We are living in times of disassociation. It’s no wonder why so many women feel shame and self-hate towards their bodies. Every institution in some form advocates flight from the body. While the messages range from subtle to overt, the underlying message is the same: The female body is dirty, untrustworthy and to be controlled.
I have powerful childhood memories of watching my mother struggle with her own body, through self-medicating with food, struggling with diets, etc. I recall being about 8 years old and praying a novena to St. Theresa to please never let me get fat. I felt somewhat guilty for praying not to be like my mother, but there was this fear that I had to protect myself from this thing called “fat” that even my mother was not safe from.
There is a certain heartbreak in watching your mother fill her own need for mothering with food.
Not surprisingly, I too struggled with how to manage food and exercise, mostly adhering to my goal to stay relatively lean. It was a way to rebel against my mother, to never be her. But the vigilance was exhausting. When I became what I considered my “ideal” size and weight, I saw that it was totally empty and shallow. I had this moment of “This is it?” I don’t know what I was expecting but there was this feeling of ‘why the hell did I spend so much energy on that?’ Nothing in my life was “solved” or really that different. Nothing extraordinary happened. I saw how much I had projected onto this goal of having my ideal body. What I was searching for was a feeling of belonging in my own body, not for my body to look a certain way. I made a decision that I would no longer allow my body to be the battleground for the values of the patriarchy that tell women to reject themselves.
I changed my approach to exercise. I only exercised when I genuinely wanted to, not when I felt like I SHOULD exercise. This was hard. I remember clearly one day I was struggling with the feeling that I SHOULD exercise, but I really did not want to. I thought I should just go for a walk but something in me rejected this and wouldn’t let me go. I think it’s because my deeper wisdom knew that I was doing it from a place of self-rejection. Something shifted in me. I thought, “I am not going to walk unless I walk for MYSELF,” meaning, I’m not going to walk for the values that tell me that I must look a certain way. I’m only going to walk in support of myself as I am.
As I continued with this process of exercising only from a place of self-love, something major happened. I realized that the fears that prevented me from loosening my rigid approach to exercise were unfounded. I did not instantly gain a lot of weight as I had irrationally feared. And I saw more nuances of what makes me an attractive woman. It was as though layers were peeled away or a veil was lifted from my eyes. I actually started to truly SEE myself accurately and truly. I laughed more. I had more free time. I exercised when I felt energized and excited to do so and enjoyed it. If I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t do it. It was amazing to me how much fear I had about relaxing my vigilance about exercise and how enlightening it was to experiment with facing those fears.
Concurrently, on the emotional level, I had long held the fear of being “too much.” I always knew I was intense and had the capacity to make people uncomfortable. At the time I considered this to be a shortcoming. To compensate, I had a pattern of shrinking or playing small to prevent people from feeling threatened or uncomfortable around me. There was a connection between my desire to comply with the societal message that my body should be small and the message that my spirit should be small as well.
We’re taught to conflate our physical appearance with our value as human beings.
A liberating shift happened when I realized that my capacity to “be big,” to be large, and intense was NOT a shortcoming. I just happened to be surrounded by some people who felt triggered by my “bigness” for their OWN reasons. It really had nothing to do with me. I realized that I could not continue to contort myself and cater to the insecurities of other people. It was empowering to see that my bigness doesn’t injure others, it actually serves others.
Self-policing our bodies causes our lives to be very small and takes us away from the big life that awaits us.
The connection between my struggles with exercise and my relationship with my mother became clearer with time. I generally felt much more at peace and relaxed about my body since I made the commitment to follow my own inner messages about exercise. However, if I started thinking negatively about my body, I learned that it was a signal that my “mother wound” was triggered and I would investigate. I’ve learned that it is a reliable sign that my child-self needs more mothering and soothing. Once I spend time listening to what I need, which usually involves the need for more rest, more play, less work, less structure, the negative body-focus predictably dissolves and my felt connection with my innate wholeness is restored. This has been a learning process that I am so grateful for because it represents a level of intimacy within myself. I listen to the messages within and act on them.
No outer authority required. I am my own source of information about myself and my body.
I recall one day sitting at my desk and feeling awe at how my body carries my lifeforce into the world and how amazing that is. What a gift! I spontaneously kissed my own hands and arms and then wrapped my arms around my own waist and squeezed, sending love to all parts of my body as tears streamed down my cheeks.
Holy, Holy, Holy Body of Mine, thank you for being you and holding me in this life!
Issues of food are directly connected to issues of mothering. When we were infants our mothers WERE food, WERE warmth, WERE comfort. They were one and the same. As adults, we don’t lose the need for mothering and nurturing. Mothers need to be mothered too. I believe learning to mother ourselves is one of the most powerful and transformational things a woman can do. It takes the projection of the mother archetype off of other people/things and puts the power back into ourselves where it truly lives. Issues of body and mother are deeply complex. It’s not something we can just “get over.” It’s a journey that can be deeply painful but also so rewarding because in the process we can truly know and love ourselves, which is absolutely worth all the work.
The love that we are seeking is not in food, and it is not in other people or things. It can only to be found within our deepest, authentic self.
Embodying the sacred feminine is about loving our bodies fully—even the things we are taught to dislike about ourselves, such as the sight or smell of our menstrual blood, our ripples and curves, our crooked teeth, etc. But these things are part of what make us who we are; a part of the unique matrix of traits that is the blueprint for who we are and what we bring to the world.
Loving our bodies is a revolutionary and necessary act. Our daughters and the earth itself depend on it.
Experiencing the ecstasy of fully living in our bodies is the result of enduring the struggle to re-claim our life-force from the messages of self-hate that we are faced with every day. I invite you to make a powerful decision and say “No More. I will not allow my body to be the battleground for patriarchal messages that tell me my body is not good enough.”
Resist the temptation to let society mediate the relationship between you and your body.
Often when we start to fully enter our bodies, we may feel grief; grief for all the times we have abandoned or rejected our bodies. Grief for the times we expressed self-hate or ridicule. Grief for the times we exercised in order to look a certain way or ate too much because we were lonely. This is natural and part of coming home to the body. Whenever we feel grief, we are opening to greater levels of love. It’s a sign of the heart breaking to a new, wider, deeper capacity for intimacy and connection. It is also the result of old patterns dissolving and leaving our lives so that a more accurate truth can be revealed and integrated.
Welcome this grief, the grief that follows the decision to love yourself and to love your body. Your holy body, in all its imperfections and irreplaceable beauty.
© Bethany Webster 2013
(art credits in order of appearance: Waterlily by Catrin Welz-Stein, Untitled by Diego Rivera, Epiphany by Helena Wierzbicki, Beautiful by Alexandra Gallagher, Narcisse by Leon Bakst)
So much to say about this topic of coming home to our bodies! I encourage you to leave a comment below! Thanks for reading!