I sometimes wake up in a mindset of lacking or scarcity and I fixate on what’s not going well or what I don’t have. It could be from a dream or anxiety I took to bed with me from the night before.
When this happens, I wake up feeling lacking and I go through my morning ritual – rise, rinse face, drink water and coffee, meditate – hoping that it will shake the feeling of scarcity. The feeling that I am not doing enough, not creating enough, not putting enough out into the world, on my website, on social media, in a newsletter…
But then someone asked me a question this morning: What will be great about today?
And I was flooded with so many answers…
A new trail run with a good friend.
Valuing my time.
Morning meditation with my two cats curled in my lap.
Hot coffee and flax granola for breakfast.
Time to write. TIME TO WRITE!
Waking up later than 5AM.
Listening to music in my car.
This question made me notice all the abundance in my life, in my today.
It made the “not enough”-ness seem like more than enough.
Ask yourself the question: What will be great about today?
Why I’ll always chose the Croque Madame over the salad.
Returning to Paris as an adult and staying big means not giving a f*ck about whether I’m wearing the right thing. It means speaking French with an accent I once felt self-conscious about and not caring if I make a mistake or throw in an English word or two — or five. It means eradicating expectations about what my trip will be like. It means seeing all the beautiful French women — I mean they are STUNNING — and being in awe of them instead of comparing myself to them. Paris is a new experience this time. I’m an adult. A real “I pay my own rent and (mostly) have my shit together” adult. The last time I was here was 2009 for a few days for work and before that was my study abroad spring 2005 and before that a study abroad summer 2003. That summer started my love affair with the city: the food, the wine, and the men (actually, just one man). So when I first stepped foot on the Metro after taking the RER commuter rail from the airport, the smell immediately brought me back to the many metro rides I took with friends to make it to a bar, already warmed up with a gentle buzz from the 3EUR wine we pre-gamed with at home because, who were we kidding, we couldn’t afford most of the places we were going to.
The smell of the subway reminded me of museum hopping that summer, wondering what kind of trouble we’d get into, and being slightly irresponsible 20-somethings. It brought me back to French house parties and driving past le Tour Eiffel lighting up the night. My petit ami (my guy) was a DJ and he had friends. And his friends were single and looking for girlfriends for the summer and it all came together so perfectly: we got to party and drink and eat a lot for next to nothing. And we had the time of our lives. I remember the party where I licked red wine dripping down the side of my glass and a smelly Frenchman stuck his nose up and told me how rude and unladylike I was. I remember being terrified of making a mistake when I spoke French so I would often resort to English or half-ass my French accent even though I knew damn well how to pronounce everything. I was terrified of judgement. The judgement was already there though – it was my own. It lay in my own rules that I couldn’t make a mistake and had to be perfect. Heaven forbid I sounded stupid speaking French.
I learned many things that summer. I learned how to take care of myself in a foreign country (with only a few stumbles here and there), how to navigate Paris’ intricate metro system, how to make a quiche with my host mom, and how to have an eating disorder abroad. I learned and perfected the ability to sustain and hide my eating disorder in one of the most glamorous cities in the world.
I have a memory embedded in my body: the memory of being in Paris the summer of 2003 for study abroad and amongst all the friends, the partying, the museums, the dancing, the men, the food and the wine I lived through a food calculator and made myself throw up wherever and whenever I ‘needed’ to. I was so unstable and unsure of myself that whenever I went on a date, I downed a glass of wine to settle my nerves and feel a little more confident. Before leaving the US I made a promise to myself that I would not throw up in Paris.
Rule #1: NO THROWING UP IN PARIS.
I broke my promise only 4 days after my arrival when homesickness set in and I “felt fat” after a big dinner. I returned to my host family’s empty apartment (my host mother being a very successful lawyer was almost never home) feeling terrible about myself and sweating my ass off because it was summer and most Parisians don’t need their homes to feel like the arctic circle by blasting AC. I put on my sleep shorts and tank top, felt my belly had grown a little since my last meal and decided I had to take care of this. I had to fix myself, immediately. I went into the lawyer’s bathroom which had an ornate antique clawfoot tub and a hanger for my intimates drying overhead. It was in the bathroom where I made myself throw up — in the ornate antique toilet — over and over again. The smell of the bathroom was unfamiliar at first but as the summer progressed that smell caused a gut reaction (no pun intended) to purge.
The shame I felt: here I was studying abroad in Paris for a summer. Having the time of my life and making myself puke. All that good food and wine, gone to waste. People just don’t DO that, right?
At the end of my summer I spent a few nights in London with my mom and sister. We shared a hotel room which meant we also shared a bathroom. After one very indulgent dinner, I made sure I was the first one back to the hotel room so I could purge in private. Immediately after, I felt awful, but also felt the comforting emptiness that accompanies the act of purging. I put on my PJs and crawled into bed. When my mom returned to the room, she must have seen some residual throw up in the toilet and asked if I was feeling ok. Mortified. I was mortified. I buried my head in my pillow and muttered ‘yeah I’m fine, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I fucking flat out lied.
