Women and Body Image – A Brief History of the Masculine and Feminine
Boulder, Colorado, is home to what is perhaps the world’s largest live in collection of triathletes, rock climbers, parkour nerds and yogi fanatics.
When I lived in Brighton, in England at the age of 18, the thing you did when you wanted to meet up with a friend was you went to the pub and drank a few pints. Here when you meet up with a friend, you going hiking on one of the many trails that lead out of (or through) the city. Otherwise you go to the local organic store and chat over a raw smoothie of some sort. The culture of being in your body, eating well and being active is HUGE here.
Perhaps this is why many of the women I speak to talk about feeling huge pressure to be a certain way in their body. To be zero fat. To have the triathlete body. To be a tiny weeny leany machine-y. The thing is though, is that I don’t feel that pressure at all here. All I have felt, since I arrived here a month ago, is huge appreciation for my voluptuous, happily chocolate padded body. 🙂 I have actually found myself laughing into my hand as men stop and do double takes at me as I walk by them in the street. It’s really funny, and very complimentary and I’ll get to more of that in a second.
Whether we like it or not as women, a huge part of what influences how we appreciate (or not) our bodies, is directed by the male gaze. A large part of this is social conditioning around what the male gaze actually IS, and another part of it is pure biology. As women, we are engineered to reproduce with the males of our species. That means we have an inbuilt desire that we be found attractive by the opposite sex (if you’re hetro) so that we can reproduce our genetics.
This is a small part of a very complex issue.
It is not only the media or fashion industries that perpetuate the myth that women need to be zero fat or stick thin or muscular – “strong is the new sexy” (insert current body trend here) or any ONE WAY of a woman (or man, for that matter) being in order to be attractive. I ultimately see this coming from patriarchally dominated belief systems that purport their way of being because EVERYONE thinks THEIR way is the RIGHT way.
What do I mean by that?
I am going to use the lens of the Masculine (consciousness, awareness, emptiness, stillness, peace) and Feminine (Energy, matter, movement, love, life, chaos, feeling etc) as defined by the Tantric principles to discuss this matter. I want to be clear here that by Masculine I do not mean MAN and by Feminine, I do not mean Woman. I mean the principles as I’ve just described them that live within all of us and the world, to greater and lesser degrees depending upon what our natural essence is.
For the last few thousand years we have lived in a Masculine dominated paradigm. Not only has it been masculine, but, for a large part, it has been UNHEALTHY Masculine. It is important to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy because often the Masculine (which we need if we’re going to do anything in life) is given an unfairly bad rap overall because it has been equated in it’s totality with it’s shadow side. In this paradigm we have seen a lot of the shadow of both the masculine and feminine, but to get to the saline point, what we have seen has been dominance, authoritarianism of the unhealthy Masculine, as well as denial and suppression of the Feminine. We have seen this through the treatment of women (who generally embody the feminine more) as slaves and something less than human for THOUSANDS of years; denial of the inner feminine through a dismissal of the importance of feeling and emotion; the raping and pillaging of the Mother Earth (the completely consumeristic approach to using her resources is representative of the way people on a micro level use each other and play on each other’s feelings to get what they want, as well as the abusing of their own bodies for some out-of-integrity gain.) not to mention the defining of our greatest training ground for coming into a higher level of consciousness, the material realm, ‘Life’ as being ‘Samsara’ or the ‘Maya.’ The illusion. And that holding the negative connotations that it does through these Masculine dominated traditions (yes they may worship feminine dieties, but let’s be honest about who really runs the show!).
This view in itself is an entirely dualistic view point which prevents people from loving the shadow and living an integrated, grounded, practical and spiritual life. I.e, doing what we’re meant to do, which is to merge the material and the transcendent. To become one in Shiva (Masculine) and Shakti (Feminine). It was appropriate at a time when people did not have the technology, resources or options that we have now. But considering we live in an age where we HAVE TO CAPACITY TO CHANGE our world, it is now an obsolete and unhelpful view point. It is a lot easier to love the Feminine/Samsara now because we live in an age when we have a greater consciousness around it.
Coming back to “patriarchally dominated belief systems” and how they have influenced this relationship to the body and the Feminine. Well, the body is the manifestation of your shakti, your feminine power. Let’s think for a moment.
- Christian monks and their hair shirts.
- Yogis with their continual ascetic fasting and sublimation of uncomfortable feelings.
