I couldn't breathe. I wanted the 60-something gray haired men sitting across from me in the waiting room to shut up. I wanted the women with them to stop shaking their heads. I wanted the one woman who spoke to get her head out of the sand, stop agreeing, and to speak to what I knew she knows.
"She should've said something then," one of the men said. "If she were my daughter, she'd have spoken up about that then, if it really happened. That's just teenage behavior."
At that point, I wanted to get out of my seat, throw furniture at him, and bash his head in the wall behind him. I wanted to show him what it feels like to hold in a secret for decades because of people like him and their opinions on what young people should do when sexually assaulted. Their opinion of what should be tolerated, thought as normal. and what is "just asking for it." I wanted him to know what it felt like to not express and be ashamed of your sexuality for the whole of your life memory because of people like him.
I was in the cardiologist waiting room. It was the day that the brave Christine Blassey Ford testified in front of congress about the experience she had with then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Fortunately, my name was called and my panic attack was caught on EKG and the whole thing helped my doctor get me on the right medication for my heart condition. Things have a way of working out. I had a nervous breakdown that day, holding in my emotion, and it took me a few months to recover.
This is what I wear when I practice because I don't keep my house super cool in the summer. I sweat when I practice. I worried about people wondering about my intentions with posting because of the way my clothes fit. I wanted to share my practice because I am immensely grateful for it. I'm grateful for my body supporting my practice even with my health struggles. I feel like sharing my practice could encourage others to begin or keep going with their movement practice because I too am inspired by others that way.
I don't think twice about what people are wearing or not wearing when I scroll and see yoga practices shared on social media. I am amazed by the human body and the way it works. I see it a beautiful creation in its variety of form and expression. It is art to me. I was a bit disturbed that I paused and worried before sharing my pictures.
Sexual repression is not the only possible or base cause for sexual violence, misogyny, or the objectification of women. We can also include in this the "traditional" presumptions of how each gender should conduct themselves in our society. Ideas of: Who has and should be in control? Who can "handle" power? Who cries and who punches things? Who talks about feelings and who holds them in, and their association with being of weak mind? What does it mean to be a "real" man or a "real" woman? Boys will be boys. Who is a "loose" woman? We can all tell a story of making a decision to hide an aspect of ourselves because it didn't fit in to these boxes built by our culture about who we should be and how we should behave.
As someone who has experienced deep shame for it simply being possible that someone could find me attractive and that becoming uncomfortable for anyone else - them, me, or other to the point that I didn't try to express myself physically in appearance or through movement, growing beyond this in a culture that still blames and shames everyone involved has been a struggle. It does take deciding not to care about where someone might be on this path in regards to their own comfort with the human form and our instinctual biological responses to it. There is such an imbalance in this being shown as a problem only for male identifying genders that's it's ridiculous and has resulted in very dramatic and stifling rules for the way female identifying people must be in their bodies in this world. It's as if a woman cannot have a visceral response to seeing a man's bare chest or rump in his swimsuit just as much as a man can to seeing a woman. Funny how that can be seen as sweet, complimentary, or humorous, and it not be for a man to have the same reaction. Acting as if that biological reaction is something to be ashamed of causes feelings of guilt or rebellion, neither of which are good for our society.
The most appalling result of this Puritanical response to physicality and sexuality is the toll it is taking on our children. I don't and have not publicly spoken about my personal experience as a young girl who was a survivor of such things (not at the hand of family or anyone close to the family). I sometimes find the courage to mention it vaguely (as now), but never have directly. I don't know if I ever will, or that the details matter. There are so many people quick to comment as if they know anything about what that experience was for you. It is so atrocious that I think people have to find a way to explain it and those explanations fall way short of the reality, and at worst, exacerbate our problems.
Thinking is difficult. That's why most people judge.
In a culture filled with physical repression and shame, we create the environment where the Jeffrey Epstein's of the world can operate and spill their illness over onto others who are ill or suffering their own shame and violate the innocence of children while being looked over by those who are supposed to protect us. The issues at the border. The many issues in our communities that are not discussed. It's all a byproduct of this demonized way of looking at ourselves and our bodies, along with the marriage to obtaining or keeping power. It's dangerous.
I realize that some may take offense at this meme. I, personally, find it funny, and relevant to many things - not just religion. Any ideology that you operate under in order to find your way in this world is right for you when you decide that it is - politics, faith, eating habits, etc. Doesn't mean it is right for me, will always be right for you, or that anyone else should be forced to live under it. When we repress our basic expression we enliven scenarios where people are sending pictures of their genitalia to people on social media before they even get a name or a face. It becomes slippery to approach anyone with compliments on their physical beauty or to even ask for a date in such a charged climate. I feel for people trying to navigate it. It is ok for someone to respectfully find you attractive physically and to express this out loud. I've seen women bite a man's head off because he told her she was a walking goddess. People are walking on edge. It causes people to get their penis out and wave it in everyone's face.
In my pictures, I am not showing anymore than anyone wearing a swimsuit shows. I'm showing my real life and my personal yoga practice. I show it out of gratitude for what it does for me and that it may encourage someone else. I have gained some strength and stability in my backside and that is a great thing too. My SI joint was in terrible shape and causing me a lot of pain. Yesterday, I decided to recommit to not being ashamed of my body and the way it appears. Honestly, I'm all for normalizing the body in the birthday suit. We are walking, breathing, living wonders.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
I love this verse. Part of my commitment to finding and growing into myself as an individual is celebrating the reality of this verse and holding space for others to do the same. Today, see your own beauty in just how you are, and compliment someone else's in a sincere way. Let's make it normal for our bodies and their primal functions to be ok. Let's heal this.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.