Lessons in Self-Image…From a Cactus?!


I never thought I could learn so much about myself from a cactus! While visiting Arizona a couple of years ago, I learned something about the Saguaro cactus (the really tall ones that can have a bunch of “arms”, once they are 75 years old). They can shrink and expand, based on how much moisture they hold within their hollow centers. “Hey, that’s ME!” I thought…I have shrunk and expanded many times in my adult years.

me with cactus

my best Saguaro impression

 For the majority of my life, I have been fit and within the range of “normal” weight (according to the highly-debated Body Mass Index, or BMI—maybe a topic for another post?). I was born with a need for movement, and soon realized I had a love for it…and that I had some athletic ability that just came naturally.

Like most kids growing up in the 70’s, when I wasn’t in school, I was outside playing with my friends…riding our bikes, jumping on pogo sticks, playing softball, and doing handsprings to show off to any boys who happened to be around.

[Confession: when I was about 9 years old, I found that what really impressed the boys was that I was a bit of a tomboy…I trekked around town on my skateboard doing tricks, and played football with the other boys and any girl that I could bribe into playing with us, so I wouldn’t be the only one. I was also a dancer, so it sort of balanced out the equation. I’m not sure if that added to the intrigue for the boys, or just confused them. Hmmm…]

At any rate, I was athletic into my teens and adult years, and fitness remained my passion. It eventually became a huge part of my career as well. Fast forward to my late 20’s, 30’s, & 40’s. As a result of significant health issues on more than one occasion, I was unable to maintain the level of fitness I had for most of my life.

A cycle became apparent: When I couldn’t exercise, naturally extra pounds would appear. My self-image would suffer, leading to more weight gain because I was comforting myself with food. Then I would become healthy again, and take the weight off, back to where I felt “myself” again.

And the cycle continued each time my health suffered. I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to this cycle, as it related to my self-image anyway, because I was so focused on dealing with the actual health issues themselves…until that trip to Arizona.

Here’s why: in the 4 months leading up to that trip, I had packed on 50 pounds, and they were just beginning to come off again. My final cancer-related surgery had put me into surgical menopause. Once I was “cleared” to work out again, I had probably already gained 10 or more pounds from the hormone changes alone. So I got back into my routine of working out regularly.

Guess what? The cycle had changed. I couldn’t lose the weight, and what’s worse…I kept on gaining. I felt miserable, physically and especially emotionally. Who was I now? Was this weight going to change the fit, healthy woman I had been my entire life?

A couple months before the trip, I was so sick with the flu, I literally ate a couple of Saltine crackers a day for over a week (after eating NOTHING at all for 3 full days).  It took me almost 6 weeks to feel up to eating “real food” again.  Needless to say, my body was so calorie-deprived, that I lost a significant amount of weight.  Over the phone, I shared this with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and she excitedly said “oh, that’s great!” (knowing that I had gained so much weight).  While I understood the best of her intentions, my reaction was far from being flattered: it stirred some pretty strong negative emotions in me.

That comment reminded that, just prior to getting the flu, I had a discussion with someone else about opening a yoga studio in Colorado. I have owned and successfully run 2 studios in another state, but upon moving to Colorado and battling cancer, became a stay-at-home mom. The response I received was: “How can you teach yoga [and promote healthy living] while being overweight?”  I don’t recall my exact response (I’m sure I was in shock at the audacity of the person questioning me), but it was probably something that assured her that I fully intended to take the weight off.

The voices in my head, however, were pissed off!
Admittedly, that conversation led me to ask myself some questions:

  • Do I feel like I can be authentic in my teaching if I am not representing the “picture of health”, even if I feel like it’s the right time for me to share my knowledge and passion with others again?
  • Is it necessary for a “wellness role model” to emulate every aspect of well-being (i.e., I may have the attitude and personality that may inspire someone, but perhaps my body type is not what that person wants for themselves)?

What do you think? What kind of person inspires you? Who are your role models? Let’s start a conversation about this! Leave a comment below, or get in touch with me by clicking HERE.

This post is part of the FYB “31 Days to Quiet the Voices in Your Head” series.
Check it out HERE.

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