I spent all day yesterday not writing this post. I twiddled with my website instead. A grand procrastination tool- do something “productive” instead of doing what you know you must.
It didn’t work very well, though, since tooling around my website just brings the issue back up again. It left me agitated and unfulfilled. When J asked how my day had been, my lackluster response got him asking more questions- but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not really. Or I wouldn’t.
“I’m having a hard time cutting lose the academic coaching stuff.” is what I told him instead, “I hid it from view, but I didn’t delete it. I don’t know why I’m having a hard time letting it go.” I said. But truth be told, I do know. Letting it go means I’m making room to fully move in another direction with my practice. Its positioning myself to fully commit to working with loving our bodies and healing our distorted images and perceptions of our bodies. I’m scared to do that. There are many things that feed my fear:
My story with my body and all the ways it didn’t fit– regardless of how trim and fit and healthy it was or wasn’t–is a long one that I’ll write more about in another post, but the foundational lack of acceptance I felt as a result of that makes things scary. I do them anyway, but I’m scared while I do it.
I’ve seen people that look totally normal to me get ripped to shreds for daring to speak about the unspoken when they’re supposedly carrying 20 extra pounds. I’m carrying far more than that. I’m afraid that speaking up about loving our bodies from the inside instead of judging them from the outside is going to draw this intense judgement and hatred. How dare I love myself even though I don’t look like a photoshopped image from a magazine?? How dare I take up space for anything other than pubescent sexual fantasies?
Who am I to talk about loving this body I’m in when its so far from the beauty ideal?
How can I say I’m friends with my body when I have all this extra weight to carry and the strain that puts on my knees and hips?
I’m frustrated by the shame and fear I feel at the double-bind that western women are in: that we are only allowed to occupy space– especially public space– if we are adhering to ridiculous and imaginary standards of beauty and desirability. How often are women’s ideas and work minimized because of looks? “Aw, why listen to that fat-ass?” “Who cares what she says- she’s ugly/old.” (as if they are the same thing for a woman)
Yet if a woman is beautiful, the assumption is that she’s stupid, so she’ll have to work equally hard to be taken seriously. Fatima Mernissi spends quite a bit of time on this western separation of beauty and brains in her book Scheherezade Goes West. Around page 90 she spends time with Kant and his ideas that beauty and intelligence shall never in the same vessel reside. It is a shocking revelation to this Moroccan feminist, since in the Arabic cultural paradigm, a woman cannot truly be becoming unless she is intelligent.
Added on top of that is the danger we’re in if we meet the beauty ideal. Its a lose-lose-lose for women. I realized last night that my resistance to this has been passive-aggressive. I have used weight as a shield to keep me safe. Since all those that molested me as a child and assaulted me as an adult cited that I was “just so pretty [they] couldn’t resist”, then it makes sense that my body has clung to weight regardless of my exercise and eating habits. I’ve known this for years. I hadn’t acknowledged before how passive-aggressive this form of resistance/protection is, though.
What so much of it boils down to is this: I’m afraid of being shamed for loving myself just as I am. In the realm of the Taliban, a woman with a book threatens the societal order. In ours, its a woman that truly loves herself– and her body– just as she is.
And the double-bind is itself in a double-bind. Those that deny women’s continued oppression will be angry at me for speaking of it. Those that recognize the oppression will be angry at me for feeling shame and fear around it. Both sides will tell me I am not allowed to feel vulnerable. My shame and fear, once spoken, is somehow a threat to them.
Yet part of loving myself fully is recognizing the shame and fear and allowing it to be there. I know that doing this means it is no longer operating the car of my life from the backseat. Recognizing that its there, allowing it to be there, understanding that its there and having empathy for myself for having it- despite my academic training and all I know about how it shouldn’t be there and how I should be over it and how as a strong woman I shouldn’t let it effect me, it is there and I’m not sure how over it I am, and it does impact me. I will love and honor myself anyway. Maybe even because of.
It was a huge relief to speak this out last night, and as I drifted off, I knew I had to write this today.
This morning, I awoke to an email from one of the World Academy members in China. The WAFW is showing the film Girl Rising on the SIAS campus right now, and she was deeply inspired by the film and wants to visit her old school and encourage students to continue their studies (instead of dropping out to get married or go work in a factory). Though she finishes by telling me that she feels she needs to improve herself more before she can help others improve themselves. The “No, no, no, honey, no” that wells up in me is so strong and immediate, there is no mistaking that the words are for me as much as they are for her.
“This idea is a trap. If you do it right, you’ll be improving yourself your whole life. Don’t wait until you’re done to start helping others. That implies that you’re broken and need to be fixed. You’re not broken. The issues you’re dealing with will be the ones that will give you the deepest insight to help others. There will always be people ahead of you on the path that can help, there will always be people behind you on the path that need help. Get the help you need, give the help to others that they need.”
Time, again, to follow my own advice. And in keeping with Mercury in Retrograde and the oil I’m working with this week, time to release– release these fears’ hold over me. I learned in China that my fears don’t mean much. Those that came true were insignificant in light of the work that I was doing, and the ones that I was the most afraid of were so ludicrously detached from reality as to be meaningless. Its time to release them. To forgive myself for the ways I’ve held on to them. For the times when I sat still because they told me to instead of rebelling against them and doing what my heart called me to do. Time for me to release the resentment and forgive those that have fed those fears in me. Those that have and would punish me for not being ruled by them.
So I’m moving through the fire of my fear, and its burning off my clothes and leaves me standing here naked before you. Judge me if you will, and people will, but know that that same fire has made me stronger, and hatched some dragons that take my protection–and my blooming– pretty seriously.