The Goddess of Enough

With anything that’s alive and constantly evolving in the moment, it’s time to honor the need for this particular “belly” to expand by making make room for other kinds of stories I’d like to tell as well.

I love writing about women’s bodies and sharing my experiences of reclaiming my womanhood from the patriarchy—and there will be more stories about the feminine to come. But focusing just on the reclamation part of my voyage has started to feel like putting on a favorite pair of jeans that have become a little tight.

Growth is always a good sign, especially when there is the need to stretch old boundaries, including the self-imposed kind. Still, this is the type of unfurling that makes me feel scared and excited and vulnerable at the same time.

The deep-seated fear that comes up for me is: Am I enough? As in, in this case, if I change and start to deviate from what people have gotten used to expecting from me here, will I—just me—be enough for you, my blogging community, to keep coming back for more? There’s only one way to find out.

The other day, my friend Maria Badiei, who is both an artist and healer, gifted me with a painting she’d made several years ago. We call this artwork of hers “The Goddess of Enough.”

“The Goddess of Enough” by Maria Badiei

The female figure in the center looks very much like what I once imagined how a deity with that name might look. At the time, I desperately needed the reminder that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in life, I, Diahann Reyes, am enough— as opposed to my lifelong, polar opposite worries of either being  “too much” or “not enough.” Both tend to stop me dead in my tracks.

I thought the Goddess of Enough only lived in my imagination until I saw Maria’s work and realized that she has seen her, too. The painting now hangs in my living room. To me, this image shows a woman birthing all sorts of possibilities in her life because she knows her own enoughness.

I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. These three words, which I say over and over to myself, have become my mantra.

So stay tuned for changes on this blog, which may happen sporadically or in waves—not unlike contractions—as Stories from the Belly slowly morphs into its next becoming.


A Night at the Movies, Part II: The Female Body On and Off Screen

The day after watching Cinderella (A Night at the Movies, Part I),  I went to see another film.  The Clouds of Sils Maria stars Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz. This wasn’t a film I particularly enjoyed in terms of plot, but the acting by all three women is wonderful work. (For a review from someone who did like the flick, click here.)

I especially couldn’t stop watching Binoche. Not only because her performances are always a master class in acting but it was so refreshing to see a female movie star past ingénue age looking so comfortable baring her body on the big screen. That’s not a sight one gets to witness often, especially in American cinema.

CG Cinéma/Pallas Film/CAB Productions/Vortex Sutra Arte France Cinéma/Orange Studio/Radio Télévision Suisse http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254/

CG Cinéma/Pallas Film/CAB Productions/Vortex Sutra
Arte France Cinéma/Orange Studio/Radio Télévision Suisse
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254/

Binoche didn’t look like she’d toned up at the gym first before letting us see her naked in all her 51-year-old softness.I doubt she was any less beautiful or sensual than if she’d been all muscle.

There is a much needed healing of an old wound that happens when I see images of women that are more expansive than the limited ideas of beauty that I grew up with and surround me still—just like it feels like a balm for me when I see people of color playing significant parts on the big screen or as lead characters in literature. But it wasn’t just how Binoche looked. As I said, she would have been just as beautiful if she’d been all sculpted too. It was more that I felt coming from her body a sense of pleasure and shamelessness in fully inhabiting her own skin… much the way she fully embodies the parts she plays.

I used to think that I was at my best-looking, sexiest self when I managed to get my stomach to go flatter or the number on the scale went down. People’s reactions to me would affirm that—“You look so good! You lost weight!”

Lately, I can’t help but think that their responses were not necessarily because of how I looked but more because those were the times when I’d give myself permission to enjoy being in my body. The way I would carry myself, walk into a room, and interact with people changed, reflecting my own pleasure.

In her blog, Londin Angel Winters, the creator of Metaphysical Fitness and the Mindful Sculpt workout series writes, “Confidence, elegance, sexiness, grace, playfulness… these are all energies that any of us can embody in any moment we choose. Nothing needs to change about our bodies except that we need to stop dragging them behind us like forgotten luggage… we “come home” to them and a world of expression and beauty opens up to us immediately.”

