I saw a woman at the bank the other day. A bank teller. She had the same kind of liver spots on her face that my grandmother used to have, right on the side of her cheeks by her eyes. She had laugh lines like my grandmother did. The shape of her face was almost exactly like hers. So was the texture of her skin. I wondered if the woman’s skin, like my grandmother’s skin, is what old lady Filipina skin is supposed to look like… like a coconut but not so hard, smooth even though it looks rough.
Seeing this woman was like looking at grandmother again, as if she were standing in front of me even though it wasn’t really her. The teller also had drawn in eyebrows, except my grandmother never used black eyeliner to pencil in her eyebrows. She always used a brown pencil. (Although when my grandmother was in her seventies once, she drew one of her eyebrows in blue because she was in a hurry and didn’t notice. When my sister pointed it out hours later my grandmother laughed so hard that she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the rest of her laughter from spilling out all over the floor.)
I wanted to touch this bank teller’s face. I wanted to press my face next to hers and inhale deep to see if she smelled like Pond’s cold cream and Johnson’s baby powder, just like my grandmother. If I could have stood in front of the teller window longer I would have looked at her hands to see if they were wrinkled in the same places where my grandmother’s fingers had been wrinkled too.
As a little girl living in the Philippines, when it it was time to take a nap, I would get into bed with my grandmother and wrap my arms and legs around her until I’d fully sunken into her down comforter softness. I would hold on to her tight because I knew that once I fell asleep she’d find a way to free herself from my limbs and get on with the rest of her day. I didn’t want to let her go.
When my grandmother died in 2006 I didn’t make it to her deathbed. I wasn’t able to fly back from the U.S. for her funeral either, so I never got to hold her goodbye. For that first year after, the longing to hug her one more time was this big, constant ache inside of me.
Until one day, while moving in my body—which is my way of going inward and working out stuff in my life—the realizations hit me:
I come out of the womb of my mother, who came out of the womb of my grandmother. We’re like a Matryoshka doll—only human, not wooden; Filipina, not Russian. My body comes in part from my grandmother’s DNA, which still very much lives on in my DNA. My grandmother is right here, right now, alive in me.
Knowing this doesn’t make the hurt of losing her any less, but it does make the pain feel a little less tender. Now, when I miss my grandmother, rather than looking everywhere and wondering if she’s out there, I sink into my body a little more deeply instead. Because I know that’s where I can always find her.
I love to drop into my womb. I first learned about this practice when I started studying The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power™ over ten years ago. “Drop into your womb” is one of the instructions the teacher gives you before you can dance.
As someone who was used to connecting to my body from the outside-in—usually secondhand through the male gaze—I’d never thought to connect to my body from inside of myself, let alone to my womb of all places.
That very first time I tried to drop into my womb, I ended up in my belly area instead. Since the belly is the part of the female body I would see grow bigger in pregnant women, I figured that was where my womb must be. But when I went home later that night and Googled “womb” just to be sure, I discovered that it was located lower down in my body.
Up to this point, I’d spent a lot of my life living in my head, thinking… thinking… thinking my way through life rather than being fully in my body and present to the moment. My body, as far as I was concerned, was for getting me places and attracting the opposite sex. It was also the part of me that my mind couldn’t seem to control no matter how hard it tried. I felt like I was occupying my body but not really connected to it.
My body liked to disobey me. Like in gym class when I was a girl. I so wanted to hit that volleyball over the net whenever it came flying my way. I would try to “think” my arms into gracefully knocking the ball over, but noooooooo! My hands would helplessly flap at the ball, while the rest of me tried to get out of the way because I was afraid of getting hit.
I also was fearful of my body’s natural appetites and impulses. I believed that if I wasn’t constantly regulating my own behavior I might overeat, get knocked up, or end up in other sorts of trouble.
“Think with your head! You can’t trust your body,” one of my male relatives would warn me.
No wonder it took me a while to learn how to drop into my womb and stay there.
Now, when I say that I drop into my womb, I don’t actually physically re-enter my uterus or go sliding around in my fallopian tubes. That would be truly frightening—and probably grotesque and very messy. It’s about focusing my awareness down in my pelvic area instead of letting it stay up in my head.
