“What do you want to do for lunch?” I heard a woman say to her friend.
“Oh I’m skipping lunch today. I was a pig yesterday. Trying to make up for it,” the friend responded.
This conversation snippet could be heard anywhere. At the gym, a coffee shop, a bus stop, or perhaps even in your own home. But I heard it from two women I was standing next to at the last major women’s march.
In 2004 I, along with several of my college girlfriends, drove from Ohio to DC to attend the March for Women’s Lives. I can tell you that standing on The National Mall with nearly a million other humans making our voices heard on behalf of women’s rights was deeply moving. I can tell you that hearing this conversation then and there was deflating and yet, not all that surprising.
For all of the progress women have made too many are still ensnared in an oppressive paradigm wherein women’s bodies are viewed as untrustworthy, objects, dirty, “before” pictures, commodities, and available for the input of and control from others.
I call this part of patriarchy: body submission.
You likely know that I care a lot about women breaking free from dieting. I spend a lot of time teaching women to return to intuitive eating. I’m committed to body positivity and the liberation that all women deserve to feel from oppressive beauty standards.
But you know what’s beneath all that?
Body sovereignty is the opposite of body submission.
I am utterly devoted to contributing to the emergence of a world where women that have body sovereignty grab hold of it — and where those who don’t yet have body sovereignty gain access to it.
Those of us who have it don’t give it up in broad daylight through obvious acts of self-abandonment.
No—small holes are poked in the bottom of our power bucket and it drips out slowly.
No—body submission is dressed up, marketed, and sold as body sovereignty. It’s a convincing fake-out.
No—some of our most beloved feminist icons, for all their wisdom, still peddle in body submission making body sovereignty something we often have to find without mainstream role models.
Body submission, the giving up of our physical sovereignty, is a sneaky thing.
Here are a few ways it manifests:
You’re getting a massage and want the bodyworker to change the amount of pressure they’re using but you stay silent so as not to be a “bother”.
You’re out to lunch and everyone you’re with decides not to order dessert. You want dessert but forego so as not to draw attention to the fact you’re eating more than others.
You go to the doctor and they ask you step on the scale. You don’t want to. You know that every time you step on the scale it’s triggering for you. You step on anyways so as not to be a “difficult” patient.
Your significant other wants sex. You really don’t. You have it anyways to be a “good” partner.
You want to become a yoga teacher, or run a marathon, or climb a mountain but someone told you that people that look like you or weigh what you way can’t do those things — so you don’t pursue them.
You need to be seated at the front of the lecture hall so you can hear but you don’t ask for this because that would be “special” treatment and you don’t want to ruffle feathers.
You go on a diet, the most ubiquitous and violent act of compliance there is, because you’ve been brainwashed to believe that you can’t trust yourself or your body. You’ve bought into one body submission’s main messages: you’re out of control.
Through small everyday acts of submission many women give up the power they have as the leader, decision-maker, advocate, and ally for their body.
What I want you to know is that your body is yours despite all the forces conspiring from the day you were born to teach, tell, and treat you otherwise.
Your body is yours.
Your body is good
Your body is sovereign.
What you wear, what you eat, when you sleep, and how and who you have sex with. This is all up to you.
The choices you make for your healthcare, whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not, whether to eat that cake or not, whether to stop eating, fucking, working out, or whatever right in the middle— it’s up to you.
Body sovereignty is the clear inhabitance of your choices and domain of flesh.
It is the the protection and respect of your boundaries and your body.
It is individuation. It’s where you begin and everyone else ends. You are an adult. Grown, and thus free.
Body sovereignty is the advocacy of your needs, desires, and hungers. Especially in the face of disappointing others, ruffling feathers, and when your needs run contrary those around you.
Body sovereignty is the permission to choose, to err, to protect, to feel, to experience, to play, to refuse, to take up space, to be different, to be the same, to make noise, and to perform for no one.
It is to be beholden to no one but yourself.
Body sovereignty as I experience and know it is an allyship between oneself and one’s body in pursuit of self-supportive actions. What is self-supportive for one body may not be self-supportive for another body and only the inhabitant of the sovereign flesh can know what is right, and good, and true.
No one else can make you take advantage of your sovereignty and a lot of industries and social structures stand to profit and persist if you don’t.
My friend and colleague Desiree Adaway has a new daily practice in light of our current political landscape whereby she asks herself “Was I courageous, or complicit?”
This inspired me to ask: “Did I exercise my body sovereignty today, or did I submit?”
