I took an unintended break from the blog world a couple of months ago. It began when I decided to immerse myself in my memoir again, which meant harnessing most of my creative energy into finishing that story. Just as I was about to jump back into blogging a good friend of mine reminded me that the female body, which is naturally attuned to the seasons, intuitively wants to rest and “go into the dark” this time of year even when our holiday year-end commitments dictate otherwise.
Hearing her words gave me the permission that I needed to give myself but didn’t know I’d been craving to STOP. I wasn’t aware of how much I’d been holding on to on my to-do list until that point—never mind that I’d already spent a huge chunk of the year writing my book and planning my wedding.
Oh right! It’s the time of year to go fallow! I went into semi-hibernating mode and loved every minute.
My body also underwent another kind of break last year after I started seeing a chiropractor. I’d been living with chronic neck and low back pain for 10 years and I just couldn’t take it anymore.
The doctor said that my injuries, from I don’t even remember what because they happened so long ago, were 100% fixable. All I had to do was keep seeing him for adjustments/physical therapy and stop working out for awhile to give my body time to heal.
“You mean for a week?” I asked him, hoping the answer would be closer to a few days.
“Probably longer than that,” he replied, noncommittally.
Little did I know this hiatus would last longer than five months. I hadn’t stopped exercising since I started doing Jane Fonda’s videos as a teenager.
A few years ago, there wouldn’t have been enough money you could pay me to stop working out unless I was physically unable. My worth was so tied to needing to weigh a specific number and looking a certain way, injuries and constant pain be damned. I would have been too terrified to let go of that rigorous control. God forbid I gain a pound or two or three.
And while I now understand, not just in my head but in my bones, that my value as a woman has nothing to do with the number on the scale, the size of my jeans or how “in shape” I am—what does that even mean, really?— I was surprised at how these old anxieties came rising to the surface when I stopped exercising.
My body is an object to be controlled and regulated. Who knows what my appetites might make me do otherwise.
Not being able to work out forced me to confront these messages that were still running the show and deal with them.
Rather than run amok when left to its own devices, my body did what it knows how to do and healed. (Finding out that the injuries were “100% fixable” got me wondering at how easy I’d been willing to tolerate constant pain for so long just because I’d gotten used to it.)
Yes, my body is softer and rounder because I haven’t been exercising. But that is what my body naturally looks and feels like when I don’t work out several times a week. And when I get back into an exercise routine it will naturally change shape to reflect whatever it is I decide to do or not do.
This time, I resolve to cultivate a more empowered relationship to fitness that doesn’t involve using work outs to beat my body into submission. I’d like to see what my body looks and feels like when I exercise from a place of desire rather than compulsion, pleasure instead of fear, self-love and not lack of it.
What about you?
Happy New Year to all!
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 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 am a 9-year-old living with my family in Argentina. The day is so hot that if it weren’t a Saturday and we were at school the teachers would have fed us popsicles at recess to keep our temperatures from rising.
We are swimming in the shallow end of a pool. There are five of us.
It’s my turn to use the scuba mask. The other girls are bobbing around in a row.
I take a deep breath before dropping underwater… as I float by, each girl pushes the bottom of her bathing suit to the side to show me what’s behind the nylon fabric… thin slits between flesh are all I see… and then I’m up and out of the water, greeted by giggles as I gasp for air.
I take my place in line and pass the mask down to the next curious girl.
I grew up feeling reverent toward the Virgin Mary. When my pregnant mom still hadn’t gone into labor a few days after my due date, she prayed to the Holy Mother for help so that the doctor wouldn’t have to induce her. My mom started having contractions just hours later.
My parents gave me Mary’s name twice—Marie is my middle name and Lourdes, which is a French form of the name Mary, is my baptismal name. Every night as a child with my mom sitting bedside, I would pray aloud: “Hail Mary, full of Grace…. Blessed is the fruit of diamond Jesus…”
I would say the word “diamond” with special emphasis because I thought it was so beautiful that there was such a thing as a diamond Jesus even though I didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t until I was 10 that I figured out that the words were actually “thy womb Jesus” and understood what that even meant.
Why is it that I feel squeamish about saying “vagina” in public? I didn’t realize how much of an issue this still was for me until about a month ago when on a crowded plane, my boyfriend cracked some joke with a punch line ending with the word “hoo-hoo.” Immediately turning into a word monitor, I looked at him and said “SHH!!”
As I turned to make sure that the little girl seated in the row behind me didn’t hear what he said—I caught myself. Why am I freaking out?
My first Barbie was a Growing Up Skipper doll. Skipper is Barbie’s younger sister.
A gift from one of my aunts during the 1970’s, my Skipper doll wasn’t an ordinary doll. Living up to her name, she could “grow” from girl to young woman in an instant. All you had to do was take her arms and wind them forward in a circular motion. Not only would she grow taller but her bust would get bigger. Wind her arms in the opposite direction and all of her would shrink back to original size.
At age 6, all I knew was that I had a “2-for-1” doll. Growing Up Skipper even came with an extra outfit for her older self to wear, and she had a tank top that doubled as a bathing suit. Now, when I look back I am able to see how this doll was sexualized—just like when people prematurely endow girls with certain attributes and qualities so that they seem sexier and more mature.
As someone who was born in the Philippines, I was thrilled to find out about the Pantene commercial airing there that has gone viral online. In it the contrasting ways that successful men and women are stereotyped are shown.
My first job out of college was as a video journalist for CNN. I worked so hard during the 4 ½ years I was there that every time I was eligible for promotion, I got the job. By my third year, I was writing and producing international news for the network’s CNN International channel.
I enjoyed what I was doing so much that working overnights, weekends, and coming in on my days off were not inconveniences but part of the job description as far as I was concerned. But what I hated about getting ahead—at the time, my movement in the company was considered rather rapid—was the whispering that went on behind my back.