There is a lot that has been written, by myself included, about how the unrealistic standards of beauty thrust at us by society, not to mention the barrage of photoshopped images in the media, make it hard to love our bodies or the way we look. But I doubt that these standards and images are going to go away until we make like Gandhi and “be the change that {we} wish to see in the world.”

Several years ago a friend of mine and I talked about starting a belly revolution. We were going to set up a website calling on women, including ourselves, to love the female belly in all its shapes and forms—round, lean, sculpted, stretch marked…. For me, my challenge has always been learning to love my stomach in its natural round shape and not just when its muscles are toned. (The latter has  happened once for six months in 44 years.) Yet the next day, while browsing through a bookstore, I bought a book on how to lose tummy fat.

I called my friend to back out of our new venture. There was no way I could lead any kind of body revolution unless I learned to love my own first. ” I think I’ll just wait until the rest of the world is on board and then join up,” I told her. “Maybe Madonna will start their own belly loving movement!”

There are definitely plenty of reasons to cheer when female celebrities act as role models by refusing to succumb to the pressures imposed by made up standards of female beauty. I too was inspired when, a few weeks ago, both Kelly Clarkson and Pink refused to let negative comments about their weight get them down.  I loved it when singer Janelle Monae told a fan, who had Tweeted that she needed to focus more on being sexy, less on being soulful: “I’m not for male consumption.” 

Yet ultimately, liberating ourselves from culture’s limiting standards is an inside job. I can find inspiration, courage even in others’ examples. But what I do with my body and how I choose to feel in it, show up in it out in the world, is up to me.


A Night at the Movies, Part I: Cinderella, Feminism, and Me

I grew up on fairy tales. For years I believed that I too could instantly know a guy was “the one” without getting to know him first and hoped that someone might sweep in one day and—just like that, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo—my life would become what I needed it to be. Since then, I’ve (thankfully) woken up to the reality that no one—man, woman, or fairy anyone—is coming to save me. I’m the one who’s always had the power.

Cinderella (2015) Wikipedia/Disney http://tinyurl.com/q68br8o

Cinderella (2015)
Wikipedia/Disney http://tinyurl.com/q68br8o

So when I went with a friend to see the movie Cinderella, I was absolutely expecting to hate this live version of the classic animated film. High heel glass slippers that are bad for your feet, finding true love based off several hours of eye gazing, magic-wand type solutions to hard problems, and the heroine staying stuck in a bad situation rather than taking empowered action. What could there possibly be to like?

Well, I just loved the film. I was just as enchanted by the story as I was when I saw it the first time as a girl. The special effects, including Cinderella’s worn and torn dress transforming into an exquisite ball gown as she turns around and round, made it seem as if the cartoon had come to life. It didn’t hurt that the actor playing the Prince was so easy on the eyes or that he seemed like a very good man.

Does this make me a bad feminist because I loved it? The thought, for a moment, crossed my mind. A few years back, I would have said yes and been wracked with guilt.

In her Bad Feminist manifesto, author Roxane Gay writes about how you can be a feminist and still be into things that may not exactly fall under the supposed umbrella of “feminist-like.” She gives many examples, including her desire to be both independent and taken care of or how she still enjoys rap music even though some of the lyrics are degrading to women. Still, as she points out, none of these personal preferences make her any less committed to the issues that are integral to the feminist cause.

Like Gay and other feminists, I believe that men and women are equal and should be treated as such. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for me to appreciate when my boyfriend takes charge in certain situations, opt to sometimes keep my mouth shut rather than speak out, or enjoy the results that come from working out several times a week while knowing that my worth has nothing to do with the size of my waist. None of these have any bearing upon my 100% dedication to calling out misogyny when I see it and supporting other women in owning their power and loving their bodies.

But when I first began coming out as a feminist I worried that some of my preferences might. Shouldn’t I, as a feminist, get offended when a date opens the door for me or refuse when he offers to pay for dinner? Shouldn’t I, as a feminist, stop watching movies like Love, Actually, with its unflattering portrayal of women? (For more on that read here.) Would a “real” feminist enjoy wearing tank tops that show off her cleavage? (The answer to that is yes).

