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?
If there was a Facebook option asking for my relationship status with my belly, I’d have to choose the one that says, “It’s complicated.” I belong to a family whose women usually grow up to have big, round, female stomachs, and while I love being part of this full-bellied tribe, I’ve often wished that our physical trademark could have been natural washboard abs.
My belly was round from the time I was a little girl. My mom says that’s how I was born to be. “You’re like me,” she told me when I was ten, patting her own bump of a “puson,” which is the Filipino word for abdomen.
I didn’t want a round belly. I wanted a flat one, like the bellies of the three detectives on the popular 1970s TV show Charlie’s Angels. Jill Munroe, played by Farrah Fawcett, had a stomach that was flat even when she wore a bathing suit—unlike me, whose tummy stuck out in my one-piece.
The only time my belly was flat was when I lay on my back. At night in bed, I would run my hand up and down my stomach, enjoying its horizontal shape and wishing it would stay that straight when I stood up.
I’ve had my eye on Jane Fonda since I was a girl. During the ’80s, she frequently showed up on the big screen, appearing in many of the movies I would go to see with my mother—9 to 5, On Golden Pond, The Electric Horseman—and even at home on the VCR, where, like in the Horseman flick, she starred with Robert Redford in an earlier film, Barefoot in the Park. (My mom liked Jane, but she was an even bigger fan of Robert’s.)
I was more into Michael J. Fox and Molly Ringwald back then, but Jane was definitely a part of the picture while I was growing up. I knew that Henry Fonda was her dad and Peter Fonda her brother, and that Bridget Fonda, Peter’s daughter, was her niece. She was a familiar figure.
I got to know Jane even more the summer after my high school freshman year. I was browsing through the discount sales shelf at the local bookstore when I saw her photograph on the cover of a large paperback book. She was in black tights and a red and black striped shirt, and she was seated on the ground with her legs raised in the air. In bold black letters over her were the words: Jane Fonda’s Workout Book.
I recently took part in a women’s subtle body movement class where the teacher had us explore our tongues. For nearly an hour more than a dozen women lay on yoga mats in the dark as they got to know this part of the female body.
As I lay on my back with my eyes closed, I stretched out my tongue, opening my mouth so there was room for its full extension, then curled it back in, rolling the surface of my tongue over and my top front teeth and then across the insides of my cheeks. I then curled the tip of my tongue backward so that it formed a ‘U’ over itself before lifting its tip just high enough to graze the roof of my mouth.
As I stuck my tongue out between my lips, letting it slither through my teeth, my neck to arch upward, my chin jutted out, and my shoulders reached back in a stretch. I discovered that extending my tongue in different directions—first up, then down, and later in circles and wavelike motions—created a ripple effect, as my back, my arms, hips, and legs began to extend themselves outward too. By the end of the exercise, my body felt all stretched out.
Up until now, I’d never given much thought to my tongue—only that it’s a necessary human organ for articulating words and tasting food. But having spent so much time getting to know this part of my body better, I was struck by a few aha’s that go beyond the tongue’s shape, texture, or the way it moves.
1) The tongue is a ripcord to inner space.
Stretch out the tongue in all directions and in different ways long enough and it’s like pulling the ripcord of a parachute. Only, what it opens up isn’t an expansion of space in the body. Extending and twisting and turning my tongue around caused the tension knots in my shoulders to dissolve, which led to my back relaxing, the tightness in my hips loosening, and my nervous system letting down.