The Unexpected Body Image Teacher

The last few years have been an epic body love roller coaster ride. Want to possess the most positive body image ever imaginable? Have your body completely fall apart a million times, a million different ways. Scars, weight, stretch marks, size …none of it will matter when your abilities come back, when your legs let you walk, when your mouth lets you speak, when your arms can hold someone you love dearly, when you have the mental strength to be fully present.

Every one of my working and non working body parts has taught me about total love, acceptance and patience. But there is one small body part that I never imagined would be such a great body image teacher, would inspire so many conversations with my nieces about body love – my thumbnails.

My fingers have been some of the last parts of my body to come back to health. They have gone through many painful phases and as they have changed, they have allowed me to realize inside my body has been healing and getting back on track. They have been a mirror as to what was happening with my brain and immune system. The last holdout has been my thumbnails. They have looked mangled for quite some time. At first I would constantly try to keep nail polish on them to cover up their imperfections. But for the last year, I decided to stop doing this and instead embrace their raw beauty. I enjoy looking down at my unpainted nails daily to see the improvements. They are a symbol of my body’s perseverance.

I’ve held hands with my nieces countless times and conversations have started about my rough, misshapen thumbnails. It has given me the opportunity to tell them about how strong our bodies are, how honoured I am to walk and move and share valuable time with them and how my uniqely different nails are a part of me I am not ashamed of. I’ve shared with them how people have scars of honour on their bodies for the experiences they have gone through and we need to celebrate these badges of beauty. I’ve explained to them how smart my body has been in that it realized the rest of my body needed all the love and attention it could get to recover from autoimmune Hashimoto’s and Gluten Ataxia so it had to stop sending some energy to my nails temporarily because other parts needed it more. My mangled thumbnails represent that my body isn’t broken, it is smart.

Many of our conversations have been silent, with my nieces gently touching my nails, inspecting them in the sweet, honest way children do, knowing every time they check, they are improving and getting healthier, an unspoken realization that so am I. Most importantly, my hands with my imperfectly perfect thumbnails can type again, can write again, can pick up my nieces again and twirl them around and be goofy. How honoured I am to have been bestowed these marks of imperfection that possess the power to start such important conversations.

So I Did A TEDx Talk…

I love TED and TEDx talks. Ever since I first discovered them I was hooked and in the back on my mind I thought,”I want to do one of those one day.” I’ve been able to see people I admire speak about their lives and experiences or been introduced to individuals I had never heard of before but after their talks had me madly Googling them to find out more.The first one I viewed will always resonate with me and I have watched it countless times – Aimee Mullins: It’s not fair having 12 pairs of legs.  Aimee is so incredible on so many levels and I love speaking of her, sharing her images and her point of view with children when we talk about body image and self-esteem. Amanda Palmer: The Art of Asking is so brilliantly delivered that it upped the game for every presentation I saw after. I was completely smitten by Ron Finely’s A Guerilla Gardener in South Central LA talk. Have watched it numerous times and it is powerful yet amusing. You have to catch Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. And one that deeply touched my soul and had me tearing up was Monica Lewinsky: The price of shame.  Incredible. I tried to hug her through the computer.

I put it out to the universe that I wanted to do a TEDx talk by the end of 2015…and then I got an email in February…asking me to do a TEDx talk. I almost fell off my chair.  (I need to keep manifesting!) I was invited by Craig Zimmer, an incredible teacher,  who has been sharing his passion for TED talks with his students, school – and the entire school board –  through the TEDxStMaryCSS event and the TEDEdClub. I love that he is encouraging the next generation to speak up with confidence! I figured I had until June 5, the date of the event, to get my body and brain working better together while healing from gluten ataxia.  Lots of time I thought.  After many revisions, I decided to entitle my talk An Exploration of Identity and take the audience through the journey I had been on that had opened my eyes to so many lessons. I thought I was doing well as the date was approaching…even if my walking was still not up to par, my brain seemed to be working better. I just needed my brain and my mouth to work on that stage for less than 2o minutes and all would be fine.

