks, or does deserves our attention, but this is the book of hers I fully read in 2016. Her message of self-acceptance and the need to be vulnerable is one we can all benefit from hearing. I will reread this book many times before I fully appreciate its nuances and wisdom.
  • Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, by Judith Hanson Lasater
    This book was the first required reading for my yoga teacher training program, but its lessons have far broader resonance. The message of Lasater’s book really grounds our yoga practice in the simple acts of everyday that keep us present in our lives. I think everyone can get something humbling and profound out of this little gem.

What I learned from Feast

Rachel Cole’s online, 12-week course Feast aims to guide women along the path to becoming “well-fed” — by food, by careers, by movement, by LIFE. I am celebrating the end of this program this weekend.

The program focuses on grounding into intuitive eating principles, showcased in the fabulous book, Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. But that’s really only the foundation, because once you make peace with food and with feeding yourself, the door really opens to feed yourself in other ways as well.

As I reflect back on the last 12 weeks, thinking about what this journey has meant to me (particularly in concert with my yoga teacher training), I’m left with the feeling of full-ness. By this, I mean that I have the strong sense of being well-fed by my life, in a way that I haven’t ever quite experienced before.

One of the more important lessons I gleaned from Feast is the importance of recognizing your own sensitivities, then allowing yourself a life that accommodates them. This was perhaps most keenly visible in my experience going to see the Dixie Chicks in mid-August, right around the time we were talking about what it means to be a highly sensitive person. Through my reflections and work around my sensitivities, I became acutely aware of how large crowds completely overwhelm my system. This wasn’t, of course, a ground-breaking revelation on my part; I’ve always know that large crowds exhaust me in a uniquely draining way, but I didn’t have a structure for understanding how or why. Armed with this new knowledge, I was able to set some parameters for the concert that supported my needs — namely, leaving after about 90 minutes, because I just couldn’t take any more sensory input.

Another lesson learned: Stop and listen. Each of us has such tremendous inner wisdom about what we need and want from our lives, but we’ve been too often pressured to ignore that wisdom and instead chase the shoulds — what should I be doing, what should I be eating, what should I fill up my time with? When I pause to listen to my inner wisdom, I recognize that the shoulds are crowding out my deeply felt desires: to connect with others in a deeper way; to hold space for thinking, reading, and resting; to pause and take in the beauty and joy of my life; to see and appreciate all that others do for me. I had so many shoulds that I had no space at day’s end for the things that really matter.

Should is one of our mind’s greatest diseases. I don’t mean to imply that life is all about shirking responsibility or forsaking work for a life of sloth and leisure. Yet, I’ve learned that it’s all too easy to convince ourselves that the world’s demands are ceaseless and uncompromising. The group of women gathered in Feast this season almost all spoke of doing so much for others that no energy or time was left for themselves. This feels nearly universal among women — at least, women I come into contact with. There’s more to life, though. Feast gave me a structure, a language, and the space to find my own, fuller life.

As I begin to take baby steps from student to teacher in this realm, I feel tremendous gratitude for the space created by Rachel in this program. Each of us needs such a space, a place to be still, tune into our inner wisdom, and find ways to let that wisdom shine.

The journey to becoming a well-fed woman never ends, but there’s no question I’m much further along the path than I’ve ever been before.

What I learned from yoga teacher training

BREAKING NEWS! Today was graduation day from Yoga Teacher Training. I’m now officially certified to teach yoga classes, after completing my RYT-200 program through Curvy Yoga in Nashville.

I’m feeling alllll of the feels today: excitement at teaching yoga (anyone want to come over for a quick practice, like, right now??); overwhelming love for the other eight newly minted yoga teachers and our two fearless leaders; gratitude for the body — my body — that supported me through this process; and, perhaps most acutely, tremendous sadness that the journey has come to a close.

I never said this out loud to the group of women assembled for the first time back in March, but when I walked into this training seven months ago, I crossed the threshold already sad that our training was going to end in mid-October. Walking into that training in March, I knew in my heart that I was about to find my tribe, to feel completely seen and accepted by a group of women for, quite literally, the first time in my life. I journaled about my incredible excitement to meet them before I left for our first training module. I knew we were destined to cultivate and grow something genuinely life-changing. And I was right: This experience has changed my life.