Those of us with the privilege to have our body sovereignty (or most of it) recognized by our culture, government, and society must advocate fiercely for this recognition to be given to all bodies.
“All bodies” means disabled bodies, bodies of people of color, aging bodies, bodies of the poor, bodies that love bodies of the same sex, transsexual bodies, trafficked bodies, sex worker bodies, and immigrant bodies.
Every time any of us reclaim our sovereignty we free not only ourselves but also the energy and attention needed to free others.
We must own, appreciate, protect and exercise our body sovereignty so that we can then use our bodies to bring this same sovereignty to everyone.
I ask you: What does this year look like for you if you were really inhabiting your sovereign body? What does body sovereignty look or feel like for you? Where are you not owning your sovereignty? How can you better respect and advocate for other people’s body sovereignty?
I’ll be asking myself these questions Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington and for many days to come.
The other night after I’d turned off the lights and gone to sleep I woke up and quickly grabbed my phone (the modern pen and paper) to capture the following statement: Reclaiming sovereignty begins with rewriting the body’s story.
In light of these words I was inspired to create a workbook to help you explore and just maybe shift your body story. This will be a fundraiser for organizations that promote body sovereignty. Be sure you’re on the newsletter list to hear more.
Each year I offer up a few suggestions for gift giving. This year I was tempted to suggest we skip gifts all together and just donate money to organizations on the front lines of the threats to the environment, native people and sacred land, LGBTQ community, reproductive rights, quality journalism, public school, Jewish people, Muslims, civil liberties, Black lives, electing women to political office, and so much more. Yet here is what I ultimately believe:
We need to do both. We need to fund the front lines and support small businesses and artists. We need to fund the front lines and, if gift giving is a special tradition, honor that.
So please, fund the front lines first.
Pick one, two or more causes you care about and sign up to donate monthly. Then, if you want, consider a few of the following as worthy of brown paper packaging and string.
3. The Woman Cards. Because the only thing better than playing cards with friends is having Hillary Clinton, Shirley Chisholm, and Sacagawea on those face of those cards.
4. Leaves And Flowers for Quitokeeto Tumeric Wellness Tea. Because pleasure and calm.
9. Penzey’s Double Strength Pure Vanilla Extract. Because Penzey’s stands for love and baking cookies is saving my sanity.
10. Parabo Press 14-month Calendar. Because I’ve been ordering family photo calendars for years and this is above and beyond the best: perforated pages so that you can tear off and save the photos when the month has passed, easy ordering from your phone or tablet, and two bonus months to bridge any gaps.
13. One Year of Unlimited Tarot Card Readings. Because we all need some help finding our way through 2017.
14. Intersectional Feminist Lapel Pin. Because a more perfect stocking stuffer never did exist. (To learn more about intersectional feminism head over here).
It’s 2 am in my home (11 am in Berlin which is what my body clock is set to which why I’m wide awake) and I’ve just gotten off my yoga mat. I had gotten out of bed to pee and on my way back I felt the urge to go straight for my phone, for Facebook, for the noise.
But what my days need from me now is embodiment.
(If you missed last week’s post “Stay” please read it first, this is a follow-up).
Mind you, it’s not my natural inclination. It’s often easier to check out. Being here, especially now, requires choosing.
But I’m devoted to serving more than ever and so I’m devoted to being in my body. I’m choosing to be here.
Being in my body does not mean I will run a marathon or do Crossfit (though if those are your thing more power to you). This is a commitment to simply keep returning to the sensations and wisdom of my body. Returning in small but meaningful ways.
And yes it’s sometimes painful because I’m in pain. My emotions, just like your emotions, reside in the body. So to feel my body is to feel my feelings–to feel what’s true. What’s true for me now is grief (all the stages) and fire and love.
And I want to add that when I got on my yoga mat I didn’t do any formal yoga poses. I just let my body lead. I stretched and moved in whatever way felt good. I used my foam roller to get out the knots. I reminded my hips, which are the first to clench in the face of distress, that it was safe to open. I patiently massaged an ache on the bottom of both feet.
Being in our bodies doesn’t have to be complicated, or graceful, or formal. Being in our bodies is just an awareness practice. Yes we can be in our bodies sitting still in a chair but sometimes for me, and for most women I know, a little movement, a little stretch, a little wiggle really helps to drop us down.
