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Co-Researchers Content Statements Results

rebecca's research May 18, 2000

Group Brainstorming Results - Content and Processes

The results of our group brainstorming session during our Tahoe retreat are reported below in two parts: 25 content statements from our discussion, and 12 processes we identified as useful for further exploration. Both of these lists may offer productive focal points for future research. The content and processes results appear below in the order in which they arose in our discussions.

List of Content Statements

1. We’re a subset. We speak only for ourselves based on our experiences as well- educated, middle-class, Euro-American women. We hope other women will learn from and find inspiration in the diversity of our experiences in the same way as we have grown from the lived experiences of other women in our lives. We have learned and have much more to learn about healing relationship with body from other cultures, history, and science.

2. Unique solutions. Our embodiment processes are unique, including how we each got here and how we each will continue. United in opinion, we conclude that there is no one right answer, one right way, one right method for healing one’s relationship with body and weight. We have all experienced pressure from ourselves, family, friends, and strangers to find and employ the one right method to achieve a culturally or medically defined right body size. Each of us has spent a great deal of time, energy, and money trying to find solutions to our “weight problems” by following the advice given to us by well-meaning loved ones and healthcare professionals. We have discovered that even a single universally satisfying solution for the six of us is impossible. We understand that this perspective is complex and counter-cultural. The complexity of our perspective, which could conceivably be construed to mean that there are as many roads to healthy relationship with body as there are women, confounds the culture’s need and desire for quick-fix solutions. We invite the culture and those who have the most power to shape its dominant perspectives to join us in the complexity to find real solutions for improving relationship with body through issues with food and weight.

3. Embodiment. For us embodiment describes the process of achieving a deeper connection with body, emotions, intuition, soul, other beings, and the greater body of life. Conscious participation in the embodiment process results in maturity and greater well-being. Embodiment is about acknowledging intersections, as the living body itself manifests due to the intersection of matter and spirit. Embodiment is our prescription for the culture. Integrity comes with embodiment. It cultivates an innate morality more refined than cultural moral rules.

4. BodySoul. While these bodies breathe, we see body and soul as integrated. Body is an expression of soul. This includes fat bodies. Although, as fat women we are sometimes treated with such hatred and disrespect that we have a hard time acknowledging the connection ourselves.

5. Finding voice. Listen to us! Listen to our knowledge, wisdom, experience, needs, passions, opinions, and humor. We need to give voice to the pain we’ve experienced by living under internal and external patriarchal order. While we strive for connection, we need to speak about this even if we appear angry and don’t say it well. We must say something. No more silence. Finding our voice is part of our healing.

6. Trusting us. Trust us to know what we know, to experiment with different views, and to come up with our unique solutions and directions. If your attempts to fix, advise, and/or teach us are motivated by your belief that you know better than we do, this is not trust. Your belief in our ability to care for ourselves helps us believe in our ability to care for ourselves.

7. Supporting us. Support our experimentation under our direction. Be supportive allies and collaborators rather than dictators of the process. We are knowledgeable, able, and have our own volition. We seek support, not control, and partnership in our transformation, not domination. When we seek your professional help we are asking for your education and expertise, not your dictation of our healing process.

8. Sexual abuse. Four of the six of us experienced some form of sexual abuse. A fifth grew up in an environment of sexual abuse. How prevalent is sexual abuse really? Those not molested feel molested by patriarchal culture. Those of us without memories of inappropriate childhood sexual experience wonder why we have so much in common with women (inside and outside this group) who do. We believe health care providers need to be sensitive to and trained for supporting the particular needs of obese women whose history includes sexual abuse - which according to the statistics in our group could be a large percentage of those who view their relationship with their body as part of their psycho-spiritual growth.

9. Creative expression. Creative expression is a tool that supports embodiment by teaching us to honor what emerges freely from our soul. Creative expression is not “Art.” Therefore authentic expression is revered over form, inviting us to see into our deepest nature without undue criticism and judgment. The process and the resulting images teach us to see the beauty of ourselves and our bodies as reflection of the divine. We ask that you encourage creative expression in us and in kids. We have learned that it is very important to play and color outside the lines. Especially those of us who had to grow up fast.

