Traditional discourse on obesity did not speak adequately to the depth or the intention with which I engaged in my own process of healing my relationship with my body. I did notjust go on a diet and adhere to externally imposed rules to acquire an externally ascertained body weight. My experience was deeply contemplative and in my terms sacred; as I learned about my chaotic relationship with my body, food, and weight, I also learned more about myself, my life, and my connection with all life.
While seeds were planted years before in the context of psychotherapy, I experienced the thrust of my transformation with my body in doctoral level feminine consciousness classes. The focus of this series of classes was not on body, rather it was on studying and reclaiming what is sacred about being a woman. Literature which speaks to why this experience may have been so powerful for me and other women follows.
Feminine consciousness and women’s spirituality introduce women to a powerful feminine deity, which according to Christ (1997) fosters the “legitimacy and goodness of female power, the female body, and female will.” (p. 22) In stories of the Goddess, women see their own form reflected and find support for the expression of their own voice.
Jordan et al. (1991) suggest that, for women in this culture, “Effectiveness comes to represent the ability to control oneself rather than to express oneself’ (p. 245). One obvious way to address the crisis that results from this one-sided development of women is to encourage women to express themselves, to give them their authority back, and to impress upon them the value of their stories. There is a great deal of support from the feminist perspective for eliciting the stories of women. With reverence for women’s spiritual quest and women’s stories, Christ (1980) offers the following:
Women’s stories have not been told. And without stories there is no articulation of experience. Without stories a woman is lost when she comes to make the important decisions of her life. She does not learn to value her struggles, to celebrate her strengths, to comprehend her pain. Without stories she can not understand herself. Without stories she is alienated from those deeper experiences of self and world that have been called spiritual or religious. She is closed in silence. The expression of women’s spiritual quest is integrally related to the telling of women’s stories. If women’s stories are not told, the depth of women’s souls will not be known, (p. 1)
Even if women are self-motivated, dealing with obesity is a challenging and conflictual journey for most. The women in this study see their issues with weight as part of their psycho-spiritual growth; thus, it is important to create a setting and context that allows and supports the full range of experiences these women consider to be related to obesity, including their spiritual quest. By understanding this journey and the difficulties involved through the complex stories of these women, weight loss professionals gain knowledge critical to the development of their programs. Jordan et al. (1991) learned from women seeking treatment what is useful for healing disordered eating:
“the fact that 64% of Wellesley students indicated that a “personal support network” would be useful in helping them with their eating patterns as opposed to a “diet group” suggests that treatment approaches need to offer in-depth understanding of the complexities of the problem and to utilize relational strategies” (p. 248)
Christ (1997) suggests that women’s lives, including the mystical aspects of their experiences, are confirmed or discomfirmed in community. This honors both the complexity and relational aspect of women healing obesity, and implies the potential for women’s spiritual gatherings to hone one’s knowledge and wisdom process. This study has been designed to honor the fullness o f the co-researcher’s experiences, and to support them in exploring their own lives more deeply, by focusing on the sharing of sacred stories.
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