When I drop into my womb, my awareness—some might call this the mind, consciousness, or spirit—comes down and links up with my body. My head and my body no longer feel like disjointed parts, at odds with one another. They become unified parts of a whole—that whole being me.
I’ve grown to love this way of connecting with my body so much that I’ve started to drop into my womb even when I’m not in dance class.
When my mind and my body are joined up, it is easier for them to work together and communicate with one another. Playing volleyball would be a different experience now if I were to drop into my womb. I’d let my body and its instincts and impulses kick ass, rather than trying to play the sport from just inside my head.
Connecting to my womb space has made a lot of life’s experiences more satisfying. Sex is more pleasurable when my awareness is down around my pelvic area instead of in my brain, where I can’t feel anything. As a performer, I do my best acting when I’m dropped in my womb instead of agonizing about remembering my lines. And believe it or not, I even drop into my womb when I parallel park!
And you know how sometimes you just know things even though you don’t know how you know them? These hits of insight and intuition come through me even stronger when I’m dropped into my womb:
You don’t have writer’s block. The story you want to tell just needs more time to gestate in your body… I know you think you blew that job interview by not pretending to be more excited. That was your body’s way of helping you weed out the wrong opportunity…. Stop trying to figure out what to do next! Stay connected to your body and wait for the answer to come to you.
It’s as if by dropping into my womb, I connect to a flowing fountain of wisdom—my own wisdom. This is not information that comes from books or experts. It is knowledge that comes directly through my feminine body.
So many women are taught to cast aside their own instincts and feelings in favor of the opinions and instructions of external authority figures—male ones, especially—that it can seem wrong to act upon that inner knowing. It also can feel bizarre and frightening. But what if there is no better guide for how to live our lives than our own female bodies?
When we are plugged into our bodies, we become embodied. This transforms us into women with full access to the unique wisdom, abilities, and powers that reside in each of us, waiting to be unleashed.
As a young girl living in the Philippines, I used to stand in the middle of my bedroom, stretch my arms wide, and turn around and around in place. I so badly wanted to transform into Wonder Woman—or, at the very least her younger sister.
I thought I wanted to be a superhero, like Superman or Batman, when really what I longed for was to experience my own power.
Every time I drop into my womb, I am Wonder Woman. I become my own kind of wonder woman.
I used to look at my feet and see big… long..ugly. At least that’s what some of my relatives told me they saw when I was growing up . So I stopped taking care of my feet.
In college I walked around the Berkeley campus for four years in Nordstrom style loafers. I bought them in all the different colors: Blue. Black. Beige. And red. When I’d wear out a pair, I’d buy another pair. I’d take the BART across the bay to San Francisco on a Saturday.
Once, when I went home for summer vacation, my aunt looked down and said, “What have you done to your feet? They look like you’ve been plowing the rice fields [in the Philippines]!” Oops. Then again, how would she know?
I considered wearing tennis shoes instead. I sure could have used them. I was walking at least a couple of miles from class to class every day. But I thought that wearing tennis shoes would make me look less sophisticated. I thought Nordstrom loafers made a difference over tennis shoes in terms of how many boys would like me.
Looking back, I doubt most guys even looked at my feet—or my shoes—except for that one dude from my sophomore year who had a foot fetish. But I didn’t really like him much anyway.
Now, twenty years after college, all these boys are gone. Married to other women. Out of my life. In the end, none of them really mattered.
As for me? I still have my feet. My feet, which keep me steady and grounded. My feet, which keep taking me to different places and back. They matter to me now.
When I’m in yoga class, I look at everyone’s feet. Truth is that their feet don’t look much bigger or longer or uglier than mine. Some of the other women’s feet are even bigger. None of their feet are ugly really. Maybe my feet have been normal looking all along.
Come to think of it, I have my mother’s feet. And I never thought her feet were ugly. I’d recognize her feet in an all-female foot lineup.
In dance class once, the teacher told us to let one of the body parts we wish we could disown do the dancing. That night, my feet tapped on the floor in freedom and jubilation. For the first time, in the movement, the beauty of my feet came through. For the first time, in the dance, I got to experience beauty all the way down in my feet.