As a way to support you in being in your body I want to share with you two guided meditations from my Feast masterclass. In the first audio I guide you into your body and into the kind of intuitive movement I just described. In the second I take you on a guided body scan to put you in touch with your body’s hungers (and I’m not talking about food here). In short: I’ll take you there.
If you are living from the neck up…
If you are overwhelmed from the woes and waves of change in the world…
If you are skeptical of or mistrust your body…
If you want to drop into yourself but crave a friend go to along with you…
Every cell of my body is screaming “leave!” this morning. There is no where I want to be less than here. But I stay.
When I heard the news I ran to the toilet to throw up. I sat on the floor of the bathroom rocking back and forth, tremoring, breath shallow wanting so intensely to leave this moment, this world. But I stay.
My mind grips and grasps for me to run away to the future. To the what ifs. To the terror. To the tracing of all the steps in history that lead me and us to this moment. To the search for blame. To the desperation for salvation. My mind implores and beckons me to leave. But I stay.
As a woman, my body has rarely felt like home. For too long I didn’t live here. Here was not a place to trust. Here was not a place that I thought I could handle with my eyes open. But I found my way back and I stay.
Today the invitation I have for you may not be easy: stay.
Stay in your body. Stay with the tremors and the shaking. Stay with the pit in your stomach. Stay even as you notice yourself bobbing in and out. These feelings. This trauma. This fear and anger and sadness and confusion and despair cannot kill us. In fact staying is our salvation.
Stay in your body. Just sidle up next to whatever sensation is coursing through your flesh. Feel the pain. Notice the quality of your breath. Are you hungry? Cold? Perhaps the best way to describe here is ‘numb’? That’s all welcome.
The body knows and it has evolved over millennia to process trauma like many of us are experiencing. These processes require little effort on our part other than loving presence…other than staying with kindness.
In staying we can receive our bodies wise requests. Is it aching for companionship? Asking for quiet? Nudging us to put away the screens or put on a sweater? Now is the time to heed our body’s requests. Now is the time to stay.
There may not yet be answers to the questions in our mind but we can answer the requests of the body.
There will be a time in the near future that we act boldly, consistently, together and with steadfast determination but right now the impact has just happened, the car has just rolled, the fire just ravaged through, leaving our skin raw and our being bewildered. So right now our best action is to simply stay. Stay and tend. Stay and feel. Stay and listen.
Here is my call: let our response to this moment be deeper embodiment.
Why embodiment? What can embodiment do in the face such real-life practical threats?
Embodied women are resourced.
Embodied women are awake.
Embodied women are rooted.
If there were ever a time for women to be resourced, awake, and rooted this is it.
Let our commitment be to stay and to feel and then to act on behalf of those whose bodies are most threatened. And it’s all a threat to bodies isn’t it?
Marriage equality and LGBTQ rights? Human bodies.
Racial justice? Bodies.
Reproductive rights? Bodies.
War? ISIS? Bodies.
Affordable and accessible healthcare? Bodies.
Responsible gun control? Bodies.
The disembodied cannot support and protect the physically vulnerable nearly as effectively as an army of the deeply embodied.
Don’t move to Canada.
Don’t check out.
Don’t give up.
Don’t turn to your escape of choice.
Stay. Just here. Just now. In this hurting, reeling body.
All you need to is stay and when you leave, come back as soon as you are aware.
When all you want to do is leave.
When hopelessness nips at your toes.
When you don’t know where to go or what to think or how to proceed.
Just stay here in your powerful, vulnerable, sacred flesh.
The way forward will be found here and together, in our bodies, we will rise.
I was just a few months into dating my now fiancé and we were returning from a day trip.
I was tired.
He was all of the sudden excited. “Oh! I want to take you some place!” he exclaimed.
“I’m pretty tired” I replied, struggling to find my clear “No thank you. Take me home please.”
It’s called the Warehouse Cafe though it’s much more warehouse than cafe.
Walking into this dive bar, so dark that it took more than a minute for our eyes to adjust from the afternoon light, I immediately felt awash in sadness. Not my own sadness, but the sadness of the people there. Hunched over the bar, nursing a drink that was far from their first of the day. They were sad. Not even outwardly sad, but emanating sadness nonetheless, and I could feel it.
It washed over me like a cloud of cigarette smoke and made it just as hard to breathe.
Returning with drinks for us Justin beamed with that ‘Isn’t this place cool!’ look in his eyes.
“I need to get out of here” I responded as tears welled up in my eyes and my breath got short.
Wandering out back amidst a crowd of rowdy bikers we found a place to sit and I started to cry.
