This post contains internalized fat bias.
My shoulders and chest have been feeling tight lately, probably due to too much time on the Intarwebs and also due to sleep positioning myself around small dogs. To try to stretch myself out again, I have been taking breaks to do all sorts of shoulder openers, with upward facing table being one that helps me the most.
Well. It helps my chest and shoulders the most. Which is what I want, which is why I do it. But in other areas, the pose is quite uncomfortable for me.
Not physically. I mean, it is stretching my chest and the fronts of my shoulders, which — given their current tightness — can be an intense sensation. But it’s intense in a productive, controlled way. What I’m less in control of is what I see in the pose. When I’m in upward table, my neck prefers that I not drop my head back, so I’m left with a clear, unavoidable, unmistakeable visual shot of my belly.
While I’m learning to be more comfortable with my body, a lot of that comfort is predicated on minimizing — visually and mentally — the parts of my body with which I am uncomfortable and focusing on the parts I actively like. For instance, when I think of my hips and butt — which are really no less broad than my belly — I think of firmness and muscles and strength. The size of my butt may not fall in line with the dominant beauty norm of my culture, but the tone of it certainly does. And it’s easier for me to like my ass because of it. When I think of my belly, though, I think of softness, of terms like pudge and flab. Those are definitely terms that society has categorized as body unfriendly, which means that being comfortable with my belly is harder this way. It has too much negative emotion attached to it, emotion that may not have originally come from me but that I have internalized just the same.
I’ve tried avoiding my mental discomfort with upward table in a number of ways. For a long time, I completely avoided the pose. Bridge, upward plank, and camel are front-of-body stretches with variations that render my view of my belly less… in my face. But none of them get to quite the chest and shoulder area that I’d like stretched. I’ve tried dropping my head back so I wouldn’t have to look at it — again, because maybe my body would behave differently this time? — only to discover that my neck is still having none of that shit.
Finally, I tried closing my eyes. Which, technically, did work with no physical repercussions. However, unlike the other misdirections — and they were misdirections — I could not make up a credible reason why closing my eyes was a necessary portion of the posture. And I could not do it without being acutely aware of the fact that I was closing my eyes for no other reason than to avoid looking at my stomach in this pose. That bothered me more — and in a deeper way — than just looking at my belly in the first place.
At least, I think learning to look at my belly is bothering me less. To be honest, it’s still tough. This isn’t a post that ends with “and then I learned to love my body, so everything is okay.” I do love my body, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some parts that come with negative baggage. I think, though, that the discomfort of actually looking at my belly feels… if not objectively better, at least more productive. Like someday, I’m going to be able to look at my stomach and see… just familiarity. Just, “That’s what I look like.”
Today is not that day. But right now, that discomfort, I can sit with it.