- Even some very unaware Tantrics who use the feminine (represented through their own energy or their female partners) as a TOOL or horse to ride in order to GET somewhere (into nothingness) as opposed to being present to it, in acceptance of it and then allowing the Masculine and Feminine to merge into one. Into true Samadhi, not merely a masculine Samadhi state (I’ve experienced the difference and believe me, there is one.)
- Catholicism and it’s super twisted relationship to desire, sexuality and the body (Oh, and you know how they purported Mary Magdalene to be a prostitute: she was Jesus’ consort and an Isis priestess. We can’t have sexual women being powerful now, because to unleash all that feminine feeling would be too dangerous, too out of control. Read “I am afraid of feeling the fullness of my own feminine and using it as a training ground to step up into higher masculine consciousness and integrity.)
- Witch trials by Puritans.
- The obliteration by the Vatican of the Cathar sect of Christianity which incorporated the Feminine principle in its acts and belief system.
- The stoning and ill treatment of MANY women in Muslim countries (and non-Muslim countries).
- Even the way that in some Buddhist schools of thought, dancing is not allowed by their initiates. Dancing is an engagement with life and in that way is quite a feminine practice.
- Vedanta which says that the body and all of life is an illusion. Read, “Shakti is not real and should be disregarded.”
I’m sure you can think about some more obvious ones in regards to the way in which religion in general over the last thousand years has related to women, the body and to ‘having feelings’ (sin! sin!). Not to mention this physical, manifest reality which is the greatest representation of the feminine there is.
In short, our current media messages have been highly influenced by a good couple of millennia of unhealthy masculine relating to the Feminine. And that relating can be summed up in one word.
In her book Eating in the Light of the Moon, Anita Johnston discusses how an eating disorder is all about the unhealthy inner masculine trying to dominate, control, bully, suppress or SHAVE OFF the inner feminine. It is our own consciousness trying to stuff down or not feel our emotions (the feminine) through emotional or binge eating. Or trying to starve those feelings away. To literally shave off the body, the curves, the physicality which represents our own inner feminine manifested. To deny the feminine is to deny the manifestation of what we embody. Which means, a denial of both looking at our shadow and of loving ourselves unconditionally.
So how we relate to our bodies is a direct representation of how our own awareness relates to our own feelings and our own shadow. On an increasingly macro level, this is shown by how a man relates to his woman (and her emotions) and also how she relates to his. It is shown by how we relate to our environment and treat our planet (P.s Thanks Pope Francis for advocating treating the Earth with love. Obviously there is a massive shift happening in Patriarchal consciousness right now!)
If you are experiencing body image or an eating disorder right now, firstly I encourage you so seek out a trained therapist. I also work with people who are out of the crisis point in order to let go of the pattern permanently. You can heal this, it is possible. I know, because I have. If you know someone who is engaging in eating disorder behaviour, firstly, please love them. They are in such a deep state of self hatred that they really need your love and support (without you become their therapist). Encourage them to seek help. DON’T ever tell them, ‘you look too thin.’ because that will be taken as a triumph. Things like ‘you don’t look well.’ are better ways to wake people up to where they’re at. It is also important to recognise that an ED or body dysmorphia is a MENTAL ILLNESS. They CAN NOT see how they actually look. No amount of you telling them they look beautiful is EVER going to touch them because they cannot see it. Commenting on their looks at all is something that does not help in anyway whatsoever as that’s where skewed view is representing itself (and, just so we’re clear, in case it hasn’t come through yet, it is NEVER about the body. It is NEVER about food. It is always about control and a deeper issue of feeling unworthy and unloveable. It merely manifests through this behaviour). The best thing you can do is speak to them as a person “You are a beautiful person. You are worthy. I love you as you are.” etc.
One of the first things that we need to do in order to better love our bodies, our feelings, our personal expression, our women, the vulnerability of our men, our earth and this LIFE, is connect with, love and celebrate the Feminine.
Let’s come back to me turning heads in Boulder and what the Male gaze actually is.
As I have shown, media has been influenced by the belief systems of the last few millennia of unhealthy Patriarchal dominated culture. It has been the foundation stone for where we are today. Women have taken this on even more hardcore then men and perpetuated it through women’s fashion magazines. This in itself is a whole culture of unhealthy Feminine: female competition, control and shaming initiated and perpetuated by women. That’s another article in itself though.
