Listen to this article read by the author:
Like most people, I’ve struggled with body image.
As long as I can remember, on most days it’s been easier to dissociate, avoid mirrors and pictures, and avoid the subject altogether. With no singular place for blame, through subliminal and explicit messages, I learned that my body was something to be ashamed of.
That I was something to be ashamed of.
There was a standard for girl’s and women’s bodies, and I did not meet it. When it came to a relationship with my body, the options seemed as such:
Either: obsess over it. Count calories. Go to the gym. Starve yourself. Do whatever you can to fit in.
Or, what I chose:
Ignore it. Pretend it doesn’t exist. Act… as though… you don’t… exist.
It’s uncomfortable to admit, but I hated my body. If I was ever in a photograph, I couldn’t look at it without immediately picking it apart, or crying. I never looked in the mirror. I never participated in anything that forced me to be “in my body”. I didn’t own a swimsuit or shorts for six years. Any attempt at physical activity was motivated by shame. How could I be expected to live in a body that I was taught to hate?
Eventually, I realized it wasn’t working. I had to find other options. Thankfully, through some incredible resources*, I realized there were other options. I started to practice mindfulness. I started to do the inner work, healing the inner “self” and all those good things. I became more loving, kind, confident, and gracious – in regards to myself and others.
But the real breakthrough happened in the sauna this fall.
Then came the sauna
My friend Justin asked me to help out with something for Cedar & Stone, and while not knowing what I was signing up for, I said yes. I then learned that it would be a promotional shoot with a few photographers, while a few of us were in the sauna.
That meant me…in swimwear…being photographed…and other people were going to be there…
I hadn’t had to deal with this yet. I had avoided it. With an undercurrent of anxiety, I showed up to the sauna. As we sat in the sauna, I noticed the anxiety slipping away. In this intimate space, I found myself getting to know the others there, laughing, telling stories.
“As we sat in the sauna, I noticed the anxiety slipping away.”— Sera Olson
But the pictures were still going to be posted on the website, and as you may have noticed, I was going to be in them.
I anticipated hating the pictures, and never telling Justin.
But when I saw the pictures I uttered out loud, “Wow, I’m beautiful.”
That was the first time in my entire life I had said those words.
“When I saw the pictures I uttered out loud, ‘Wow, I’m beautiful.’ That was the first time in my entire life I had said those words.”— Sera Olson
That was the first time in my life I had genuinely spoken something positive about a picture of myself.
I’ve found that stories can be good and beautiful things. I’ve also found that stories can be just that – stories. In the sauna, there was an invitation to leave all the stories at the door. I didn’t have to bring the stories I was told and believed about my body, or my to-do list, or when I needed to be at work. I could just be.
The sauna allowed me to be embodied, to be present.
That freedom became radiance as I sat with the steam.
While being photographed in that space, Angela made it feel so easy. Her encouraging nature quieted any present shame. It was like she carried that presence, embodiment, freedom into her photography.
She created a pathway for me to experience those things too, as she took my picture.
I’ll end with this:
We all have our own stories with our bodies.
I want to invite you to pause and ask:
- How are you present with your body in this moment?
- How were you present with your body today?
- Which stories have you believed about your body?
My experience at Cedar & Stone has gotten me in touch with radiance, freedom, confidence, and beauty that I was missing out on before.
What are you missing on your embodiment journey?
Join me at Cedar and Stone for an opportunity to pause, be embodied, and hey, let’s have a conversation about it.
* Resources/What worked for me:
- Anything Hillary McBride. Her book Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image is available here. The Liturgists’ episodes “Embodiment” and “Shame.”.
- Mindfulness exercises! Try sitting with your breath. I use the Calm app to do a body scan once a day. It helps me actively be present to my body.
- Hiking in the mountains (SHT is good too). There’s something to being present to your body and the earth at the same time – that’s a different blog post.
- Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna. Book now. :