There was a time when I wanted to be famous. I felt that if I could just see myself under bright lights, on the big screen, or the front page, I would finally feel like I mattered. In the last several years, I’ve stopped craving stardom. Maybe it’s in part because fame seems to be an easier feat to accomplish these days. Do or say something super provocative or heartwarming, post it online, watch it go viral, and—Voila! —for at least fifteen minutes everyone knows your name. But does fame even mean anything anymore now that it is so much more achievable? Then again, did it ever?
I’d like to think that the reason for the change in me goes deeper—that it is because I no longer need other people to look at me first before I am able to see myself or know that I have value. I’ve begun owning that I matter, cultivating this understanding from the inside out, rather than looking for that validation from the outside in.
For the longest time, none of this was the case at all. I let culture and the male gaze, especially, tell me who I was and how much I was worth. Often, that worthiness was tied to whether or not men found me desirable.
When women come together
Their bodies can reverberate
Creating a rich stew
Of yummy nourishment
I’m floating in a warm pool surrounded by women. Eyes are closed. Hands gently lap the water. Movements are languid, barely making ripples. One woman sits underwater, as if suspended. Above the surface, her breath rises, forming bubbles.
We look like we are hibernating, which in a way we are. This is, after all, a retreat.
It’s just us ladies, so no pressure to pull in one’s tummy to create the illusion of flatness. No need to wear oversize t-shirts to hide soft upper arms or round thighs or skinny hips. No need to walk sexy or look hot. Each of us is resting, saturating in what it feels like to fully inhabit our own skin. We are hiding nothing.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.