Needless to say he was perplexed.
Why had walking into a bar—a bar he was excited to take me to—made me cry?
I tried to explain.“The people in there.” Wiping away tears. “They are so sad. I can feel it.”
Now he was annoyed. I seemed crazy to him and his mind flashed forward to what life might be like with me, unable to ever set foot in a cool dive bar, too sensitive to have any fun. Or so he feared.
Underneath it all he was disappointed. I had popped his balloon.
Nothing I could say in the moment helped me make sense to him.
He was annoyed and I was outraged.
How could he not understand?! How could his first reaction to my upset not be compassion?!
No one spoke on the drive home and when he pulled up in front my apartment I got out, slammed the door, and he sped off.
We’d had our first big fight.
In the years since then I’ve come to understand several important things about myself, sensitivity, and relationships.
First, I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and I was born this way.
Just like dogs can pick up on sounds and smells that humans cannot detect, HSPs can pick up on a whole range of stimuli that non-HSPs are often oblivious to. This makes us powerful. This temperament is a form of intelligence. We’re also the target of messages that we’re weak and too sensitive. Not so. Being an HSP is an asset despite the fact that our dominant culture doesn’t see it that way.
In my masterclass Feast we spend an entire week focusing on high sensitivity because it’s such an important cornerstone in the journey to make peace with food. Often a student will tell me they are an “emotional eater” but what they describe is an overstimulated highly sensitive person using food to calm their nervous system. The more my students understand what it means to be an HSP, shake off any shame of their sensitivities, and take care of their unique needs, the faster the choppy waters of eating stills.
The three aspects of self-care for HSPs are prevention, mitigation, and recovery. Prevention looks like making choices to avoid or modify situations in advance that are overwhelming to our nervous systems. Mitigation looks like being in the middle of an overstimulating situation and doing what you can to make it better. Recovery looks like preparing for and acknowledging that after an overstimulating event our nervous systems are asking us to actively participate in self-soothing.
As an HSP our role in relationship is that of educator. It is our task to teach others about our temperament, our needs, and importantly, about the myths and stigma surrounding sensitivity. It’s just fact that most people aren’t yet familiar with the term or definition of HSP. It’s on us to teach them both directly through words and indirectly by role-modeling how we treat our own sensitivities.
Four years after that tearful trip, Justin has a deep understanding of my sensitivities and a respect for the gifts they bring. Yes, he has moments of frustration but they are minimal and assuaged by all he knows now.
Recently Feast students asked about dating as an HSP, afraid that they would always be perceived as “too much” by any suitor. Rather than speak for him I asked Justin to share a little bit of his experience and this is what he had to say:
What would you tell a guy friend who said he was dating a someone who is an HSP? What advice would you give him?
Learn to be patient. It’s easy to overwhelm an HSP, and you need to slow down and most of the time, lower your voice.
Sometimes what triggers Rachel doesn’t make sense to me, and you just need to understand that it’s her own experience, and you just need to accept and respect it.
What would you tell a single female friend who was trying to navigate finding a partner as an HSP? She feels ashamed and afraid any partner would find her sensitivity a burden. What would you tell her?
Be yourself, and be honest with your partners. Either they get it, or they don’t. Don’t hide those feelings just to spare yourself embarrassment.
What’s been the best thing about dating an HSP?
Letting me tap into my own sensitivities, and knowing that you (Rachel) understand me and can empathize, no matter how odd or off-kilter my feelings might seem.
What’s been the hardest?
Missing out on going out to clubs, loud bars, dancing, drinking. Crowded places are hard, places that most of the time I wouldn’t have a hard time with.
What do you see me (Rachel) doing in terms of my own HSP tendencies that make dating me easier?
I see you try hard and put up with things you might not have been comfortable with before, like sometimes putting yourself in crowded/loud social situations you might have avoided in the past.
What do you do to make dating me (Rachel), an HSP, easier?
Accept the fact that you’re special and that I should treat you unlike any other woman I’ve been with before in my life.
Relationships don’t come built straight out of the box. They come as a pile of incomplete pieces that you, with your combined strengths and challenges, work to put together and when you need a missing part you have to work as a team to find it. As an HSP a few things make it easier to assemble a truly great partnership:
- Learn about your unique temperament
- Exorcise any internalized shame you might have about being an HSP
- Develop your own personalized ways of preventing, mitigating, and recovering from overstimulation
- Respect your boundaries
- Assume the role of educator in relationships
Photo Credit: Rachelle Derouin