For the past year and a half, I’ve been under a transformation of how I view women’s bodies. When I was ten years old someone (a fellow female, maybe 1 or 2 years my senior) made a comment about my weight. Previous to that, I had no personal assessment of my body. I wasn’t even aware that a body was something to be judged (which I guess it’s not, more on that). However, I took her comment very matter-of-factly. No tears into my pillow; I just thought, “oh, I guess I’m supposed to judge my body based on some criteria about it’s size – some criteria that I don’t yet know – and then measure my self-worth by that.”
So I took to it like a task, like any life lesson. “I guess that’s just the next step,” I thought.
It didn’t feel good, it felt complicated, but I accepted it the way we do when we’re that malleable. Suddenly, where there used to be pure joy, a calculating mind was developing. A mind learning to critique.
This critique became refined over time. When I was twelve, my best friend had alternating anorexia/bulimia, and she cut herself. I was even more confused. She wasn’t happy with her body. Perhaps she wasn’t happy with other aspects of her life, either. Aspects over which she had no control.
I grew up in New York City – one of the capitals of anxiety over one’s appearance. I grew up with a television and tons of media, just like most kids I knew. I watched music videos of waif-thin girls in lingerie, alternating with tv commercials of Sports Illustrated-type models drinking milk. Milk does a body good. I felt puzzled.
Nonetheless, regardless of my feelings inside, the conditioning was happening. I came to believe that women had to look like men, only with boobs (maybe). Anyhow, you know this archetype, I don’t need to go into it further.
I didn’t even realize how deeply I had internalized these standards until I started meeting humans – men and women – who openly appreciated all kinds of bodies on women. At first, I wondered if they were forcing it. My idea of beauty had been substantially influenced by the standards projected by the media in my youth, and I found it hard to believe someone else might have a different preference.
This process went hand in hand with my realization that, if I was going to get anywhere with healing binge eating, it would necessarily involve healing my body image issues. This podcast episode with Isabel Foxen Duke really brought that home for me.
I started to think, if this really is conditioning ~ and that’s all it is ~ then my attachment to this beauty ideal is conditioned also, as is my fear of losing it. And if that’s the case, I really have nothing to be afraid of. Nothing of real value – nothing that truly serves me – is going to be lost if I questions these beliefs.
I started to explore. I explored my femininity, my body. I explored what I felt like when I allowed myself pleasure, through food or anything else, and when I deprived myself of it. I explored the way I looked at other women – whether it was my judgement coming in to assess them the way I had assessed myself for so many years, or allowing myself the surprise of seeing the soul beyond the body, or even just letting myself notice my own real reaction to a woman’s body, before the conditioned response came in to hijack my mind – and in that, having a visceral experience of Beauty like I had never really let in before.
Slowly, gradually, I started to get more comfortable with my own femininity (you can read more about that here).
And then today, I had a moment that communicated to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that something had changed.
I was at the gym, in the women’s locker room, preparing to go swimming. Here I was, surrounded my naked women of all shapes and sizes. And suddenly, I got it: All of these women are gorgeous.
Suddenly, it was like seeing with new eyes, or in a different light. I saw the dimples on a very large, pillowy bottom and they softened my heart. The roundness of a woman’s outer thighs; the way another woman’s skin yielded to gravity. I saw all these women’s bodies without judgement – and I took in the truth of a body: how it houses all our values and our feelings. How it is a vehicle for pleasure. For joy and sadness and pain, and that is beautiful too.
I saw the Humanness of all of these women – yet I saw the Goddess in them too.
In each one.
I won’t forget – one woman had scars where her nipples once were. I guessed it had been breast cancer.
It was the Humanness, the reality of bodies and how magical each one is – just in its ability to give so much to other humans and to this collective experience we call the world, that made each one beyond gorgeous. Stunning. Worthy of endless hours of admiration.
I looked in the mirror and suddenly found myself gorgeous. It wasn’t the shape of my body, though an aesthetic appreciation came along for the ride – it was what comes through my body. It was the way I carried myself today, animated by satisfaction and joy.
It was confidence that comes from knowing I am at home here. That my mother – my mother the Earth – didn’t put me here with any strict principles of how I should look. Those guidelines may have lived inside me, but they came from outside. Not from the Earth, but from another mind. A mind that was not my own.
Without bitterness, and with love, I set those down, and buried them.
It’s entirely up to me to enjoy my body to the utmost, the way I see fit, constantly exploring, aligning my molecules with my highest Joy.
My body image was never about the perimeters of my body anyway, it was always about my mind.