This magnet attracts material that feels powerful and expresses power. Power is the ability and/or authority to take action toward what is desired. As I hold this magnet I sense into whether or not the power expressed feels like domination (power over; its source is control) or dominion (power with; its source is love). I use the terms “dominion,” “self-care,” and “power with” interchangeably to refer to a woman’s genuine attempt to take good care of herself, consciously or unconsciously, by intrinsically knowing what is most needed in a particular moment. Words and phrases that express my inner experience of this magnet are: power as the source of love; power in service of love/self-care; rooted compassion; expression; voice; out energy; and the ability to take good care of Self in body and soul. Making one’s mark on world/being in the world and creativity also fit here for me. The images associated with this magnet are creative symbols, large thick rounded lettering, energy of different colors moving out from a point of origin, and spirals.
When I sat down to select the most resonant pieces of data from all those that attract to this magnet I was perplexed. Where are all the examples of self-care I thought were in here? Where is the contrast between domination and dominion I've been carrying in my body around this magnet? I immediately realized all the pieces that stood out to me as self-care, and expressed the transformation of inner domination to inner dominion, were in the Wisdom of Space findings. This felt appropriate. In that moment I gained new understanding that space is where the transformation happens. What appears here are the expressions of the women's ability to act or take authority in their lives.
As I laid out the pieces for this magnet I assessed for a sense of order. The following pieces, taken from the teaching sessions, felt like a beginning point for power as self-care and authentic expression (dominion). Three of the 5 co-researchers experienced childhood sexual abuse; the other two have questions and concerns about their sexual beginnings. Below, the co-researchers discuss a theme that runs through most of the stories -fear of being attractive because it invites abuse and oppression.
Rose: You talked quite a bit about not wanting to feel your beauty and that it was too dangerous. I can relate to that. I feel shame bringing it up, talking about it. One of my biggest triggers is fear of losing weight. I think it’s because I don’t want to be thin, I don’t want to be attractive - the image of what somebody else sees as attractive. Because it feels really dangerous.
Christy: Yeah, I relate to that as well, very much so.
Tara: Wild Horse Woman said in her story that she’d never been completely thin and was uncomfortable about looking too good. She couldn’t feel lovely thin and not feel terrified. Then you [Wild Horse Woman] were talking about the process of feeling lovely now and wearing the different dresses and stuff. A lot of times when people look beautiful, actually probably all times when people look beautiful, it’s not about their size. It’s about the light coming out of them. There’s going to be all this light coming out of you now no matter what size you are.
The preceding pieces point to the themes of weight as safety, hiding, and protection from danger. In these ways, accumulating weight was a way of enacting a measure of power in order to care for oneself. Tara describes the movement she sees in Wild Horse Woman's expression of herself as attractive, pointing to the notion that expressing beauty doesn't have anything to do with body size.
Rebelliousness or resistance serves a purpose, as Rose describes below. While it often doesn't look like it, the rebel is acting on behalf of Self. In a less obvious way, it is often the voice of self-care or authentic expression. As discussed in Motivation to Change, it can be the confounding motivation. The following three excerpts each describe or have the essence of “The Rebel. ” As I laid them out I noticed each one spoke to different aspects of consciously claiming the power of the rebel. I see the progression as the unconscious voice of The Rebel, the voice of The Rebel in the process of becoming conscious, and the conscious voice of The Rebel.
Rose: In some people’s stories there was something they said that I could just sit down inside because it was my same size and shape. The thing you [Becky] read from your class where you talked about how that resistance in you is the voice that’s saying I will have a self. I will have a self even if it means I’m going to weigh all this weight. If it means I’m going to eat what I want or whatever. God, I felt like it was coming right out of me. I resonate with that 1000%. I got it even more clearly when I responded to Katrina’s process and talked about my projection that I think everyone’s telling me I’m supposed to be conforming. Clearly the weight is my way of saying I’m not going to conform. Somewhere in me is a part that never got to not conform. Eating food was bad. It was my one way to be bad and my one way to not conform. It was my one way not to be what I was expected to be, and still is in many ways.
The following piece illustrates how Rose is experiencing both sides of the Rebel - the gift of its power to help her express herself and the burden of its destructiveness if it remains unconscious. The rebel often manifests its power as, “I’m going to get you by getting myself." Rose's awareness of the contrast and need for balance speaks to a new integration of this part of herself.
