In the 80s I bounced and star jumped my way through hours of aerobics classes in a desperate attempt to control my weight. According to advertising and media at the time, thin and leggy was in…oh dear, I was neither, but enough hours pounding the pavement, skipping meals and living on salad I could, for a few months, achieve a look I felt measured up to something acceptable.
I was my harshest critic. I compartmentalised my body, sectioning it into the good, the bad and the ugly --- Bum good, thighs ugly, hair good etc. and not being supermodel standard fear not, advertising to the rescue, weight loss and beauty experts served up remedies for us regular girls ‘7 days to a flat stomach’ or ‘dressing to disguise those problem areas’.
Rewinding to the 70s as a young catholic girl, my perception of becoming a woman was that the female body was a nuisance. Care and attention to how one looked was important, but not to be indulged at any deeper relationship beyond function… nothing to see here, accept your lot, endure and get on with it. Stepping out into the world with this as a foundation, I was perfect marketing fodder, totally at the mercy of what society deemed as sexy and beautiful.
Through my 20s the scales and measuring tape became the executioner. Holding myself to ransom in this way meant that for the most part I rarely took pleasure in being in my body. If I gained weight and put on inches I would go into such self-loathing that I wouldn’t shower for days so that I didn’t have to be in close contact with my body and witness the ‘damage’. When I needed to change I would do it quickly and make sure not to look down and only wear oversized clothes. To right the wrong I would binge on laxatives, smoke to curb my appetite and exercise excessively.
My relationship with my body was based on performance and if it didn’t live up to a standard then it wasn’t worth my attention or care.
During these periods my intimate relationships became heavily controlled with my body either totally off limits, or dark, hidden encounters that only engaged the necessary body parts.
By my late 30s I had left behind the practices of my 20s, yet how I felt underneath hadn’t changed. Instead it was replaced with a dismissive hardness, refined from years of self recrimination. I had learnt how to eat and exercise without yo-yoing weight. I could have sex with the lights on, and as touted by my ‘Sex in the City ‘ sisters, I was in charge in the bedroom or anywhere else I chose to exercise my sexual rights as a 90s woman.
It was at a crisis point after having a new baby, that I met a group of women that were having conversations exploring what it meant to be a woman.
These conversations turned my world upside down.
They started from the premise that each woman’s body held all of the wisdom and guidance we needed to be in the world and the struggles and issues we had were a result of disconnection from our bodies.
There was something about this that resonated so deeply for me, yet at the same time my mind resisted what was on offer as too simplistic. My body seemed to speak louder and so I would find myself saying yes to knowing more.
Little by little I learnt what it meant to listen to my body, to feel, and began to experience an intimacy I never knew was possible. With the support of other women who were already on this journey, I started to recognise and feel the areas where I had become hard and shutdown, how I had turned my body into a fortress to protect myself. I began to recognise and understand the patterns I had introduced to cope with being in a world that fed me contradictory stories of what it was to be a woman, and was able to listen with a tenderness and lack of judgement I would to a dear and treasured friend.
I began to understand how I had allowed these impositions to shape me and that the permission to explore and understand my body and its place in the world had always been available to me, awaiting my reconnection.
I felt deeply the sadness of having abandoned this dear and precious friend. I discovered that under this was a sweetness and delicacy I hadn’t felt since I was a little girl. Over time I began to experience periods of feeling at rest in my body, spacious, free of anxiety and need, where I was absolutely enough just as me.
I have come to realise that my relationship with myself, with my body is the single most important one of my life.
It needs my consistency, for me to show up each day to the best of my ability, open and so very loving, regardless of the choices I make. I am learning that when I want to have control over anything a hardness begins to build in my body and then I can’t feel what’s really going on. I am learning to breathe and surrender and know that surrender doesn’t mean giving my power away but in fact is saying yes to a deeper connection with my body and not fighting the natural wisdom that is coming through and that this is my true power.
It has now been nearly 10 years of practising being my own best friend. I no longer feel a shame for my body, in fact I feel sexier and more gorgeous than I ever have, which, if you look in my eyes there is no denying. I can take in my full naked reflection in the mirror and not section myself into parts, and the days when judgement does come in, I can clock it, and know it as a sneaky distraction, feel the power of being able to choose to let go, and at that moment deepen my relationship with myself.
Tina Kopa age 51
I know I am not alone in the experiences I have shared here, my story of shame and self-loathing is a common one. What is uncommon is for us to feel safe enough to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and feel the depth of what lives within us so naturally. There is a simplicity and joy to being with ourselves that is our right. This is where we can go together as women, to lovingly support each other and be reflections of what is possible, and live not from how the world tells us we should be but instead, listening to our dearest, most loyal and trusted friend….us.