A few months later, a woman that I know knelt down in front of me to bless my feet. She rested her fingers on their surface, feeling them with a reverence I’d only ever seen reserved for holy objects. Her gesture, alluding to the sacred, made me teary-eyed.
These days, I only wear high heels if I don’t have to do much walking—although sometimes, when I’m in the mood, I put on my red fuck me pumps and go to town. They’re four inches tall. Made in Italy. I wear them because they please me. They make me feel sexy and badass.
If I didn’t have long feet, how the hell would the rest of my body balance out my big breasts? I might topple over.
Maybe my feet have always been perfectly made, their drawn-out, slender shape just the right size for me. I just needed time to grow into them.
I decided to name my blog “Stories from the Belly” for a few reasons. The first was that I wanted to tell the kinds of stories about being a woman that aren’t often shared out loud—true tales that might feel too shameful or painful or embarassing to tell anyone. Instead, a woman might store these stories deep within, locking them inside her body and forgetting they are even there.
I’d buried these types of stories in my belly for years. I didn’t even know that’s where I put them until I took a writing class with poet Jack Grapes more than ten years ago. Jack teaches students how to access the memories that we’ve buried in our gut, right in the belly.
I grew up having very strong feelings about this part of my body. My belly, like the earth, has always been round, never flat. Even when I’ve placed myself on a restrictive diet or felt motivated enough to work out five times a week, my belly is full and soft.
As a teenager I tried to hide my belly. I would wear loose clothing. I subsisted on half-breaths for years so I could keep my stomach pulled in under my rib cage. If only my belly would disappear—although anatomically if I didn’t have a belly and all that it contains I’d be in big trouble.
Maybe then I shouldn’t have been surprised that my belly was where I’d buried the true stories that I was most mortified and wounded by: the story of how I endured a verbally abusive relationship; the story of how as a young girl I hid my dark complexion inside nylon stockings and under long sleeves (I wanted people to think I had lighter skin); and the story of when a swim teacher molested me.
In Jack’s class, I used my pen to siphon out the painful memories and release them from my body. In the process of transforming these traumas into stories for class, I began to heal from them. I started to feel whole again.
When I later participated in women’s circles, I discovered that stories that come from the belly are even more more potent when shared. These gatherings usually begin with a “check-in.” Each woman takes her turn talking about an internal struggle, a personal victory, or a new realization about herself.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years a woman has told the kind of personal story that people usually don’t talk about and I’ve thought, Really? You mean It’s not just me!?
Whenever it’s been my turn to share a fear, a neurosis, or a “this happened to me” moment, the women’s responses have been similar. Always, there is empathy, compassion, and recognition. Often, in these exchanges, some kind of release or relief happens for someone if not everyone.
In certain women’s circles nothing even needs to be said. The telling of an experience is visceral, transmitted from one female body to another.
Like at one gathering that was specifically for survivors of sexual abuse. As I entered the room, I looked around and realized that I knew almost everyone there.
That understanding alone—of knowing that these women, whom I knew personally, also carried their own stories of sexual abuse in their bodies—helped shed my shame around what happened.
Before that circle, I’d spent years trying to hide in plain sight. I was scared my abuse secret would be found out. I pursued acting but constantly sabotaged any potential success. I wrote professionally but only as a ghostwriter. My fear was that if anyone discovered I had been sexually abused they would want nothing to do with me.
But as I looked at these women, whom I admired and knew to be courageous, warm, compassionate, and wholehearted human beings—women I was honored to call my friends— I began to see and feel differently about myself. I started to let people see me.
For me, it has been shame that has compelled me to act smaller, compact my fullness, and swallow my voice. Shame caused me to entomb my messy truths in the bowels of my belly—along with my complicated feelings, my fiercest parts, and even my power. It has been in the digging up and reclaiming of all these disowned bits, allowing them to find their rightful place in my body and in my life—without the shame—that I’ve finally started to embody my wholeness.
The title of my blog pays homage to women and their bodies in all their fullness. It honors different aspects of the lived female experience that often get cast aside, disowned, or stuffed down in the belly. It embraces the (my) feminine appetites.
These are the many desires that live in the female body. And I’m not just talking about sex and food either.
I am a woman who is hungry to know herself totally, demands to be fully met by her man, and wants… craves… must have… much from this one life.
