By Sarah B Levine
Note from Jen Pastiloff: I am currently writing a book for young girls based on the workshop that Lara Heimann and I have co-created: Girl Power: You Are Enough. Last week I was in my hometown of Philadelphia leading one of my workshops and right before it started I bumped into a beautiful young girl. I asked her if I could interview her. She said yes, having no idea what I would ask her. (My kind of human!!) The video is at the bottom so you can watch after you read her stunning post. I put a call out to young girls to write about when they feel the best about themselves, if they feel like they are enough, and a letter to their younger or future selves. I intend to include some in the book. (The book will also feature letters from various women to their younger selves, such as Christy Turlington, Cheryl Strayed, Ashley Ford Megan Stielstra, Emily Rapp, Angela G. Patel, Rachel Pastiloff, Lara Heimann, Rene Denfeld, Lidia Yuknavitch, Suleika Jaouad and more. I am so excited by this project that I haven’t been able to sleep. That and I have been binge watching Parenthood on Netflix but that’s a whole other story. It’s been a dream of mine to work with young women yet I had no idea how to start making it happen. Then, it just happened organically. They started coming to my workshop, in droves. So Lara and I gave birth to this baby. Girl Power: You Are Enough.
The time is now for this. So the beautiful girl I bumped into at the studio saw my call on Facebook and submitted her post. I wanted to share it here because, well. You’ll see. May we all remember that we are enough.
May we have people that remind us.
ps- I am reminding you. YOU are enough.
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As per requested on your Facebook, I decided to answer what it means to be enough. And after a couple of hours at my computer going through tears, smiles, snorts of laughter and everything in between I feel I have captured a part of me I had been unable to acknowledge for a long time. A part of me that has been quiet and dormant as a voice in the back of my head for a long time. A part of me, I feel is also a part of many other girls, boys, young and old all over.
Thank you for already making a change in my life this past week. Everything happens for a reason.
Sarah B Levine (The girl you met at your Dhyana yoga studio in Philadelphia impromptu interview)
All of this happened in the comfort of my own home and mind. I crossed path with a number of people in my life that all encouraged me loved me and supported me and saw I was an old soul. Rarely what I am writing is what majority of those people got to see. This is what I saw when I looked in the mirror.
Why am I enough?
Why should I be enough? Who am I enough for? Who would ever love me? Why can’t I be looked at like that, with admiration? Why do my legs touch? Why is my nose so big, my belly not as toned or my butt droopy? Don’t take my picture it might point out a new flaw. My teeth aren’t as white or straight as hers. My hair isn’t as curly; I wish it were naturally more beautiful than I wouldn’t have to try so hard. These are the things that would go through my mind- sometimes more often than not.
The answers to all of these questions are always going to be you. You have the power to be who you want to be and express yourself whatever way you want to. Although we hear it more often now that we are older, the media plays a huge part of who and what we should be. I can remember back to when I was little. I always tried to find the Barbie doll that looked like me, a doll that at the very least had brown hair and blue eyes. (Which was near impossible however eventually I found a Dorthy doll from Wizard of Oz and one of Barbie’s friends but that was the closet I ever came). I remember all the girls in my family got an American girl doll that was used to teach us a history or show core values. Looking back I had good influences and family support that instilled right things for me but still that is no match for the media. I remember trying to make an American Girl doll that looked like me, the nose was too small; they couldn’t add freckles or make the eyebrows practically nonexistent like mine so I got one with the basic brown hair blue eyes. She was very pretty, but I know there were attributes that couldn’t be added to her that I had. Would those things make her a bad doll? I wish those attributes could have been changed on me as easily as it was for her. Eventually I often found myself admiring a Disney Princess that looked as close as possible like me. I ignored the fact that I had Zeist Mulan or was one with nature like Pocahontas. I was intelligent like Belle but I couldn’t see the only reason she was my favorite was because I had the most chance of looking like her. Each doll or feminine figure I searched for had less and less attributes of who I truly was. At a young age before anyone realized it I along with a million other girls were already trying to find where we fit into society.
I never tried to hurt myself physically but emotionally I beat myself up everyday. I would search images of ‘what is pretty’, ‘how do I get someone to like me’, ‘beautiful’ etc., every single day. I would search what it meant to be a beautiful woman or girl so often I questioned myself if I was gay. I can tell you through all of my searches and obsession (before the recent ‘beauty movement’ that is still in its’ infantile stages) there were hardly any images of what a natural, unedited, average woman’s body should look like. What was normal was perceived to be a skinny tight body that was cute. Yes, there are girls that are naturally like that and they should love themselves and shouldn’t be shamed. But from since a young age when you are trying to search where you fit in on a beauty scale, and you cannot find yourself, you deem yourself as unworthy. None of the images I found had big noses, none of them had acne, or any of the flaws I deemed to be flawed on myself. As I write how my body was growing up I feel myself being emotionally abusive to it again.
