I Will Never Cut Another Dress

That’s a good look.

I lifted my head and peered out at my husband from behind the scarf that was covering the majority of my face.

Oh yeah, think I should leave it like this?

Oh definitely.

We both laughed as I continued to tie my head scarf and put my glasses back on.

My husband and I have a rule in our relationship: no body policing.

That means I am allowed to be in my body however feels comfortable without worry of non-acceptance and so is he. This is one area in our relationship where acceptance is not conditional.

So I can shave or not, wear make up or not, do my hair or put on a hat or scarf, dress however I feel etc etc.
He can shave or not, get a haircut or not, dress however he feels etc etc.

This is an important rule to each of us in our relationship because we have both been in relationships where we did not feel this freedom and we agreed that not having this freedom makes for an unhealthy relationship. We have to belong to ourselves first and one of that fastest ways to autonomy is through feeling full ownership of one’s body.

That is not to say that we never say anything about one another’s body/appearance. When my husband’s finger nails start to get long he sometimes scratches me on accident, I let him know so either:

A. He can choose to trim his nails OR
B. He is more mindful when embracing me.

Me saying something about his finger nails does not mean he has to cut them, he can make that choice, I am allowed to set a boundary stating: Hey that hurts please be careful how you touch me when your nails are that length.

This morning as I got ready and was thinking about this aspect of our relationship and silently counting my gratitude for it I thought of the times in my life when I did not feel in control of my body/appearance and acceptance was conditional on meeting the expectations of someone else.

As children we experience this all the time. For me it was my mother doing my hair the way she wanted it done while I cried under her comb that was piercing my scalp.

I started shaving my legs in 5th grade because two of the boys in class made fun of the hair on my legs. I had never given it any thought until suddenly I was made to feel ashamed for something my body does naturally.

As a teen it was all about trying to fit in order to stay invisible and survive. My face was marked with noticeable scarring after my car accident freshman year so I was already getting some harsh unwanted attention, I did my best not to stick out by way of appearance.

And in my twenties when my identity was usually wrapped up in whoever I was dating I followed their lead. My boyfriend said he likes brunettes better than blondes so for the first time in my life I dyed my hair and played the role of brunette for a few years.

There is one instance that always come to mind first when I think of why this (whole body ownership/autonomy) is so important to me: my ex and the dress.

I have a few great loves when it comes to dresses over the years. In high school I had this denim jumper dress that I loved so much I have it saved in a box to hopefully give to my one day daughter. In my twenties it was the Joni Mitchell dress, so named by my then boyfriend. Now it is my long blue wrap dress.

These dresses were my go-to dresses during these periods of my life because they all possessed the same magic: no matter how I was feeling before putting the dress on, the second I was wearing it I felt beautiful and grounded and myself.

I remember when I bought the Joni Mitchell dress, I got home and put it on to go out with my boyfriend that night. I felt invincible, like the most luminous, stunning version of myself. I got to his house, walked in surrounded by the energetic light I was feeling, and was immediately verbally shit on.

What are you wearing? You look ridiculous. You look like a hippy. You look like Joni Mitchell (which was totally meant as a dig – but she is fucking fabulous so jokes on him)Did you bring a change of clothes? I hate that dress. Never wear that around me again.

Honestly I loved it so much that as hurt as I was in that moment I still felt beautiful. And this was during a very insecure time in my existence, so for me to be able to rebound so easily from this verbal attack when my feelings about myself were completely wrapped up in how others feel about me.. that just further speaks to the power of this dress.

I was faced with a dilemma though. My boyfriend hates the dress and never wants to be seen with me wearing it again and I love the dress and never want to take it off. I was desperate to find a way to make this work. I was desperate. Those three words pretty much sum me up back then.

Acting on this feeling of desperation I did something that I immediately regretted, I cut the dress. The dress was long, white, and flowy with explosions of color splashed all over. It looked like art on a blank canvas. When I cut it all the magic was gone. I was Delilah cutting Samson’s hair. It was awful.

My boyfriend loved it. He thought I looked amazing. I suddenly realized just how much that does not matter. I did not like it and every time I saw myself in it all I could think was how I ruined this amazing piece of art. I think what I was truly feeling but was not ready to see was how I had once again abandoned myself. No amount of outside love and validation will fill the void created when we abandon ourselves.