Being a feminist began to feel restrictive and limiting—the opposite of liberating. And for a while, I went back into my “I’m not a Feminist” closet because I didn’t feel like I could hold on to the many contradictions that make up me and be a good feminist too.

In her manifesto, Gay also writes, “I bought into grossly inaccurate myths about who feminists are—militant, perfect in their politics and person, man-hating and humorless.” And like her, “I don’t want to buy into these myths anymore.” I have a feeling some of the myths were made up by those seeking to shut the movement down via negative spin tactics.

It wasn’t until I realized that I had been trying (and failing) to fulfill some ridiculous stereotype rather than being myself—a person who happens to believe in equality for all—that I finally became comfortable not just owning that I was a feminist but embodying that in ways that are specific to me.

Just as being myself doesn’t take anything away from feminism, being a feminist takes nothing away from me. If anything, feminism has given me more choices that allow me to be who I am in my personal life and out in the world.

As for Cinderella, I think of my appreciation for the movie as not unlike my relationship to certain foods. I know that potato chips or fried pork rinds aren’t the healthiest but that doesn’t mean I won’t indulge in them occasionally and relish every bite. (And to paraphrase Georgia Platts, the author of BroadBlogs who posted a thought-provoking comment below, not every story about a woman has to be a feminist one.)

Then again, at the end of the day, a love story that involves two people, excited to have found each other, and brave enough to make a go at creating a happy life together—what’s anti-feminist about that? Besides, I’ve always been a sucker for a happy ending.


Between The Period and The Final Pause

I stopped bleeding once for a year when I was thirty. I had just gotten off the pill. Not bleeding for 360-plus days worried me although I’d heard that this could be a potential side effect of getting back into rhythm with my natural cycle. After that I decided that there would be no more birth control pill taking for me ever again.

The first time I ever bled was on a January 6—Three King’s Day, which honors the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus at the manger. I was a month shy of turning 14. I felt as if the three Kings too had brought me a gift. I’d been waiting for my first period ever since reading Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I’d even ordered my first period starter kit in the mail in anticipation of this moment.

I was as excited to start wearing Maxi Pads and pantiliners as I’d been to try on cut-off pants two years before when Madonna debuted the look on her first album. To bleed, to me, felt like an initiation.

But as I grew older bleeding became more of an inconvenience, that time of the month when I couldn’t wear white or go swimming, when I hopefully would not have an “accident.” I’m on my period became something to say to just my closest girlfriends and certainly not in public and especially not in front of men—as if there was something dirty about bleeding.

The Venus de Laussel. The 13 notches on her horn is said to represent the # of moons or menstrual cycles in a year. Wikipedia commons: http://tinyurl.com/qgwynqq

Ten years ago I went to a women’s retreat where we spent a whole afternoon talking about our periods. The facilitators constantly referred to the female bleeding time as a blessing—as holy even… there is the blood from the body of Christ, there is the blood from the body of Woman. If only we could shed the negative cultural conditioning around a woman’s period.

We talked about the connection and parallels between the female menstrual cycle and the moon. We deconstructed the term “premenstrual ‘syndrome’” –the latter half of the phrase bringing with it a bad wrap connotation, not unlike the way ‘bitchy’ has been dubbed upon a woman who is less willing to put up with crap during that time of the month.

And there is all this power–and not just the wondrous ability the period gives us to create a human life.

There is our heightened sensitivity and stronger hits of intuition. There are the ways in which our emotions, our truth, and our creativity are able to more easily pour out, like our blood, during those three to five days. We talked about giving ourselves permission to slow down on our periods, pay closer attention to what our bodies are telling us, and harness that extra boost of oomph to empower us rather than feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Getting our first period, the facilitators said, was  an initiation into our feminine power and an entering into the official tribe called Women. We talked about how so many women have forgotten or were never taught how to cultivate an intimate, empowered relationship with their menstrual blood.

I would go on to explore and deepen my connection to my own period when I joined a Moon Lodge in Venice, Ca. This was a modern day, real life version of the red tent where the women would gather in the bestselling novel of the same name by Anita Diamant.  Gathering once a month with the same group of women, together we honored the female bleeding time. (See my post, The Power of the Period).

