As you know if you have read my blog posts previously, I have always had body image issues—and for the record, I am writing this post while feeling incredibly frustrated about the vacation weight I gained. I work on these issues every single day, and though I have small victories on a regular basis, it is an ongoing struggle for me (and most American women) to see my body as strong, beautiful, and healthy. This past weekend I had some amazing experiences which connected me with my body in striking ways.
On Sunday I woke up on my own accord at 7:30 AM. I had told myself the night before that if I woke up in time to go to Meeting in the morning, I had no reason not to go. Since I woke up in time without the aid of an alarm, I knew I couldn’t cheat myself out of this experience. The Quaker Meeting I had chosen was new to me; it was a Meeting in SW Portland called West Hills Friends Church (WHF). I intensely dislike going places by myself, however, I had heard great things about WHF, and even though they hold programmed services, I had wanted to go for a while. Note: It is called Friends Church because this sect has a minister who gives a sermon preceding a short silent worship, unlike unprogrammed services like the ones I was raised with, which have no clergy and have completely silent worship.
The chapel was about a third full when I arrived, so I had my choice of seating. I sat in a pew alone, about halfway back. Immediately I spotted one of the hymnals sitting in the pocket on the back of the pew I was facing: Worship in Song. My mother had been a member of the committee that created this hymnal; of that she was very proud. I picked it up and searched for her name—there it was. I passed my forefinger over her printed name, feeling like this place was already getting brownie points for having my mother’s hymnal in it.
Eventually an older couple sat to my right, and a couple about my age sat to my left. The service began. There was music, and then something called the First Word. A heavyset woman wearing a loose red dress stood up and walked over to the microphone. The minute she began speaking, I was riveted. She spoke about her addiction to food, and how she had used it throughout her life to deal with stress, which consequently brought on shame, which she dealt with by eating more food. She spoke frankly about it, but her voice was thick with feeling. I could feel her words running through me, creating a sensation of empathy, and bringing back my own ashamed feelings about food. At the end, her message brought forth the encouragement to be honest and compassionate with oneself through any addiction. That is something I always forget when I am trying to “fix” my flaws. I constantly have to remind myself not to be harsh when I make a mistake, or fall back into old habits. I have always reacted strongly to positivity, not stringent criticism. When the woman was finished I had the strong urge to run up and hug her. I felt it was fate that I went to church on that particular day, so I could hear her words.
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I was particularly excited about my Sunday evening because I was heading to a Goddess gathering named the “Red Tent.” This is my friend Sedona’s modernized incarnation of the women’s hut, where in some cultures women are quarantined to a separate building during their period or other significant times in their menstrual cycle. Sedona’s version didn’t have anything to do with the menstrual cycle, but it brought a variety of women together to celebrate being a woman. I had not been to one of these yet and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.
I walked into the beautifully decorated Datura Studio and immediately saw several people I knew. That was encouraging. (As you already know, I get nervous going new places by myself.) I sat and chatted with my friends for a while, drank some champagne, and ate some yummy food. After a while, Sedona called us all into the main room and to make a circle. I saw another one of my friends, Joy, and stood beside her. Sedona began talking about the significance of the belly, or core of a woman. Her strength comes from it, incredible beauty comes from moving it (i.e., bellydancing or other forms of movement), and it is the source of all life. Pretty powerful stuff!
Then she asked us to do something that made my throat instantly go dry. She instructed us to put our right hand on the belly of the woman beside us, and then put the left one over the hand of the woman whose hand was on our bellies. OMG. There was a complete stranger to my left. Her hand would be touching my jiggly belly! I had a momentary panic, imagining her with a look of disgust when she felt it. I couldn’t just run out of the room, so I did as I was told and put my right hand on Joy’s belly. It felt smooth, and weirdly, it calmed me down a little. When our other hands were positioned, Sedona asked us to breathe and feel the pressure of the hand on our center, and to just be aware of the sensation of touching another woman’s belly. Am I pressing too hard on this stranger’s hand? I wonder if she is completely freaked out by touching my belly. Am I doing this right?? The thoughts raced through my head. Then I checked myself and remembered to breathe. I looked up, and saw for the first time the group in its entirety. It was comforting, seeing women of all shapes and sizes, their bellies rising and falling with breath, and I knew suddenly that I was not the only one feeling this way, but it didn’t matter. This was a safe place. No one cared how jiggly my tummy was. They were all enjoying the warmth of this group, just like I was.
I don’t have a witty end to this post. No matter how many momentary highs I get from events like the Red Tent, there is no denying I will always be self-conscious about my belly’s size, texture, and shape. Intellectually I know that many many women share these feelings, but in my heart it always feels so singular. Writing about these emotions can’t heal the pain of a 32-year struggle, but it does make me feel stronger every time I put the words out into the Universe. It’s cathartic. I think of the love that I sent to the woman in church, speaking about herself, and I know that every person who reads this will be sending me love as well. I am so grateful.