You must treat others the way you want to be treated, that includes yourself.
I was not as what society would define as ‘ugly’ but I was an emotional bully to myself.
And as someone who had been bullied growing up and being the scapegoat for others, beating myself up felt easy. If I did it maybe no one else would. I think that’s where most of my self-consciousness stems form, bullying. Maybe if I looked really pretty they would treat better, maybe I’d be more approachable, maybe… I’d have more friends. This followed me from fourth grade all the way up until my senior year of high school and I occasionally look back and feel this way about myself even today, my freshman year at college. When you’ve grown up thinking this and having this perception of how your most of your peers and teachers treated you can be hard to overcome when you get to college. All of a sudden it’s gone. It was the biggest f***ing relief in my LIFE. And now often I cry because of HAPPY tears!
My mom is my best friend and for a long time she felt like and was my only friend.
I bounced between friend groups never really finding people to accept me. In high school I had three friends total that stuck (one being my Mom). I had emotional support from all of her friends and adults. They always give me kind words and love and I felt like I belonged more with them than I did with my own age group. But, they weren’t my friends they were my Moms’. However, they all helped me focus on it getting better.
The biggest thing in my life I looked forward to was going to college. In college I knew I’d be exposed to more and accepted more. Although I didn’t know what “more” was. My Mom saw and knew what I was going through- at school at home etc. She knew me better than I knew myself. She played the biggest role in shaping who I am today because she made sure although I went through mud I was able to clean myself off so I didn’t loose who I truly was in the long run. As friends got caught texting in class to their friends I was caught texting my mom. (I changed her name in my phone from “Mom” to “Maryann” to seem less pathetic if I was caught. All in the sake of fitting in!)
I was very lucky in that sense that I had someone such as my mom to talk to. Later on when I gained a couple of more close knit friends she was the one that they went to for advice. Without being biased or stepping on other parents toes I felt she was an amazing mom to everyone I knew. I always encouraged my friends to open up to their parents. Going through Jennifer Pastiloff’s Facebook and website and by the amount of responses she has had, it is apparent none of us are alone. Parents are the first hand help and guidance that are there for us. I never hid anything from her. From what I heard at school, when I had my first kiss (and then some).
Even today I tell her EVERYTHING. (Yes, EVERYTHING). I didn’t have a filter with my mom. Even today I am without a filter and it has crossed over to my everyday life. When we are little we don’t have filters. If we have a question about something we ask it in public for everyone to hear for everyone to know. (For example, have you ever heard of a kid asking their parents why someone looks the way they do and then hearing a parent try to quiet them down to not offend someone? Not to say the parent is wrong but, it is that innocence and pureness that we as children have. We don’t wish to offend anyone we just want to know. We don’t shame someone because they look different we are simply not exposed to enough.) That is because the media has a filter. It is what makes us try to not offend anyone, so they tell us what is right and what is wrong to say. They answer our questions for us and tell us “you need not say anymore.” They take away the ugly in photographs and what different people look like and all that is left is a happy joyous “beautiful” world. And we are left did I not filter through? Thinking we are alone because we do not see anywhere others that look like us because they were all filtered through.
I remember the first time someone commented about my nose to my face. My seventh grade English class the kid that sat behind me “why is your nose so big? Is it because you are Jewish?” I said yes and asked why Jewish had anything to do with it. They said because Jew are supposed to have big noses. (Not getting into the political aspects of media but this is an unjust stereotype and for now we are focusing on body image). When that person started laughing I did too. What else was I going to do? I felt like I was about to cry so I turned around and sat quietly. Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. Was my nose that big? Why did that kid laugh? People like laughter maybe if I joke about it more than maybe more people will talk to me. From there on out I would joke about my nose before anyone else got the chance to. I made sure no one else was going to make fun of it and made sure that they knew I wouldn’t care if they did and I got a few laughs out of it. But the more I joked about it the more I would look into possibilities for plastic surgery and the possibilities of what I would look like with a “prettier” and smaller nose.
