They tell you to love yourself, then they tell you how unhappy they were when they were 30 kilos heavier than they are now and still drank booze. They tell you to embrace your flaws, but then list all the yoga workouts to do that will give you a muscular yet slender body. They tell you to enjoy life, and then tell you which brand new diet to follow.

In a search to learn how to love me, body and mind, I have moved around in many different communities over the last decades. Communities focussing on yoga, t@ntra, meditation, spirituality or mindfulness. What struck me is that most of them bring many conditions to finding self-love. Whether it’s ‘killing the ego’, breaking with the habit of waking up slowly, dodging carbs for good, working out x times a week (or day) – and it only takes five minutes of deep commitment every day to live your best life.

I didn’t touch my clït for two years as ‘peak orgásms are bad’, survived on one protein shake per day for a month (and tried all the diets you can think of, from paleo to keto to raw), did yoga or ran every day (even if it was in the middle of the night) and refused to touch alcohol or sugar. I kept my hair long, wore dresses and took rose petal baths because I was told by teachers and peers over and again that I didn’t look feminine enough, and my masculinity was unattractive. To be successful I just needed to drop my negative beliefs and remove the internal blockages about money.

Looking back, I am surprised by how much conditioning around looks and behaviour is prevalent in communities supposed to help me love and accept myself and the world I live in. Looking even deeper, it shocked me to learn that many of the ideas adopted in ‘personal growth’, ‘self-love’ and ‘self-acceptance’ come from a neoliberal, sometimes fascist ideology where the slim, straight, white, male bodies were seen as the ideal to strive for. And then there’s the whole case of cultural appropriation where modalities were taken by colonisers from native folks and used to their advantage without acknowledging the harm that was often caused in the places where these modalities originated. From t@ntra to yoga and forms of martial arts, this is still ongoing. “The colonization, commodification, and consumption of healing are being named antithetical to a spiritually holistic lifestyle.”

As I began deconstructing all the ideas I tried to align to, from having a ‘healthy BMI’ to having the right looks, the right séx life and relationships, the ideas I had started to drop one by one.

I could have short hair.
I did not have to be ‘feminine’.
I could have multiple relationships at the same time (or one after the other).
I could love my body and belly without wanting to change them at the same time.

And more recently: I can enjoy a good glass of beer when I feel like it. Beer stopped being the symbol of everything that is bad for me and started being the symbol of taking a moment of appreciation for life.

It makes me wonder: to which conventions around beauty and behaviour am I still holding on?

Some quotes and sources:

  1. Jyoti Puri, Hazel Dick Leonard Chair and Professor of Sociology at Simmons University has writes about how yoga, after being appropriated by the West, has been reclaimed by the Hindu Fundamentalist Government of Narendra Modi and used to further his fascistic politics.
    Jyoti Puri, Sculpting the Saffron Body
  2. Matthew Remski writes: “A reactionary Hindutva politics of bodily sovereignty and purity have also been exported through the globalization of yoga, mixing with and adding to similar body fascisms of Europe.” Yoga was recommended to death camp guards in WOII and even used by the S.S. leaders to justify the holocaust. On Medium.
  3. Matthias Tietke – Yoga in National Socialism
  4. Prinita Thevarajah – Casteism in Yoga
  5. Petra Rau, The fascist body beautiful and the imperial crisis in 1930s British writing
  6. Kate Imy, Fascist Yogis: Martial Bodies and Imperial Impotence
  7. Your Fat Friend, The Bizarre and Racist History of the BMI