Thank goodness we have the stomach for all of it.
Three years ago I turned forty. I flipped out when it happened, even though I knew that the negative ideas about women hitting middle age are misogynistic and wrong.
Here are excerpts from my journal that I wrote in 2011 about this milestone age (Apparently I was watching a lot of Oprah back then):
- Oprah says that hiding your age is like denying your existence. Yet I can’t help myself. At parties any time the topic of age comes up I find myself leaving the room and running to get a drink. If I come back and people are still talking about age, I get up again, this time to go look for ice. I don’t want to admit that I’m 40—especially living in Hollywood where it seems like everyone I know is 25.
- I’d lower my age on Match.com if I wasn’t so opposed to lying. My ex-boyfriend says that a lot of guys who see my profile are writing me off right away just because the number “40” appears in my age box. It’s almost as if my age is my expiration date and I’ve turned into a carton of spoiled milk.
- People who know my real age say that I look pretty good “for 40.” Still, there’s that caveat, “for 40,” as if “looking good” and “40” don’t usually go together.
- I finally decided to stop checking my face in the mirror to see if any new wrinkles appeared overnight. I mean, what if by staring at myself under the blaring bathroom light, my forehead furrowed with worry, I’m making more wrinkles happen?
- I watched Oprah’s Lifeclass on OWN. The episode was about celebrities on aging. Actresses Ally McGraw, 72, and Bo Derek, 53, talked about how their necks are now showing their age. I thought, Fuck! Really? The neck? The fucking neck? One more body part to worry about.
Entering middle age for a woman can feel scary in a society that places so much value on youth. Girls and younger women are objectified. Older women are mocked or treated as if they are invisible. And if a woman tries to hold on to her youth for too long, she too risks being ridiculed. It seems to me that the only way for any woman to escape this contempt is by dying young.
Psychologists and former models Vivian Diller and Jill Muir-Sukenis are the authors of Face It: What Women Really Feel Like as Their Looks Change say, “While individually we were taught that beauty is only skin deep, our youth-obsessed culture reinforces the notion that beauty is our currency, our power, and what makes us female.”
They write that millions of women are “surprised, and embarrassed, even” to discover that they care so much about their changing looks. Even “the first wrinkle or gray hair can send us into an emotional tailspin.”
Reading their book, I thought, I’m not the only woman my age feeling this way? Why don’t more of us talk about this? It would definitely make me feel less alone, neurotic, and superficial. Now I understand why there are women who feel like they have to get Botox shots or go under the knife. We’re taught to despise ourselves for getting older yet we look down at each other for wanting to look younger.
At the Academy Awards this year, actress Kim Novak, 81, made a rare public appearance. Novak, who became a big star in her twenties, obviously doesn’t look like her younger self. But she does appear to have undergone some work.
The vitriol directed at her by men and women on social media for trying to look younger even though she is an old woman made me sick. I can only imagine how it made Novak feel. Then again, she probably would have gotten just as much heat if she’d walked onto the stage looking her age. I can see the headline now: Kim Novak, 81, actually looks 81!
About six months into being 40, I realized I had a choice to make. I could keep chastising myself for getting older, or I could stop buying into the messed up ideas around aging that I’d internalized. Considering that I’d spent most of my thirties waking up to who I really am and what I really want, I certainly didn’t want to fall asleep again under another sexist spell cast by the patriarchy.
At 41, I kicked my sugar habit and became the healthiest I’ve ever been. I also started writing my first book because I was finally ready. After 40 years of people pleasing, I stopped saying yes whenever I really mean no. I also stopped worrying about men who weren’t interested in me and started to pay attention to the men that I was interested in. Last year, I met the person that I want to grow old with. And even though I don’t look 23 anymore, or even 33, I love the way I look today at 43.
Still, I’d be lying if I said that I no longer panic whenever a new sign of aging makes an appearance. Just the other day I stressed out when I saw a gray hair fall out of my left eyebrow. I’d never even thought to worry about that body part.
But then I remembered that Sundance, my boyfriend’s cat, is white. I decided that he must have hovered over me while I slept and shed hair over my face. “Please let that be white cat hair and not my hair! Please let that be white cat hair and not my hair!” I implored said eyebrow.