10. Living as lost children. Many of us have experienced living as lost children-troubled and unable to ask for help from those who were supposed to protect us. From this place half of us feel very strongly about supporting the soul growth and development of children through music and creativity and have done work related to this desire. We recommend smaller class sizes for children so they will be seen and heard. In addition, it is our firm belief that adults need their own embodied integrity; otherwise their authority comes out as hypocrisy and/or misuse of power. Kids register that hypocrisy and learn they can’t trust the adults they are supposed to be able to depend on for their growth. Immature parents put children in the position of having to care for themselves and frequently for their parents as well. When children hurt at such a young age, food is a natural way to unconsciously manage feelings and tensions beyond their level of development. Encourage kids to know and express their feelings, and to eat naturally. Honesty with kids instills trust and respect.

11. The real hunger. The weight is a wayshower; it helps point us in a different direction because the culture doesn’t offer food for the real hunger. We have each learned ways to tend that deeper hunger. We are hungry for embodiment.

12. On men. Men are not the problem and, in fact, some of our male loved ones have been our greatest healers. By contrast, some women in our lives have had the most fiercely patriarchal influences. Embodiment is not a gender issue, it acknowledges a reverence for the balance of masculine and feminine energies we all carry.

13. On patriarchy. It’s very important to be careful with this term. In our group it is new to some and a familiar shorthand for others. We use the term patriarchy in our group context to identify negative masculine energy or twisted masculine behavior that prioritizes control for power’s sake. Patriarchy overshadows positive masculine qualities and the feminine. We seek not to, but we acknowledge the tendency to throw out the baby (growing understanding of the deep masculine) with the bath water (abusive patriarchy). Societal pressure, consensus consciousness, and the groupthink of patriarchy makes confronting our inner patriarch a daunting task.

14. Body size. Having a large body is a conscious or unconscious statement of our anger at the media, billboards, commercials, and the general culture’s abuse of the feminine. Our anger at being objectified plays out through our body size. A form of rebellion and making our presence known, a large body can be a statement against that power which drives the media, advertising, and the source of that destructive influence. With regard to anger, our fat is our voice until we are conscious enough to find the words.

15. Service. We strive to teach what we have learned in a connected, compassionate way. We also acknowledge our anger at having to do it.

16. The diet industry. The diet industry is not our friend. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to want to help us, but it really wants us to help it make money. The diet industry depends on fat hatred for marketing. It depends on us being or feeling fat and believing that we are more lovable if we lose weight. It depends on fat bashing and dis-embodiment for its success. Embodiment heals because it connects us to our feeling function and inner integrity, exposing the hypocrisy of the diet industry. Our perspective is confounding to culture because it is anti-consumerism.

17. Weight as teacher. Weight teaches me what’s between me and what I know. Issues with weight can be a calling or invitation to know the divine through one’s own matter.

18. New Age guilt. There is some pressure in personal growth communities to always push one’s edges. Not pushing is judged as a lack of courage or not really wanting to change or heal. This is patriarchy disguised as personal growth. Embracing embodiment provides the opportunity to leam when to go into motion (masculine) and when to back off or make space (feminine). What’s better for us is balance, trusting, encouraging us to know our own process and timing. The appropriate question is, in the moment, what’s going to get me more into my body right now? Going forward or resting?

19. Being bad. Some of us lived the myth of the good little girl. In this myth the little girl gets to be bad and not conform by eating and creating an “unacceptable” body size and shape. Pressure to conform to standards of perfection, accomplishment, and goodness invites a rebellious response. Acceptance and support for more realistic childhood development might lessen the need for acting-out behavior with food.

20. Beauty. Thank you to The Body Shop for their fabulous real-woman-sized Barbie poster. We fight to acknowledge our own beauty against cultural pressure to detest our fat. We are learning to define our beauty with greater emphasis on our essence or how authentically our soul shines through our physical forms. We are also learning to find our bodies beautiful regardless of their size or shape. We implore the culture to reflect to all people their beauty at the level of essence and body, regardless of size. Kids especially are in need of being acknowledged for their innate beauty, who they are, and not just what they look like or how well they perform.

21. Diversity in body size/right body size. We acknowledge and celebrate the movement in the culture toward greater awareness of and support for diversity in body size. We observe a back and forth in this process. While strides are made by companies like The Body Shop, there are counter advances in advertising and science (the new, lower “healthy body mass index”). This reminds us of our own internal back-and-forth process of growth, so we are optimistic that positive change can happen in the culture as it has in ourselves. For us, “right body size” means accepting one’s body, regardless of size; and if a heart-centered longing persists, finding a body size that feels right as a congruent expression of our soul.

