“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.
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.
Before you read any further, head over to Facebook and follow Charlie Shipley’s The No-Diet Notebook where he shares the simplest hand drawn words in support of living a diet-free, body-loving life. They’re pure, bite-sized brilliance.
Here is this week’s entry from The No-Diet Notebook:
I shared this image with my current Feast cohort and one student replied: “I think having a fit body is an accomplishment. What am I getting wrong here?”
Her question is apropos given that the Olympics just kicked off and much of the world is celebrating the super-human feats of these athletes.
But is a fit body an accomplishment?
Let’s take a deeper look.
The first thing we need to do is separate out a fit body as defined by abilities (endurance, flexibility, strength, balance, etc.) and a fit body as defined by appearance standards.
The latter, a fit-appearing body, is not an accomplishment at all. There is nothing superior about a body that conforms to society’s narrow and incorrect standard of what a fit body looks like. Athletes of the highest caliber come in all forms. It’s a myth that you have to have a flat stomach or thighs that don’t touch or low body fat percentage.
At the height of my anorexia, strangers would openly comment on my body making it clear that they equated my thinness with health and fitness. “You must work out” they’d say when my reality was days spent in bed too weak to move from severe starvation.
My partner has a sturdy build, broad shoulders, and strong arms. He doesn’t lift weights ever. He’s of Polish descent and this is simply the body shape his genetics produce. Nevertheless, people make assumptions about him based on his appearance all the time.
Fit people come in all shapes and sizes. They have round bellies and thighs that touch. Strong people can come in bodies that look weak. Likewise, unfit people come in bodies that appear fit.
Bottom line: we simply cannot know from looking at someone if they are healthy or not and as such, appearing in a fit body is not an accomplishment.
Now if we’re talking about a fit body in terms of performance, it all depends on one’s personal values. It depends on personal values because physical fitness is not objectively (or universally) an accomplishment. It depends on what is important is to you and what your motivation is.
Personally, it’s not important to me that I can swim fast or lift large amounts of weight. It is important to me that I feel good in my body, am able to enjoy and live my life (go hiking, swim in the ocean, carry my groceries up my six floor walk up, etc). These are my values. Michael Phelps, Misty Copeland, and possibly the student who asked the question, have different values when it comes to fitness. That’s okay. It’s personal. If I don’t value these things I’m not less accomplished. I am likely accomplished in different ways.
Remember: all bodies are good bodies.
ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES.
We rank bodies for sport in our culture, but we don’t need to and doing so is violent. It’s okay to opt out of the body comparison game, as it’s a game that ultimately hurts us all.
It’s also important to explore our motivations for pursuing fitness. As I tell my student WHAT we’re doing doesn’t matter so much as WHY we’re doing it. Whether leaving food on our plate or asking for a second helping, running a 5K, or napping on the couch–why are we doing it? Are we doing it because it feels good to us and brings us joy? Are we doing it because we feel like we’re not enough? Are we acting out of fear? Are we doing what we want or what we think you should do?
I strive to act from a “wholesome” why. To move in response to self-awareness, embodiment, kindness, self-compassion, sustainability, a personal desire to feel alive, connected, and of service.
We could be the fittest person in the world, but if we got there because being fit is a way to compensate for feeling like we’re not enough or to be accepted, loved, or approved of–I question the blanket awarding of the label “accomplished”.
We also need to be careful when using a word like “accomplished” as there is an implication that one who is not accomplished is lacking, failing, and unfinished or incomplete. We want our language to make room for celebrating individual success while not shaming those who define success differently.
A final note: there are real life circumstances that can impede traditional fitness pursuits or results. They include but are not limited to poverty, mental illness, physical illness, physical disability, and serving as a caretaker. Having the time and resources to devote to fitness is often a luxury and privilege.
So is a fit body an accomplishment?
No, unless it’s important to you, available to you, and supportive of you. And even then, you very well might not look like the picture of fitness and that’s just fine.