I must say that so far my forties are proving to be—to use yet another F-word—(pretty damn) Fabulous.
A few years ago I was asked to participate in a storytelling show. The piece I read was called “My Vibrator Story.” I had written it in a workshop and test read the story at the end of class. The audience, made up of the other participants, was primarily women that day. My story, a personal tale about masturbation, ended up getting lots of laughs—so much so that I was invited to share it in front of a much larger, public audience.
But when the time came to read “My Vibrator Story” at this bigger event—no one had told me there would be over 100 people there—I bombed in my delivery of the piece. I indicated to the audience when I wanted them to laugh. I kept looking at them and smiling as I read as if to say, “This is one big joke, let’s not take me or my story too seriously.” The audience’s response, as I read my work and when I finished, was lukewarm.
It was a long time before I was willing to read any story in front of strangers again. What happened to me that night? How hard could it have been to just read words off a page? Maybe I was too nervous. I’d never read my work in front of that many people before. Or maybe I’d felt insecure. The list of performers that evening had included original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman and other known performers.
Looking back now, I realize that beyond nerves and self-doubt there was something else going on for me that night: I’d felt deeply ashamed to be talking about female sexual pleasure, especially my own, in front of an audience that included men.
“My Vibrator Story” is about what I did years ago one summer. Tired of feeling disappointed in dating and having no desire for casual sex, I went down to the local sex shop and bought myself a sex toy. I liked mine so much that I went back to the store and got vibrators for my closest girlfriends, too. When I got tired of my vibrator I bought another and then another.
The story version of my experience, told in 1400 words, includes a jaunty play-by-play with orgasms. It also talks about the relief I felt for the respite: For once, I had total permission to not worry about someone else’s sexual satisfaction. I could let my sexual experiences be all about me. And as I got to know my body better, I learned more about what I liked and what I didn’t like. I began to recognize what worked for me and didn’t work.
When it came time to share in public what to me felt like an empowering, self-honoring experience, the last emotion I expected to feel was shame. But that’s exactly how I felt—as if I was telling a disgusting, dirty story.
Also, thoughts like these ran through my head as I had read: Why couldn’t I have read the story about the night I was almost date raped by that frat boy in college? Or what about the one where my swim teacher fondled me when I was ten? As if those stories were less offensive because they were about horrible sexual experiences and not positive ones.
Granted, there are now more stories out there that portray the more pleasurable aspects of a woman’s sex life—The HBO shows Girls and Sex and the City and Showtime’s The L Word are a few examples. Also, more women are openly talking and writing about the female sexual experience, including their own.
Still, many people in this world continue to treat female sexual pleasure like a taboo topic: Fit to be viewed mainly in a pornographic context, and even then primarily for the purpose of arousing the male gaze. God forbid the portrayal of sex when it revolves around a woman’s own pleasure.
In 2010, the movie Blue Valentine almost got an NC-17 rating because of a scene where actor Ryan Gosling’s character performs oral sex on his wife, Michelle Williams’s character. She is the one who orgasms. Last year, the CW network edited out a scene from an episode of the drama Reign because it depicted a female character sexually pleasuring herself. And just this month, Jean Franzblau, a writer/performer, got fired from a corporate job because the client found out she has a one-person show called Coming Out Kinky: A Grown Up Story.
Why are so many people in society still uncomfortable with stories about female sexual pleasure? I suspect this has a lot to do with a patriarchal paradigm that generally refuses to acknowledge women as sexual beings in their own right. It’s okay to think of a woman as a slut or frigid or a sex object. A sexually empowered woman is still a big no-no.
Despite my behavior in private and my personal belief that female sexual pleasure is awesome, I’d obviously internalized the cultural shame around talking about it. Although the truth is, if the audience (no matter the size) had again been primarily women, I wouldn’t have felt mortified when reading my “My Vibrator Story” out loud.
To be clear, the men who were in the audience that night didn’t do anything to make me feel bad about telling my story. But as I looked out into the crowd and saw them there, my first response was shame. I think it’s because on some level a part of me believed that patriarchy was right: female sexual pleasure is acceptable but only when a man is involved and not if it’s all about the woman.