However, the more I spoke aloud and practiced, the more scrambled my brain got. My brain is still building up its motor skills and connections and speaking was taking me down. Leading up to the talk, I was slurring my words, stuttering, flipping words in sentences and was unable to remember anything that was not in chronological order.  My head hurt in a way it had never hurt before – not a headache….like someone who was injuring herself by repeating an action.  I was sobbing in my friend Shelli’s arms in my kitchen 2 days before my talk. Not only did I not think I would physically be able to do it, I questioned if I would ever be able to give a talk or work on TV ever again.  I explained to my friend that it felt like a runner trying to complete a marathon on a broken leg in a cast – could it be possible? Yes. Would it lead to long term injury? Probably. Would it be a very good idea? No. It must be noted that Shelli is a complete and utter rock star and has literally hugged my soul daily throughout this journey.

With fellow TEDx speakers Ashley Rose & Simone Denny.

With fellow TEDx speakers Ashley Rose & Simone Denny.

I asked if I could speak at the event first and meticulously planned what I ate that morning and when, when I meditated and drove there in silence. Eating with precise timing helped stave off severe blood sugar issues which would also lead to severe brain fog, stuttering and slurring. Knowing I could speak first meant I knew my food would help keep my brain operating and I would not have to worry about how the day’s timing unfolded. I wouldn’t have to worry about how much I spoke with others or how much I walked because both would take up a lot of energy needed for the talk. I did anything and everything to calm down my brain. And I made the executive decision to eliminate all slides. It may sound simple to talk while clicking the remote in order to pull up a few pictures but for me that seemed the equivalent of running backwards while patting my head and rubbing my belly while trying to tell a joke. I asked if I could put up a few bullet points on the prompter instead. I could. I exhaled. Salvation.

I am really proud of my TEDx talk – for standing up there and simply speaking. I climbed a mountain to get there and presenting it was a sweet-as-all-hell gift. It didn’t matter to me if I was standing or sitting – I just wanted to speak. I literally spent all summer after that looking into getting a scooter wheelchair because I just kept getting utterly exhausted – and I realized that being able to speak meant more to me than walking everywhere.  Every day became a day of bartering with my motor skills. Ok, you want to use this motor skill?  You’ve got to give up these ones for the rest of the day. You want to use several motor skills today?  You will need to nap for the rest of the week… I wanted my energy….to speak…to be me…to express myself to the world, share my thoughts and ideas – and I did not care anymore if I was standing or sitting. Where once I was completely gutted by the thought of sitting in a scooter, I started to get really excited. I could feel the wind whipping through my hair on the path by the beach and pictured myself buzzing around airports going places. I looked up rentals at The Louvre and figured I would have an advantage and actually see way more incredible art on a scooter! THAT got me really excited. And I was introduced to the magic of an electric bike which further opened up my world of possibilities. If it could conserve my energy to be able to speak and communicate and socialize more, and enjoy more moments,  it would be worth it to sit more often.  I realized even more so how much I truly loved and valued my brain and the thoughts in it and the expression my lips could convey to the world.

What a hell of a way to truly know body love and to appreciate every single day on this planet!  I continuously tweak my “health homework” and made some more health changes at the end of the summer that have helped turn my energy levels around.  Every day has been a gift in more mobility, increased energy, better brain function and creativity. I know healing will be an ongoing process for quite some time but I am overjoyed with the changes and revel in walking a little longer as each month passes. I am so beyond honoured to have been able to present this talk and now know that my desire to get out there and do more talks is possible. Bring. It. On. Thanks so much for taking the time to watch my TEDx talk. Every view means more to me than I could ever convey. And please…

Stop being so hard on yourself.

Love yourself more.

Hug your soul more.

Tell your body it is amazing regularly.

Stare at your body parts in wonder.

Stop stepping on a scale every day.

Don’t worry about what size you are.

Thank your body for its magnificence.

Know that you are ridiculously amazing throughout all time and space.

You are utterly perfect – never forget it.

Liis xo