22. Change in body size. The responses to us when we change in body size are generally demeaning. When we’ve been thin we hear, “You look great!” When we are fat we hear silence or advice. People don’t know how to talk to us about improving our relationship with body without polarizing the issue. We recommend that we all work together to find new ways and new language if necessary to address the desire for change and the resulting change (increases or decreases in body size) without the traditional insult or inflation.

23. Sexuality. We feel something needs to be said about fat women and sexuality. Since we have no heterosexual cultural images of fat women being seen as sexy and desirable in the media, we have seen ourselves as less desirable sexually unless we are thin. The lesbian community provides more support for sexy at any size. The gift of this is that we are in the process of having to define our sexuality for ourselves rather than relying on the culture’s flat and un-embodied model of sexuality.

24. Physiology vs. psychology. We are curious about the connection between food allergies and compulsive eating. What percentage of this issue is physical, emotional, and/or spiritual?

25. Weight and health. What is fact versus myth regarding the health risks of obesity and the general health of fat people? Studies show that exercise is more important for health than low weight. We call for doctors to respect our bodies rather than gang up against us to change.

List of Proposed Group Processes

The following list was generated by the group at the retreat during a discussion of how we would further immerse ourselves in the study of our collective knowledge of the obesity healing process. We estimated that we had enough time to complete one process together; by using 10 votes per person we weighted our votes on those processes we each felt most strongly about undertaking. The processes are listed in descending order, beginning with the item that received the greatest number of votes.

1. Spending time again with each women’s story; as a group discuss our individual resonance with and differences from the experiences of the storytellers one by one. In this process we would also discuss story titles, archetypes, and themes if they appear to be compelling avenues of exploration as we proceeded. This process was completed during the retreat and appears in Appendix L: Teaching Sessions.

2. Upon reflection and through creative expression and discussion, answer the question, “What is the hunger?” This process was completed at the one-year follow-up.Lightly edited versions of the co-researcher’s, researcher’s, and assistant’s individual responses to the question, and the researcher’s reflections on the process, appear in the following section of this chapter.

3. Upon reflection and in discussion, answer the question, What roles have music, creative expression, and dreams played in the healing process?

4. Upon reflection and in writing, all co-researchers and the researcher describe what they individually feel is the single most important theme, idea, or aspect regarding this healing process from each woman’s story. Discuss 36 possible themes.

5. Participate in a single group creative expression piece together. Ideas include energy collage, group collage of themes, and body collage. This process was completed organically throughout the retreat in the form of group singing. In addition we created a group image during the retreat, a photo of which appears in the next section.

6. Upon reflection and in discussion answer the question, What kind of initiations or rites of passage would we create for women and/or girls to empower them in relationship with their bodies and reduce their susceptibility to disordered eating? What embodiment rituals or rites of passage have we come up with for ourselves along the way?

7. In discussion answer the question, What would we say to healthcare professionals, educators, girls, boys, fathers, and other women?

8. Upon reflection and in discussion, name the turning points in our stories and use them to feed our imaginations of the future.

9. Upon reflection, through creative expression, and in discussion answer the questions, “What is between me and what I know? What’s the resistance?”

10. In discussion answer the questions, “How do we keep going in this process? How do we continue living it, remembering it, and keeping it alive?”

11. Expand and organize the content statements from the brainstorming session. The group felt there was enough material in the poster notes to give this to Becky to write up after the retreat. These statements are included above.

12. In discussion define our cultural subset including ethnicity, age, religion, socio- economic level, weight control history, personal growth background, and languaging. The group also felt this process could be adequately performed by Becky alone. Some of these definitions appear throughout the study, including the Selection of Co-Researchers section of Chapter 3: Method, Chapter 5: Discussion, and the stories and teaching sessions in the appendixes.

Group Creative Expression Project

As discussed in the retreat procedure (Chapter 3: Method) and in the list of proposed group processes, we decided to create a group image, or nonverbal representation, of our experience together. We began by taping white pieces of paper together to create one very large work area. Then, one by one, each of the women (co-researchers and researcher) took a comfortable, expressive position on the paper. The only requirement was that everyone’s hearts were in the same position on the paper. Each woman’s form was traced with a different pencil color. Some women darkened their shapes with pastels. A photograph of our creative expression piece appears below (see Figure 2).

Next, "What Is the Hunger?" Inquiry Results

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