Rose: The good news for me is that my process rebels so fast against most band wagons is that I’ve given up getting on them. But then I can go to the unconscious place of giving up so thoroughly because it all is so painful. It’s trying to find that balance of just staying with myself.
It appears to me that the rebel transforms in the process of consciously embodying it. In the following dialogue the rebel begins to show itself as still protecting and expressing Self but now there is a voice for its interests instead of an unconscious self-destructive behavior. Tara speaks beautifully to the meta-level of the process Rose and I are discussing.
Becky: Yes, it’s true, the Overeater’s Anonymous HOW food plan is similar to how I eat now. I actually resent that. I resent the comparison. I’ll tell you why. Because nobody could ever tell me how to take care of my body. Nobody could tell me how to eat. Still nobody can. I still have that part (rebel) that won’t let it in, like, it has to be mine. It’s not like the rebel’s that far away, but hopefully it’s more constructive now. Nobody could ever say to me, “Eat this or eat that” and like I’m going to do it. I mean I had got to the point where it was like -- “no.” Nobody’s going to fucking tell me. I’ll figure it out for myself. So it’s been an experimentation process initiated by my rebellion, the results of which just happen to line up with the HOW thing. Maybe there’s some wisdom in the HOW plan, but I still couldn’t accept it until I came to it myself through my own body.
Rose: I’m glad you said it and I kind of meant it as joke like “isn’t that funny” because I know that you came to it completely from yourself, and it’s so similar, and isn’t that ironic kind of thing, but anyway.
Tara: What’s real important to me of what you both have said is that the HOW thing comes from the masculine rules, and it’s external, outside me. What I hear you [Becky] doing and what I want back is whatever way I go now, that it’s from the inside. The HOW thing does not include waking up in a moment and saying, “Oh that sounds good to me, I’m going to eat that and research it, see how it feels.” That’s not part of the HOW thing. When I have the limit setting from inside myself it’s the heart thing.
Rose: Can you imagine going to a HOW meeting and saying, “I’m researching food today. I’m trying eating more sugar and seeing how it feels.” You’d be kicked out on your butt. [Laughs all around]
The following excerpts from Katrina's teaching session revealed so much about voice I decided to include nearly the whole dialogue here. We discuss the oppression we feel in response to the voices and silence of others, the body and fat as voice, and coming into alignment - giving ourselves a voice so our bodies don't have to do all the talking.
Katrina: It’s such a roller-coaster. You feel so great and you get so much positive reinforcement when you lose weight, like people notice. Then the difficult thing of having the fat year is that not only that you’re having your fat year but it’s like that whole silence you get from others about it - not going to talk about that.
Becky: You hear nothing when you gain. It’s so obvious.
The preceding piece speaks to the fact that women hear compliments when they are losing weight and nothing when they gain. Over time even the complements feel hard to take because the woman knows they betray the other side of the coin - silence about the shameful weight gain and the emphasis on appearance.
Becky: One of the things that really resonates for me in things that you’ve said, Katrina, is the piece about, “People don’t know how to talk to me when my body starts changing.” That was really big for me when my body started changing. People would make these really stupid comments, just stupid. They were so unsupportive of somebody who’s in the process of releasing weight. In fact, I would anticipate those comments before I even started changing my body size and they would make me so mad I would feel that I didn’t want to even start. I knew they were out there and I’ve heard them before and I did not want to hear them again because they were not supportive. They point to exactly the thing that you’re saying before about the grossness of the absence of comments when I’m gaining weight, in other words - well, that’s a shameful thing. We won’t talk about that.
Katrina: Exactly. Like I always felt like when I’d go home that the voices in my inner dialogue would be like “Poor Katrina, poor Katrina. She just has gotten so fat. ”Like I’m thinking that’s what everyone else is thinking. You know, “She’s got such a pretty face.” That whole bullshit.
Becky: And how do you feel when you’re going through that?
Katrina: It’s horrible. It’s like I would rather hide and not even go home. Like I don’t want to be seen, I don’t want to look at anybody, I don’t want to, uhh. It’s that whole pity and I’m “less than” now that I’m bigger.
Tara: Second class citizen.
Rose: I have a slight difference, I mean I resonate totally with not being able to deal with people’s comments and setting the boundary. I just recently set a boundary with my father of, “This is not something we’ll talk about under any circumstance, my weight or any one else’s.” Because he’s always trying to bring it up. But a difference for me is my dialogue doesn’t say that they’re saying “Oh, poor Rose.” I think they’re saying “Fuck Rose. How dare she allow herself to get so fat.” My mind tells me that they’re angry at me because I’m not conforming. So that’s the difference for me.