“There’s No Morality in Exercise: I’m a Fat Person and Made a Successful Fitness App”
Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat (In particular this post and this post)
“Dear Virgie: ‘Why Does Exercising Feel So Complicated?'”
“How To Exercise Out Of Self-Love — Not Due To Fat-Shaming”
This week I had yet another client tell me that a certain diet (rhymes with Hate Talkers) is the only one that has “worked” for her. (See this: defining what “works”).
My client is telling me that this diet has “worked” but she is seeking my help with overconsumption and general dis-ease around food — two almost certain outcomes of said diet. Never mind the yo-yoing of her weight that she dislikes.
So I want to make something very explicit: food restriction (by any name, real or perceived) almost always leads to overconsumption (by any name, real or perceived). Buy one, get one free—like it or not.
Let’s take a minute and better define restriction and overconsumption:
Generally, in this context, restriction refers to reducing or eliminating food items or food groups from one’s diet. This can look as benign as “I’m trying to eat less sugar” all the way up through traditional diets and on to full blown orthorexia and anorexia.
The appeal of restriction is how it makes us feel—at first. We feel in control, powerful, safe, virtuous, and even high.
However because our brain interprets restriction (including often just the thought of restriction) as “famine is imminent” even the strongest will is often over run in pursuit of being fed. This is just our built in survival instinct.
Has this ever happened to you: You think “Today I shouldn’t/won’t eat X” and before you know it just the thought has sent you into eating twice as many of that food?
This is why whether restriction is real or perceived it’s equally potent.
We have a stereotype in our head of binge eating: on the floor in front of the refrigerator surrounded by empty packages of food, spoon deep in a carton of ice cream. Yet overconsumption most often appears in subtler ways that have more to do with what’s going on in our minds than what is going in our mouth. When I was anorexic I had an allotted amount of crackers I would eat each day. If I went over that number, I felt like I had binged, even if I was still calorically deficient. I used to say to my therapist that a binge for me was less about the food and more about the fact that while eating I was consumed by thoughts of the next thing I would eat. Again, I might still have been in a normal or deficient caloric range, but the experience in my mind had the fingerprint of overconsumption.
You probably know what overconsumption feels like to you and while it’s personal and often private the impact is fairly universal.
So what is the mental experience of overconsumption? At first, coming from restriction-ville, it’s release, calm, and a sense of safety as the brain registers that food is here and abundant. Typically this is followed by feeling out of control, ashamed, guilty, and “bad”.
Can you relate?
Without seeing the cause and effect of this cycle most people hop right back on the restriction bandwagon.
I implore you:
- Do not blame yourself for feeling out of control around food when you’ve been sold a cycle that all but guaranteed exhaustive circular trips from restriction to overconsumption and back again.
- Do not hop back on the restriction band wagon when you are or have been overconsuming. To so do would certainly cause you to repeat the same patterns over again. Diets by design (as a result of how they interact with the human psyche) include a trip through the land of over eating.
- Do not think that you can buy one (restriction/dieting) without getting the other for free (overconsumption).
- Do not suggest to anyone, ever, that a diet is the answer to their struggles.
I’m posting this image again so it’s crystal clear just how one feeds into the other:
GETTING OFF THE NOT-SO-MERRY GO ROUND
If you’re tired of going round and round…
If you’re tired of feeling like it’s your fault when a diet doesn’t “work”…
If you’re tired of how short lived the “perks” of dieting are…
Take the off ramp: intuitive eating.
It’s the only thing I know of that puts an end to the insanity and the off ramp exists at any point, no need to wait for another cycle.
Intuitive eating works with the human brain such that you never feel like famine is coming or that you, your body, or food can’t be trusted. Intuitive eating is sustainable and doesn’t require that you sign back up with a company selling you a guaranteed to fail product.
To start, read the book.
If you need help bringing intuitive eating to life, as most of us do, work with a coach, counselor, intuitive eating-focused nutritionist, or take a course. (See this list of resources).
May we all find our way to freedom.
May we all find our way back to our body.