Going in, I expected this training would allow me to guide other women along the path towards body acceptance and self-care. I wanted to learn more about yoga and how to make various poses work in my body. I thought our focus would be on building strength, flexibility, and knowledge. In this respect, I was dead wrong.

Yoga teacher training instead turned out to be a journey within, a process of speaking my truth — first, to the tribe assembled at our four training modules; slowly, over the last seven months, to the world at large. It turns out, yoga poses are a teeny tiny portion of what it means to “do yoga.” I just … I seriously never understood this until I began this journey, and I don’t know that it fully hit me until just a few weeks ago.

I was on a coaching call for Feast (check it out here) a few days ago, and when it came time for my weekly check-in, I started by saying, “I am … great. I feel so good.” In those moments, the leader of Feast (the incomparably empathic Rachel Cole) said, “You are so full right now. I can hear it in your voice.” So true. So true.

Yoga teacher training, and all the work it has brought into my life — in subtle and not-so-subtle ways — has filled my bucket to bursting. I think my heart has doubled in size. I know my awareness has.

So, yes. If you’re reading this, I’m ready to teach you yoga poses. But more than anything, I hope the light in me honors the light in you, always, regardless of whether or not we’re on yoga mats at the moment.

Namaste.

There’s pretty, and then there’s beautiful.

In the last two weeks, I’ve become completely obsessed with Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior and Love Warrior. Her writing focuses on speaking your truth and living in the light — rather than sending our glossy, oftentimes fake representative out in the world on our behalf.

But what Glennon talks about that really affects me most is her relentless effort to create a world in which her two young daughters can accept and love themselves … just as they are. In her latest book, she writes eloquently about explaining to her girls the difference between being pretty and being beautiful:

You two will meet plenty of people who are pretty but haven’t yet learned how to be beautiful. They will have the right look for the times, but they will not glow. Beautiful women glow. When you are with a beautiful woman you might not notice her hair or skin or body or clothes, because you’ll be distracted by the way she makes you feel. She will be so full of beauty that you will feel some of it overflow onto you. You’ll feel warm and safe and curious around her. Her eyes will twinkle a little and she’ll look at you really closely–because beautiful, wise women know that the quickest way to fill up with beauty is to soak in another human being. Other people are beauty, beauty, beauty. The most beautiful women take their time with other people. They are filling up.

Women who are concerned with being pretty think about what they look like, but women who are concerned with being beautiful think about what they are looking at. They are taking it all in. They are taking in the whole beautiful world and making all that beauty theirs to give away to others.

Eloquent, isn’t it?

I find these words resonate particularly acutely with me now, as I find myself inhabiting the role of pseudo-stepmom to a precocious, observant, free-spirited young girl. She has always had an openness and spunk about her that draw others to her. She makes friends quickly and easily. She LOVES life — she embodies joie de vivre like nobody else I’ve ever met. Really, she’s just one big bundle of love. And because she’s nearing the end of her eighth year, that love flows freely to all around her.

But, as is the unfortunate curse of growing up girl in this culture, I know these days are numbered. I remember all too well the first stings of social hierarchy, visited upon me at her age, in third grade. I had three close friends as a child–my cousin and two boys we played with throughout much of our early childhood. One of those boys was two years older than the rest of us, and hence we thought he was pretty much THE BOMB. I distinctly remember the excitement I felt at entering third grade, because in our school district, three grades were in the same building only twice: 3rd-5th, and 10th-12th. Starting third grade meant I’d FINALLY be in the same school as him and we could play together at recess.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that social mores rendered my dream implausible. He was trying to be Mr. Cool, and that meant distancing himself from the “kids” in third grade. I was still living in the world of Love To Everyone! He had moved on. It stung, and that was the beginning of a lifelong struggle to see myself as belonging. Rejection at 8 or 9 years old lasts a long, long time.

So I look at this vivacious, curious, wonderful ball of energy in my life, and I know that the time is coming when she, too, will be struck with the disease of belonging. She will want to be pretty, because pretty girls get attention. They become popular. They attract compliments and are the objects of yearning for those who are not pretty. They are idolized. They are pursued. They have power and currency in their world.