Wild Horse Woman: For letting yourself do something that they would like to do but they wouldn’t dare?
Rose: Letting themselves go.
Becky: Or, “She must allow herself to eat whatever she wants without depriving herself.” The envy of not controlling.
Tara: Mine was a counterphobic reaction where I would just go in and start talking about it and it would look like taking control of my space. But it’s not. It was the same fear backwards. It’s like I was so anxious about them, all those kind of thoughts that they might be having, that I would just bring them out on the table. Which would make everybody uncomfortable.
Rose: I’ve done the opposite, I put up a wall - “Don’t ever talk to me about this.” So I rarely get comments from anybody accept my father who had no boundaries.
Becky: I resonate a lot with what Katrina said. My exact dialogue totally feeds into this thing in my family of being the defective one. So 1 think what’s going on in other people’s minds when I’ve gained weight is, “Oh yeah, there’s evidence. She really doesn’t have it together. She is the one who has no control. She’s the one that’s fucked up. She’s the one that needs the help. Too bad, it’s too bad. She has so much potential.”
Tara: Yeah, it’s like, now she’s dead. She doesn’t count anymore. She got so fat [hysterical laughter in the room].
Wild Horse Woman: People say that with some pleasure though because then they don’t have to take responsibility for it. They’re scapegoating you.
Becky: It’s true, the whole thing about having somebody to dump all that shit on so they don’t have to look at it. I think in this culture we’re [fat women] carrying a lot of that shit.
Tara: Yeah, we are.
Katrina: The other thing that just spoke to me when you were talking about that is that, I wish my addiction was drugs or alcohol or cigarettes, because being obese my wounds and my issues are like right out there in front of God and everybody. I am this open wounded book that everybody can judge, read, whatever. If I were an alcoholic, if I were a drug addict then maybe I would have a better chance at hiding my addiction or closeting my addiction. Whereas being addicted to food, obsessed with food - like, I couldn’t hide that. Like my big body could not be hidden. That was very, very painful. It felt like I was so exposed and couldn’t even talk about it.
Becky: Anybody else think of that? Wishing they had a different addiction that wasn’t so obvious on the outside that could be more easily hidden?
Tara: Well, not just hidden, but put down. Like I can put down the cigarettes, I don’t have to smoke cigarettes.
Katrina: Yeah, I always have to friggin eat
Becky: Right - an addiction that you can totally drop from your life.
Katrina: I can’t go cold turkey. I can do you know whatever. I don’t have a Nicotrol patch for my food, you know.
Becky: Although they do make some lovely drugs that you could take with some kind of nasty side affects.
Katrina: Heart murmur side affects.
Tara: Death [group laughs].
Becky: Too bad, she’s dead [group laughs].
Katrina: Finally killed her [group laughs].
Becky: To me that’s the interesting thing - that it is on the outside. That we can’t hide it. It makes a statement because of that, that it wouldn’t if we could hide it. You know what I mean? I don’t have a thing about what that means, but I think it’s interesting that we can’t hide it. That it is making a kind of statement. For me it’s really very much into voice.
Tara: Yes. And it has trailers off of it like voice and what am I carrying for the culture.
Katrina: I just had this total big revelation about when you said “voice” Becky, like today I finally have peace and serenity for a lot of days. More days than not, and like my body was always giving a message. But I wasn’t giving any message from my voice or from my actions. Now it’s that whole congruent thing. My body was already giving off this message “this is who I am” and my voice and how I was behaving wasn’t congruent with that message because I have all this shame and shit around it. Now I can release the shame and the shit and speak about and tell people about it and tell someone that “You know, don’t tell me about my body because that doesn’t feel good to me. Thank you anyway.” It’s like, now we’re all going in the same direction, my actions, my voice, and my body.
Rose: You talked about how for all these years until now you’ve been in relationships with women and your family’s in total denial about that. I guess I really strongly relate to being from a family that doesn’t talk about things at all.
Tara: There’s also an exquisite irony that you [Katrina] said that you learned how to lie so well. You also just now said, “But it’s right out there, my obesity’s right out there. I can’t lie about it.” It’s a real irony for someone who has learned to survive by lying.
Rose: That really resonates in my whole body as you say that.
Later in Rose's teaching session, Katrina has had some time to reflect and comes back to this conversation.
