Body Empowerment From The Inside Out

By Sydney Rose

I’ll never forget the moment I found out that I had enviable eyelids. I was 15 and a friend of mine was reading a blog about makeup. “You’re lucky,” she said “I wish my eyelids creased twice.” It was like a new world had opened up to me. Before that moment I had literally no idea that something could be right or wrong with my eyelids.

Almost all of us have had experiences like this: where we learn how to perceive our bodies from outside of ourselves. If you’ve ever compared your body to a fruit or read a magazine where you learned what colors to wear based on your season-identity, you’ve had the experience. If you’ve ever been on a diet created by an “expert” whose qualifications included thinness, you’ve had the experience. If you’ve tracked your body by mass in numbers from pants or on a scale, then you learned how to think about of your body by making judgments and assessments that come from the outside in. Like most women, I learned that early.

Way before I learned about finding pleasure in my body through dance and movement, I started hearing messages about how to change my body to adhere to external standards of perfection. Most the assessments that I learned to make were rooted in fear or shame, and in a false binary of good and bad clothes, facial features and bodies. Before I learned that I deserved to feel good in my body, I learned it was important to have “good” body.

These kinds of goal driven and demoralizing ways of talking and thinking about bodies proliferate on social media around the New Year. In fact, as a yoga teacher, I often am privy to our focus on the obsessions. In January, yoga classes are flooded with hopeful resolutions that all center around looking differently in photos or a mirror. While a lot people think that every act of attempting to change our bodies is an act of violence, I hesitate to make sweeping assessments. I can say one thing for sure: there is a difference between thoughts and judgments about our bodies vs. the actual experiences we have when we can listen to them and feel them from the inside out. For most of us, we are WAY out of balance.

So much of our emotional lives are experienced in our bodies: joy as warmth, energy on the insides of our arms and torso, embarrassment as a rush of heat at our faces, anger as tension in our jaws. There’s no way to feel our authenticity, know our boundaries or needs, no way to find strength or vulnerability without knowing our bodies from the inside.

A few years ago, in embodied anatomy training, I heard a teacher say that we get different pictures of the body depending on what tools we use to examine it. One of the most powerful tools that we have is our attention to our internal experience. In order to receive the wisdom and the information, we have to trust that staying aware of our body sensations is at least as important as external sources of measurement. And we have to start with the basic assumption that all people, circumstances and bodies are individual and deserve to feel safe, powerful appreciated and valued.

That kind of relationship with our bodies that allows us to be: living, breathing, moving, feeling, sentient and changing, empowers us to make decisions about how to eat and move or what to wear. It means that our decisions don’t have to come from outside of ourselves. It frees us from the direction of “experts” who may or may not have our best interest in mind (or want to sell us a book), but more importantly don’t have access to the most primary information: the way that something makes us feel.

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