Our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces remind us that in the very beginning the girl- child is shameless. She comes into the world with feelings of omnipotence, not inferiority. She says a big YES to Life as it pulsates through her body.
With excitement, she explores her body. She is unafraid of channeling strong feelings through her. She feels her joy, her sadness, her anger, and her fear. She is pregnant with her own life. She is content to be alone. She touches the depths of her uniqueness. She loves her mind. She expresses her feelings. She likes herself when she looks in the mirror.
She does not expend one ounce of her precious life energy trying to figure out what’s wrong with her body, feelings, and thoughts. She just lives. She makes a statement with every thought she shares, every feeling she expresses, and every action she takes on her own behalf. What happens to this amazing child of life on her way to adolescence?
Reversal of Value
A conformity-based childhood reverses the price tags. The natural and essential self, a priceless treasure, is criticized and set aside, and the artificial, constructed self grows in value. Image is more valuable than essence; conformity, more priceless than originality; coloring inside the lines more acceptable than spontaneity.
At a certain age we were expected to move beyond “childish” ways, and to settle into the “boredom and the disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” (Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder)
The girl-child grows up asking, “What’s wrong with me?” This question shadows her life as she searches for someone to give her an answer, a magical insight, treatment, or cure. She learns a criticism-based way of perceiving herself. As a result, her automatic tendency is to feel inadequate, that she’s never quite good enough no matter what she does.
By middle school, her natural body-energy is directed away from body-activity toward body-grooming, away from spontaneity toward control. Groomed to be “ornamental,” she will spend inordinate amounts of time and resources twisting her body into the acceptable shapes of the culture. Over time she loses touch with her body and life-giving potential.
Some may counter: “We’re beyond all that—it’s 2014.” No, we’re not. The question what’s wrong with me has become even more virulent (as in “marked by a rapid, severe, and destructive course”) and dangerous (as in “able to inflict injury or harm”). The illusion we maintain is that we’ve ousted the question once and for all. After all Hilary almost became president and Title IX allows us to thrive as athletes and glass ceilings are occasionally dismantled.
On the other hand, illusion aside, infertility plagues us and there’s hardly a woman in the world who doesn’t wake up feeling the need, or the demand, to cover, starve, alter, mask, or harm her body in some way. Why? Because our bodies are never quite good enough, pretty enough, small enough, young enough, non-distracting enough, no matter what we do.
In our search for answers to the pervasive question, now focused almost exclusively on our bodies, we consent to outrageous measures to guarantee our fertility or attractability, convinced that the presence of a child or a lover on our arms will dissolve the question. We sign up for diet clubs and plans and spas, convinced that our bodies are at the core of the problem. We spend hundreds of dollars on dyes, cosmetics, and new outfits to hide the question, and on new body parts to eradicate the question. Yet no matter what we do, it’s never enough, the question persists.
Telling the Truth
Let’s tell the truth at least among ourselves, for the sake of our daughters. There’s been an intensification of body-violence within the community of women. Women of all ages are injuring their natural body-intelligence and body-shape. We’re choosing to have our breasts cut open and augmented, our noses broken and reshaped, our wrinkles injected with collagen and botox, our faces manipulated and peeled, and our bodies exercised and starved to death. We’re frantically covering all signs of aging, beginning earlier and earlier in life, as if aging were a plague, a virus, an enemy to be conquered. We are at war, that’s what it is, at war with our own bodies.
We’re outraged by the ancient customs of foot binding, “comfort” women, and genital mutilation, and the current atrocity of rampant sexual trafficking of women. These customs and atrocities are done to women. Yet we in the West, in the co-called first world, are in record numbers choosing to do violence to our own bodies.
And even more horrifying is the fact that we pass on the necessity of ornamentalism, the tyranny of the scale, the fear of food, and the dread of aging to our daughters, and we export our destructive attitudes around the world. Let’s declare a permanent truce with our bodies.
A Healing Breath
Take a deep breath and remember. Your healing task is not to become a new, improved, or changed person. Rather, it is to reclaim your original relationship with your body in all its fullness. In the very beginning, you were shameless. You loved your body. “There was a time,” Monique Wittig reminds us, “when you walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember! You say there are not words to describe it; you say it does not exist. But remember! Make an effort to remember! Or failing that, invent.”
Retrieve your body from lifetimes of restrictive definitions and expectations. Look at your body with your own eyes. Develop your own relationship with your body. Create rituals to support and celebrate your body through each season of life. Learn the vocabulary of reverence to replace the shame-based and criticism-laced messages that have assaulted our minds, bodies, and spirits on a daily basis.
This retrieval process is supported by fasting from old thoughts, critical words, and image-based habits, and feasting on new thoughts, reverent words, and essence-based habits. Affirmations support the “re-education” of our minds. Newness cannot exist in our experience until it’s imagined within our minds and hearts. Once imagined, the new experience becomes ours and we reclaim our original body-love from the inside out.
A Daily Practice
Body-love is a choice expressed daily in reverent words and respectful action. Use the following words to create a pause, an opportunity to pivot, before choosing an old body-scrutinizing, body- criticizing habit of thought, word, or behavior:
“I return to the Breath of LIFE and I am soothed into acceptance of this moment, just as it is. I am comforted by the truth that I whole, perfect, and complete in body, mind, and spirit. I rest in acceptance, and all is well.
There is no blemish in me. I am the daughter of LIFE and my body is lovely just as it is, in its perfect shape and size. I am at peace—the war is over. There is only comfort, soothing, and acceptance.
I am at home in my body. I am at ease with my body’s sensations. I am at play with my body’s sensuality. I am at peace with my body’s natural cycles. I speak about my body with reverence. And so it is.”
Support Along the Way
May this week’s reflections and affirmations awakened within you a desire to reclaim your original body-love and to inspire your daughters, granddaughters, and nieces to love their bodies, regardless. If you want to engage these insights more substantially, consider purchasing the retreat “Love Your Body: Five Pathways to Body-Love” here: Retreat Details.
Read through the material as you would a transformational book or follow the retreat format with its meditations, circles of women, and journaling exercises to deepen the healing within your body and life. IAW’s retreat “Love Your Body” will remind you of the body-loving instincts of the child you once were, and of how to awaken them in every season of your life.
Patricia Lynn Reilly is the founder of Imagine a Woman International and BAB Coaching and Publication Services. If you’re ready to make peace with your body, read about our Retreat “Love Your Body: Five Pathways to Body-Love” here: Retreat Details. If you’d like to join our Team of Certified Coaches, visit here: Certification Details