Katrina: One thing that I really identified with is the good girl, all of the energy of being good. And doing all the right things and having that be more important than having my own opinion, speaking my own truth. Like, it’s kind of ironic for me because the way I became the good girl is by lying, you know. Like to just put all that energy into what I should be versus what I want to be or what I really feel. That drive to keep doing you know - do, do, do.
The following pieces from Wild Horse Women offer a progression about use of voice. First, she describes using her body to speak her voice. Next, she illustrates how skillfully she uses her voice to speak her truth. The third piece talks about getting her voice out in the world It is ironic to me that she spoke so powerfully about having her voice in the world regarding this research, while at the same time she's building the psychic strength to fulfill her professional singing career.
Wild Horse Woman: If I remember correctly you [Becky] said in your story that when you were bigger your body spoke for you when you couldn’t speak for yourself.
Becky: Absolutely, yeah.
Wild Horse Woman: I very much related to that.
The power of the following piece occasionally shocks me with its strength and forcefulness. In it, Wild Horse Woman addresses the fact of being selected for research on women because she's fat.
Wild Horse Woman: I’m just suddenly really aware that... how do I say this? Showing up to this retreat and talking about all this stuff and all of the different levels of relating to everybody in here. I have not come here because I’m an obese woman. I have come here as a woman who’s exploring body. Even the thing of the having you guys [the assistants Simone and Sharon] be separated out in that - I mean it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I heard it sort of referenced as, “I must be in a certain kind of group.” I just don’t feel like that at all and I don’t want to feel that at all. I thought at first, “Oh, maybe you’re in denial maybe you’re not accepting ...” That’s not it. I am not my body size and I refuse to be put there. I have been all different body sizes, I’m the whole package that goes with it. So I’m having a hard time with that.
In the following, Wild Horse Woman speaks of the value of having her voice out in the world To me, she speaks to the power of research to share valuable life experiences with a greater audience for the sake of enriching the co-researchers and the culture.
Wild Horse Woman: I’m so aware of all the women in this room with us who are not physically in the room with us. They’re here and they’ve been in me for days. I feel like there’s this huge community in this room beyond our numbers right now. What you [Christy] were saying, about bringing the past and being able to do something with it. This [the research] is just an extraordinary experience for any of us to be able to take our life experiences and do something useful with it.
Christy added a great deal to our discussion and my understanding of the relationship between sexual abuse and healing relationship with body. She regularly reminded us of our tendency to skip over it. I have intentionally chosen not to focus on the sexual abuse aspect in this research project because it was not as prominent as other areas of focus, and also because I see these women expressing their issues with inappropriate sexual contact as a part of their whole story. In many cases it was a very small piece because of their long-term efforts to heal the wounding of those encounters. I’ve chosen here to focus on the healing versus the wounding. In the following excerpt, Christy discusses how discovering the sexual abuse helped her see herself more accurately.
Christy: The sexual abuse stuff gets put in at the last moment. I’ve noticed it. I’m willing to bet there’s something big about that. The sexual abuse issue has been touched on but I don’t think it’s been worked through completely. Well, I don’t know what I would say beyond it. I have a feeling that the sexual abuse issues are a lot more or a lot deeper or have more... maybe it’s just more spark to me at this point because I’m dealing with it more, I don’t know. But it had a lot more energy to it. If issues of sexual abuse became more visible it might be easier for people to deal with weight issues. I didn’t start really dealing with my weight issues until my unconscious started pushing me to that and then also pushed me beyond the weight stuff to deal with the sexual abuse stuff. When I got to sexual abuse then suddenly, it was, “Oh, well, now I understand something about why my weight is what it is.” I’ve been using the weight in a different way than I did before I understood about the sexual abuse stuff.
The remaining pieces in this section speak to claiming and expressing dominion. They describe ways the co-researchers are transforming their old ways of self- care—such as hiding, protecting, and lying—into acting on their own behalf in ways that are more consciously congruent with their desires. They are living into their ability to share the best of themselves consciously, with power rooted in their care for Self The following passages offer examples of the co-researchers discerning their true nature and authentically expressing themselves in the world through sexuality and work/creativity.
In the piece below, Christy describes the relationship between her weight and her sexuality.
