What worries women – Part 1: the belly

I shared a post on instagram last week talking about how I had come to celebrate, rather than punish, the part of me that feels ‘too much’. For the longest time, I felt that I had to temper my passions, censor my words, contort my body and keep my emotions within in order to be accepted.

The little girl with the rich inner world and the deep thoughts about the universe and our place in it became the more favourable extroverted version – the life of the party (a heavy burden to carry).

The young woman with a quick wit and wicked sense of fun too was sent away – in favour of the serious, professional young woman who had it all together.

The daggy home-schooled kid who gave exactly zero shits about what she looked like was banished in favour of the self conscious teenager who wore bathers under her clothes to tuck her tummy in.

It is only recently that I have truly begun to see that these traits that I always deemed unloveable – my ability to be vulnerable, my sensitivity, my quest for depth in my relationships and my uncensored capacity to overshare are actually my greatest gifts. Ask any one of my true friends and they will tell you immediately that when I allow myself to truly be, it is A LOT of expression, a lot of inappropriate swearing and occasionally some ugly crying about the beauty/tragedy of life. There’s dagginess, there’s anxiety… but always a thirst for knowing more and experiencing more.

When I work with women I strive to be the embodiment of permission. I aim above all to show up as myself – in all my imperfect, raw, vulnerable glory because it is in doing so (I believe) that we can shed the societal shame and collectively reclaim our authenticity, our full emotional range and our power.

In the age of Mc-wellness, we’ve been fed a script that authenticity means fostering a certain set of acceptable characteristics (calm, fit and loving) and abandoning (ignoring, suppressing and punishing) the rest. Authenticity, to me, is about owning it ALL. We are never one thing as we are always striving for balance– just as much as we are calm, there will be somewhere in our lives that we are not. Just as much as we are motivated there will be some place where we are not. Authenticity, then, might just be showing up as you are in the moment without second guessing or punishing yourself afterwards.

This is a long prelude into saying that I really, really want you to know that I get it – and I see you – and so I’m sharing the things I worry about and where I’ve landed in my understanding of them. I’m also going to share the books or resources that have changed my perspective. This week, I’m talking about my body and where I’ve landed in my relationship with her.

Although worrying about my body takes up disproportionately less bandwidth than it used to, it’s still there – at times louder than others. I once heard someone say that no matter how much body/self love work you do, it all goes to shit when you walk out your front door and are bombarded by context – e.g. a world that body shames and sexualizes women at every possible opportunity.

Most of the worry in my adult and late teenage life has centered around my belly (or rather my distorted view of her). This part of me that I have always deemed unacceptable and too much.

I’ve spent countless hours sucking it in in front of the mirror, stretching the wobbles so the skin is taught and finding a whole variety of wardrobe hacks to make it appear smaller than it actually is.

For the longest time, I tackled this issue from a superficial level – with varying degrees of success. As an all or nothing type woman, I have been able to lose weight through sheer restriction and willpower, but the belly has always returned. In the past 4-5 years, I’ve come to understand my relationship with food and my body in a whole different light. Food has always been my therapy and my inability to effectively process strong emotion (which I feel lots of) creates a cycle of habitual self comforting that, on an intellectual level, I totally get.

In my experience you can’t skip straight to the body love part without going through the hard yards of understanding what food has come to mean and probably feeling a whole lot of uncomfortable stuff from childhood that as yet has been unprocessed or unexpressed.

The desire to punish/restrict ourselves out of emotional eating runs deep and although on an intellectual level I understand so much more about this than ever before, my instinct when I see myself in my mirror is still predominantly one of shame. My relationship with my body has massive implications in my parenting, my intimate relationships with myself and partner – but, what I have now that I have never had before is compassion for myself in all of it. Compassion for my body, compassion for my soul, compassion for the little girl that felt overwhelmed and had no idea what to do with it.

And I know from this place – with the tools I have – that change is a-coming. Because I have more and more days that I have the first (shame) reaction, and then a softer, more sensitive response follows. I have more and more practices to help me remain embodied even when I want to run the f*ck away from my body and the belly. And most of all, I have the intention that I’m ready to end the war with it.

As I’ve done this work, I’ve felt more comfortable buying clothes that feel ‘me’ and acknowledging that no-one except myself is worried about my belly (babe – no-one is looking at your belly, OK?). I never ever weigh myself. And I let myself enjoy and celebrate all food – because food is just the medication, not the problem. Food and hospitality, in fact, are in my highest values and as I’ve let go of food being ‘good or bad’ I’ve come to be able to own that. I know what is good for my body and what is not and I no longer get weird being clear about what I can/can’t eat.

But I also know that how I engage with food is always going to be dependent on how I’m feeling emotionally and how much time I’m spending sitting with and finding an outlet for those emotions.

The product of all this is not, as one might hope, a smaller belly. But a far more satisfying outcome – undertstanding and acceptance. The bonus comes from the enormous amount of mental energy that has been freed up to do the things I love doing – and counterintuitively, to take care of this one body I have been given in a whole range of ways including what I choose to put into my mouth.

On a deeper level too, I understand how having this challenge has served me. And so I’m not in a rush to get to any particular outcome. I understand that my relationship with my body has allowed me to explore wellbeing in all its facets. I understand that it has influenced the partners I have chosen including – most importantly, my husband who has showed me the true meaning of unconditional love. I get that my obsession with my belly has been the lens through which I’ve come to understand my emotional landscape, the power structures that keep women oppressed and has led me to do the work I do in the world. It has also been the foundation for many relationships that I cherish – having met women with the same challenges and intentions. It also allows me to meet my highest value – which is learning and growth as I look at an explore the issue from a number of different angles.

I also understand that my body’s weight is just one facet of this hugely complex organism that allows me to experience life. Working with my cycle, and nature’s cycles has been a tremendous gift in terms of understanding when my anxiety peaks, what my body needs at different times and even how to plan my work week. As I’ve moved beyond the superficial and gained an understanding of how my body works and what makes her thrive, I’ve come to truly appreciate the wisdom contained within her.

And so the final piece of this bodily puzzle, I believe, is having gratitude for those things we struggle with – knowing that those very struggles are the things that push us forward and help us grow.

 

Best books:

Women, Food and God – Geneen Roth

The Optimized Woman – Miranda Gray

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom – Christian Northrup

 

Next time, I’ll chat about my parenting journey – and where I’ve landed with that! If you’re ready to come and meet the belly in person, check out my September retreat and July Melbourne women’s circles – both currently on sale!

 

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