Beginning to Reclaim Our Bodies

As part of our women's ongoing RC class, three women held a session on body issues. We started with appreciations -- what we like about our bodies. For example, as human beings in general: our body's amazing healing capacity; the pleasurability of our senses; how our bodies give us signals when there is an emotional issue we need to deal with. And as females: our soft, smooth skin; the fullness of our bodies; our ability to give birth and suckle an infant -- though we found these particular examples to be difficult to "boast" about, and accompanied by discharge, including laughter and embarrassment.

We also talked about what is hard about dealing with our bodies -- for example, feeling vulnerable due to our lesser physical strength than men on average, the chance of becoming pregnant and being confronted with the conflicting issues that birthing and parenting raise. Then we each took time to counsel and discharge on some of the distresses that we feel about being in our bodies.

In a later class session, a classmate, Maria Lowe, presented information on taking charge of your gynecological exam. One of her main points was that when a woman becomes fully able to experience the physicality of her own body, she becomes more able to approach the physical world "out there" powerfully and fully.

We agree that this is crucial, and we think one reason it is so difficult for women is because from an early age most women receive "double socialization." First, to the extent that we are encouraged, it often is encouragement to "be like a boy" (i.e. work hard, don't give up, be strong, don't show it if you are hurting), because males are perceived as more powerful and hence "better." But we also are heavily indoctrinated to fit stereotyped, "be-a-girl" patterns (be sensitive, weak, attractive, nurturing), because (it goes without saying) that is our ultimate social role. Thus, a great deal of females' energy goes into confronting and trying to overcome the conflict this continually creates for us.

Just as the discovery of these internalized sexism patterns and their distress comes from sharing with other women in RC and in the wide world, so does our re-emergence as powerful women. We want to share some ways we have found helpful to contradict the distress patterns and become more centered, and hence more powerful, in our bodies.

1. We work towards taking charge of our physical exams and medical visits. For example, counsel on our early memories of doctor visits, e.g. first ob-gyn visit. Take time to look at all the parts of our body, to discover "what's down there," visualize "what's up in there," and do a regular self breast exam. Get still and listen to and feel the rhythm of our body, and see what emotions and thoughts come up.

2. We ask for help when something is physically difficult or involves things we do not know how to do. When anticipating a distressing or challenging body experience (e.g. major dental work), we take an ally with us or counsel on it ahead of time.

3. We dress comfortably and in a way that reduces our vulnerability. We choose each time whether or not to wear clothes that are tight, exposing, or easily damaged and thus costly (like panty hose); we wear shoes we can walk and stand in without pain; we regard wearing makeup, jewelry, and perfume not as rules of existence but as individual choices.

4. For counseling on physical injuries, we use the guidelines in the Fundamentals of Co-Counseling Manual. The Manual recommends counseling immediately after being injured, "before the pain and the physical tension of the injury becomes so stored away and surrounded by painful emotion as to be unavailable."

One of us recently experienced an injury, and here is her report:

I injured my thumb playing basketball on a women's drop-in team. I iced it that night, and the next day at a support group shared about it, including my shame and embarrassment about having put myself in a position to be hurt. I asked anyone who could stay after the group to give me support. (None of these people was familiar with RC.) A man and a woman did stay. I asked them to scan the pages in the RC Manual dealing with injury, so they would understand what I wanted them to do. Then the man simply gave attention, and the woman held the four fingers of my hand while I extended my thumb to the point where I could feel the pain. I was able to discharge through tears and moaning.

I counseled with a Co-Counselor that night, which brought up early memories of being hurt (through sexual abuse) and of trying to hide it, get over it as quickly as possible, and act like it was all better when actually there was lots of pain (both physical and emotional).

The insight about my pattern of acting like I'm okay when I'm really still hurting has led to my becoming more patient about my healing and more attentive to my still-sore thumb. Because playing basketball is itself a major step in my re-emergence, I did not want to have the injury end my participation. However, I accepted that I needed a break from playing until I had healed sufficiently. I asked my family and friends to do things for me that hurt (like opening cans), and gave my thumb lots of attention in the form of massage, soaking, etc. I also continued counseling, both with Co-Counselors and alone, by bending the thumb back to the point where the pain could be felt and discharging whatever came up.

In summary, because women's "ideal" body image has been distorted by sexism in the media and in our personal experience, most women have internalized the view that we are not good enough, pretty enough, or strong enough unless our bodies fit the mythical ideal. The reality is, though, that all women have different body shapes, and all our bodies have the ability to function well. We find counseling on all aspects of the body -- our body image, body sensations, physical activity, injuries, sexuality -- is key to becoming fully aware of our bodies and overcoming our internalized sexism.

Joy Gall and Kris Walker
Eugene, Oregon, USA

Last modified: 2015-07-21 10:01:21-07