Strong Healthy Beautiful

Strong Healthy Beautiful

 

I have hair that sprouts from my head like a wild fire 

Luscious lips that part to reveal a gap between my front two teeth

A handful up top

Two overflowing handfuls below

A belly that is just the right amount of soft

Thighs that love each other so much, that despite all efforts, they refuse to be separated from one another. 

I am strong.  I am healthy.  I am beautiful.  I say this, not to brag, but as a mantra.  It’s my armor for each day of battle with the mirror, the closet, the forward fold in yoga class, and above all else, that judging voice in my head. 

Before Jordan from New Kids on The Block, my first crush was food.  I had all the tell tale signs of infatuation; I never tired of it’s company, and whenever we were apart, I would wonder when we would have the opportunity to be together again.  There was no better after school date than a Red Baron French bread pizza and an episode of Animaniacs.

I didn’t hide, or hoard food, but when it was out, I had what some would call, a healthy appetite.  

 Photography by Christopher Boffoli

Photography by Christopher Boffoli

My parents kept me active.  I grew up at a time when kids still played outside, I was on soccer teams starting from about age 6, I took dance, and acrobatics, so full on obesity was kept at bay, but I often found myself on the thicker side of my age group.  My thighs spread to fill the chairs when I sat down, and in the gap between the end of one activity and the start of the next activity, I would often find my cheeks growing fuller and my belly a little rounder.

In 9th grade, I found my mom’s collection of workout videos.  My favorite was the “…of Steels Series.”  You know, buns of steel, abs of steel, arms of steel, etc.  I also went on my first diet.  At the time, the cabbage soup diet was all the rage.  I ate bowl after bowl of soup, and a few other allowable foods, for 7 days, and I lost almost 10 pounds.  I was so proud of myself, and even managed to slip into a fitted dress, for the first dance of the year, that had been a bit too tight only two weeks previous.

I probably did this diet a few times over that year, because of course, like all crash diets, the weight would go, and eventually come back again.

 Photography by Awol Erizku

Photography by Awol Erizku

My last 3 years of high school I went to boarding school.  To the outside eye, I had it all, a boyfriend, I was president of my class, captain of the soccer and cheerleading team, prom and homecoming queen, but on the inside, I was busy waging a war.  More than once, I remember wrapping my hips in duct tape to try to cinch it all in.  My obsession with food had passed for the moment, but the size and shape of my body was front of mind.

Following high school, I found my way to Dallas for college.  I was in theatre school, getting in touch with my inner artist, and the 24hr 7-Eleven across the street.  My friend Cornelius and I would wander over there several nights a week for a bag of Doritos and a large slurpee.  On the weekend, late night taquitos from What-A-Burger were all the rage, and don’t get me started on the arrival of Dallas’ first Krispy Kreme. While most of my peers were using their new found freedom for all night partying, I was using mine for unsupervised eating (to be fair, I did some partying too, it’s just that my favorite drug remained food).

 Photography by Jen Mann

Photography by Jen Mann

Towards the end of my junior year, I went through a devastating break-up.  Enter, the heartbreak diet.  For the first time in my life, food lost its appeal, and I lost a few pounds.  As I came out of the fog of depression, I decided to use that head start on weight loss to actually get myself together.  I didn’t cut any foods out of my life, I just cut my portions in half, and started going to the gym.  The summer before senior year the weight just melted off my body.  

That final year of school was the eye of the storm.  I’d lost the weight and for the first time, done it in a healthy way.  

As I entered the real world, I was in the body I wanted, performing at a great regional theatre, and terrified of losing it all.  I started obsessively keeping track of my calories in a tiny book, and spent at least 2 hours at the gym every morning.  I slacked off a bit in the last few months of my 10-month contract, and then punished myself for it when summer came. 

 Photography by Geumhyung Jeong 

Photography by Geumhyung Jeong 

I was working in a beautiful place, living and working with incredible people that I never hung out with because every hour I wasn’t in rehearsal, I was at the gym, or prepping food for my, self created, vegetarian version of the South Beach Diet.  After shows I would be so exhausted (in large part due to the amount of effort I was putting out in relation to the amount of calories going in), I’d opt to go home, measure myself, and then go to sleep, as opposed to spending time making memories in that magical place.

