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!
“Thank you, Goddess.” That’s not something you hear said a lot out in the mainstream, especially on national television. But when Jill Solloway, the creator of the show Transparent, got onstage to accept the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series last week, those were the first words out of her mouth.
“Thank you, Goddess,” Solloway said again. I held my breath. What would everyone’s reaction be?
I discovered “The Goddess” about twelve years ago in an all women’s movement class. My friend who had recommended the class didn’t mention that it was a Goddess circle. If she had, I’m not sure I would have gone.
Growing up Catholic and Filipina, I was taught to believe that there was just the one God. He was a White guy in a long gown. He had shaggy hair and a beard.
The only reason I even signed up for the class was because my friend had told me that because of this particular movement practice her days had turned orgasmic. Orgasmic? What did she even mean? Was she walking around having orgasms all day? Did she have orgasms even when she was stuck in traffic? Was she having an orgasm right now? Surely she was being metaphorical. Either way, I thought, I’ve got to have me some of that.
That first night, it became clear that this wasn’t a class about orgasms. Instead, something else happened.
As I moved in my body and witnessed other women do the same, I felt the presence of God in the room. Only, he wasn’t a man, she was a woman. And her name was Goddess.
That my God might actually be female and not male should have come as a huge shock except that it made absolute sense—and not just in my head but in every cell of my being. No wonder I’d never quite resonated with the God I grew up with—like a relative you have nothing in common except for your bloodline.
That God was this male figure up there, remote and outside of me. With the Goddess, I didn’t need to wait to get to heaven to find out if she was real. I could see her everywhere in the flesh now, as the Earth (Mother). I could feel her in my body, moving through me as feminine energy. By recognizing that the Holy could also be female, I was able to see that women, and not just men, are sacred too.
Even though my spiritual conversion from God to Goddess was instant, this wasn’t news I was dying to advertise outside my circle of close friends and family. What if people think I’m too “out there” spiritually and stop wanting to know me? What if I’m blackballed by the journalism industry, the acting industry, any industry? Worse yet, what if I don’t get a date with a guy ever again?
My fears about what could happen if I were to publicly admit that I am a woman who worships the Goddess may be particular to me, but they do not exist in a vacuum. I spoke with Tabby Biddle, women’s rights advocate and author of Find Your Voice: A Woman’s Call to Action. She said:
“Over the years women have been persecuted for speaking their truth and being ‘different’ than men. Women have been burned at the stake. Stoned to death. Raped and murdered. While witch burnings don’t happen today, stonings do, and so do rape and death threats. The Goddess presents a shift in orientation from the male culture that we all have grown up in. This direct challenge to the patriarchal status quo is a game changer. It is scary for a woman to say, ‘I stand for and with the Goddess.’ She temporarily has to re-live the barbaric acts taken against women over the centuries since the onset of patriarchy. The memories of these acts live in her body. In her blood. In our collective consciousness. Who will support me? Will history repeat itself? These fears are real.”
Which is why I reacted the way I did when I heard Solloway mention the Goddess in her speech. What is going to happen to her?
In many parts of the world, including certain communities in the United States, to acknowledge the existence of a female God is still forbidden.
The day after the Emmys, New York Magazine listed Solloway’s thanking of the Goddess as one of the feminist highlights of the event. Twitter and the media mostly lauded Solloway for her creative work and continued advocacy for transgender equality. As Biddle noted, “I think there is more of an open-mindedness to the term [Goddess] now that women’s equality and ending gender discrimination are more at the forefront of the cultural conversation.”
Here, on Stories from the Belly, I’ve alluded to the Goddess—written about her even (or, rather, written around my relationship with her). But to admit outright that the Goddess is the one to whom I pray, the one I sit before at my altar, feels like I’m risking a lot.
Hearing Solloway publicly acknowledge the Goddess makes me want to take that risk.
The only reason this blog even exists is because I discovered the Goddess all those years ago. It was then that I began to own my worth as a woman. It was then that I began to recognize that other women are my allies and not the competition. It was then that that I began to understand that my body really is a temple—and it belongs solely to me.
Thank you, Goddess.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An ad for the upcoming Bravo series Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce was recently banned from subways and city buses in Los Angeles and New York because the content was deemed “inappropriate.” In the poster, star Lisa Edelstein is shown smiling while giving the camera her ring finger (as opposed to her middle finger).
There is a faded tan line on that finger, right where her character’s wedding ring used to be. The tag line accompanying the photo is “Go Find Yourself.”
I like the ad, which caused me to do a double take the first time I saw it. Is that an F-off gesture? I wondered, before realizing that it was the ring finger and not the middle one that Edelstein was raising.
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.