A friend of mine recently found a fake Instagram account that had been started with the sole purpose of making fun of her body. This friend is young, beautiful and probably one of the kindest people you’ve ever met—which isn’t so important to the story, except to point out that even young, beautiful women can’t live up to the impossible standards set by culture.
If you’re a woman, you know this to be true and you know how deep the wounds of these comments go—even if they have zero grounding in reality.
And they just keep coming.
The world as it is has very little use for your womanhood. You are considered a weaker sex and are treated as a sexual object. You are thoroughly dispensable, except for bearing children. Your youth is the measure of your worth, and your age is the measure of your worthlessness. Do not look to the world for your sustenance or for your identity because you will not find them there. The world despises you. God adores you.
The hard truth is women today face constant and impossible expectations coming at us from every direction. Magazines. Television. The porn industry. Billboards. Not to mention other women and men who have been indoctrinated by the same culture we have.
We think we want to be skinny, that this would solve all of our problems. But this is not what we really want. Men don’t want “skinny” women and women don’t actually want to be skinny.
We’ve been fooled to believe this is what we want.
Holding onto this belief is disconnecting us from ourselves, from our Truth, from our source of our vitality and energy and life.
Women, depression and feeding ourselves.
I have a friend who has been battling an Eating Disorder her entire life. Most of us think Eating Disorders are some “extreme” condition only a few women face, but the statistics say otherwise. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 40-60% of girls ages 6-12 have already started worrying about body weight.
Oh my goodness, did you catch that? Ages six to twelve.
Whether or not this develops into a full-blown Eating Disorder is a bit difficult to pin down, since eating disorders happen on a spectrum, and since what might be considered “disordered eating” to one person might seem culturally normal to another (a latte for lunch anyone?).
But if my personal experience is any hint, I would say most women in their lifetime will experience some kind of dis-ordered relationship to food.
Disordered=Dysfuctional. Disturbed. Unsettled. Imbalanced. Upset.
And unless most women do some work around their relationship to food, and live with an awareness of the cultural pressures we face, far too many of us will live our lives worried more about what size jeans we wear than what we have to offer to the world.
No freaking wonder women are depressed.
What a woman (really) wants.
My friend who has been struggling with her Eating Disorder for nearly three decades came over to my house the other night, sobbing. I knew how she felt. She was me—ten years ago. I knew how trapped she was, how alone she felt, how this addiction controlled her and how truly terrifying it feels to lose control of yourself.
I also knew that almost anything I could say to her was going to make things worse.
The pithy compliments (“but you’re already so thin…”)
The urges to “just eat”.
A woman who is starving herself is doing so much more than trying to lose weight. She is desperate to matter in a world that has told her there is only one way to matter as a woman. She is determined to take back control of herself in a world that has taken control from her. She is doing what women have been rewarded for since the beginning of time: disappearing.
She is doing everything she knows how to do to own her body again—even if that means destroying it.
So what I did instead of giving her advice was to reach out and put my right hand firmly on her midsection—higher than her belly, but lower than her chest—and my left hand on her back in the same place. I pressed my hands toward each other, so that she could really feel the pressure.
“Do you feel that?” I asked her. “That’s the weight of you, that’s your substance.”
She kept crying and crying, but I knew she knew what I meant—as abstract as it was.
What I meant was that, as women, in a world where we are told what we need to do to matter is to get thinner and thinner and thinner and smaller and smaller, we lose touch with the fact that the most beautiful thing we can do is grow fuller and richer and to feel the full weight of ourselves. The most beautiful thing we can do is to feed ourselves, literally and figuratively, to give ourselves permission to eat, to exist, to show up.
What a woman really wants is to connect with the substance of herself—her dreams, her desires, her divinity, her deep love and essence.
That’s what a woman really wants.
The great misconception of being thin.
I realize how all of this might land coming from someone who is quite naturally thin. I’m tall—5’10’’—and my weight has fluctuated between 120 and 160 for my adult life. My happiest, healthiest weight is around 130. As I write this, I’m about 128. I say all that not because it’s anyone’s business, really, but just to acknowledge the fact that, yes, I’m thin.
And here’s the great misconception about women who are thin: that we are somehow happier with ourselves and our bodies than anyone else. That we do not struggle to look in the mirror without the self-loathing thoughts and silent comments that every other woman has made to herself at some point in her life.
That we do not also pick at our cellulite and grey hair and wrinkles.
Finding flaws in ourselves is what we do as women because it’s what we’ve been trained to do by the world around us, and because if we can focus on our physical flaws, it gives us a tremendous excuse to not do the hard work of actualizing our mental, spiritual and emotional potential.
Being beautiful is easy. It’s on sale at your local department store.
The rest of it can’t be faked. Spiritual growth can’t be purchased.
“Stop worrying about being fat. You are not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring or fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this.”
As long as I’m obsessing about how my thighs don’t look quite like they did when I was 23, and wondering how I missed the decade-long break most people get between acne and wrinkles, I don’t have to think about what my actual role in this world really is—since that feels like a much harder question to answer. I don’t have to face my real insecurity, which is that I don’t matter unless I can find a way to win a man’s attention.
It’s all a distraction. A beautiful, brilliant distraction from what really matters—and from what a woman really wants.
What makes a woman matter?
