When my (then) partner asked me why I don’t shave my ass I told him, “because you have to draw the line somewhere.” Ladies and gentlemen, this is what freedom looks like.
What I meant was that I was done with striving. I could see the futility in trying to achieve the airbrushed look and I was ok with letting it go. I remember when Dove came out with its advertising campaign for moisturizing deodorant to make armpits pretty, and all I thought was, “Can’t one part of me be ugly? Can’t one part of my body go unnoticed and unfixed?” I was about 19, and that was when I saw that it would never end. The ad campaigns, the magazine articles, the product placements: the jig was up, I could see the strings. And it’s not that I was angry, it was more that I saw that the game was rigged and I could never win it. As a result, playing became a whole lot less fun. If I want to be happy, I have to accept this reality, this body, this moment.
When I get caught up in believing that freedom, perfection and success are one closet organizer, one pair of Spanx and one self-help book away, I am back on the treadmill. I am, once again, out of my life and caught in the reel that is the movie version someone else has scripted for me. As someone with a lot of compulsive behaviours, I can see quite clearly that the desire is to be out of my body and out of my life, to be someone or somewhere else entirely. Eating feels better than exercise, shopping feels better than journaling, scrolling feels better than conversing. One allows me to separate, disassociate, disconnect, and the other requires me to be present, feel, and face discomfort. One Zen teacher I have encountered says that your angst can become your liberation.
Ladies and gentleman: my back fat has set me free.
I was getting dressed one morning and I was distracted. What I normally do without thinking, I forgot to do: I forgot to avert my eyes. At just the right moment when pulling on my shirt, I forgot to turn away and in that moment, I looked at the parts I’ve come to ignore. My eyes grazed over the pieces I pretend aren’t there, over the places I stopped looking at long ago, and I saw them. And, almost as if I’d touched a hot stove, I looked away fast: I slipped, but I caught myself, disaster averted. But because I’ve been more regular with my meditation practice, reactions like those, the ones that were once instinctual and unnoticed, are now noticed. Regular meditation makes the previously unnoticed noticed. When I see that some unidentified force is determining my actions through an emotional reaction, when I see that shame or anger is causing me to react out of self-preservation, I can now recognize it. I may not always have the sense of self to do anything about it, but when I once would have reacted, buried and moved on, there’s now an alternative. So, slowly, I looked back.
The lesson in meditation is that you don’t have to be afraid. Fear is the scariest part, not reality. I can look at my body. I can see that any shame or anger I feel is the result of outside opinions and standards, that none of it originated innately or organically. One measure I use to determine if something is true or not is if I could have determined it for myself through science, observation, experience, or would I need someone to teach me. Can I know it or am I required to believe it? When I see too many tiny bodies I start to doubt myself, maybe I’m wrong? Maybe this body is wrong? Maybe I can’t be trusted? I get caught, of course, because frankly it’s easier to fix my makeup than to fix my relationships, to re-organize my junk drawer than to reorganize my thought patterns. Meditation helps, turning off my devices helps, getting quiet helps.
When I was sitting the other day, I was experiencing intense anxiety and I couldn’t get any deeper in my body than it. So that was where I sat. I breathed into the space in my chest which was as far as my anxiety would allow me to reach. And the story isn’t magical, it didn’t dissipate or go anywhere, but by accepting my breath and my mental state as it was, I wasn’t required to fight anything off or fight to get anywhere, so instead all my energy could go into breathing and watching and that was enough. Sitting with my tension was the same experience as looking at the parts of my body I’ve always wished and been told should be different. Seeing them without judgement, without fear, without desire to change, looking at them for what they are: a body.
This isn’t an all women/bodies are beautiful, positivity for positivity’s sake moment, it was just a body. Everything else was made up. That is liberation.