What Glennon tells her children, and what I hope my presence in this young girl’s life allows me to share with her, is that being pretty is no accomplishment. Being pretty means genetics and environment handed you a winning lottery ticket. You don’t earn pretty. You don’t deserve pretty. You are, or you aren’t. That’s God’s / the universe’s accomplishment, not yours.

Instead, what you do earn, what you do deserve, is beauty. As Glennon says, being beautiful is an act. It’s a choice. It’s an intentional decision to seek out love, inclusion, support, truth. It softens your heart to those around you, recognizing that every one of us struggles to belong. It inspires you to reach out to those left behind in the chase to belong. It exudes love to the world, which in turn fills you up to bursting with love reciprocated.

It is my sincerest hope that my not-quite-stepdaughter will not spend her life chasing pretty. Such a life is shallow and punctuated by an obsessive need to stay pretty, lest the world lose its interest. Pretty means you are worthless without your looks. I hope she will never want to be pretty. Instead, I hope I can teach her — and model for her — a worthier life goal, of chasing beauty. She possesses such overwhelming beauty now, and I hope we can find some way to nurture and protect that instinct in her.

This is my greatest wish today: That we embrace beauty and forsake pretty.

Scenes from a shopping mall

A few days ago, I found myself thick in a conversation with a young woman who, for the purposes of this conversation, we’ll call Maggie. Maggie is your average young woman: Struggling to find her voice, to fit in, to feel comfortable in skin that’s still growing … in all directions. She’s occasionally timid, rarely draws attention to herself, and absorbs the messages all around her with little discernment.

The conversation began as we looked over a menu at a restaurant where a group of us were eating, including one of her parents. Maggie then began to assert several things about her eating preferences at this meal; the statements raised red warning flags for me, so I attempted to push back with open-ended questions to root down at what she was really feeling. It started with a discussion about whether to order an appetizer. Maggie demurred, saying she didn’t want one. I mentioned I was thinking about ordering one. She said, “I can only have one bite of appetizer.”

You’d have worried, too, right?

You’d have especially worried if you knew her, if you knew this young woman as the perfectly healthy person she is. Not even the obese-phobic medical community would look at her and say, “Yeah, you could stand to lose a few pounds.” Even by the famously flawed BMI scale, she’s in the healthy range.

Also: She also sometimes behaves in such a way that makes the adults around her worry she feels like she doesn’t fit in. So these words sounded my alarm bells, and I began to probe. Below is the conversation I jotted down on my phone immediately afterwards, because I didn’t want to forget any of it. Suffice it to say, though, I’m not sure I’ll forget this one for a long, long time.

Maggie: “I want to eat as little as possible.”
Liz: “Why is that?”

M: “To be more healthy.”
L: “Why’s that?”

M: “I’d like to be skinny.”
L: “I’ve thought that many times myself. What do you think would change about your life if you were more skinny?”

M: “I would be happy.”
L: “What about being skinny would make you happy?”

M: “I would be more healthy.”
L: “There’s a lot of research that suggests there’s not a great correlation between being skinny and being healthy. Do you feel you’re unhealthy now?”

M: “OK, I want to be skinny AND healthy.”
L: “You are beautiful, just as you are.”

M: “I want to have a flatter stomach.”
L: “I’m not trying to hassle you, but I’m kind of worried about you. You are already healthy and don’t have a lot of extra weight on you. Eating ‘as little as possible’ at your age can really have negative consequences on your health. I don’t want you to make decisions based on what you think you have to do to fit in. You are beautiful just as you are.”

M: “I just want to be skinny … FOR ME. Not for anyone else.”

What do you say? How do you respond?

This breaks my heart, friends, BREAKS. MY. HEART.

 

Maggie’s parental unit stood by, quietly, trying not to intervene. I understand the difficult position. I understand the fear of sending harmful signals to one’s child.  It’s a freaking minefield that none of us knows how to navigate well, and my heart breaks that this vibrant, healthy, kind young woman has decided that she won’t be happy unless and until she has an impossibly flat stomach.

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