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.
Several months ago I wrote, “Stopping the Violence,” a blog post about a verbally abusive relationship I was in. He and I were together for nine months—longer, if you count the times we got back together. While nine months might not sound like a long period, the emotional injuries I sustained from those months with him were significant. It took me years to recover.
Yes, I stayed. Even after he punched a wooden fence one night in a jealous fit because I’d said hello to an ex-boyfriend. Yes, I stayed. Even after he swung his fist at me, stopping just before making contact with my face.
I definitely have had my issues, some of which I was working out with him. For a long time, I used to think that it was all my fault. If only I had been stronger or tougher, or perhaps less broken. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him at all.
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 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.
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.
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.