Tag Archives: body-shame

Why we’re afraid to be in our bodies

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It is with good reason that many of us don’t feel safe in our bodies.

Don’t know how ya’ll were raised up, but in the Southern Baptist family I grew up in, the body– especially the female body– was dirty, shameful, yucky, gross.  The fact that we are even on this planet means we did something wrong: Earth is a punishment.  The body would lead you astray, I was taught.  The body is corrupt and vile.
These ideas come from gross misinterpretations of Eden.  I’ve done a lot of pondering and questioning about how much more is in those stories in Genesis than most of us are told.  One article is here.  Whether or not you were raised in a church, if you’re in the West, these misconceptions impact how you see yourself, the planet, and your body.  Looking at these stories with my own eyes instead of accepting  (then rejecting) the interpretations I was raised with have gone a long way in my recovery and my relationship with my body.

Last week we worked with the Heart Chakra at Mood Management Monday .  One of the things that can block the Heart Chakra (and often the root of heart, circulatory, and lung issues) is holding on to anger and resentment.  Physical abuse, betrayal, unprocessed grief, shaming, and abandonment are all traumas that can impact the healthy functioning of our heart centers.  Once able to do that, though, our strength in finally grasping the lessons the heart center hold for us– forgiveness, unconditional love, letting go, trust, and compassion–is powerful indeed.

It was only after I mourned my loss of innocence that I realized that there’s no choice involved in optimism, enthusiasm, trust, and all the other components of child-like wonder if I’ve not experienced every reason to be pessimistic, withdrawn, and cynical.

As I started writing this, I’d prepared the materials for Monday’s class on the throat chakra since we’ll be travelling until Monday.  After running into this article about 21 Women holding signs of things their abusers have said to them, as well as this article about 21 Men holding signs of things their rapists said and standing in this soft spot between the heart and the throat- I knew I had address this very real reason why we run from our bodies– and why we have such a hard time talking about why so we can find our way back home to our bodies.   For more information about the project the pictures are from, check out Project Unbreakable

Bad things have happened here

Bad things have happened to far too many of our bodies.  1 in 3 women have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  Numbers concerning men aren’t very reliable as so few men come forward to report their assaults.

No one believes me or cares what happened

Regardless of sex or gender, many people are met with disbelief, shaming messages, or even outright ridicule when they do come out and tell their story.   Its striking how many of the men that were sexually assaulted were called girls.  As much as I could write an entire post about all the ways calling someone a girl as an insult is completely f-ed up, here we can easily see how its used to shame, gain control over someone, and how it supports rape culture.  By calling these men (or then boys) girls, there is the idea that they are there to be fucked.  Literally and figuratively.  They are to be used and abused.  They are to keep silent about that abuse.

I’m not sure what happened.  They said I wanted it.  Did I?

I was molested as a child several times before my mom’s husband molested me.  Both my parents were alcoholics- my dad the sort that stayed gone and was cheating on the people he was cheating with, my mom the sort that wallowed in anger and bitterness.  Positive attention was a rare and exotic creature at my house.  Like all children, I desperately needed attention.  Like all girls, I was taught that being coy and sexy was the way to get it from men.  I didn’t know what it meant.  I was just acting the way I’d been taught.  I would be happy when I was getting attention, then scared and confused when it went to this dark muffled place where grownups would breathe weird.

The confusion continued into jr. high.  There was a junior that I had such a huge crush on- he was on the cross country team.  We’d stopped on the way home from a meet one day to make out.  I wanted to kiss him. That I wanted.  I didn’t want to be orally raped.  It smelled weird and looked weird and made me gag.  He said I wanted it, even though he was pushing my head down and keeping it down.  He said that I was sending signals.  That my mouth was so pretty he couldn’t help himself.

Being raised in an abusive home, my abusers projected their intentions on me all the time.  I didn’t know what I thought anymore and to this day have to work not to automatically assume the worst about something I’ve done or where my motives are.  Hard habit to break after spending my childhood wondering whether or not I had had the bad intentions my mom and grandma said I did.  I didn’t think I did, but it kinda made sense for me to… and now that they said it…
So did it work the same with boys?  Had I been asking for it by being so pretty?  Had  wanting to kiss like that meant I wanted all of it?  I wasn’t sure.  These are the things I thought about as I hoped and waited for him to call me later…

My body got me in to this mess to begin with

Every person that molested, assaulted, or raped me told me that I was so pretty they couldn’t help themselves.  I am not alone in this.  It is the double-bind women are put in:  worthless if they’re not fuckable, in danger if they are.  Unconsciously, I put on weight to protect myself.  To weed out those that would use me and those that would love me for who I am. It didn’t work to protect me any more than conservative floral dresses, following “the rules” or even hijab did, but it seems to be the security attempt that I have the hardest time shaking.  Its easy to think its my body’s fault I had those experiences.  Having a female body is a liability.  Having a hot female body is “asking for it.”