That was several years ago.

Lately, I’m once again less than thrilled when I bleed— Damn period! My cycles have been heavier and more painful than they used to be and some days I just want to get in bed and stay there. It’s just my period not influenza, I tell myself, forcing myself out the door.

Sometimes my mind is even a little fuzzy and I forget the obvious. What’s the name of that hot guy again? The one who used to be on the TV show ER and has a mansion in Lake Cuomo? Having a period has started to feel like a curse, just as some ignorant person told me once when I was a girl.

At a recent get-together, a few of the older women who were there kept talking about how they were going through Perimenopause. Taking supplements… they said… I know a great holistic doctor.

What the what? Is that even a thing? How come I’ve never heard of it? Is that’s what is happening to me? When I Googled the word a number of articles popped up, including this one that describes some of the possible symptoms.

Perimenopause is the transition phase before menopause.

 I, of course, knew menopause would be coming one day. But apparently, first, there will be perimenopause.

Just saying the word makes me worry that I am officially making myself seem unsexy and dated. Which is why I must say it again: Perimenopause. Perimenopause. Perimenopause. I say the name to shed the embarrassment and shame.

I’m not sure whether I’m “officially” in perimenopause. Unlike getting one’s first period or no longer bleeding ever again there are no absolute symptoms. (And I’m loathe to do my usual, look up symptoms on Google and assume I have whatever an article says I do.) There is a test a doctor can give to verify.

Still. Goddamnit, just one more thing! As much as I’m learning to embrace getting older, letting go of all that comes with being younger still feels like a loss some days.

I am also curious and excited. Just as there has been potency in having a period—and from what I’ve read, the surge of power coursing through a woman’s body is the strongest yet in menopause—surely, there also must be gifts to receive during perimenopause.

I can’t wait to find out.

 

 


Baring the Female Breasts: Beyond Objectification

There is so much more to a woman’s relationship to her breasts than meets the naked eye. In this post, I am thrilled to have two of my favorite bloggers, KS of Kosher Adobo and Jennifer Berney of Goodnight Already, joining me as we pay homage to this most famous of feminine body parts.

Two Tahitian Women by Paul Gauguin http://tinyurl.com/ocvkvkc (Wikimedia Commons)

CHERRY

I am a junior in boarding school. Behind me is a “Save Sex” poster and a perfume ad: “Femme Fatale: When the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.” It’s the night before the first day of school. I am tugging on the neck of my shirt, admiring my bra strap. Every bra I owned just a year before was white or beige, looking more like bandages for my then AA breasts. But this 36B brassiere, red and lined with lace, which I bought with my mom, was bold, and I want to show it off. In a girls’ dorm after lights out was the safest place to share my joy. Check out my new bra, I say, lifting my shirt for N., who took me to Victoria’s Secret for the first time.  N. owns silky negligees and has more experience than I, but she delights with me, anyway. Having grown up with sisters, these female friendships are as natural as breathing. Beautiful, she says.

I loved the curves of my changing body.  It was expanding, taking up room, and it was exciting. I wanted to make out with the world – but I didn’t want anyone to put his hand up my flannel shirt. (Or maybe I did but I hadn’t fallen in love, yet, much less kissed a boy.)

Though I couldn’t express it, then, that first red brassiere became one of my earliest lessons in femininity and self-acceptance. When I think about who I was at sixteen, I imagine a woman, who would be ready for love and men someday, but, until then, she could keep whatever it was – her breasts, her secrets – her own. She would find beauty in her own reflection and in other women’s eyes.

KS is a textbook TCK who was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has lived in New England, USA, for the last twenty years. She writes about her intercultural marriage, diversity, and reproductive health on her blog Kosher Adobo.

 

THE USEFUL BREAST  

Once, at a crowded farmers market, an acquaintance of mine broke from our conversation to pull one of her breasts out of the top of her sundress and nurse her infant daughter. Though I tried not to react, I could not hide my alarm. I approved of public breastfeeding, but did she have to make it a spectacle?