Any kind of societal or internalized conditioning that makes a woman feel ashamed about owning and embracing her sexuality has got to go. The next time I read “My Vibrator Story” in front of any audience, I’m going to do my best to tell the story simply and unabashedly.
On Mother’s Day, I deleted a Facebook post before I had a chance to publish it. The update was going to acknowledge all the moms that I know. The reason I never posted the message was that there was more to it. The post in its entirety would have said: “Happy Mother’s Day… so grateful to you moms for embodying the Sacred Feminine.”
We live in a world where greeting card companies have come up with all kinds of ways to say Happy Mother’s Day—from funny greetings, to the poetic kind, to religious-themed greetings, to cards that are purposely inappropriate. Still, I hesitated to put up my greeting because I worried that someone out there might think I was just being “woo-woo” spiritual or, even worse, take offense that I’d linked “mothers” to the “sacred feminine”—as if to put the two together would be blasphemous.
As a teenager and through my twenties I didn’t see much use for my femininity except for whatever purpose it could serve for attracting the opposite sex. After I grew breasts and hips I learned how to wiggle and sashay in such a way that if I walked into a room you’d have to look at me. I would constantly bat my eyelashes, flip my hair from side to side to give off a “Charlie’s Angels” effect, and speak from my throat (rather than my diaphragm) so my voice would sound huskier.
It was the masculine I revered. Let me be more like my dad and less like my mom when I grow up, I secretly hoped. My dad was career driven, in charge, a successful CEO, and strong. All of the women in the family—my mom, my sister, his sisters, and I—adored him.
As far as I could tell by looking out into the world, men were in charge. Even in my religion of birth, Catholicism, it was always about the men. Women were cast as mothers, wives, and whores to support the masculine or be shunned.
It wasn’t until I started studying The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power ™ that I realized I wasn’t even close to embodying my feminine self. I was mimicking an idea of what I thought that was.
The first time I saw a woman do this subtle body practice, I wasn’t really sure what it was I was watching. All I know is that she was moving in ways that you don’t normally see out on a dance floor or in your typical dance class. And when she was done and she opened her eyes there was this expression in them that seemed to cry out, “epiphany!” Only, what about?
Then it was my turn. I stood up. Following the teacher’s instruction, I closed my eyes, spread my legs hip-width apart, bent my knees slightly, focused my attention on my womb and waited… for what, I wasn’t sure. What if nothing happens? What if I stand here the whole time the music is playing and I’m boring to watch? Maybe I should start wiggling my hips around and make this dance happen.
And then something did happen. There was this rush of energy that seemed to come directly from my pelvic area. It rose like a geyser through my core, my chest, my neck, my arms, until I too was moving in unfamiliar ways. Except that I wasn’t moving my body, it was the energy moving me: pushing one hip forward, the other hip back, raising my right shoulder, extending my left arm upward. And the energy kept coming in waves… growing thicker and thicker like molasses. What is this? Who cares! This feels amazing!
Through The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power ™ I discovered that there was more to inhabiting my female body than meets the eye. I started to pay more attention to what was going on inside me rather being so concerned with how I look. Instead of focusing so much on what the man in my life was doing or saying, I began listening more to my voice and paying attention to my desires.
I started to move in my body (and later in the world) from a place of genuine impulse that had nothing to do with pleasing anyone but me. I learned how to access my real feminine power—the one that comes from within and not the “power” that’s really just about whether or not I can capture the attention of a man. I stopped putting my passions and dreams aside whenever I got into a romantic relationship.
I am by no means perfect at any of this. But what I now know for sure that women are more than just the second fiddle to men. We are equally important and just as worthy of reverence.
Webster’s Dictionary offers several definitions for the word “sacred,” including: “highly valued and important, entitled to reverence, entitled to respect.” The feminine is sacred.
Saying that mothers (or any female) embody the Sacred Feminine isn’t sacrilege. It’s holy truth.
So today, more than a week later, I’d like to say: To all you sacred moms, Belated Happy Mother’s Day! I bow down to all of you with genuine reverence and appreciation.
Have you ever had an AHA MOMENT when you realized that you were just skimming the surface of all that you really are? I’d love to know more.