Our Bodies: A Source of Wonder
“A mother who radiates self-love and self-acceptance actually vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem.” – Naomi Wolf
I have read this quote before, thinking it was a lovely notion, but I didn’t really understand the truth of the message until I experienced The Body Positive leadership training at the end of September. I was not really sure what exactly I was getting myself into but I had seen the book ‘Embody’ written by Connie Sobczak and I was curious enough to sign myself up. Notice that I used the word ‘seen’ in reference to Connie’s book … I hadn’t actually read it. I had thought about reading it. I had even downloaded a sample to my iPad and scanned the first few pages. Yet, committing to reading a book that on its cover stated, “learning to love your unique body (and quiet that critical voice!)” seemed to be enough to awaken that critical voice in my own head. While I know I’m not the only person to have that voice that tells you you’re not worthy enough/pretty enough/good enough (… I could go on but I think you get it) my voice seemed to have more control than the other people I compared myself to. Was it even possible to challenge and change those beliefs that have been with me for as long as I can remember? And once I opened that door, what happens if I want to close it? Hence the book stayed as a sample on my iPad for a while.
After signing up for the training that voice was back, telling me all of the reasons why the training was a bad idea. And once, or twice, the thought had crossed my mind to back out. How could I talk to others about having a loving relationship with their own body when I did just about everything in my power to avoid loving mine? To say the word ‘hypocrite’ was tossed around in my brain a few hundred times is not really an exaggeration. And if my critical voice seems to be speaking the “truth” who am I to challenge it? The “truth” of my critical voice that I clung to was about to be tested.
My rebellion against my own critical voice led me to a room full of other women who each had their own personal reason for being there. All of us ready to learn about The Body Positive concept and to learn about how we could lead others. Connie was spirited and inspiring, speaking a language of body positivity that I was envious of. (If you ever have the chance to meet her, do it, you won’t regret it!) When she told us about what lay ahead of us that weekend I could feel the emotion welling up inside of me. Connie spoke of a program that helped others develop a peaceful, loving relationship with who they are. One where you acknowledged who you are as an individual not who you are trying to be to fulfill a media stereotype or become the person your teacher/parent/sibling/family member/healthcare provider/or even the random person on the street thought you should be. It sounded amazing and impossible at the same time. How do you embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-love in a culture with ever changing ideals of who you should be and what you should look like? Before the training I had no clue, but the description of the training was shinning brightly like the little piece of hope left in the bottom of Pandora’s Box and for the first time in my life I felt able to embrace the change.
The weekend was full of wisdom that I got to hold for myself and that the women around me affirmed from their personal lives and experiences. Stories that made you laugh and cry, and stories that made you shake your head in disbelief. Often I found myself wondering how we can be so blind to another’s pain and how we can force our beliefs and ideals on someone else, so sure that our limited knowledge of them and who they are is enough to enable us to be an expert in their life. My body felt the stir towards promoting social change. The experiences that I thought were isolated to just me were happening to other people, too. I marveled at how a person I had never met was speaking my story, like their words were saying all of the things I had been so scared or worried or sad to voice out loud. I won’t share stories of what happened in that room because it was a beautiful and sacred experience. Their stories are not mine to tell. What I will say is within that room our willingness to be vulnerable and speak our truth created a new community. One where we looked to each other and our own uniqueness as a sign of our beauty. We spent time rediscovering and acknowledging our true selves, using language that seeks to build a positive relationship rather than one where we tear ourselves and others apart. We learned that it was our society that had issues with our individuality, and that it was our culture that taught us that who we are is not good enough. It’s opportunities that come from programs like The Body Positive that are like a breath of fresh air. Giving us a chance to understand that we can live in peace with our bodies. I got to see that food, size, shape… “whatever” was not our enemy. Eating could be a joyous activity, honoring taste and our desire to be nourished.
And our bodies are a source of wonder that never quite get the acknowledgement that they deserve.
We each have roles – mine is that of a daughter, granddaughter, cousin, auntie, sister, and friend. I feel comfortable in those roles. I know how I’m supposed to “show-up” in those roles and I feel I’ve had plenty of experiences in them. After this training I get to take on a new relationship, one that I’m really unfamiliar with. Yet it is one of the most important ones I will have, the relationship with myself. I did this training for myself, yes, but I also did it because like the quote by Naomi Wolf above I know that my relationship with myself has the power to influence others. Maybe one day I’ll be a mother, and I want to be a positive role model to my children. Right now I have the wonderful opportunity of helping others get to know themselves, and may be help more people ‘vaccinate’ themselves against this unnecessary epidemic of body hatred and not being “good enough”.
— Anonymous attendee of The Body Positive Leadership Training, Hosted by Opal, Seattle, September 2015