Christy: There were two major times when the raw sexuality aspect of me has come forth. It’s been raw because it’s been so untended and abused and unheard. The first time was right after the transplant when I was really feeling healthy. For about a month I was flirting with the possibilities of being sexual with someone. The second was right after I lost all the weight and I said, “Ah, glorious body. How wonderful this feels. I’ve never been in a body like this. Wow.” I noticed men were responding to me differently. I became very sexually active for about a month. It was fairly indiscriminate. I feel very grateful that I got through both those times without harm to myself or harm to anybody else. It gave me enormous information that that’s not what I want for my life. I still don’t quite know how I want to deal with my sexuality. But I’m learning that sexuality is much more than genital sexuality. I’m also realizing that my whole sensual aspect has become damaged. My senses of hearing and sight have been impaired. Disordered eating’s affected taste and smell. Touch has been damaged by the incest stuff. So much of what is sensual and sexual in this culture doesn’t fit for me that I don’t even know where to seek role models. It’s kind of like reinventing the wheel I’m not quite sure even needs reinventing. The weight has been a container for that exploration.
Other segments of Christy's story, parts of which can be found in Learning and Knowing, reveal how she is now tending her sexuality and finding her own ways of expressing her sexual power that feel authentic and congruent for her.
The following piece from Rose’s one-year follow-up story beautifully describes her process of distinguishing between domination and dominion around work.
Rose: I talked last year about how my work stuff really seems to parallel my body and food stuff. I was saying I was so stuck in both. I did make a job change this year. I feel like it’s a step to the next rock that goes across the river. I could finally ask because of the baby. I could say, “I want to make a change.” I felt like I was a failure if I stopped being a manager to do something that, in my company, is considered a step down. But really, that’s what I wanted to do. I struggled for years thinking I was copping out, that I was backing down because I was too afraid of the success. I was too lazy. If I just worked on my issues, I’d be happy. It took so long to listen to that voice that wanted a change, because it was so counter to the culture I was in. Because of the baby, I could finally do it. I asked and it took several months to unfold, but I got it. So now I’m an editor and I’m not a manager. I’m so relieved.
I’ve come to know that I have to get really quiet and let whatever I’m supposed to move toward emerge, because my masculine side will always go after a plan. It’s what has always been true for me around food plans and exercise plans. Whenever I go forward towards something with that masculine energy of “Okay, I’m gonna do this!” it never works. Part of the entering of the feminine for me is, like, not knowing so much where I’m going, trying to listen and trying to let it emerge from within me. I feel nauseous trying to enter into the feminine in the presence of my husband, who’s trying to enter more into the masculine.
I’m not gonna be working for probably five months for maternity leave. This is a new frontier for me, allowing myself to be a little bit more supported financially. I’ve never ever been supported financially by a man, except for my father, up to 17 years old. I never would allow it. It’s not safe in my book, it’s giving away too much power and control. I just look at receiving that way and literally feel nauseous trying to have the courage to move in that direction. I’m needing to find a safety within myself because it doesn’t feel safe to be receptive in that way. Receiving. Yet I must be moving because I have a belief that if I’m exploring it at all, then some of the safety is already there.
In the preceding excerpt, Rose describes the value of listening to her own timing (Wisdom of Space) in her process of discerning how to act in the world congruently. In addition, she introduces the relationship between safety and money to the picture. Most of the women talked about having issues with money that paralleled their relationship with food. Rose is taking huge steps on her own behalf by letting go of job status and receiving the financial support of her husband. She is describing the process of moving from a driving, controlling way of being with her work toward a more spacious place of dominion. Her comment about the fear of letting go into the feminine in this process of change strikes me as profound.
In the following passage we discuss the nuances of responding to a calling to work that feels sacred.
Wild Horse Woman: One of the things that I’m hearing, especially in your [Christy’s] story, but then also in the whole group, is the thing about us doing a lot of personal growth and getting where we are here. My first major memory of this was when I was five and I would have these visions of being a singer, a musician. I would perform and it’s like that’s where my spirituality was because that’s where home was. I just knew it was my place. Twenty years of doing counseling and not being able to do the singing but having that passion in there... I mean, that was my definition of hell, that part. I just have to keep on going until I can embody and feel comfortable with it and have that be just an easy, just a part of my life. I wonder if you had like images like that and what your spiritual feeling and contact was through all that.
Christy: There was some sense always that I would be, I don’t know so much a singer, but out of where I was. I look back and it almost feels like a whole different life. Now I’m living out the real life that I was intended to live. Somehow I knew way back then that this is the life that I was going to be living, well no, I didn’t know it then. I sensed it but didn’t know, I couldn’t have put words around it
Wild Horse Woman: But you did sense it?