Because I had such a great relationship with my mom I was able to understand that my body was changing, it’s not about being skinny, but I wanted to be healthy. I started working out freshman year of high school. And the summer between Freshman and Sophomore year (right after my first two month long relationship with my boyfriend) I really started to enjoy it. I started feeling unbelievably good about myself. (Working out is proven to lead to a happier self because of the Neurotransmitters that are being released through physical movement). I was biking, doing a little mat work, some light lifting, eating healthier (not that I wasn’t before) getting rest and ultimately living the ideal healthy lifestyle. One day my Mom suggested I add yoga to the mix. I was hesitant and thought, “what could stretching do?” So I started going to a Pilate’s class, which was all right. Than I went to a yoga class and I hated it. I remember complaining to my mom how I couldn’t get poses I didn’t understand how it would help, and I didn’t feel anything from that workout. (At this stage in my yoga journey I was still calling it a workout because I had not been entirely introduced to the spiritual aspect and practice of what yoga could do for me off the yoga mat.) She said that I should try it at least two more times and than she wouldn’t make me go anymore if I didn’t want to. She told me I’d gain a better understand of my muscles and body and it is a good counter balance between the workouts I was doing. She also knew that yoga was a great to de-stress.
So I went to a second yoga class like I promised my Mom and I still hated it. In the car ride home I said again how I didn’t feel anything and I didn’t like it. She said there was still one more time I had to try and I agreed to go because I promised. You what they say about when I third time is the charm? In that third yoga class I took I felt something different. My body understood what was supposed to happen.
It was the beginning of an awakening for me. After that, my town opened up one of the first yoga studios near me and I joined from the very started. I practiced with them all throughout high school when funds were available. I saw yoga teachers come in and out of the studio as they all had an impact in adding to who I was as a yogi. That was the summer of 2011. Throughout that journey I had my ups and downs and for the rest of high school there were still times that I struggled with what others thought about me and how I looked. But never did I doubt who I was. I knew I had found it.
Now going on my fourth year of practicing yoga I am feeling like I am genuinely embracing and loving all that I am on and off of the mat. I am beginning to see what strangers would see in me. What my parents’ friends or occasional teachers would see in me. Adults were the ones that could see who I was. Again, they all had knowledge or personal experience that could be applied to what I was going through. I found that I was a kind soul that had an extreme empathy towards others. One that eventually grew to have a consistent amount of confidence and is by no means afraid to speak up and encourage others to have fun and enjoy every bit of themselves that they can because I know what it is like to be an outsider. Watching others have fun and wondering why can’t that be me?
You need to get out of your own head because there is nothing wrong with you, there was nothing wrong with me.
Growing up the biggest I’ve noticed with others and especially myself is we need to get out of our own head. I was always thinking the reason someone didn’t smile back at me when I saw him or her in the hall was because they ignored me. Do I have something on my face? They are inviting me to hang out because they don’t like me. Maybe if I try to be more like them they’ll like me. But I didn’t want to be like them, so I preferred to just be alone. There was less wondering and questioning myself that way. It was just less painful- less tearful. I try to instill the essence of self-love and yoga to others. I love everyone. I treat them with kindness and compassion because I know for a fact I can now see the self worth and love waiting to be realized in everyone that I meet.
Treat everyone as if they were that innocent child before they learned what was “good, bad, or ugly” as defined by society and media. Treat everyone as if they were your children and you were there mother. The love you have, share it. And most importantly share it with yourself.
The questions I should have been asking myself were, who wouldn’t love me? Why should I not be looked at like that with admiration? Why should my legs not touch? What’s wrong with my nose being too big, my belly not being toned, or my ADORABLE but being a little droopy? Take my picture I may find something more to love about me! My smile is super unique and I should show it as much as I can so everyone see that this smile is mine and no one is going to take that away from me. My hair along with the rest of me is amazing in every single way! I am naturally beautiful and I know I do not have to try hard to be who I am naturally.
For those going through anything remotely like this I want to say my Mom was right, like she normally is. College is one of the best things that happened to me next to stepping on my mat. I was raised with the motto “everything happens for a reason.” I found yoga the time that I did for a reason. I hope everyone focus’ on the light on the end of the tunnel also while seeing the light that is within themselves. That BEAUTIFUL AMAZING LOVING LIGHT! A light that EVERYONE possess. I am thankful for what happened because I am now attending Temple University studying Neuroscience. I plan to focus on Social Neuroscience and use aspects of yoga to find alternative therapies to drug use hoping to find therapies and resources that are applicable to social situations and things such as bullying.
<3 <3 <3 YOU ARE ENOUGH!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3
Sarah B Levine
Lara Heimann and I are launching our new workshop for girls Girl Power: You Are Enough in Princeton at Lara’s studio Sep 19 and in NYC at Pure Yoga on Sep 20, 2015. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more. Check thegirlpowerproject.com as it will be live soon.