I had a conversation with a friend the other day where I told her I worried I had wasted my life. Here I was, 33 and divorced, wanting a family but not sure if I would ever be able to have one, working hard to focus on what I do have—amazing friends, a beautiful life, a successful career, a litany of new opportunities on the horizon.
But was that enough? Was I enough?
I told her that part of me looked at her life—married-with-four-kids, carpools, soccer games, that sort of thing—and wondered if maybe I was behind somehow, if I had missed my chance, wasted my time with the “wrong” men, if I had wasted my life.
She laughed. Do you know what she said to me? She said:
“Sometimes I look at your life and think the same thing!”
She told me she wondered if she had maybe had too many kids, or started too young, or given up on her dreams. She wondered if she should have spent more time focusing on her own career, and about how her 20’s were over now and there was nothing she could do to get them back. The whole conversation made us both breathe a sigh of relief.
It made me think about how short life truly is, and how the the only thing we can really ask of ourselves is to be in it with our whole hearts.
Do we really want to waste that time worrying about what size dress we wear?
Additionally, the conversation made me realize (again) the tremendous pressure there is for women to be something specific or do something specific in the world. Be thin. Be beautiful. Be a good wife and perfect mother and have the perfect family and the perfect marriage. And while you’re at it, don’t forget about your career. Climb the ladder. Win the title.
It is both ironic and tragic that we are fighting so hard to matter by doing these things when the one thing we need to do matter is the thing we most resist: to stop trying so hard and simply feel the weight of ourselves.
To exist. To eat. To feed ourselves. To show up.
“Beauty is an internal light, a spiritual radiance that all women have but which most women hide, unconsciously denying its existence. What we do not claim remains invisible… Society programs us, through the subliminal messages of popular culture, to believe that we are not truly desirable as women unless we adhere to the current standards of physical beauty…. [Yet] the woman who is truly self-aware knows that her self is a light from beyond this world, a spiritual essence that has nothing to do with the physical world.”
It isn’t until we abandon the definition of beauty and success the world has thrust upon us that we will be able to embrace the one that was given to us at birth.
This is what a woman really wants.
For the woman who has lost herself.
One of the most difficult times for me to feed myself in recent life was right after my marriage ended. I would talk myself through eating three times a day, but most days I missed the mark. This was not because I looked at myself in the mirror and thought I needed to be thinner. It was because, as hard as I tried not to go there, I wondered daily if this whole thing was my fault.
If you do not believe you deserve something—love, food, whatever—you will not allow yourself to take it, even when it’s right in front of your face.
I’ll never forget my therapist saying to me:
“The reason you are wondering if this is your fault, Ally, is because a woman’s worth in this world is measured mostly by her ability to please the people around her, so she finds herself making them happy, often at her own expense. You have been indoctrinated in this belief from a very young age…”
The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. For my entire life this is how I had measured my existence. Was I a good friend? Was I a good daughter? Was I a good wife? Not that there is anything wrong with being these things, but who is the measure of a good wife? Who gets to decide if a daughter is a good daughter or not?
And how dangerous is it for me to measure my worth and value and weight in the world by somebody else’s measuring stick?
A surprising number of women in our world have no idea who they are. And a big part of me wonders if this is because we’ve told them exactly who they need to be: thin, beautiful, successful, put-together, nice, sexy but not too sexy, emotional but not too emotional, a good mom, a good wife, a good daughter, a good sister… the list goes on.
It is difficult to find yourself in a world that has already decided who you are.
What powerful women do.
I have these two friends who are incredible women and are showing up in their lives 100%. They are singers and songwriters and also learning the tell the story of what happened to them—a story some very powerful people would likely prefer they not tell—a story that shakes the very foundations of what our culture wants to believe about women and beauty and value.
Anytime you start to shake foundations, people get nervous.
What will we all hold onto when this whole thing comes crashing down?
But despite the fact that this is a difficult story to tell, they’re doing it.
They’re doing it without any spirit of meanness or vindictiveness. They’re not trying to get what’s “owed to them”. They’re just giving themselves permission to show up in the world. To use their voices. To become themselves and to release other women to do the same. They’re leading away for all of us.
They’re doing it boldly and bravely.
They’re doing it slowly and intentionally, but also with conviction. They’re doing it without knowing exactly how the whole thing is going to turn out. They’re just choosing to step into the beauty of their own story. They’re afraid sometimes, but but they’re doing it afraid. They’re not measuring success by what someone else says about them, but by whether or not they were able to be in this world with their whole hearts.
What would it look like for you to show up in your life like this?
What would it look like for me to show up in mine?
What if women all over the world made the choice to shop playing so small, playing by the rules someone else set for us and to become ourselves? What if stopped trying to be so nice all the time?
What if we stopped starving ourselves and started really growing into ourselves?
That is what a woman—and this world—really wants.
- This is What A Feminist Looks Like, an article by Barak Obama
- Why This Female Nashville Duo is Speaking Out, The Washington Post
- How the Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too, Time Magazine
- National Eating Disorder Association
- A Woman’s Worth by Marianne Williamson
- Women and Desire: Beyond Wanting to be Wanted by Polly Young-Eisendrath
- Empowering Women by Louise Hay
As always, for more resources from me about women and power, and other subjects I write about, visit my additional resources page.