I Sing the Body Electric, The Inner Landscape

The Female Form

This is the female form;    
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;    
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!

Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric"

Everywhere you turn, someone is making someone else over. On TLC, Clinton and Stacey tease and cajole. On Bravo, Tim Gunn opines. You can become Ten Years Younger, and the Fab Five return for their final season in a few weeks. Where women who have underrated themselves are concerned, there seems to be an overwhelming emphasis on being "hot," perhaps even "smokin,’" a word that appears to have lost its "g."

Sometimes I hear the people they work with say, "I thought this was all going to be about the outside, but things happened on the inside, too."

I hope that’s true. I know that for me, working on the outside disrupts many comfortable habits and patterns. Familiar means of coping with stress or sadness are not available to me now in their long-practiced forms, if I want to be true to my pledge to myself to take care of the body I have and not continue to run it into the ground the way I do my cars.

Somewhere inside me resides a demon who doesn’t feel good about being in a body, not just this body, but any body. Somewhere else inside me resides a fiend who has a very particular idea about what looks good in a human form and doesn’t happen to think this body ever has or ever could, at any size. Those two would cringe and hoot, respectively, at Whitman’s words. As instruments of torture, they wield shame and denigration.

These are hard words to write. I don’t write them to ask for pats on the back or reassurance that a form more Venus of Willendorf than Venus de Milo can be beautiful. I write them because it’s not enough to applaud myself for working out on the $10 machine. I need to record, for myself, the challenge of being at war with these dark spirits.  They represent old attitudes, old relationships, old rejections. Why do I still hear them? When does the day come when the old voices cease? Do we simply learn to live with them and pay them no mind, turn an adolescent’s deaf ear toward them? Or is there some way to remove them?

I met a man who believed I could climb a mountain, who gave me for the first time in my life the feeling of exhaling that divine nimbus. I wish I could fully inhabit that form without being censured by spectral tormentors. I believe I will climb the physical mountain again, but I know that exercise is no guarantee of exorcism. The new form I seek cannot be measured in pounds and inches alone.

14 thoughts on “The Female Form”

  1. Beautiful essay, just like the person who wrote it. (And I know you didn’t ask for that. But it’s true.)
    You still hear the spirits because they held power over you for a long time. But if your dark spirits are anything like the dark spirits of my childhood (which don’t have to do with my physical form), you will one day be able to silence them through teaching yourself to love your form for what it is, not for what it looks like.

  2. The wisest Siggy I ever ever ever knew gave me the best and most powerful tool for change and it is:
    ~you must create within yourself the “witness”. That which simply observes and reports without judgment. You must cease listening to anything mean, harsh or judgmental and turn your attention only to the “witness”. Then, and only then you will begin the process of permanent change. And the process is this: First you will stumble and the witness will tell you “Oh. Look. You stumbled. And this is what happened.”. Then after awhile you will notice you stumble as you stumble. And then after awhile you will notice just a second before it happens. And finally you will notice in time to make a different choice. The trick is to silence the harsh judger and enable the “witness”. ~
    I tell you Songbird, that it doesn’t matter how pretty or sleek or slim someone is, without the true value of riches that you enjoy with Pure Luck and your beautiful children and ministry and gorgeous to the soul friends, one truly has only that which will be ashes in no time at all.

  3. Songbird, for wildly different reasons, I spent a good deal of time struggling with the question of how to exist in a body this summer — and I am still struggling, though sometimes the way-finding feels alright.
    It’s not an easy struggle at all. Much as I am comforted to know I’m not the only one dealing with it, I hope and pray that the burden keeps becoming easier to bear.

  4. Hey Songbird,
    My lament exactly. 🙁 I battle with this kind of thing all the time – and what a categorical waste of time it is. If you find out how to hound down those demons and slay them, give me a hoi and share, would ya?

  5. I suppose for me Songbird, it was behaving myself towards change. It was learning to say “no” when I wanted to say no. It was learning to nurture myself in other ways. After some time, it became the new norm. It’s not that the old voices are not still lurking, but I can’t really hear them like I could. And, I so adore the person I’ve become that going back is simply not an option. I’m beautiful to me, and THAT is what matters most.

  6. Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal struggle. You see that it resonates with many of us who fight dark demons of one sort or another from our past. If you find the trick to exorcism, I will be first in line to hear it.

  7. I know you’re my age, so I know what you know about little girls of our era not being permitted to think that they were exhaling any divine anything from anydamnwhere. Particularly girls of our era whose parents were on the older side. So it is hard, after having all of that modesty and humility rubbed into us, to look down at our bodies, no matter what they look like, and pronounce them “good.”
    But I’m working on it. And you are one of the smartest people I virtually know.

  8. Songbird, I am very moved by your words and your honesty. I know for myself I am heavier than I have ever been, but for some reason lately, maybe grace, I have been feeling extraordinarily kind to myself. May you find a way to engage the inner demons head on until they fade beyond a whisper,

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