My body- my female body- was a big part of the reason I didn’t feel safe on this planet.

My mind was horrified, but my body reacted to it.  It betrayed me.

I am not alone in these sorts of stories.  In my years of teaching, I had many students disclose their stories to me.  Stories of confusion and ambivalence.  The more conservative the upbringing, the more confusion and ambivalence.  Normal, healthy sexual desire is pathologized in girls in America.  You’re a slut for even thinking about it.  Peggy Orenstein addresses this beautifully in her book School Girls, and ties it to our high teen pregnancy rates.  Its better to be “caught unawares” than to be the slut that thinks about it beforehand and takes contraception.  “How can you say no if you’re not allowed to say yes?” she asks.  Though the book was written in the early 90s, the recent discourse on contraception shows us that we haven’t moved forward much on this issue, and have more in common with Iran and Saudi Arabia in our approach and attitudes than the rest of the Western world.

Yet there are times when there is no ambivalence.  We don’t want it.  We know that.  But our bodies reacted anyway.  Sometimes even had orgasm.  The sense of betrayal by the body is deep and intense.  How could it have done that?  There is an assumption that the body’s reaction equals complicity.

 

 

Sexual development gets hijacked

If there’s a history of abuse, this becomes even more complicated.  The molestation shapes your sexuality.  That’s one of the many damages that sexual abuse does- it hijacks the child’s sexual development.  Instead of exploring their sexuality in their own way at their own pace, that development is steered by their abuser.  Porn can also hijack the sexual development. It is often used by abusers, which is why exposure to porn is listed as sexual abuse in the literature.

In many of my relationships, the sex was good- I was an equal player and my needs and desires were valued and met.  As a young woman, I took control of that, though.  If I wasn’t satisfied, I took over.  I didn’t wait for him to know what he was doing in order for me to be satisfied.  Yet in one of my major relationships, he didn’t want me to move, so I became passive physically.  Since I couldn’t use my body the way I wanted to, I went into my head.  A very strange and scary fantasy world began to take shape.  If any of those fantasies ever played out, I would be TERRIFIED.  It would be horrific.  But that’s what went through my head during those 5 years while my body laid still in whatever position.  My mind sexualized the lack of agency and fed it back to me to get off.  I’m still working to de-energize some of that.

I can’t talk about it

There are so many layers of input from our home environments, media depiction, religious upbringing, cultural mores– so many of which are conflicting and confusing, their very intention seems to be to gaslight us and knock us off center.  Added to the mix are all the emotions– all of which uncomfortable–that go with it.  Its hard to talk about it.  Its hard to find the words.  The experience is so wretchedly steeped in shame and fear and excruciating horrific vulnerability that its very difficult to stay in it long enough to even try to find words, let alone articulate all the layers upon layers upon layers that take us to the core of who we are.

Its too stuffy in here- I can’t breathe.

Its hard to talk about.  I’ve been like popcorn out of my chair since the Knowing that I had to write about this hit. I’ve got a million things to do.  We should be leaving in an hour.  I can write in on the road…

but I know I need to write it now.  I need to sit in this place of discomfort.  Breathe space enough for whatever needs to come up to come up.  Otherwise it stays stuck and and I end up acting like a robot- reacting to triggers- instead of the human being I am who has free will.

Breathe space around it. Whatever it is.

Air is the element of the heart chakra.  When difficult emotions or memories surface, they can feel suffocating- so of course the instinct is to do anything to get away from it.  Its where addiction starts.  Its often the core of procrastination.  We’ll shove the emotions down, and do anything to get away from them.

Breathe some space around them instead.  With every breathe, give them a little more space so they’re not up in your face anymore.  It will still be uncomfortable, but you’ll be able to breathe.  Keep breathing, and hear what they have to say.  Our emotions have good information to share with us, and listening to them is key to a healthy body and relationships with others.