Now, 12 years later, I am in Paris with my mother, sharing a hotel room, and a bathroom. I will be honest, I sometimes revisit my small fear that if I eat all this bread I’m going to turn into a cream puff. But am I really that worried about all the pain au chocolats I’m eating during this special week away? Nope. Am I afraid of all the butter in all the things? Not one bit. Can I put the fear away and simply enjoy myself? Can I say “Bring it Cream Puff, I’m also going to dive into this grand marnier soufflé and enjoy every morsel. And when I wake up tomorrow, I’m going to start my day with another croissant and not give it a second thought.”?
The answer to that question is a resounding YES.
Because in the end even if I do turn into a demi-baguette, it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. I chose to go on this trip to spend time with my mother, to eat the food, drink the wine, soak up the culture, and be in awe of all the beauty that exists in this great city. I did NOT come here to poke at my midsection and ponder “how can I fix this? Should I eat the boring salad or the croque madame?”
A new rule is established: Always chose the croque madame.
Not only do I keep a big picture in terms of what I eat (go for what I want) but because I care less about being perfect in my body, I care less about speaking perfect French. Now I can say “can we please have l’addition?” (“The check”) without being self conscious that I am blending the phrases while perfectly pronouncing ‘l’addition.’ Because really what is there to be so afraid of? The worst case scenario is someone doesn’t understand and asks me to repeat myself. Ok no biggie! And best case: they get it, they understand, and respond in French. Boom!
If someone told me to “Stay big” 12 years ago in Paris, the word big would have scared me, made me squeamish, and want to run away and retreat. Now there is still some residual shame and fear of “messing up” or not wearing the “right” thing. But my guiding voice in my heart consistently reminds me to Stay Big. When I let my heart lead and stay big I order the croque madame in my best possible somewhat broken French and have a cream puff for dessert because I’m only in Paris with my mom so many times in my life.
I did a yoga photoshoot yesterday. I was asked to be the subject in a local photographer’s shoot entitled “Crushing It: Portraits of Women Athletes.” My first reaction to even being asked was “Wait, what? You think I’m an athlete? You think I’m crushing it??” Hello gremlins!
In the days leading up to the shoot I was sure I would nail it. And not nail it in the sense that the photographer would get a great shot – I knew she was talented and would get the shot she wanted. I mean nail it in the sense that I would feel like a million bucks, comfortable in my own skin, as if I would all of a sudden magically transform into a total yoga babe.
But as the day of the shoot arrived, I started doubting myself, again. I still can’t hold a handstand in the middle of the room. Nor can I run very far or fast at the moment thanks to a knee/hip injury I am trying to heal. And I have to take at least one of the races I’m signed up for this year off my calendar due to said injury…
So … let’s get the straight … you still think I’m Crushing It? You still think I’m an athlete? Okay…
And then of course I had to analyze my body. No, wait, I had to deeply criticize my body.
I do not have the defined muscles like some of the other incredible subjects in the project. Even as I changed into my outfit for the shoot – a sports bra (suggested item) and yoga pants that I tried on that I picked out believing yeah I can totally rock this – I started to doubt. No, I went further than doubt – I started to really tear myself apart.
I started to see the softness around my belly button. My familiar pooch – it’s definitely still there, and probably always will be. Thought to myself why won’t it just disappear? To me the sports bra dug in and created even more softness around my chest, arms, and back. I thought to myself “is she really going to want this in her photograph?”
I could feel myself sinking and slipping deeper into that bottomless pit of self hatred.
As I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror at the studio where we were doing the shoot, I felt that familiar lump in my throat and the tears started to swell. Tears of shame about my body. That somehow the fact that I have a softness to me means that I am bad, that I am a failure, that I cannot possibly be an athlete who is crushing it. You can’t crush it with softness. Right?
But the tears were also a sadness that I could beat myself up in such a way. That I have been conditioned to criticize. To constantly look for my flaws even when at first glance I don’t even see them! I fast forward past “You look great!!!” to “What the fuck were you thinking Maggie picking a SPORTS BRA for this photoshoot??? You can’t pull this shit off.”
As I gathered my things and started to leave the bathroom, I gave myself one last glance in the mirror, I saw where my underwear cut into the softness around my hips leaving a dent, and said to myself “It doesn’t matter what you look like. That’s not what they see, that’s not what they care about.” And if I’m being totally truthful here, it’s not what I want to care about.
And then I started to do the yoga. I started to do the poses. I started to wash away the bullshit…. almost immediately. It felt like I was coming home in my body. I loved the softness of my belly that lengthened as I curled into a backbend. Conversely the strength in my back that supported me while being soft enough as if it were uttering “I love you.”
It was like all the mindfuckery had vanished. Just like that, it was gone.
The next day I put on my clothes to go or a run. There was that familiar puffiness around the top of my waist band. I took a moment to look at myself in the mirror, then felt, palpated the puffiness. I thought to myself, it is what it is. It’s me and it’s beautiful.
