Writer, cultural critic and fly big sister in our head Michaela angela Davis opens up to CLUTCH readers about her journey to self-love and how she stopped the long and brutal war on her body.
Ours was a strange and twisted affair, one that lasted this lifetime.
Second time I’ve begun an essay with that line. It, like this one, was about my relationship with my image. It’s complicated. Ironic isn’t it how the strange can be so familiar and the twisted feel so suited and how one pain can out live a multitude of joys?
I can’t remember exactly when I met myself in the mirror but it was obsession at first sight. My earliest memory confirms what I always saw was a reflection of what I was not. I was not thin. I was not brown. My body was not pretty and petite like my mothers’ and sisters. I was not good, but I couldn’t stop staring at all that was missing. I engaged, no more like interrogated nearly every mirror I encountered. I dared it. Pleaded with it to corroborate with my theory that the way my lumpy flesh organized itself on my long bones was the anti-beauty.
I never understood my belly and why it was soft and round and didn’t go flat and in like all the bellies I stared at in magazines. No ones stomach was like mine. It wasn’t exactly rolly-polly fat but it certainly wasn’t lean with lines tracing ribs or muscles.
Through my eyes in any mirror, my belly and my body, was a failure. It was the failure I created, proof, literally in the flesh, that I was in pain.
I was a sensitive child as are most and I emotionally absorbed the flood of hurts deluging my surroundings: diseased marriages, racial and social injustices, financial fear, psychological abuse, inadequacies, disappointment, depression. Food was the silence. Eating was the act of saving myself when all hell broke loose, and hell had the run of the place, often. So I ate, bigger and more often than most I knew. The only thing standing between me and obesity was an intense desire to move. My body loved to dance, run, play touch football with my brother and the boys, jump double-dutch and dance some more. The addiction to self scrutiny was awakening and by the time I hit puberty, I was going to the bathroom a dozen times a day to pull up my shirt and just look at it. Look at it, the anti-beauty.
Movement and specifically African dance classes saved me from being a chubby girl in high school. Also by 12, I was a self-proclaimed vegetarian and had stopped eating most things white, sugar, flour, salt. My long legs had exerted their authority over my body and all excess flesh had nearly vanished, but not the pain. By college I started dancing for real so I was with a mirror for hours a day and had also been introduced to bulimia as a weight and emotional management style from my WASPY roommate. I still ate not to feel, only I devoured endless organic oatmeal cookies and cashews and then threw them up. Then a career in fashion lead to a whole other set of mirrors with lights and toxic management tools, diet coke, cigarettes, blow.
Becoming pregnant was my first glimpse into surrender and loving my body. I actually loved what was in my body, so all acts of self destruction ceased during my tenure of carrying the beloved her. My belly, swollen, in a totally gorgeous way. I loved touching, stroking and cradling it. This was not wrong. I was trusted to hold and nourish one of God’s precious people and I accepted it for the honor that it was. But after my daughter left the vessel that was me, it remained. The battle scars. The betrayal.
My muscles had torn under her fullness and pale cracks with a dull shine were left on the surface. They grew under the underbelly, out of my sight and reach of the salve of carrot and apricot oil I believed was staving off wounds. These cracks on the battlefield of my belly, proof, that I was a lone soldier for most of my pregnancy, no second set of eyes and hands to apply the daily balm in the deep low trenches, all the more valiant and valid reason to resent. My belly, my body was now clearly the enemy. Obsessed with my obsession. This was war.
There is a fatal flaw with declaring war on your body, is there not? But you see it’s the easiest response, fighting is familiar, resentment second nature, compassion and acceptance is a foreign practice. The war did not stop the staring. I stayed in the mirror only now it was not mere inadequacy, it was disgust. The roundness was deflated, and the loose flap of cracked skin laid there mocking me, securing my pathetic quest for perfection was forever thwarted. The anti-beauty reigned supreme.
It has been a long and bloody war, this one with this belly and body. I am tired now. This body, now in the middle of its age, still hungers to move. The wear and tear of dancing and writing had begun to take its toll on my joints. I was lead by love to a Bikram Yoga class (my man had done a 30 day challenge and I went to his last day of class to honor his commitment). When I entered the dry hot room I immediately felt the invitation to surrender. The relentless intensity of the heat, of course was startling, but oddly pleasing, my body always loved to sweat and the deep warmth seeping into my crunchy knees and wrists was instantly therapeutic. But it was the mirror. It looked like every mirror I’d seen in a dance studio, yet this one was different. This one was not meant to examine lines, silhouettes and evidence of imperfection, this mirror was there for me to see me. The only way to survive the heat of the room and the rigors of the yoga postures was to meditate on myself in the mirror, no distractions, no excuses, and get this, no judgments. I had never met a mirror that refused to judge me. This mirror did not reflect those old feelings. This mirror beckoned me to look at the miracle I am, this body is. For the first 55 minutes of class I was eye to eye with the battle of my lifetime. I threw in the towel. It was over. The hating, the judging, the comparing, the obsession was over. I saw in those first moments, this war had served no one. I apologized to my belly and my body for all the years of neglect and abuse. I promised that from that moment on I would try to practice honoring respecting her. In that mirror I saw the cute chubby little girl in me emerge, I held her and we cried and the healing began as I began to breathe.
Michaelangelo, the artist and my name sake said the way he created a sculpture was that he looked at a block of stone and chipped away at everything that wasn’t the David. Through this practice of Bikram Yoga, I am beginning to melt away everything that isn’t Michaela angela. The way that I heal from a bad habit or obsession, is to not just try and stop it, but replace it with a healthy loving practice. I am not fully recovered from the decades of resenting my body, this practice of non-judgment and compassion is still fairly fresh but I am so much better, so much kinder to myself. The mirror and my body have found peace, and now when I see my self in the hot mirror I am slowly, falling in love.
Michaela practices Bikram Yoga with her friends and her mate at Bikram Yoga East Harlem, Harlem USA.