Tara: Living in a more conscious connection to the divine and whatever sized body?
Christy: Yeah, yeah. Also trying to figure out a balance of having a sense of knowing that there’s some purpose in what I’m doing and not trying to feel arrogant about that. Then there were other times when I just kind of went, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ and put it to the side because well, you know, maybe everybody’s chosen or something like that. It’s kind of like not wanting to put my self ahead. Part of that has to do with low self-esteem but part of that was just really not feeling like I belonged here anyhow. Not feeling like I belonged here, where I am now, but for a good reason as opposed to all the other bad reasons that I didn’t feel like I belonged here. It’s kind of like well, how do I take that in? I still don’t know quite how to take it in you know. It still feels a little on the strange side.
Becky: Is that part because of humility involved? Is that what kind of what you’re speaking to?
Becky: There’s something about getting and the knowing that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with the little things. It’s not like the big things, it’s with the little things that I know. It’s the same dance with the other kinds of tensions because there’s always that ego that wants to take it and own it. Then there’s the, “Well, how could I be chosen because I’m a bunch of shit?” In the middle there somewhere there’s this humility about I’m no better, I’m no worse. But I’m in service to something else.
Christy: Yeah, that really resonates and it reminds me of a passage I remember from a Bible study group, “Not I but the Christ who lives in me.” There’s something about embodiment in that line, even as I look at it now. It’s also about how I sing and how I play harp. There’s this energy that runs through me. It’s beyond who I am and yet I’m adding all of who I am to it. So it’s me embodying that energy but it’s also keeping my ego way the hell out of the way. Because it’s an energy that has to run through me as I add my own gifts, skills, talents, whatever to it. But it’s not all me and if I claim it’s all me than 1) I’m lying and 2) I’m going to fuck it up for sure, because it gets in the way. And that’s what closes it down.
The transformation of power and authority feel like they come full circle in this final passage. The group comments on the commitment Wild Horse Woman shows to her young students: She's determined to make the space for their authentic expression, something she had to learn on her own. Out of the hardships of her experience have come a commitment to act on behalf of her students, with an authority deeply rooted in love.
Tara: Oh and I loved your (Wild Horse Woman) thing about children looking good but the tension in their eyes. I wrote that down because I want to watch kids in a little bit different way.
Becky: That was really a strong theme for me in your story, the value and the advocacy I feel from you for the children.
Tara: Yeah, another piece about the voice too is you said, “Music is about today - is about showing that part of myself that has been hidden.” That was really moving because it role models and invites others to open up to the courage of their own creative expression, whatever that may be.
Christy: I also really resonate with your talking about going inside yourself and being sure that you can show up for the kids, making sure you are really being there for them before you have a session with them. That for me is the essence of what it is to be a teacher in big T kind of sense you know. That really deep place. Also the best that we can give to others is our deepest essence and really being present.
For many of the co-researchers, the objectification and oppression of their female body were not just cultural concepts but concrete realities experienced as childhood sexual abuse. A number of studies suggest a causal relationship between female body objectification and eating disorders/body image disturbances (Frederickson and Roberts, 1997; Manlowe, 1993). Additionally, Frederickson and Roberts note a higher frequency of such disorders in victims of sexual abuse/sexual assault. The urge to protect oneself and the fear of attractiveness were also experienced by those with no memory of inappropriate sexual experiences. Research indicates that the mass sexual objectification of the female body in this culture has far reaching effects for those with and without histories of sexual abuse.
Manlowe (1993) contends that there is too much focus on the pathology of obesity in individual women, and that such a focus perpetuates the tendency to ignore the influence of the culture in the phenomenon. She recommends that both self and culture be addressed in sound models of healing. This study aligns with her perspective. The cultural aspects of this issue are critical to women’s healing of relationship with body. However, in this study the power principles of the culture are discussed in the Meaning Making magnet, as the focus there is making sense of one’s personal life in a larger context. In this magnet, the focus is on women’s personal response to the power of personal, familial, and cultural oppression, and on her own internal processes of transforming the power dynamic in herself.
“Fear,” “hiding,” “lying,” and “protecting” were terms used to describe the ways the co-researchers expressed their power of dominion with their bodies. While their weight gain often confounded their desire to be thin, with space for reflection and insight they began to understand the ways in which they created their large bodies as an act of love toward their own vulnerability. Fat was described as a protection and comfort. It was also described as voice.