I know through this work that I need mantras. I need positive self-talk to pull me out of my own bullshit and shame. And the cherry on top is the yoga asana practice. Somehow it just seals the deal. It eases me into a perspective on my body and my self that allows me to really believe “hell yeah, I am crushing it.”
Why can’t we see ourselves in the same light that others see us? Why oh why is it so terribly challenging? And why do we habitually resort to the self-criticism and judgement? It’s second nature to us.
Can you imagine if we talked to our friends and loved ones in the same manner we talk to ourselves?
I will say that through years of working on this I recognize the struggle may never fully go away. That I will have those moments where I define myself and my worthiness based on my appearance. Where I find myself slipping into ripping myself apart. But the work of practicing self-love comes and sweeps me up like a good friend picks you up from a bad breakup.
And I begin to turn off the negative self-talk and turn on …. believing. Believing that I am worthy, I am capable, that I am a hell of a lot more than enough. And believing that I am crushing it … softly.
If you’d like to see Irene Penny’s photo that was selected for the show (and all the other subjects she features), it will be on display Thursday May 21 6-8pm at Athleta – Westport, CT, 103 Main Street.
Even as a child, I had this little “pooch” that stuck out. I always took ballet and the leotards and tights dug their way into that pooch that wouldn’t budge. I wished on eyelashes that I would wake up with a perfectly flat, no, perfectly concave stomach. I would stare at myself in the mirror, sticking it out, sucking it in, pulling it in, flattening and spreading it with my hands as best I could – then I’d pinch all the belly I could muster. Oh, how I hated that thing.
As a teen I learned about sit-ups and crunches and ab-work and pilates and when I would put on my leotards I would hope in vain that the 25 sit-ups I had done the night before might have made a difference. More and more I started taking things into my own hands to rid myself of this abomination. I was taught, over and over again, that this belly just needs to go away. I so strongly felt that I needed to make it disappear, and then everything would be alright.
I went through periods in my twenties where I felt skinny and the belly was a little less of a problem. On those days I felt happier, more confident. But then I would wake up the next morning with it protruding over my pajama bottoms. What pants could I possibly wear that were both cute AND would hide my body? What could I wear that would make me appear different? What would make me appear better?
Now in my early thirties my relationship with my body has changed, mostly for the good. I have bad days and I have good days – the good days mostly outweigh the bad. But still I sometimes see my reflection in the mirror in an exercise class and all I notice is that darn belly trying to peek out of my lululemon pants that were supposed to be so slimming, they were supposed to make it disappear, at least for a brief moment. The deep-set belief of belly being bad as a child still rears its ugly head as an adult.
Five months ago I kind of fell into a new yoga studio with brand new teachers and a brand new practice. I fell into this studio during a period where a lot of change was happening in my life – everything felt like it was uprooted and of course this made me go back to old patterns of disliking my body. I almost didn’t go to my first class there because I thought to myself “No Maggie, you’re dealing with enough change right now, why add more fuel to the fire?”
Fast forward to class last week when our teacher Mitchel instructed for the umpteenth time for everyone to let our bellies be long, to let them hang out. When we are on all fours or in crouching cat (think downward dog with very bent knees) he often instructs us to imagine our bellies swaying side to side like a cat. And whenever he does this I can’t help but smile and think of my cat Milo who flaunts his belly like it’s his job. If he’s flaunting his belly, why shouldn’t I?
But the point is that for these five months I have been instructed to just let my belly be. To let it freaking hang out. To forget about the sucking in, the flattening, the diminishing, the shortening, the crunching. I can let my belly be itself – that little pucker toward the bottom of my torso that has held on to so much guilt, shame, and pain for most of my life. And the more I allow myself to let my belly be, the more confident I feel and the more solid I feel within the structure of my own body.
I am discovering a part of my body, my belly, for the very first time. With fresh eyes and a loving and wholly accepting heart. I know that my belly journey will have its ups and downs but what a great sense of relief to put my hand on my belly and say to myself, for the first time ever, “Hell yeah!”
May you let yourself fall a few times, be a total mess, and grow from the process of putting the pieces back together.
May the choices you make serve you, as you learn to let go of what doesn’t.
This is my New Years wish for you!
I love this quote so much and wish we could all (myself included) really take these words to heart and remember to PLAY more.
The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression. Respecting our biologically programmed need for play can transform work. It can bring back excitement and newness to our job. Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process. Most important, true play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.
– Dr. Stuart Brown featured in Brené Brown‘s The Gifts of Imperfection
I’m going to make a conscious effort this summer to PLAY more. Who’s with me? How will you play?
It’s #TreatYourselfTuesday and in honor of that I wanted to reflect on this whole idea of “loving ourselves.”
What does it really mean to you? I feel like I definitely get off the “I love myself” track sometimes, and so often because I start to care too much about the approval of others.
But when I start to let that go, things really start to shift.
I think Melody Beattie says it beautifully…