I kept the dress for a very short period after the alteration before gifting it to a friend with the condition that I never have to see her wear it, ironically enough. I did not want the reminder.

Clearly that relationship did not pan out and I had time to myself before meeting my husband. That time was spent getting to know who I am outside of other people, that time is when I took myself back to my foundation and started rebuilding. My husband has only ever known me as a builder, as a woman under construction, as a being of growth and transformation.

Certain boundaries were set very early on in our relationship to ensure we would always belong to ourselves first:

No body policing.
Our books will have their own bookshelves.
Time apart is every bit as important as time together.

More boundaries were added as the years went on and adjustments are made as needed. One of the underlying messages in our relationship being: freedom to be exactly who we are and that be enough. And with that freedom I hold this truth sacred: Never in my life will I cut another dress.

joni mitchell dress

 

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Love and Support

Yesterday morning my husband was laying on top of me as we talked before he left for work. This is a pretty common scene in our home in the morning, what was different yesterday was that I was laying on my stomach so he was laying on my back. This did not bode well for my back. When I attempted to get up a few hours later I had issues. My back was tweaked  and I was stuck in bed.

It took me 5 minutes to gently roll myself out of bed. I proceeded to apply Bengay to my lower back and pop Advil, then I laid on a heating pad for 30 minutes. At noon I had a business call that I attended to from my heating pad on the couch, by two o’clock I was medicated enough to be able to move somewhat normally and at least be able to stand and sit with moaning and wincing in pain.

After I was finished with clients for the day I applied more Bengay and went back to the heating pad. When my husband came home he massaged my back for a while before I decided Epsom salts and hot water sounded good.

Laying in the bath tub I practiced breathing into the pain and stretching while in the hot water. The whole time thinking about my truth around healing: we all have the answers to healing our wounds inside us already. I meditated on this for a while always coming back to the mantra of trusting my body, she knows how to take care of herself.

The fact of the matter is it is great that I am embody this philosophy of empowerment in healing AND I know a wound does not heal over night. Bengay, hot water, and meditation is not going to magically heal my back (I wish!). My muscle has been pulled and it will take a few days for it to get back to normal. The Bengay, hot water, and meditation are just ways for me to love my body well and support it as it does its job.

Our bodies are truly amazing organisms, capable of so much, AND they can always use a little support and love.

bath

Womanhood

tired

I painted this picture today that made me feel completely overwhelmed. It brings up all these emotions around sexuality, and passion, and this energy and power I am supposed to have as a woman. Standing in these energy spaces do not make me feel strong and empowered, they make me feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

Suddenly I felt that flash of passion rise in me, it was frustration and resentment.

I sit in these women’s circles and allow myself to wear certain social labels such as feminist, and the energy behind all of it is a celebration of womanhood. That is just not my experience though, not completely at least. There is an “AND” there.

I am proud to be a woman AND I believe women are powerful AND I feel overwhelmed by my experiences as a woman.

My truth is that womanhood is not something that I stepped into, there was no sacred, beautiful right-of-passage. For me it felt like womanhood/becoming a woman was something that happened to me.

Before I even had the opportunity to process the fact that my body was changing the boys around me were taking notice. I never got to experience these changes and try to understand my new self before I was being grabbed at and taken from verbally, physically, and energetically.

I think of the idea behind the Red Tent, it was a place of sanctuary where women could take counsel with one another and celebrate their magic and be free from the shackles of womanhood placed upon them by society during their sacred cycle.

I grieve for the time I was not given. I grieve for the space that was never there. I grieve for all the parts of myself who have never gotten to call my body home. I feel like a child that has been trying to play catch up in a land of women.

I am tired of running, I am tired of having no where to call home. I am tired of being tired. I am just so breathlessly exhausted.

I Show Myself Love When

I went on a really terrible walk today. It is the second time in a week where an attempt at self-care has gone wrong.

This morning when I was getting ready for a client appointment I put on the pants I had picked out only to discover they would not close, at all. These pants that fit with a little extra room two months ago are now so tight I was no where near buttoning them, it was a total lost cause. I almost cried. I tried to make myself feel better, It is okay that you have gained a little weight, what matters is how you feel, not the number.. You washed these pants recently, maybe they shrunk.

I got myself through that moment and moved on with my day.