The notion of body and fat as power are well-discussed in feminist literature on eating disorders and obesity. In the findings above, Katrina wishes she had an addiction she could hide. Manlowe (1993) confirms that women “will literally wear their conflict in their relationship to their body and food” (p. 289). This aspect of the issue is fascinating and the energy of it in the data was palpable to me. The women in this study admittedly expressed their power, in part, through their obesity. Not wholly performing the good girl role or as expected—nonconformity—was held in their bodies.
There is a rebelliousness in this process that speaks to a struggle within the woman herself in response to her environment. Roth (1984) confirms, “They use their bodies as their battlegrounds; they know that in our culture, women’s voices may not be heard, but their bodies will still (and always) be noticed” (p. 213).
The women in this study are externalizing the battleground, they are finding their voices. It is part of the healing process for them. The women are each in the process of harnessing the reserved power in their bodies for expression, giving voice to their deepest needs, insights, and inspirations. It is about giving voice to Self without protection, without hiding, without lying, and often, while standing in the fear.
Once a woman begins to connect with the power of gentleness, self-care, and Self-expression, there is a dramatic shift in her momentum. Christy describes the power of expressing herself authentically through her “soul work.” Rose’s story includes her revelation and commitment to her soul’s prompting that she speak and write in advocacy for her own fat body. As in the Lopez (1995) study, the emergence of voice is central. Lopez suggests that gaining voice—and changing the perceptions of authority, truth, and knowledge by giving up dieting (letting go of the controlling “power-over” orientation to their own bodies)—encourage women’s healing of relationship with body and their enjoyment of life.
As somatic dance therapist Cohen (1993) depicts, these women are mobilizing the energy in their bodies to express themselves with strength and grace. Offering a biological metaphor for the symbol of fat as power, Cohen writes:
Fat is potential energy stored in the body.. . Static fat is stored as repressed or unacknowledged potential power and creates a sense of heaviness and lethargy. Fat that is mobilized expresses strong primordial power and a sense of graceful fluidity. Fat that is embraced offers nurturing and comfort. (p. 4)
Cohen’s (1993) interpretation of fat fits with the transformation process I experienced with regard to power in the data. It also affirms the interpretation of Woodman’s (1980) work on the psycho-spiritual process of healing obesity:
The Martyr-Rebel ambivalence... lies in this conflict. Part of her is forced to accept what she believes is her destiny; part of her rebels against “false justice.” An ego which sets itself up against Fate is attempting to usurp the power of the Self; it swings from light to dark, from inflation to depression. Only when her ego is firmly rooted in her own feminine feeling can a woman be released from her compulsive behavior, (p. 33)
Neither Cohen (1993) nor Woodman (1980) are suggesting that healing comes through weight loss. Rather they are both pointing to a complex process requiring a shift in the ways a woman accesses and expresses her power. This shift—from domination over body to dominion with body—occurs in the process of embodying the feminine (Wisdom of Space).
Dominion is power with or power rooted in love. It is contrasted with domination, power over, or power rooted in the need for control. The co-researchers’ dieting histories reveal a reliance on inner domination and will power exercised toward achieving an acceptable body size. When the woman is unable to maintain the pumped-up, unnatural state required for continuous weight loss or maintenance, her will gives way to depression, feelings of futility, and shame. If she is able to revive a strong belief in herself or in the efficacy of a particular diet program, she exerts her will again until the natural, inevitable balancing occurs. This rebalancing was often experienced as bingeing and rapid weight gain - which can be characterized as the wild, rebellious side of the rigidly controlled dieter.
Woodman (1980, 1985, 1990, 1993) associates the rigid controlling aspect of the woman as the negative side of the masculine, unbalanced because its power is rooted in control rather than in connection with the sacred. The wild, rebellious side of the woman is characterized as the suppressed or dark (as in unconscious) feminine that is imbalanced because it has no connection with the virtues of the deep masculine such as order, structure, and limits. Healing between these opposing energies occurs as the woman begins embodying spaciousness, the feminine. Her regular attention to acting from a place of compassion and gentleness eventually begins to shift the relationship between her own inner processes. The chaotic swings from dieting to bingeing become less extreme and, by embracing previously disowned qualities of the feminine, she discovers a sense of power in her life that has little resemblance to will power of the past. It is a power that comes as if from the cells themselves (a reference made by a few of the co-researchers), and that feels in sync, in flow, and congruent with their natural expression rather than opposed to it.