As I prepared to welcome a baby, my own approach to public breastfeeding was to conceal as much as possible. I ordered nursing tank tops, nursing shirts, and a hand-made nursing cover—a small curtain that ties around a mother’s neck, designed to hide both her breasts and her baby. Why wouldn’t everyone use these? I wondered.

My son arrived, and our early days together included meandering walks where he would nap against me and wake up, hungry, the moment I settled down at a café. As it turned out, the nursing cover wasn’t so helpful; I actually needed to see my nipple to align it with my newborn’s mouth. And once he had latched I did not want to cover him with fabric. I wanted to see his eyes and his soft whorl of hair. The café was a friendly place, but still, I overheard strangers refer to me as “that woman over there who is breastfeeding.” It didn’t matter that my breast was hidden by my shirt—I was still a spectacle.

I wish that we could learn to recognize the utility of a breast in the same way we recognize the utility of a hand.  Bared in the bedroom, or half hidden beneath lace, of course breasts hold erotic allure. But just as I must sometimes remove my gloves to find my keys or write a check, I must sometimes lift my shirt and unhook my bra to perform the serious task of feeding my child.

Jennifer Berney lives in Olympia, Washington with her partner and two sons. She blogs at Goodnight Already

 

LOVING MY BREASTS

If my breasts could talk, they would tell me that they like it when I show a little cleavage. Give us a bit of sunlight, let that heat tickle our skin! I’m tenderer with my breasts than I used to be—unwilling to use them to be objectified; more eager to self-savor the sight of them, ripened and full as they peek over t-shirts or hang naked before the mirror. And underwire… my breasts love underwire!

At my last medical appointment, the doctor asked if I knew whether the breast cancer gene runs in the family—we do have a history. No, I replied. Well, maybe you should find out, she said.

My first thought was Angelina Jolie and her mastectomy, reconstruction—two procedures that, even with insurance, I cannot afford. But would I want to if I knew the odds were stacked against me? To lose my breasts, whether by choice or because I must, would be devastating. I’ll take my chances, I tell the doctor. Then again, maybe if I had children, like Angelina, I too would choose differently.

My breasts aren’t that sensitive when it comes to physical sensation—at least not like what you read in romance novels where a suck, a flick, a lick can elicit moans of ecstasy. When I was younger I would pretend all that, worried about what it might say about me if I didn’t make some noise.

These days, my breasts will settle for nothing less than real pleasure even if it means sometimes feeling nothing. Because my breasts, like the rest of me, are no longer afraid to demand tenderness… a little roughness…whatever they need. My breasts know that their worth doesn’t depend on looking good or putting on a show.

My breasts, with their ability to feed a life, are their own kind of superpower.

Diahann Reyes is a freelance writer and performer. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites.

 


Turning My Sensuality On

Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from my own sensuality and needing a way to plug back into that part of myself. I figured what better way to re-spark that inner connection than to take a sensual movement class.

I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was going because I needed this experience to be just for me. We’ve been living together for a few months now, and while I love him truly, madly, and deeply, I suspect that being with him is the reason that I’ve shut down my connection to my sensuality.

Read the rest of this entry »


Age: What’s In A Number?

I have a good friend who doesn’t think about her age. Every year, when I call to greet her happy birthday, she asks me, half-joking, “How old am I, again?” I know her age because she is ten years older than me. She prefers to mark her years not by time but according to how old or young she feels.

In some of the reviews I’ve read of the movie Nightcrawler, actress Renee Russo is described as an aging actress. The “aging” reference really bothers me. Sure, Russo is aging. She’s sixty right now, next month she’ll turn sixty-one. Then again, aren’t we all, every one of us, aging? From the moment we are conceived we age by the second. Yet it is usually women upon whom aging gets pinned and not in a positive way.

Age is a funny number. As a young girl, I couldn’t wait to be older—old enough to drive, to date, to drink, to be considered “credible” as a news anchor, which is what I thought I wanted to be. When I moved to Hollywood after my thirtieth birthday, one director told me that he couldn’t cast me in a role I really wanted because I didn’t look old enough to play a woman my age. “If only you looked as old as you really are, you’d be perfect for the job,” he said, ushering me out the door.

Read the rest of this entry »


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