By this evening I still felt the cloud of self-loathing hanging over my head. I did not want to turn to food to fill this feeling of emptiness so I went for a walk with Lu. I always feel better when I meditate at the park, out in nature I would find my connection and come home feeling more balanced and grounded.

When we left the house I heard my neighbor across the street scream-talking to another neighbor. Oh God, No… I am not a big fan of the scream-talking neighbor. She seems to have trouble with appropriateness and has done things in the past that have made me uncomfortable. Luckily she was very engaged with the neighbor she was talking to so I just waved and walked on.

When I got to the park Lu pooped. Good girl honey. I took the poop bag from her leash and bent over to clean it up; while I am doing this I have both my cell phone and her leash in my other hand (I was wearing a dress and had no pockets for my phone). Right as I am bent over her poop Lucy pulls on the leash which results in me losing my grip on my cell phone, with that my cell plopped into Lu’s poop pile. This is my life folks, I could not make this shit up if I tried.

On a normal day when I am not under an emotional cloud and feeling more myself, I would laugh at this. The phone can be cleaned off, it is not the end of the world, it will make a good story. Not today. Today I wanted to cry. That was not very nice Lucy.

I picked up my phone, wiped it off on the bag, and proceeded to dispose of Lucy’s poop.

After the poop debacle we went over to our bench. It was sunset, the ducks were swimming in the pond, I could already begin to feel myself relax. I started my breathing to help clear my mind and sink into my meditation. Just as I am starting to drift away into nature I feel Lucy go rigid on the leash, a dog was coming towards us with its owner. I asked Lu to sit, which she did, and thought nothing more of it, Lucy is dog friendly and usually has good manners. Not this time. I have NO IDEA what got into her but she lunged and barked and acted like a lunatic. WTF Lu, seriously?

That was it. Clearly meditation at the park was not meant to happen. Lu and I walked home and when we came back by my scream-talking neighbor’s house she came outside. I do not want to rehash the entire situation because it was exhausting enough the first time but the long-story-short is: She asked me if I was pregnant, I said No.  Then she told me that I haven’t looked happy lately and that she can tell I have gained weight.

This woman does not know me. I was literally sitting there analyzing my recent behavior as I have been getting into and out of my car in the drive way because that is the only time she sees me. Have I looked any less happy as I get into the car? It is not like I was ever skipping and singing to begin with. Not to mention the comments about my body. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

I was so hurt, her timing could not have been worse. Really.

And as awful as all of this was, the worst part, the part that really broke my heart the most is that I did not show up for myself. She injured me so deeply, she said very personal things without right to do so – to be clear, NO ONE has a right to speak to me that way- and I not only took it, I agreed with her. I AGREED WITH HER. Yeah well I have gained a little weight and I did just start a new job, maybe I am a little stressed, maybe that is what you picking up on. THAT IS NOT MY TRUTH.

I have gained weight AND my body is no one’s business. I have been stressed AND it has had nothing to do with my new job. I have gained weight AND I have been stressed AND I am happy AND none of it is anyone else’s business.

I wish I could go back and say exactly what I needed to say to protect the part of me that she was hurting: That is a really personal question I am not comfortable answering.

I came home, let Lu off her leash and went into my closet and cried. I don’t feel like I loved myself well today and I am having a lot of judgements.

It is not too late for me to love myself. Last year I wrote one of my favorite pieces of writing I have ever done: I Love Myself Most When. It is all about celebrating the parts of myself that I love deeply and feel connected to AND it is a reminder to show love to the parts of myself I have a complicated relationship with and feel disconnected from. So now I would like to sit in that energy and love myself well.

I will show myself love when I feel out of control in my relationship with food.
I will show myself love when my clothes do not fit me the way I think they should.
I will show myself love when I am putting the feelings of others before my own.
I will show myself love when I feel abandoned.
I will show myself love when my attempts to show myself love do not go as planned.
I will show myself love when I want to give up.
I will show myself love when I feel empty.
I will show myself love when I am afraid to speak my truth.
I will show myself love when I back slide and lose conviction.
I will show myself love. I will show myself love. I love you.

Already I feel so much better. My well being does not depend on the weight I lose and gain, it does not depend on the messages I receive from the outside world, it does not depend on whether the ways in which I attempt to perform self-care are successful or not. My well being depends solely, exclusively, 100% on me. How I feel about me. When I am not loving myself well every part of me feels that. When I am loving myself well every part of me feels that.

Tonight I am grateful.

i will love myself

What Do You See?