My summer of restriction, led to an early fall of binging. This pattern would repeat itself again and again and again.  Each time the shame and disappointment of being back where I started was heavier than the weight gained.  My first few years in LA, there were even a couple holiday seasons where I didn’t go home.  I said it was because I couldn’t afford to, but that was only partially true.  My parents would have happily paid for my ticket home, but I was too ashamed of my body to let myself be seen by my family.  Just to put this into perspective, I think at my largest during this time I was a size 14.  I wasn’t thin, but I wasn’t about to be on the next episode of my 600-lb life.  

 Photography by Satomi Shirai

Photography by Satomi Shirai

Through a series of fortunate events, I found my way into a yoga teacher training in my mid twenties.  I would love to say that I found yoga, and immediately learned to love myself, stop abusing food and my body, but that was unfortunately not the case.  I had been introduced to yoga in my late teens, and it was a recurring guest star in my life, but didn’t make it to series regular status until my training began.  This new world I’d immersed myself in was awesome, but there were land mines everywhere.  I was one of the largest people in my group of 32, proving my fear that I did not have a yoga body (boom), I couldn’t do a handstand (obviously because of my big butt and thighs…boom), and we were asked to wear form-fitting clothes so that the shape of our body could be seen (BOOOOOM)!  And to add insult to injury, the sweaty, detoxifying, often 3-hour practices led me to break out.  Not a little pimple here and there, but full on 2nd puberty, sweating out the bad decisions break out, after ugly break out.

I did get physically stronger over the course of that 3-month training, I didn’t really lose much weight, but I did fall in love with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which started me on the path to gaining some mental strength. 

I was thrust into the world of teaching and quickly discovered that many of the reasons I feared people wouldn’t want to learn from me, were exactly the things that attracted them to me.  As I helped my students, I slowly began to take my own advice.  I stopped hiding when I was struggling, and instead shared what I was going through which relieved me of a weight I didn’t even realize I was carrying.  I still stumble from time to time, but more often than not, I pick up the phone and cry to a friend, instead of picking up a box of cereal, and eating the whole thing.

 Photography by Per Morten Abrahamsen

Photography by Per Morten Abrahamsen

As I sought ways to nurture my inner self, my outer self responded in kind.  More impressive than that, I was happy, not because of my pants size, but because I was finally taking the time to get to know, understand, and believe all of the lovely qualities others had so graciously shared with me, over the course of my lifetime, that I possessed.  

A year and a half ago, I got sick.  I started regularly experiencing incapacitating migraines, bouts of fatigue, and over the course of several months gained roughly 28lbs with no change in diet, or exercise.  Every time the weight came back before, I knew why; I was eating poorly, or being too sedentary.  This time, I’d been doing the work. I was feeding my body with awareness, working out not as punishment, but because it made me feel good, getting to my mat daily for asana, meditation, and pranayama to nourish my body, mind and soul.  So what the F@#K!?

I spent most of last year being poked, prodded, and tested by way too many doctors to still have no real answers.  The weight came on and I felt sad, frustrated, angry, disappointed, and scared.  I definitely shed some tears, and vented to my inner circle, but I didn’t use it as an excuse to slip into old habits.  The weight came on and I continued to practice.  The weight came on, and my students stayed.  The weight came on and my friends and family didn’t love me any less.  The weight came on and I woke up my inner artist.  The weight came on, and I took myself to Italy.

Satchidananda offers in his translation of the Yoga Sutras, abhyasa/practice as an effort towards steadiness of mind.  And so, I practice.  I choose to show up for myself.  I remind myself that my body, at any shape, or size, is temporary, and so letting it dictate my self worth will lead me again and again to a place of suffering.  I remember to say thank you each day for all the awesome things it allows me to do, as opposed to only acknowledging it when it breaks down in some way.   I know that the stories I tell myself, the words I choose, be they true or false, will in time, become my truth.  So I put on my armor… I am strong.  I am healthy.  I am beautiful.  

 Photography by Awol Erizku

Photography by Awol Erizku


Strong.Healthy.Beautiful by Ashley Rideaux


Cover Photography by Awol Erizku