Learning to listen to my body is a revolutionary act. I write in the present tense because every day—when I quiet my mind and tune in to the energies of my vessel—I learn something new about myself. Acknowledging the container where my heart is carried is as important as the mind that controls it has been crucial in reconnecting my mind, body, and spirit.
As a child of sexual abuse, growing up queer and Brown in Australia was incredibly confusing. When my body began changing at 24 years-old, I panicked. I spent my early 20s straightening my hair, contouring my face, and tightening my bum. I did everything and anything to adhere to heteronormative beauty standards thrown in my face my entire life. When acne erupted across my face, shortly after clumps of my hair began falling out, I frantically searched for the answer to my physical problems.
What I discovered was a fear that was not my own. I internalized a conditioning that made me yearn to look like anyone but me. I began my healing journey last summer—accepting and learning to embrace the inevitable changes my body has made over the past two years. At 25, compassion for my body has allowed me to move away from a culture of "self care" that proliferates a more rigid, slender and often infanticides body image.
Instead, I uplift all the ways my body is exemplary and distinct. It is not an easy path, to knowingly reject systems of wellness and beauty and strive to learn about the very specific modalities that work the best for me. Although along the way, with the assistance of healers and friends, I have garnered a deep relationship with my body which I believe everyone has the potential to achieve.
My skin began breaking out in the summer of 2019. After my first major break up, I spiraled. My alcohol and tobacco consumption was at an all time high and I was not paying attention to the foods entering my body. Every morning, I piled layers of foundation over my bumpy skin and aggressively popped white heads that creeped to the surface, only to wake up with a new layer the next morning. My heart was hurting, and my skin paid the price when I didn't attend to the needs of my body and spirit.
The science: A 2017 study in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found 45% of women between 21 and 30 experienced adult acne. In our 20s, our menstrual cycle regulates. This triggers a rise and fall in hormones and those who menstruate experience a surge of estrogen and progesterone. Combined with a lifestyle of heavy makeup, starchy diets, stress, and alcohol, a rise in hormones can lead to breakouts.
The spirit: If the mind, body, and spirit are one holistic unit, each aspect influences skin, skin disorders, and healing. Psychoneuroimmunology of the skin has proven the mind can influence the skin and skin disorders, so conversely, physical attributes of one’s own skin can contribute and be a reflection of one’s spiritual core. Commonly used boundary metaphors relating to the skin—"thin/thick skinned," and "under my skin"—sometimes include spiritual overtones, just as the image of shedding one’s skin suggests inner growth and transformation.
What worked for me: I had to recognize the state of my own spirit, and how my internal conflicts could be manifesting outwardly, to heal my skin. Learning to cleanse my face properly, day and night, applying sunscreen and working to understand the texture of my skin has been incredibly healing. To recalibrate my hormones, changes in my diet have been absolutely necessary. Along with staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, an anti-inflammatory diet free of highly processed foods and rich in healthy fats has transformed my complexion. Despite my South Asian culture, rich in spicy foods, I have had to completely cut out chili and excess spices. Using a gua sha regularly to massage my lymph nodes, and only washing my face in lukewarm water has also proved to restore the balance in my facial texture.
My hair began to fall out six months after moving to New York City. Hair balls would collect under my bed and strands lay scattered across my bathroom floor. Never too concerned about hair loss, as I don a thick head of curly hair, I only took my sheddingly seriously a year ago when I began to consider early balding.
The science: Maryann Mikhail, MD shares, similar to acne susceptibility, hair loss in our 20s is usually a direct result of stress, dieting, and hormonal changes. Hair lives in a four step cycle. It grows, then rests, falls, and regenerates. Research compiled by Harvard Business Review confirmed stress levels drastically increase in the lives of 20-something women. Stress, whether chronic or sudden, can slow down the hair cycle, prematurely pushing it into its rest phase. The good news is identifying stress patterns can result in regrowth within three to six months. Likewise, dieting and rapid weight loss can send your body into stress mode. Restricting the body of nutrients can shift energy away from the hair follicles, as hair is not necessary for survival.
The yoyo of hormones can also contribute to hair loss. Whereas a surge of hormones can increase acne, a drop in estrogen, or hormone imbalances such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia can lead to hair thinning.
What worked for me: While I experienced a surge and not a drop of hormones in my early 20s, managing and pinpointing stress significantly altered my hair-loss problem. Developing a practice of mindfulness and working on my anxiety through therapy had a direct correlation with the amount of hair I was losing. Incorporating more protein, iron, vitamins and fatty acids also helped strengthen my mane. I also put down the straightener a few years ago and vowed to only treat my hair with natural products.
Despite my many attempts to fit into too-tight Spanx and chisel my jaw line with contouring, my body has always been on the curvier side. My bum has always been round and my breasts have always hung heavy. In my early twenties, my belly began rounding out and my hips became wider. Even though I was adhering to a strict diet, I moved up a size and could not fit into clothes I bought under a year ago.
The science: A combination of metabolic changes, weight gain, and again, hormonal changes increases fat distribution in the thighs, hips, and bust region for women in their 20s. Most will achieve their highest basal metabolic rate by their early 20s, as our metabolism peaks and then declines.
What worked for me: Incremental weight gain is common throughout all phases of life. Additionally, a woman is most fertile in her 20s, so the body begins to prepare for childbearing by creating space for another human. Weight gain, particularly in the belly area, can be a result of chronic stress, but for the most part, it is completely natural. Sticking to an exercise routine, along with a healthy diet, to focus on muscle strength allowed me to feel in control of my curves again.
One body change I embraced wholeheartedly was the regulation of my menstrual cycle. I spent my early 20s with unpredictably long cycles and extremely heavy flows. As I reached 25, my daily practice of yoga, tracking of the moon phases, and heightened body awareness aided a more regular flow.
The science: People with uteruses reach their peak fertility potential in their 20s. Menstruation becomes more regular as, similar to the widening of the hips, the body prepares itself for potential childbearing. Unfortunately, menstrual cramps become especially painful too. This is because the hormone prostaglandin is at its highest level of production. So, while you may experience a more consistent period pattern, you may also be in more pain.
What worked for me: Making conscious decisions everyday regarding how I treat my body has alleviated a lot of the anxiety that comes with an ever-changing body. From the food I eat, to the time I sleep, learning to listen to exactly what my body wants and needs in every moment has resulted in the strengthening of my mind, body, spirit connection. Moving with the knowledge that in this life, I will only be graced with one body, and there is no body else like mine, brings with it a new appreciation and attention provided to my vessel. I encourage you to make time to tune into the rhythms of your physical being. Nurture this connection.