Last night I was writing a post about my weekend and this great time I was having with my husband dog sitting our friend’s dog. After I was finished writing I decided not to post it. I decided not to post it because of this photo:

puppy love

It is so cute right? We filled up the kiddy pool and the three of us totally had a blast while my husband laughed and took pictures from the hammock.

I didn’t post because I had a moment of fear. A thought crossed my mind, what mean things could people say about me in this photo? My inner critic gladly seized this opportunity to answer my question:

Look at this dumb girl in her kiddy pool with a bunch of dogs. Grow up.
Nice one piece prude.
Is that her hair or a blonde football helmet?
She is fat.

Nope. Not gonna do it. No thank you. I immediately deleted the post and went to bed to read my book. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought but then tonight I watched the documentary Embrace and was moved.

I have been working on my relationship with my body for a long time. I am not ready to tell my story about that yet. What I can say though is in the last 5-7 years self-love has been my goal and I feel myself building a deeper connection within.

Clearly I still have inner critics that are waiting in the shadows to strike, the mission has not been to silence them but to shine light on their faces and show them love. Self-love includes all parts of self, shadows too.

So here is how I am going to shower myself with a little love tonight and hopefully inspire others to do the same; I am going to share some of my favorite photos of myself and discuss briefly how I used to view myself in these photos and how that view has shifted.

I will start with one of my favorites:

Lu and me in the mountains

This is my favorite photo of me and Lu. We are in the Georgia mountains during my husband and I’s favorite family vacation to date.

When I used to look at this photo the first place my eyes went were to my double chin and pudgy belly. I am a size 12 in this photo, which is towards the higher end of my spectrum which ranges from sizes 8-14.

best buds moo

This is a photo of me and my best buddy/niece Moo.

When I used to look at this photo I was critical of my overall blobbyness. I am a size 14 in this photo and around 160 pounds, my heaviest weight on record.

banana

This is Banana, one of Moo’s sisters. I love this picture because this is when she was first learning to draw and I was part of that, that was special for me.

When I used to look at this picture all I could see was my awful hair (this was during another pixie grow out attempt that I inevitably gave up on because I loathed my looks so much during the grow out process). I also zeroed in on my make up less face and had my judgements about what I look like in my truth, make up free.

Here is my last photo I will share, it is the one I feel the most vulnerable about.

honest

This is a picture I think many people have hidden in their phones, it is a photo I took to document how I look in one of my bathing suits over the course of many months while I was attempting to lose weight. I never dreamed I would share this photo, if I knew that in the future I would be posting it to my blog I probably would have never taken it. She is one of my shadows though and if I am going to show the girls in these photos love, I want to show them ALL love.

When I look at this photo I feel shame, not just because of my physical reflection or the fact that my room isn’t clean, I feel shame because of what this photo represents. This photo represents self-loathing and comparison and obsession and feeling not-good-enough. I can feel this girl’s rigidity and disappointment, the waves of shame crashing over me are overwhelming. Sharing this photo and being honest about it makes me feel completely vulnerable and not the good authentic kind of vulnerable, the naked in public kind. The please don’t look at me kind.

So now let’s line all these photos up and see what we see:

When I take away all of my criticisms what I see in these photos is joy. In the first four photos I see me wearing my favorite clothes and doing my favorite things with my favorite people. I see love and connection.

I want to go now to the first photo that inspired this post and the last one that made this post feel scary to share:

These photos share similarities; in both of these photos I am in a bathing suit with Lu. What I want to highlight is their obvious contrast though, the energy is so different. In one I am hyper focused on one thing: my appearance. Yes Lu is in the photo but this is not a photo of Lu and I, it is a photo of me ignoring the love in the room and instead punishing myself in the mirror. In the other photo, the one that I was originally afraid to share I am happy, I am playing, there is so much joy and love and connection happening. I am not thinking about my weight or how my bathing suit fits, I am just spraying the girls and having a great time.

Taking away my criticisms and looking honestly at these photos shows me that I am able to experience love, connection, and joy at any size, no matter what my hair looks like, with or without make up, and regardless of what I am wearing. My obsession with my looks and weight is part of what can lead to feelings of disconnection from my ability to love myself and accept love from others.

I recommend the documentary and I encourage you to step out of your criticisms the next time you look at a photo of yourself and pay attention to what you really see.