What I Learned at the Body Love Conference

Idea blatantly stolen from Michelle Merrit’s similar post here but modified to include my own learnings.

  1. Body love, like a lot of real, worthwhile types of love, is complicated and often difficult.

    For instance, I love my dog. (I mean, I really love my dog, as evidenced by the fact that she is, like, the wallpaper on my cell phone and my blog and things.) I even love her when she craps on the floor — but I don’t necessarily love the fact that she has crapped on the floor.

    Some of my family members — like my husband, my mother, or my sister — I love a great deal. I’m close to them. I’m also rather quick to feel — and express — frustration with them that I might not otherwise experience through a less intimate interaction.

    Intimacy leads to vulnerability and a lot of room for small wounds.

    So it is with my body, a part of me from whom I am never separate. Sometimes I am saddened, frustrated, angry, exacerbated by something related to my body. This is not necessarily a separate experience from — or at odds with — loving my body. Even when I have negative moments, I can still approach my overall relationship with my body from a place of respect and caring.

    Most intimate interpersonal relationships — with family, close friends, partners — are complicated. It is only reasonable to expect that this intimate intrapersonal relationship would be much the same.

  2. We need to do a better job with our language and understanding of inclusion.

    Throughout the conference — particularly in the large group sessions — I was struck by how many references there were to “women” and body love.

    Yes, most of the conference attendees seemed to present as women.

    But not all.

    Some folks shared a self-presentation that I couldn’t code as identifying with a particular gender (and maybe wasn’t meant to), and some attendees pretty clearly presented as men.

    While there are certainly ways in which folks who experience oppression as women have body hate systemically ingrained into them, codifying “body love” = “women” into the rhetoric does a disservice to a great many groups of people with various gender identities, expressions, and societal experiences. We can do better, and we need to do better.

  3. Community is important.

    There were multiple times throughout the conference — particularly in the various breakout sessions I attended — where I had the realization that I already received a great deal of support from various communities of which I was a part. Not that every community — in person or online — has all the answers (we don’t!), but folks shouldn’t underestimate how important it is to hear that you are not alone. In whatever body shame, body hate, body dysmorphia, body uncertainty you’re experiencing — you are not alone.

    Because when so many people tell you this — “I feel this too, sometimes” — you might start to get the idea that maybe there is some outside influence on this body hate. Maybe it isn’t all me. Maybe there is some element of society that is fucked up and is therefore set on trying to convince us that we are fucked up. Hearing, “You are not alone,” so many times is a powerful countermeasure to that.

  4. Body love is not just for fat people.

    Okay, not gonna lie: I knew this already. But I do think there’s a fair amount of Internet perception that terms like “body love” and “body acceptance” are intended to be synonymous — and exclusively so — with fat folk.

    Seriously, people who are about to leave troll comments or send abusive emails — Fuck the hell off, right the fuck now. Not because I don’t love me some fat friendliness but because this is not an accurate representation of the conference overall.

    During the conference, I attended sessions and participated in conversations that invoked some of my various identities: teacher, woman, consumer of mass media, yogi, athlete, sexual assault survivor, domestic abuse survivor, community member, listener, advocate, person with PTSD, sister, daughter, health care patient, person with endmetriosis, fat person, partner, sexual being, person with chronic pain.

    All of these — and more — identities require body love. Because, really, what good has ever come of body hate?

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Body Love Conference Recap

So, this happened yesterday. I will be using some different online spaces to write up a couple of the workshops I attended (links to follow in the coming weeks!), but some quick overall impressions:

