These are all judgments I have made about myself in my 42 years of existence. No matter how many people called me beautiful, no matter how many men have loved me, I still had this voice in my head telling me to suck it in, find the most slimming outfit, work out more... to cut out sugar and carbs, cover the grey and wear push-up bras.
I fought those voices, but they just kept going, reinforced by magazine covers and movies where the fat girl couldn't possibly be more than the comic relief best friend to the romantic lead.
But I remained dedicated to squashing those critics in my head, and I fought to squash the voices that other women heard too. I could see how ridiculous it was for my friends to spend so much time complaining about the hand they had been dealt by Mother Nature, but I couldn't help anyone else if I couldn't rid myself of my own body shaming demons, right?
And then in one morning with a beautiful soul named Natasha, I moved further down this road than I have in years. She asked the right questions, said the right things, and most importantly, she let me BE. She didn't ask me to smile bigger or turn my head a little or pull my shoulders back.
She didn't ask anything of me. How strange, as a woman - an hour of just BEING ME?!
I didn't have to PLEASE her.
This became clear from the moment I showed up for the photo shoot. As she explained her process and how the session would go, she made it clear that the number one goal was to have fun and express myself - NOT to make good photos!
With a long history in theatre and PR, my inner diva grew confused, certain that I couldn't just be MYSELF. Surely I had to be pretty Rachael or funny Rachael or charming Rachael...I couldn't just be "Rachael" for an hour - could I?
I am often so rushed - work, volunteer, family, friends, workout, repeat - that I take no time at all to THANK my body for putting up with all the crap I put into it, and for being pretty damn dependable, especially since I make a habit of neglecting it! I know that my body wasn't designed to sit at a computer for hours and hours every day, and yet I have done just that, for years. Natasha spent time during the session reminding me to thank my body for all that it does every day just so I can do all those things I love to do, and those that I must do - work, play with my nieces and nephews, hang out with friends, do yoga, sit in a car for 40 minutes driving almost every day...
One of the most amazing moments for me during the Femmeography shoot was when she invited me to think of the part of my body that I am least happy with.
Just one, I thought?!
I mean, my eyes are squinty...I have smaller breasts than almost every woman I know...and I carry way too much weight around my middle. I decided on my belly, since it is the part of me that I have loved the least in my life.
She invited me to think of that part of my body, and to THANK that part of my body - to show compassion and love to it.
And then this amazing thing happened...when I actually *took the time* to think about and THANK my big belly, I found lots of reasons to love it!
I thanked my belly for protecting my organs...more padding, more protection, you know? I thanked my belly for being soft and squishy and comfortable, and I remembered lovers who had lain their heads there, happily. I remembered my tiny nephews and nieces falling asleep on me when they were infants, comfortable, smiling, and safe.
And then I found myself apologizing to my belly; I had tried in so many ways to get rid of it, and it just kept hanging on, persistent and relentless in its attachment to me. I decided that I had to do more than accept it though - I had to LOVE it, because I want to love ALL of me. Not just the cute parts like the smile and the manicured nails or the long legs that look great with short skirts. I had to love this big belly that men in the 1800s would have painted with zeal, but men in the 2000s tend to pass by in favor of flattened abs.
I rubbed my hands over my stomach, and thanked my body for sticking with me through - literally - thick and thin. I had a short conversation in my head with my belly, and said I was sorry I was so set on destroying it, and would work harder to appreciate that it is part of me, just like my ears and eyes and arms and legs are part of me.
Not once in my life have I tried to make myself shorter or taller; I was born to be 5'10, and 5'10 I shall be. It wasn't until I read HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE by Dr. Linda Bacon did I learn of the 'weight set point', the weight that your body will try to return to, no matter how much you exercise / diet. I learned through my own weight loss journey that my weight set point was around 280 pounds - a number I have tried to hide for my entire life, but is just that: a number. It's a number on a scale and it is one part of who I am - not all of me. My belly is part of who I am, but not all of me. My small eyes are part of who I am, but not all of me. And my flabby arms? I have to steal from my dear friend Dana who passed away last year - they are my WINGS OF VICTORY! My arms are STRONG. I can swim fast and far using my strong arms. I can carry children and balance grocery bags and push a stalled car and give fierce hugs to my friends and family. My arms do more than enough and I appreciate and LOVE them, having been given permission and TIME to actually think about all they do - thanks to Natasha.
Natasha also guided me through some wonderful meditations during the session, and invited me to dance with a beautiful scarf. I had a blast, and felt like it was a special dance/yoga class created just for me!
I want EVERY SINGLE WOMAN IN MY LIFE to do a Femmeography session, or something like it. Just taking the time to really think about my own feelings toward my body was a valuable step toward loving myself. And luckily Natasha operates her business on a DONATION basis, so it is truly affordable for all!!!
I want to sign off with the rest of the song by Whitney - as you read the words, imagine them as a love song to YOUR body, from yourself:
I hope life treats you kind
And I hope you have all you've dreamed of
And I wish you joy and happiness
But above all this I wish you love
And I will always love you
I will always love you
I will always love you
I will always love you!