Eyes of a Woman

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Feeling a body… such a sacred task.  To live here in this flesh and feel all of it’s beauty, it’s flaws, the presence of age unfolding.  To cast eyes on those parts that don’t measure up, and yet to wear it fully with every step.  To wear it naked, clothed, in a bridesmaid dress or a swimsuit.  A task, and one that sometimes feels more like pain than pleasure.  But why?

The truth is we are beautiful.  Fat, wrinkles, moles, hairs, skin weathering time…. we are so beautiful.  Why are we taught otherwise?

As a girl I was so ashamed of my body.  I tortured it as a teenager.  Ugly stuff… and all out of anger and frustration about a sense of not being enough.  But yet… I was.  Enough.  We all are.  More than enough.

More than beautiful, really.  We are amazing…. like the way love wraps you up and melts your knees, or the way sadness melts every organ in your torso.  We have this humanity that hurts because it loves… we get angry because we love, we get in pain because we love, and we get into such crazy joy because we love.  Sometimes we get into wide peace because we love.

It’s true, losing 20 pounds in the last couple of years has made me love my body more.  I didn’t try to lose it – I have all these theories, but they are just that.  Somehow it happened after I fell in love.  My favorite theory is that it’s the feeling of safety that let me drop it away.

But as a teenager I was this size too, and that was not enough.  We have all these images that we overlay, all these expectations.  Why are we so hard on ourselves?  Why, when we have this one chance to explore this beautiful body that breathes us and beats our hearts and feels emotions so expansively?  Why can’t we just love this gift and revel in it?

Obviously we are trained to care – by pictures and standards.  And it’s reinforced constantly, almost everywhere we look.  And yes, I do support healthy living.  But that is not the picture you’ll see on most magazines – most models are not healthy.  They are not living healthy lifestyles.  So it’s one thing to get out and move and try to eat more healthy.  It’s another to starve yourself to a standard.

So what can we do, to love this beautiful body like it is?  Once a lover told me that the sexiest thing in a woman is when she loves her body.  Whether this is true for all men or not, I will certainly say that it feels good just to sit or walk with someone who loves being in her skin.  It’s a good practice.  So how to be more confident in your skin?

Moving my body always makes me feel really good in my skin afterward.  Whether it’s a long walk, dancing, Yoga, a leisurely bike ride, sex, or whatever you choose…  There are so many ways to move and feel great in your body.  And afterward there is that grace that radiates from your center, and it just feels so good to be alive.

I don’t know the answers to this one, I only know what I have tried over the years.  I have overcome the most impossible things through practices like Yoga, meditation, Nature time, and breathing mostly.  I overcame tremendous depression and fear.  Many years ago I arrived at this place of such deep gratitude and love for life that almost nothing could improve it.  That has stayed mostly steady for the last 8 or 10 years.  But this one thing was still a challenge…. even in years of contentment and a glow living through me, I could still find myself shy and uncertain in my skin.

But one day at a time, for 15 years or so now, I have been on a journey to love my body.  To overcome all the damage I did and carefully repair the tissue and the emotions of a teenage girl not being enough.  As an adult I see too many women living in a similar sense of feeling unhappy in their skin.  I’m sure men go through this too… I can only speak for my own experience, really.

For me it has been one day at a time, one decision to take care of my body at a time, and momentary choices to notice how good it feels to FEEL in this body.  Yoga has helped tremendously.  Yoga helps me become more aware of my body, and as I feel it more clearly I just love being in it more by the day.  Flesh is a gift to move in, and breathe in, to heal in.  We are so fortunate.  So so fortunate, in countless ways.

I’ve watched over the years, and even before this recent weight loss I really was getting close.  I was loving it almost completely.  I was enjoying being in my skin in whole new ways.  I was still shy at the beach, but I was generally enjoying and loving the experience of my body.  Now it’s even easier.  And I do love it.  I just feel like I finally have a great relationship with my skin, my food, movement, and my heart in the middle of it all.

And I’m aging.  And that’s amazing to watch!  Ask anyone over 30, if you haven’t gotten there yet.  And Loving my body as my skin changes and I heal more slowly, that’s a beautiful process.  It’s going to be a task, this growing older thing.  I get that.  I couldn’t be more grateful that I’ve stumbled across Love in so many forms right now.  And as I love my body more than ever, I am so enjoying tending to my aging body and doing more to feel even better by the day.  It will not get easier – this I see.  But quality of life is worth it.  And everything that feels like work initially (Yoga, flossing, cooking food from scratch) becomes a sweet practice with time, patience, and grace.

I’m going to continue to make decisions that feel really good in my body, and I’m going to strive to enjoy feeling every stretch, every walk, every breath, as if it’s a whole new high.  Aging in a body that I have slowly learned to love is really a gift, and one I would wish for everyone.  It just feels good to love your own own flesh.  And it’s all one step at a time, one bit of forgiveness and release of expectation at a time.  Maybe one Yoga posture, extending into goodness, at a time.  What will you do to love your body a little bit more today?

I’ve just been reading all sorts of wonderful and terrible things on this fantastic website called the Good Men Project – http://www.goodmenbook.org, and (ironic or no?) it makes me think about being a woman.

I remember a time when I learned about feminism and a glass ceiling, and I was quite certain that this is only true for women who let it be true. While I had my share of insecurities, I never felt slighted by being a woman (and that remains true). I am so thankful to be a woman – it seems to suit me well.

And what were the messages of my generation? I remember being ten years old and getting out of the bath, and looking in the mirror. This was the first time that I noticed my thighs touching each other as I stood with my legs together. While I was always a very thin child, I was also quite aware that I needed to maintain this in order to fit the cultural norm. Barbies or not, the message was clear all around me. Thin, beautiful, and very sexy. At 10 years old I had no idea about sexiness, but I could try hard to be thin and beautiful.