  • It was worth the price of admission just for being able to witness so much awesome make up, hair styling, and tattoos. I am not really a person who is generally wowed by these sorts of things — but the creativity and self-expression on this front, solely from conference attendees, was astounding.
  • The positive atmosphere and energy in the conference were amazing. Like, people were truly happy and eager to be there, which is something that’s a bit hit or miss in a lot of conferences.
  • There was a huge variety of options for breakout sessions. I ran into a local friend at the conference, someone with whom I share a fair number of body-related interests. We ended up having completely separate self-selected schedules because there was simply that much to choose from.
  • Small piece of accessibility fail — Dear University of Arizona, when there is a conference where rather a lot of bigger people are attending (though I did see all body shapes and sizes represented), lashing together long strings of narrow chairs into closely packed rows (no aisle space!) is not your best choice today.
  • I did not think this would be the case, but I literally spent all of Tess Munster’s keynote address crying. In that, “OMG, I am watching Remember the Titans for the twenty seventh time!” level of transparent emoting type of crying.
  • Sitting here typing this on Saturday night — I am fucking exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is not a bad thing, but it is a thing that reminds me how vital these issues are to me.
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On Casual Weight Comments

Discusses unsolicited body comments and unintentional weight loss, including ballpark daily calorie figures.

So I’ve been sick. Like, a lot sick. Not hospital sick or anything. But doctor sick. And miss work sick. And slow recovery, energy zapped, bark like a seal, and feel like a zombie for weeks afterward sick.

Co-workers at school know about my illness. For one, I mentioned it in taking one day and two afternoons off of work, not to mention some casual conversations in the back of the office (where we eat our breakfasts and smuggle one last cup of coffee) before school. For two, all of my hallway can tell that I am about to release an eight hour soundtrack entitled Mating Calls of the Slightly Congested Walrus. It’s going to be a hit, I tell you.

So it surprised me when, last week, a couple of other teachers grinned at me and said I looked like I’d been losing weight.

Have I? was my first thought. I don’t self-weigh, so I don’t know for sure. Nor had I noticed my clothes fitting particularly differently. Still, it’s not an unreasonable observation, even if I haven’t personally noticed it. I spent about two weeks with a markedly decreased appetite (like, by my best estimates, triple digit daily caloric consumption) and am only in the past few days re-approaching my normal. It would not be unreasonable to infer some noticeable if unintentional weight loss.

My internal reactions to these grins and congratulations, in order of rational processing:

  • “Well, yes. Maybe I am losing weight. Coughing up five pounds of neon green phlegm every morning might do that to a person.”
  • “Are you kidding me? I have seen my reflection in the mirror. My entire face is light grey, save for the darker circles under my eyes. And my nose, which is bright read. This is not a good look on me.”
  • “Are you kidding me? I have needed a nap after school every day for the past two weeks. Whatever poundage I have lost, I have lost in day-to-day energy. Even if I was looking to lose weight, this is not the trade I was looking for.”
  • “Are you kidding me? I do not remember the last time I was able to enter a supine yoga posture without hacking up a lung, let alone the last time I seriously worked out. How much of what I have lost is muscle mass? How much what I have lost is measured in cardio capability? If I’m losing what I want most in the positives my body size brings, what is the ultimate cost of this exchange? What is it worth”?

In short, complimented or not — and well-intentioned remark or not — this weight loss represents everything I hate about being this kind of sick. It is everything I cannot do with my body, everything I cannot do with my effort, my energy, my brain. No matter how well-meant, everything about this is hurtful — and nothing is a compliment.

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A Note on Free Yoga Friday

Though there’s no actual post today, I have not let these fall by the wayside, exactly. Rather, I’ve had the misfortune where the last several videos I’ve tried have made me go, “Hrm. You know, I really don’t recommend this one. At all.”

Not due to stylistic or philosophical differences but due to concrete concerns I have with alignment or cuing — both of which, in these cases, boil down to concerns about safety.

I don’t want to post these and be dishonest or hedging about my concerns. I also don’t want to post a video where my effect — regardless of my intent — would be primarily to explain how it is not good.

And so I have been operating in “discretion is the better part of valor” mode and simply electing not to write about these.

Midterm grades are due next week, so I’m not sure about the post for the 14th — but at least for a couple of weeks after that, I plan to go with a known quantity source (where the worst I can say is that I may not always like the practices, but at least they do have a reputation of being quality instruction) and keep this show on the road. :)

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Free Yoga Friday Question

If I’m reviewing free online asana sequences, which styles and varieties do you want to see?

More vigorous styles like power or vinyasa yoga? Moderate hatha? Gentle, yin, or restorative?

