The Body You See: A Call to Both Praise and Transcend It
"enough of the insidious brainwashing into the notion of what a body should look like. enough shaming of individuals for the roads they've come down and the marks left on their bodies to show for it. eat your cutting words. do not avert your eyes. look. and see people. real people. with real stories. broaden your scope. grow to see the beauty in journeying, in change, [in brokenness] ...in hosting, in sustaining and in bringing forth life or lives, in dying. listen, think and feel before you speak and do. // and dear sisters, especially to you today, death and repulsion to the energies that have traveled on the words and actions that bind and hinder us from seeing and entirely loving ourselves, bare, just as we are--even if we are working on some things (without and/or within). many of us have done and are doing magical work, in and with our bodies. celebrate. honor your right now-body as it has served and is serving as your Spirit's great temple. do not accept shame of it into your sacred space, from your self or anyone else. x" -@yolonda_j © 2015 | #loveyourlines #theshapeofawoman #justbe #watchyourwords #shamersgrowup #HonorYourRightNow #lifesweetwords
This is my body. It has been broken for many--including my self--in fighting, in surviving, in standing alongside, in self-deprecating, in healing, in coping, in love-making, in gestation, in birthing, in heartbreak, in loss, in grief, in aging. It is my soul's mode of transport, a point of contact and portal between worlds. And speaking of worlds, I grow so weary of the ways of this earthly one at times. How is it that we came to the place where bodies and body parts immediately and only translate to sex and sexual contact? Are we really so fearful of those who live only on base frequencies that we cannot elevate our own thinking above or in a balanced way relating to those frequencies ourselves? Don't get me wrong, coitus is truly something special -- primal and (to my main point) more divine or transcendental than most know and understand. But coitus is not all there is to the body and furthermore, to this life. When it comes to the physical body--to breasts, to nipples, to yonis (vaginas), to linghams (penises), to backs, to feet, to bellies, to hips, the legs, to thighs, to shoulders, to hands and to fingers--I observe and have experienced that we get incredibly and destructively stuck. We assign way too much or too little meaning, too much or too little assumption, too much or too little power... ...all too often, to ours and to others' physical bodies. We think so little of ourselves and our own bodies at their various stages in time that we rob ourselves of energy that might otherwise be used to re-energize and sustain ourselves and instead use that good energy to wish we were someone else, or had what someone else has. I include with this, standing in front of a mirror at one life stage and despising whatever it is we see that looks different from what we used to see.
As a society, we have placed a damaging and ridiculous amount of emphasis on using our physical bodies as rubrics for deciding who is worth celebrating, what is beautiful, what is iconic, what is good, what is worthy of admiration, what is desirable. We judge others. We judge ourselves. And we're either too generous or absolutely merciless (and oftentimes incorrect) with our judgements: "I'm too fat." "She's too fat." "I hate my skin." "Look at that nasty cellulite." "...these awful stretch marks." "My feet are so ugly." "My belly looks awful." "Your navel poking out like that doesn't look nice." "She has a nice face to be a big girl." "She's dirty." "He's too skinny." "I'm too skinny." "...too dark." "...too light." "...not thick enough." "...not thin enough." "You look good but you could still stand to lose some, gain some, tone some, sculpt some." "She's lazy." "He's a good lover." "She has it all." "He must have it all." "Their life is better than mine." We think we know so much, merely at first glance.
We set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and perpetuate a culture of deception and misleading others. We get caught all the way up in (become addicted to) materialism, porn, pop/celebrity culture and gossip, "snapping back," perking up, covering the grey, eliminating the wrinkles, fattening up the booty, posting and longing for the presumed perfection, rushing through the transitions, and hurrying to make the pain go away. We have inflated these things in importance to the entire detriment of honoring and being fully present in our right now bodies, minds, spirits, souls and the broader connections/relationships that stem from those.
This is my body. It has been broken for many--including myself. I took a step toward practicing radical self love and "honoring my right now" when I decided to have photos made of my body a year and a half after delivering my twins--the 3rd, 4th and final babies birthed from my womb. These photos were an exercise and a gift from me to me. I wanted to declare to myself my own love for and admiration of me. Just for me. It took me two and a half years be able to look at them though. Because: conditioning. It wasn't the nudity that bothered me. It was my drastically changed body. I struggled to simply stand in sustained moments of acceptance of it, just as it was at the time. This was in part because I had allowed the daily comments of others--insensitive, ignorant or well-meaning--to pile up in my mind and torment me. Since the birth of my first baby, nine years ago, people's words and questions have pierced and echoed: "Are you pregnant again?" "Oh my goodness, didn't you just have a baby? When is this next one due?" "How many weeks are you now?" "You're pregnant, right?" "Are you expecting again?" "I bet your breasts are saggy after nursing, that's why I refuse to nurse." "Do you have those skin tags everywhere?" These were most bothersome in seasons when I was NOT pregnant or wanting to even think about pregnancy.