1399803_600528526661954_549979472_oListen & Release

Emotions don’t want to hijack us and pull us into a deep dark pit and hold us hostage for months or even years, regardless of what our egos tell us when they begin to bubble up to the surface.  They just want to speak their piece and be heard– just like we do.  When they are fully felt, they leave.  Its that simple.  Its not easy, but it is simple.

When we deny them their voice, not only do we re-create the experience that sparked them until we do finally fully feel and release them, but they live in our bodies and cause all sorts of problems.  I’m also convinced that our physical metabolism is closely linked to our emotional metabolism.  If we’re holding on to emotions, we will hold on to fat no matter how well you eat or how much you exercise.

Befriend the body

During a trauma, there is too much going on for us to process all of it in the moment.  We are marvelous creatures with mechanisms built into our psyches and bodies to keep our fuses from completely overloading and blowing up.  The emotions we can’t process in the moment are stored until we have the ability and tools to be able to deal with them.  The body remembers everything.  There are times when we check out, but the body is still there- going through all of it, taking the hit for us until we’re able to sort things out and let it go.

It does this in addition to all of its daily chores of sifting through the air to get our oxygen, the blood to gain nutrients and release toxins, protecting us from invaders external and internal perpetually.  If you’re alive, your body is working overtime for you.

It really is our best friend.  Always here for us.  Always providing and helping us.  Like any friendship, there will be times when things are difficult or we don’t understand them.  Like any relationship, we have to learn to listen and strive to be compassionate, understanding, and just in our dealings.

Though the body was the locus of much of the pain, it is also the portal to release the pain.

Getting to the root of it

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Last night during my weekly Mood Management Mondays class, we worked with Patchouli, an oil that addresses body shame and body judgment.  Considering the WASP body-shame culture the hippies emerged from, it makes sense that they relied heavily on patchouli to shake off ideas that the body is evil, sinful, and disgusting.  In many ways, we haven’t shaken this idea off as a culture.  Though we now use the language of fitness/image/beauty instead of religion, the puritanical emotional m.o. is the same.  (Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth draws this metaphor out exquisitely)

Even though I’ve done research for the class and had my own experiences with the herbs/oils we’ll be working with, I’m always struck with the power of doing a plant meditation in a group and sharing our experiences with one another. Last night was no exception.

Though patchouli is a low bush, everyone had visions of the forest.  Of eating the forest, of being the forest, of being a tree, branches held high to the sky. Root Chakra GoddessWhy would an oil that addresses body shame and body judgment have us turning into trees?  What is it that trees understand that we need to learn?

When I was living in Utrecht, I kept getting these images in my meditation of trees spinning around because they weren’t grounded.  The roots had no soil, and they were in a spin- not knowing where to build out to gather sunshine or bear fruit.

Last night, I really connected to the awareness that if I wasn’t in my body, I wouldn’t be able to keep my heart open.  If my heart is not open, I’m not going to be able to bear fruit in my life.  Contentment will be hollow and short-lived. Relationships will visit authenticity, but not live there.

Patchouli supports the root chakra.  If the root chakra is unbalanced, it can result in financial insecurity issues.   Affirmations for the root chakra are “I have a right to be here.” and “I have a right to my needs.”  It makes sense that if we can’t receive the truth of these statements fully, manifestation will be blocked, money problems will seem to always surface, and feelings of connection and belonging will be elusive.

As we moved deeper into conversation with the oil, the grounding feelings intensified.  I was reminded of an experience I had at a 5 Rhythms workshop earlier this summer on Yes & No in the body where  I realized that I had been experiencing grounding feelings as sadness.  The doTERRA book I have on Emotions and Essential Oils describes patchouli as “balanc[ing] those who…seek to escape the body through spiritual pursuits.”   Up until about 4 years ago, my spirituality –regardless of what house it practiced in–had been about trying to find the escape hatch out of my body.  Not surprising for someone that has experienced physical and sexual abuse, but last night I became acutely aware of how bracing myself against my body was also preventing me from letting that unconditional, transcendent Love that every religion preaches truly flow through me.

