73. Exposed

73. Exposed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

Exposed

I’m one of the world’s most self-conscious people. I really have to struggle.

~Marilyn Monroe

I took my shirt off in yoga class the other day. Get your mind out of the gutter, there was no public indecency involved. It’s just that I usually hide my body under a double layer and wear a tank top over my sports bra during yoga class.

Several of the women in the class were wearing midriff-baring sports bras without covering up with a tank top, because it was hot. I knew I’d feel better, too, without an unnecessary layer. Why did I feel I had to hide myself? Why shouldn’t I prioritize my physical comfort over other concerns?

This might not seem like such a big deal to most people, but as someone who has struggled with body image issues from early childhood, this was revolutionary. I realized that I did not have to hide. I did not have to cover myself.

The teacher led us into a standing forward fold, bending at the waist and reaching for our toes. I reached up and slipped my tank top off over my head, exposing my belly and the biopsy scar left over from a skin cancer scare. I did it while we were in a forward fold, so that maybe none of the other students would notice.

My first thought was that I should have waited to remove my shirt, as a forward fold is not the most flattering pose. I imagined my rolls were on full display and my creamy white skin was glowing in the dark. I immediately regretted my decision, but it would have been weird to put my tank top back on at that point.

A few moments later, as we settled into downward facing dog, I looked between my legs and noticed that the woman behind me, who had previously been wearing a tank top over her sports bra, had removed her tank top as well. She had been wearing it when we started, just like I had. My demonstration of self-love was contagious!

As the class progressed, I began to feel more comfortable with myself and my exposed midsection. My belly wasn’t as big as I had imagined. That scar wasn’t as noticeable as I thought. I bet most people wouldn’t notice unless I pointed it out.

So why did I think they would be looking at me, judging me?

I had chosen a spot away from the mirror, as usual, so I could concentrate on how I felt, and not what I looked like, doing the yoga poses. I thought about it and realized that I was not looking at anyone else. I didn’t care what they looked like in their yoga clothes, exposed midriff or not. So why did I think they would be looking at me, judging me? I relaxed a little, and stopped obsessively sucking in my stomach.

By the end of class, I had progressed from wishing I could put my tank top back on, to kind of accepting my exposed belly, to actively loving myself. I shifted to plank pose and pulled my navel into my spine, pulling in my belly not because I was self-conscious, but to support the pose and work my abdominals. I thought about how strong I was and thanked my body for its amazing abilities. I occupied my space unapologetically. I allowed myself to take up as much room on my mat as possible as I lay down during savasana and took deep, belly-expanding breaths.

~Kathrine Conroy

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