We have just closed the doors on what most people can agree was an awful presidential campaign. One of the most repulsive parts of it for me was the way in which girls and women's bodies were talked about. The bragging about grabbing women’s pussies was horrific, but what I can’t get out of my mind is the comment our new leader of the “free” world made to a reporter after meeting a ten-year-old girl: “I’m going to be dating her in ten years. Can you believe it?” I ache for all of the girls who have been, and will continue to be, sexually assaulted by men like this who think of the female body as simply something to grope and fuck.
I am grieving.
As I grieve, however, my anxiety about the small stuff in life has disappeared completely and my life purpose is clearer than ever before. For twenty years Elizabeth and I have been freeing girls and women, and for the past decade all genders, from the obstacles of body hatred and eating problems that block connection to essence and life force. Our work is more important than ever now, because we are in desperate need of as many people as possible who are living fully in their power. No time to say you’re sorry for existing. No time to hate your body. If we are going to create a world where love trumps hate, where respect for differences leads to civility and curiosity in our encounters with others, then we can’t waste our precious resources of time and energy harping on our "flaws." In the wake of the election, I am left with a resounding affirmation that this country and the world need access to this work. We must be able to tap into the powerful and wise resources within us so that we can protect female bodies, black and brown bodies, queer bodies, Muslim, Jewish, fat, disabled -- bodies that have been under attack for far too long.
A call to action: If you are currently struggling with your body, food, exercise, or self-image in any way, shape, or form, please do the work to make peace with yourself as quickly as you can. Please care for yourself with joyful, sustainable behaviors. What I know from being lovingly connected to my body and its wisdom for more than three decades is that the strength, joy, and freedom I gained to live MY life and to speak MY truth have made this ride called life worth every moment of pain and suffering. It has also given me the privilege of doing work that supports people who are ready to heal. When we are finally able to remove the scrutiny and focus from ourselves, our arms become free to reach out towards others.
I’m not saying even remotely that there won’t be bad days where you will struggle with every aspect of your being, so quiet the voice that says self-love isn’t for you. Self-love includes the crazy, awful parts of us, not just the fun stuff. Silence your critic that says you don’t have the power in you to connect to your innate wisdom and live your life with purpose and passion. Because you do. You may need to ask for help. You may be living with trauma, shame, or other obstacles that hinder you in your journey to self-love, but even the tiniest step towards seeing yourself through eyes of love is worth the intense effort it may take.
We start with ourselves. We find love and forgiveness in our hearts for our own bumbling, blundering human selves, and then we extend loving kindness to all beings. And we act. The only way we can make this world a safer, more humane place to live is by doing our own work and then doing whatever it is we are called to do to ensure that all human beings are free to live with respect and dignity.
If, like me, you are feeling pain in your heart, I invite you to read the following excerpt from my book, Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!), about the need to grieve.
We may feel great sadness after confronting the influences that have made us so self-critical. We may also feel anger (as was my case when I ended my relationship with bulimia) followed by a need to grieve the time we wasted believing in our ugliness. To experience more beauty in life, both in ourselves and in the world around us, it is essential to honor our wounds and to grieve the time during which we were blinded from seeing our true reflection.
I can best illustrate the need for this grieving process by sharing an experience I had in 2001 while co-facilitating a group for middle school girls. During one of our evenings together, the girls shared stories of the shame they carried because they believed their bodies were not beautiful. Tears flowed as each girl unloaded her particular story of suffering, and her burden of self-loathing.
I will never forget the experience of being with these precious young beings as they offered, into our safe space, the pain and tears that stemmed from their belief in their inadequacies:
I’m bigger than all of my friends.
My butt is too small.
My breasts are too big.
I don’t have any breasts.
People make fun of the color of my skin; they call me yellow.
At the end of the evening the girls’ faces were bright and shiny from crying, yet their souls were lit up like a dazzling show of lightening in a dark sky. They felt genuinely seen and honored through the simple act of sharing their pain within a safe circle of peers and trusted adults. What we witnessed, young and old alike, was the authentic beauty—the essence—that radiates from people when they are given permission to feel love and compassion for their fragile human selves.
The next day it rained incessantly, as if the heavens were crying in pain for the little girls. I wrote a poem that day dedicated to the girls called A River of Tears. Though I wrote it specifically for our group, I believe it speaks to anyone who has been teased, shamed, harmed, or humiliated.
A girl is born
Her spirit a bubbling creek attached to
the deep flowing river that is Mother
Crystal clear and sparkling clean
as her journey begins
she is eventually discovered
Humans want her
and use her innocence
to satisfy their own needs
They leave behind their trash
when they are done
clogging her waters
with their garbage
build a dam
blocking what was once
The creek’s sparkles dim
Light traveling from the life-giving sun
has difficulty penetrating the layer of smog
that has clouded her spirit
Her soul is buried deep
She is losing form
Life force can no longer find a place to reside
and walks away
The poem continues, telling the story of four women who see the damage done to the creek and set out to clean her waters. The women sing an ancient song about beauty as they step into the murky water to clear trash from the little creek. The sun is setting in deep purple, fiery orange, and soft pink colors when their work is finished. Though the women are tired, their hearts are full.
Suddenly they are aware
of a presence that hovers
at the bank of the little creek
They cannot see her fully
but the women know that
who had walked away
because she could not breathe
was entering the water
ready to once again
give form and beauty
to the little sparkling creek
A new sound is heard
As with the song of the women
this sound begins faintly
and grows to fill
all corners of the evening sky
It is the sound of girls crying
Tears of Pain
Cleansing and purifying the girls
as they journey together down
The River of Tears
The crystal clear sparkling creek
is free once again
from the damaging touch of human hands
Hands that did not see
or care for the precious Gem
The girl who will someday become
the deep mysterious river
that is Woman
And so we grieve the beautiful moments of life we have lost to feeling inadequate, to seeing ourselves as flawed. We cry a river of tears to honor the wounds we have received at the hands of other humans. When we are done grieving, we willingly step into our own creek to remove the trash that diminishes its sparkling clear waters.