Over the next few years I spend more hours pouring over teen magazines than I can even imagine… It was amazing how I learned everything about putting on makeup, to obsessing about boys, to being increasingly insecure and dependent on the opinions of others, all largely from these magazines. And this was my transition into womanhood.

In those years, to be a middle-aged woman was to be past prime. Clearly everyone beautiful was young, thin, and sexy. While I had no fear of aging, I didn’t really pay much attention to older women. I didn’t look up to them like I do now….

Women and girls today are taught to be strong like men, and to look a certain way, and to speak out loudly and clearly, and to excel at sports, and drugs, and sex, and school, and fashion, and.. and… and it’s all quite confusing.

What about being a lady? Now at a ripe 31 years old, I am SO happy to be older. I am so happy to be in my thirties! Life seems to get more delicious by the year. One of the great joys has been having a partner who opens my doors and carries my bags and lets me be soft and sweet. And it’s almost as if I should feel bad for this, being a modern woman educated in feminism! But yet he lifts me up.

When I lived in the mountains of Colorado, I was a firefighter and a Yoga teacher. I threw away all of my heels, proclaiming that they are bad for my back (true, they are). I never wore makeup, and I finally learned to enjoy hiking uphill (a story for another time). It was good. I was happy.

When I moved to California, things were difficult. It must have been in the stars! But one thing I really gained from living in the San Francisco area is how to really enjoy being a woman. One by one, I put the stereotypes back on, and relished them. I bought heels again, and discovered how incredibly sexy they make my legs look. I bought low cut shirts and noticed that as I age my breasts continue look great. I started wearing make-up again, and felt sexy, beautiful, and vibrant. And the people around me responded. When I would dress a little up, people literally responded to me differently. And you know what? I liked it. It could be the Leo in me…. there’s plenty of it! But seriously, who doesn’t love positive feedback? Who doesn’t want approval? We are trained to crave it by our beautiful, albeit, far from perfect, culture.

I have encountered the glass ceiling.  I have encountered just as much classism and ageism.  I see that what I was taught is true – that women are not valued in the same way as men.  I also believe that I am an incredibly fortunate human being.    I am sitting here in the computer lab at one of the finest schools in the world, with a wide vocabulary at my fingertips, graced by education and life experience abound, with a cozy home and a bright future.  And even more simply, I have heat.  I have hot water.  I have a home.  I have amazing supportive people that love me.  I am deeply blessed.  And so are you.

Above and beyond being so blessed, as a woman I am not ready to throw out the advantages of my sex appeal.  Granted, I don’t often realize that I am using it… sometimes people think I am flirting when I am just being the kind farm girl I was raised to be!  But seriously, if I can dress and present myself in a way that is a bit more appealing, and use that to give me a bit of a leg up, then so be it!  I’ve had plenty of disadvantages over time, why can’t I use this one?  And it’s fun.  Why not enjoy?  I was always an artist at heart, and I like letting my art show through my dress and presentation.

And as women, why would we deny the beauty that comes from our sweetness?  I like that my heart is super soft underneath it all.  I like that I love honestly and vigorously, even if it has kicked my ass in the past.  I like getting all emotional every month as my hormones spike, because that emotion all flows from such deep love for a beautiful experience.

And on the backside of it all, I enjoy stepping into the role of homemaker more deeply than I might have thought possible.  I am a nurturer.  Why would I reject that just to be modern?  Can’t I be modern and bake and cook and nurture and succeed and be sexy and be professional and be intelligent and be my own flavor of feminist all at once?  Can I just enjoy that I do enough, and I am alright with letting him carry the bags and open the doors?

My mother is an amazing woman.  She is stronger than any woman should have to be.  She held us together through the worst of times, and she has taught me a few things about being a woman.  My mother doesn’t wear much make-up, and used to give me a hard time in high school for the thick layers I would wear on my face (in retrospect, yes – I wore too much make-up!).  She has always been a bit more simple, and refreshingly real.  She does what needs to be done, in the face of any challenge.

As an adult woman so shaped by those early magazines, I think one of the most challenging things has been to learn how to stand in what I know, regardless of the feedback from others.  It’s been confusing enough figuring out how to be an adult, and be a woman but be strong like a man but be soft and vulnerable so men are not intimidated but keep going for success but you should stop and have a family soon but what’s the point of dating if you know he’s not the one?  And where did I learn it had to be a he to be my partner anyway?

So over the last year and a half I have been gifted (I use this word carefully) with situations where I have had to learn how to care less about the opinions of others.  Maybe the hardest was letting go of pleasing Mom.  Sometimes people will not agree with our decisions.  But if your heart is true and your intention is pure, then maybe it’s time to learn to stand it the center and let go of the child that wants to please.  I think my mother taught me this best, by staying on her course despite the intense challenges she faced as a young mother.

I believe it has been this lesson, this ongoing lesson (smile) of learning to stand in the center and stay on my course despite others’ opinions, that has shaped the latest in my journey to understanding how to be a woman.  Something feels a bit more mature, a bit more like a capable light in the world, because I have weathered through one of these deepest of challenges.  A challenge that had no opportunity to present itself until this ripe decade of thirty-something.  And now I know a little more about how others view me, and I care a bit less.  I know a bit more about the passion that drives me, and I am humbly surrendering to it a bit more.  I enjoy dressing up, in a way that may not be so different than the 5 year old, but I like it on the cover of the woman I am now.  Pure heart, clear intentions, a bit more sure, with big plans to keep pressing love out into a world that likes to think it is bleak…. and if the sparkle of my smile, the joy of my heart, or the tastiness of my fresh baked cookies can make someone’s day a little sweeter, then hey – always glad to be that woman.