Qualls-Corbett (1988) describes the ways a woman connected with the feminine power principle expresses her power, including how she cares for her body:
Rather than trying to dominate her life, her ego works together with the Self. She is led, as it were, by her most profound needs, by ideals and attitudes that come from within. She is not contaminated by external circumstances or overly affected by criticism.
For example, she finds her body beautiful and is consciously aware that it is, in part, a manifestation of the Self.... The body is not, as one woman expressed it, “simply a vehicle which takes my head from the house to the car,” but prime matter by which she can come to know and to value her own deep emotions, intuitions and instinctive wisdom.
The woman conscious of the goddess cares for her body with proper nutrition and exercise and enjoys the ceremonies of bathing, cosmetics and dress. This is not just for the superficial purpose of personal appeal, which is related to ego gratification, but out of respect for the nature of the feminine. Her beauty derives from a vital connection to Self. (p. 62)
Rather than emanating from a motivation of egocentricity, the motive for action of a woman embodying the feminine is “not a personal one but is concerned with a nonpersonal goal, namely with gaining a right relation to the ‘goddess,’ to the principle of Eros ...” (Harding, 1971, p. 126), the result of which is freedom from egotism and selfishness.
Many of these qualities can be observed in the stories of the women. Katrina’s reflection on her story being personal but not personal, and Christy’s humility about her work being service, are examples that readily come to mind. A careful ear to the co-researchers’ stories will also hear the tensions involved and the discipline involved in the healing process.
Discipline is a word that brings connotations of punishment, willpower, and harsh treatment to women in this process. It stems from their experiences of eliciting this kind of discipline in service of dieting to control their nonconforming bodies. I see the discipline that is emerging in the co-researcher’s stories as a very different kind of discipline - loving discipline. As their power center shifts and the women gain the ability to act in service of what is most sacred or authentic in their hearts, their masculine qualities—such as logic, structure, and order—are now serving the feminine rather than controlling it. Limits on consumption or spending, implementation of food or movement plans, or forcefully applying themselves to their work - all are acts of loving discipline; they are actions in service of their natural expression. This is a profound shift that may or may not be easily observable from external appearances; however, the women describe experiences that are distinctly different than their previous modes of enacting discipline.
It may be useful to note that I observe this process to be just that, a process - rather than a one-time, “I’ve connected with the feminine and I’m taking good care of my body with ease now” turning point. Embodying this shift requires no less than repeated experiences of frustration, pain, fear, joy, and celebration in successive encounters with the duality inherent in the power dynamic. The explication of this process of growth, or differentiation, is the focus of the Call to Differentiate magnet.
I find it encouraging that numerous recent studies are speaking to this shift in a woman’s power center. Although couched in more traditional psychological language, they are addressing the healing of relationship with body that happens when a woman lets go of the principle of domination and begins to embody dominion. Examples from the literature include research suggesting a woman’s healing of relationship with body, food and weight occurs by giving up dieting (Lopez, 1995), claiming her power (Miller, 1996), and getting on to enjoying her life regardless of body size (Srebnik & Saltzberg, 1994). Tanco, Linden, and Earle (1998) suggest that morbidly obese women leam to enjoy their lives in the here-and-now and live healthfully in the present by adopting a non-dieting strategy.
Other researchers and authors are pointing to the healing shift to “power as love” in their work with women as well. Miller (1996) contends that when a woman “is satisfied and loving with herself... she experiences a high sense of self-esteem, she possesses a sense of strength and positive attitude and has a sense of purpose and direction. She is powerful” (p. 19). Dennis and Goldberg (1996) suggest that women’s intrinsic needs are more critical to the healing of her relationship with body than knowledge or nutrition techniques. Based on their clinical review of feminist approaches to women’s body image issues, Srebnik and Saltzberg (1994) assert that the goals of health, comfort, and pleasure help to facilitate a shift from external to internal evaluation; this supports women in discovering the power within themselves to create a positive body image.
The transformation of the power drive in obese women is healing in itself; in addition, the co-researchers’ experiences confirm the findings of Heath (1998) regarding the generative effect of this change. As the women’s stories and the content results reveal, with the growing love and appreciation for their own bodies comes a wish and a commitment to act on behalf of their daughters and other girls in this culture, that the
next generation might have a less tumultuous journey.
Simply enter your name and email address here, click submit, and download on the next page.