Are you looking for practices targeting a certain part of the body? Hips, shoulders, knees, core, spine, hamstrings?

For a certain emotional state? Energy, stress relief, depression, anxiety?

With a particular instructional or thematic focus? Folks new to yoga, who need a fair amount of verbal instruction? Those who prefer a faster or slower practice? Folks who sometimes like an emotional or spiritual option for their practice?

People who are looking for practices inside a certain time frame?

Please let me know here what you prefer, and I will do my best to accommodate it!

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Happiness is an Endometriosis Guest Post

Endometriosis Awareness… and Beyond? at VaginaPagina.

I love Endometriosis Awareness Month (or week, outside the US) and all, but sometimes all the basic “intro to endometriosis” posts get repetitive, and I want something more.

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Free Yoga Friday — Home Yoga Practice: Ustrasana

The Practice: Home Yoga Practice: Ustrasana with Alison Smith.
Physical/Instructional Parameters: Physically, the practice works through a fair number of sun salutes and standing postures. Though modifications are offered, the first 20 minutes or so of the sequence involves primarily standing poses. Additionally, since the “peak pose” of the practice is camel, it may not be for folks with significant contraindications for back bending. On an instructional level, there’s a moderate amount of instruction involved in even some of the more basic postures. While it might not be the best choice for someone who’s brand new to yoga, there is enough detailed instruction for people newer to yoga to follow it.
Props: None mentioned at the beginning. A strap and a block were mentioned partway through the practice (for bridge pose — I did not find myself wanting either, though I could see where some people might). I could also see where someone might want a folded blanket in pigeon, though this was not suggested.
Length: 40 minutes

This practice is centered around the idea of a “peak pose” — building toward an asana that may require a fair bit of opening beforehand.

Before I go any further, one thing I have to admit: I kind of hate the phrase “peak pose.” When I read or hear it, I get the idea that folks are valuing more highly postures that are often more physically difficult to enter. Even though I don’t think that’s what the instructor was implying here, it’s an association that I have difficulty shaking.

That said, I do enjoy practices that are sequenced with the “peak pose” idea in mind — though I don’t necessarily choose a “peak pose” that is physically difficult for me. As the instructor here explained, it can be a nice way to bring focus to a practice or to work through a particular physical issue.

And in that, this is a very well designed practice. I like it a lot. It’s simple in that there aren’t really a whole lot of different postures for the time it encompasses, but it’s also flexible in that there are a lot of options for many of the poses.

After some seated centering, it moves into some sun salutes. The instructor cued a lot of options — knees up or down to lower from plank, cobra or up dog — and was careful to mention them through multiple sun salutes.

it moves on to some standing forward folds — wide-legged and then uttanasana. Both offered the option of clasping the hands behind the back: as someone with stiffer shoulders who actively wants to work more shoulder opening into my practices, I might keep a strap handy if I use this practice again. It offers the option of moving through a vinyasa in between each of the more static poses, and I like very much that the instructor herself sometimes takes the vinyasa and sometimes doesn’t.

Next in the sequence are some hip opening postures: a high lunge with arm variations as well as an “active” upright pigeon, again with different arm options, resulting in different amounts of back bend. (If you’re not sure what I mean about describing the pigeon as “active,” the base is more raised, as in the third variation here.)

And after that, the sequence moves into ustrasana three times, and there’s a good emphasis on building a progression. The instructor offers two different entries (pressing up from thunderbolt and dropping back from upright kneeling), two different foot positions (toes tucked under or tops of feet flat on the floor), and a variety of hand positions (on back of pelvis, reaching for heels, reaching for backs of knees, reaching overhead and to the floor behind). I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but with this — there’s a variation that’s gentle enough for me when I’m at my un-back-bendiest and a variation that’s a stretch for me when I’m at my back-bendiest.

Finally, the practice cools down with child’s pose, twisted child’s pose, and a long savasana.

Overall, I really like this practice a lot, and I’ll actually be using it again — as opposed to the times where I say I would use a particular practice if I had trouble putting together a similar sequence of my own. While I don’t usually have a problem building a camel or other back bending sequence, I just… feel like I haven’t explored all the options this one has to offer. :)

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