After the plant meditation, we did a writing exercise that puts you in touch with the voice of the body.  I am always amazed at how loving the voice of the body is. It is not harsh and judgmental.  It does not criticize.  It does not shame- even in areas and about issues you’d think it would.  It speaks of my neglect and mistreatment of it in the most compassionate and kind way you could ever imagine.  When it shows me how I’ve taken advantage of it, it is not in the resentful voice of the victim, but simply showing me how I’m hurting myself by doing so.  It shows me these things by praising the thing- no matter how small- that I’m doing right.  The way it lifts me up is so humbling. It is an amazing, miraculous role model for agape. It really honestly only wants what’s best for me.  its job is to support me and it does so  gladly.

Most of my life, I’ve braced myself against fully entering my body.  I didn’t trust it.  Grounding felt heavy and sad to me and I wanted to feel light and floaty.  What was I bracing myself against?  I asked myself last night. Why was I afraid?

I didn’t trust being in my body.  I didn’t trust what would happen there or how it would make me feel.  My conditioning, both religious and cultural, told me that the body is not to be trusted and listened to, but to be held suspect and denied.

Why?  What has it ever done to me?  I’ve done much to it, but what has it ever done to me?

I’m reminded of moments when I felt betrayal- when it responded to things that were abhorrent to me or even traumatizing psychologically.  I can count these moments on one hand. Why do I weight them more heavily than the millions of times that my body supports me through every day moments or even times when I’ve pushed it to the edge? Why do I forget all the ways it tried to warn me of danger and I didn’t listen? Why don’t those times count for anything? If I was in a relationship with someone that brushed past the things I did for them every minute of every day to hold on to isolated incidences, what would that feel like? If I was being blamed for something happening that I tried to stop, how would I respond? How cruel is that?

I still have healing to do.  Everyone does. I need my body to be able to do that.  I need to be in my body to keep my Heart open enough to let the blood flow and cleanse and nourish.  All the incessant circling in the sky above my body just landed me from one frying pan into another fire.  Its been coming in to my body that’s gotten me as far as I’ve come.  Its time to fully step in now and chant “There’s no place like home.”Dorothy's red slippersJoin us for Mood Management Mondays every Monday in NC Mesa.  More information and tickets are available on my website at http://www.lifelinedevelopmentcoaching.com/mood-management-mondays1.html

In sickness and in health, til death do us part…

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Loving what our body does for us

What has your body done for you lately? Lots, I bet.

“In sickness and in health, til death do us part….”  We all know the words, but the only creature you truly have this relationship with is your body.  If you are on this planet, it is taking care of you.  There are even times you’ve checked out while your body endured some horrific trauma.  It is always there for you.  Always.

When I first woke up to this idea, I realized that I had treated my body the way my first husband had treated me.  I took it for granted.  I didn’t try too hard to find out a whole lot about all the different things it was doing for me every second of every day, I just complained that it didn’t meet my expectations.  That those expectations were not grounded in reality on any level mattered not.  When I did bother to find something out about how it worked and what it needed, it was to try to manipulate it into being what I wanted it to be. My body was a disappointment to me. Never what I thought it ought to be.

Feeling that way in my marriage hurt me on so many levels.  Now I realize that it just deepened the pain that I was already carrying.  He merely reflected back to me how I felt about and treated myself.

I’ve had many experiences over my lifetime that have taught me that happiness, companionship, and success have absolutely nothing to do with weight. I felt much worse about my body at a 7 than I did at a 26.  So if it isn’t about the weight, what is it about?

Its about the relationship we have with our bodies.  If someone talked about you the way you talk about your body, how would you respond to that?  If someone felt about you the way you feel about your body, what would that feel like?

“Your body hears you.” Michelle May leaned forward and whispered during her Am I Hungry? retreat last month.  It was one of the most powerful moments of the week.  I was there to facilitate the evening program, and was deeply touched by the stories of the participants.  The places I’d visited in my 20s and decided were just too cruel to live in were places many had spent their entire lives in.  I moved away, but I spent the rest of my 20s defending my right to not live there,  defending my right to love my body.  Even if I didn’t fully step into that right, I wanted the option available.

How about loving my body for the brilliance of its functional form? A recent Jezebel post asked “Can Nothing On A Body Be Merely Functional?” in a recent article about feet and all the flack they take. Though the language is a bit too strong to include in my newsletter, the message is one we desperately need to hear.  How about appreciating our bodies for all that they do instead of judging them for not looking like the photoshopped images we’re bombarded with every day?  What would that be like?