I was a small-framed woman who carried all my babies straight out in front. So with each of my three pregnancies and especially after carrying my boys simultaneously for 38 weeks (they were born at 6 lbs. 3 ounces and 6 lbs. 5 ounces respectively), my abdominal muscles (the wall of fibers behind my skin, holding in my insides) grew weaker and weaker until they entirely shredded and separated--to the tune of about 10 cm apart. As with the many other things no one ever tells you, no one told me (and apparently no one tells people in general) about Diastasis Recti or abdominal wall separation, or the throes of the "4th trimester" with all its forced re-adjustments and re-calibrating. When these photos were made, I was learning and really trying, against all the odds, to unconditionally love my postpartum body.
It was next to impossible to find clothes that fit the rest of me plus fit the size of my exhausted abdomen. No amount of water intake, fancy tea, moisturizer, specialized exercises, low carb intake, physical therapy, binding or girdling outwardly changed things much. The stretched skin, the torn ab muscles, the now protruding navel were holding steady. And not only were they a challenge for me to love, the missing in tact abdominal wall directly impacted the rest of my body. Literally not being able to hold myself at zero spine meant constant outward pulling from my mid-section, tenderness at the navel opening, tweaking at my hips and neck, and chronic headaches. Medical doctors offered little help, chiropractic care was becoming cost prohibitive and missing time from work due to "lock ups" or extreme spasming in my back and neck was becoming expensive in more ways than one.
Along my desperate search to love me unconditionally, I found many women whose bellies and navels looked just like mine and who also struggled with their self-image as result. Additionally, I found some online spaces where people were empowering one another with their photos and stories, countering the harmful and false narratives that saturate popular culture: the Love Your Lines Campaign started by my friend and colleague Erika Layne and her friend, poet, Alexandra Elle; TheShapeofAMother.com; photography by Jade Beal and photography by Andrew Thomas Clifton. This army of art activists and advocates offered me comfort and affirmation as it exalted and praised women of all shapes, sizes, colors, stages and backgrounds. They were all saying the same things I knew and sincerely said to others all the time but struggled to know and say to and about my own self. Little by little, I began to reconnect with my own body and eventually truly grew to love and appreciate all my outer physical parts again -- even my very different postpartum abdomen and navel.
Unfortunately though, even with all the self-love, the medical issues remained. At the end of 2015 I finally decided to move forward early in the following year with corrective surgery to repair my extremely separated abdominal wall and re-stabilize my core. It was a dual major medical procedure that took two surgeons and two teams to complete. Here are photos to offer a sense of what happened in there.
Incidentally, in the same year (2016), in fact during my intensive surgery recovery period, I was entirely broken open--mind, heart and spirit--blind-sided with the discovery of major relational betrayals. So for the last nearly two years, I've personally been healing from the inside out and the outside in--parsing through all my parts and doing strong reclaiming, rebuilding and repairing work. It's been true labor--literal blood, sweat, pain and many tears. And, it's all been needful. Today, as I'm writing, I feel balanced and good. When I don't, I've learned to be gentle with myself and to hold steady through the tumult, journeying on, breath by breath. I've learned to access powerful tools--mostly within and also outside myself. Sometimes, I'm also just a mess. Period. And that's ok too.
I wonder what our world would look and feel like if more of us learned to both praise, honor and celebrate our own and others' bodies in both pristine and broken beauty, and also learned to transcend or bring our awareness to all that is both connected to and reaches beyond our flesh.
This is my body. It has been broken, is healing and is here offered, in this very public way, for many--including myself. It tells a powerful story--each marking, each scar, each curve, each line its own character. I am in this body. I am learning with practice, more and more each day to honor, praise, celebrate, enjoy, let go, be fully present in, offer love to and be grateful for it. At every stage. It has carried me this far and will carry me until it is done. Also, I am not only this body. I am sexual, I am sensual, I am feminine, I am masculine, I am maternal, I am assertive, I am divine. I am resilient, I am unashamed. I said as @yolonda_j: "i am not only peace and deep still waters, but also raging water, lighting, thunder, earth and wind: ... i am the seer and the knower. i am the creator and the controller. the conduit. the bridge. the journey and the destination. light and dark. sacred and profane. warrior and dove. ...i. am. above. beneath. the being in between. everything and nothing at all." This body is a container, a great temple, a vehicle, a grouping of doors. Still: I am -- so much more than it.
Dear Being, so are you. x
What has your body done for you today? What do you know about yourself that has nothing to do with your physical body?