By Alison Vincitore
Today The Three Magazine is excited to feature the fourth part in an essay series by guest contributor Alison.
Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
I teared up in yoga class. I didn’t cry per se. It wasn’t because I was overwhelmed or frustrated. It wasn’t because the teacher was bad. It wasn’t because “Sign of the Times” played while we were in half pigeon or because some strange instrumental cover of “Sound of Silence” played while we were in savasana as the little kid behind me giggled and squirmed. I cried—well, almost cried—because as I wondered if the music selections were appropriate for a yoga class, and my foot was shoved into my face, and my shin was jammed into my boobs, and my forehead was stuck to a sweaty rental mat in a stuffed-to-the-brim yoga studio in the dead of summer, the teacher said in a breathy, put-on yoga voice:
“Now go ahead and thank your body.”
For months leading up to the class, I said to myself over and over, My body is falling apart. Because it was. My body was in utter, desperate disarray. During the stressful final week or two of college, I noticed I had no appetite. This was strange because I’ve always been obsessed with food and had “hypoglycemic attacks”—a term I’m unsure is real or accurate—if I didn’t eat every few hours. I knew something strange was probably happening with my stomach, but more frighteningly, I noticed myself thinking, This is a good thing. I might lose weight!
A couple weeks later, I went on a short trip and got sick. Really sick. The kind of sick with stomach cramping so painful I made a mental note to get an epidural in my hypothetical future pregnancy. I also threw up in an Uber. I remember seeing the driver calmly take out a small microfiber towel and place it on his lap. Between pukes, I tried to make a joke about how convenient it was that we had randomly brought a plastic laundry bag from the hotel with us. If you take anything from this part of the series, I hope it’s to not make jokes while vomiting. Talking will probably make you gag, then throw up more.
“Now go ahead and thank your body.”
The ordeal, which makes it solidly into my top seven puke stories, led to months of testing then waiting for test results, which allowed me plenty of time to spiral, panic, and hyper-focus on my symptoms. The results weren’t tragic or life-threatening. In fact, they were pretty underwhelming.
Even more so, the main culprit of my sickness may have been a shrimp tostada and some sort of adult-onset shellfish allergy. Sure, both of my grandmothers are allergic to shellfish, but I was practically raised on shrimp scampi. I’m from Maryland! It’s humiliating to think I’d never be able to eat a jumbo lump crab cake again. But I could no longer ignore the fact that I had become violently ill several Christmas Eves in a row, not long after the shrimp cocktail course of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. As far as devastation goes, I guess it’s not too bad, but the thought of never eating a mollusk again does make me sad.
Anyway, when I had my face awkwardly pushed into a sweaty, heavily-used-and-not-by-me mat, trying not to dislocate a hip or knee, the idea of thanking my body hit me hard. I’ve spent so much time being angry at my body, not trusting it to hold me up or carry me through life as if it could collapse or implode at any moment. I’ve had visualizations of my stomach as a black hole, sucking in all my body’s energy.
I was traumatized by how fast my hips grew during puberty. I started middle school as a size 00 and left a size 8 or 10. I was worried my hip bones would stretch and grow until they stuck out straight with no curve at all, but instead was effectively left with two separate sections of hip stacked on top of each other—the thigh part and the built-in-shelf part—and damned to a life in black jeans. If you don’t know the difference between the material and construction of black jeans and blue jeans, congratulations on having a body proportionate to the American sizing system.
I learned that this style of hips is called “hip dips.” If you Google that, you’ll see pictures of fitness influencers with more compact bones carefully angling their bodies or Photoshopping squiggly lines the color of the background onto their leggings to demonstrate what this looks like. You also might see a hilariously patronizing article that proclaims, “Honestly ladies…. I don’t envy you. What society puts on you, what you put on yourselves seems almost unbearable through male eyes. But I’m here to help” then after listing some of the parts and bones of the pelvis proclaims, “I know! A bit of a mouth full, lots of funny names.”
The point is, I didn’t believe my body could pull off mom jeans or exercise, much less battle a disease.
But here’s the truth that washed over me in that yoga class: My body carried me through this illness and all its precursor symptoms. It carried me through two decades of simultaneously underachieving and overachieving, the tumultuous sleep schedule of a night owl, and a wild range of non-stop emotions. It carried me through choking on sunflower seeds and getting hit in the head twice in softball. It carried me through struggling to hold up the weight of a trumpet and my own arms and getting hit in the head with flags twice in marching band. It carried me through gorging myself on shrimp cocktail and resultantly getting hit in the head with a toilet bowl twice on Christmas. It carried me through trying to find the brakes on a wobbly moped while careening through a main road, through an obstacle course in a defunct slate mine, and through all the times I cried in exercise class.
I’m working to change my relationship with my body. I’m trying to thank it for what it does instead of hating it for what it doesn’t. At the very least, I’m trying not to fixate on how it can sometimes feel, how much I really dislike my latest set of stretch marks, how I wish I could be stronger and fitter but don’t always have the energy or motivation. My body is going through some stuff, and it’s trying to take care of itself.
So, to my body:
Thank you for carrying me through all these years of my life so far. I pledge to take better care of you. I promise to be kinder to you. We’re in it together.
The Non-Body Part
In the years since I initially wrote this essay—which was around 2018 or 2019—I am thrilled to say I am no closer to an answer about my health. I have been lucky enough to hit the jackpot of falling into the gray area of you-may-or-may-not-have-this-mild-to-moderate-thing-we-don’t-know-much-about-and-can’t-treat-very-much-anyway disorders. I even had a doctor surgically chopstick around my abdomen on a whim, and I still fell into that vague unanswerable middle ground. I’m starting over and hoping for the best. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up with a House-esque answer.
I don’t think I’m exactly following that little letter I wrote from my non-body part to my body to a tee though. Even though I watched all those Dove soap self-esteem educational videos growing up, I still have body image issues! I have continued to struggle with being entirely incapable of convincing myself to exercise regularly. I’ve had a few good moments. The only difference is there was a pandemic I could blame it on for a while.
The biggest development—and I assume you will have to pause and applaud when you read this—is that I have put away my black jeans (just in the drawer, who are we kidding) and have started forcing myself to wear blue jeans. Thank you so much, you can channel your support into outlawing whiskers and the weird faded area on the thighs.
In lieu of achieving my body image goals, I’ll instead add a little postscript to the letter:
P.S. Okay, so you’re a little weird, you’re a little unpredictable, you’re a little out of the ordinary, but so what? The best things in life are.