Women have told each other (along with the glitzy glam of Patriarchal Hollywood), that what men are attracted to is a certain type of body. This connects in with women who already have wounding and informs them of how their inner masculine should be relating to their inner feminine. I.e some women are consciously altering their bodies purely to be more attractive to men, while some are triggered by this culture which plays on their feelings of being out-of-control and wanting to be in control through their treatment of food/body.
Alison Armstrong (genius author, teacher and speaker in regards to men and women relating with each other) in her work discusses that while men may be SEXUALLY attracted to a woman due to her body and sex appeal (healthy hair, skin, smell etc), what is paramount to them being attracted to a woman overall and wanting to commit to her in relationship is that he feels her to be charming and enchanting. She discusses how the number one most attractive quality for men towards woman is confidence. (I’m sure it’s the same for the ladies too.) that men are attracted to women who are authentic, real and comfortable in their bodies.
In Tantra, alongside cultivating their healthy Masculine, women explore their inner Feminine. They cultivate their radiance. Their love. Their vulnerability and Feminine sexuality (which can range from surrendered to wild and passionate, but ultimately it’s about being deeply connected to your feeling and in your body). The principle behind this is that the more each partner in a relationship cultivates their polarity (the magnetic poles of attraction: the Masculine or Feminine), the greater the attraction between the pair, and the greater fireworks and merging into union that happens when the partners make love. Love making becomes a path to realisation.
Also, when a woman is more connected to her feminine feeling, the Masculine partner is better able to trust her. As she is giving him instantaneous feedback about how she feels with him in each moment, which allows him to be more present and in integrity with himself and her. This is a far cry from the universal Masculine paradigm which says that we all need to contain and not show our emotions. That to be vulnerable is weak. In her article, Vanessa Florence in her article discusses the implications of what this micro way of relating would mean on a global scale. How if all women were connected to their feeling, then the wives of male world leaders would be the instant feedback to them on how they’re fucking up, and what they need to do to change that. She says how those leaders are far more likely to listen to the woman they share their bed with than with angry activist on the other side of the country.
Imagine if we were all listen to our Feminine like that, how that would change how we listen to our planet.
Masculine men find Feminine women attractive. It is their essence and radiance more so than their physical build (though of course everyone has preferences that they naturally lean towards and that is not good or bad, it just is. I know I myself have a physical ‘type.’ Interestingly though, I have only ever once been in a relationship with someone with that kind of build.)
The reason why I can walk around Boulder and feel totally beautiful is because this city is filled with very masculine men. This means that they see a feminine woman, ANY feminine woman, who is radiant and confident in her body and sexuality and they find it attractive. THAT is why I am turning heads in Boulder. Not because I as an individual person have something that other people don’t. It’s merely that I have taken the time and put in the practice into opening and cultivating this part of myself. Every woman has that capacity. And that is what men of integrity are actually attracted to, not simply a body TYPE. Starving yourself isn’t going to make you more attractive. Cultivating your feminine radiance through practices and self love IS.
If you are a woman who is disconnected from your femininity, you are not going to shine. You are not going to radiate. Masculine men are not going to feel your juicy goodness because you are so covered up with shells in order to protect yourself. Maybe you needed those shells for a time, but are they serving you now? If you are a feminine essence woman who is busy being masculine all the time expect that you will attract much more feminine men. Men who are floating and often directionless and who want you to take care of them. This is the way polarity works. This is the way the Mirror works. Our lives are the evidence for what we embody.
I’ve spoken about unhealthy Patriarchy.
I’ve spoken about the relating of the Masculine and Feminine throughout the ages.
I’ve spoken about Eating Disorders and what they are.
I’ve spoken about the Male Gaze and what is actually attractive to men.
Let’s round this up to you.
It’s all very nice for me to say “cultivate your feminine radiance and you can feel like the hottest chick on the block in Boulder.” But really, this is about you and your self love. How others relate to you should be a flow on effect of what is happening inside.
How you love you is the number one most important thing that there can ever be in your life.
You are the ONLY person who has to live with yourself for the rest of your life.
How do you feel about your body?
How much do you let yourself feel the feelings that are really inside of you?
How much do you love yourself and what are the stories you tell yourself about all the ways in which you are unworthy?
How do you feel about sex and sexuality? look at your languaging around it – it’s going to reveal a lot to you. Do you see it as “dirty”. Is it something you feel closed off in? How much do you celebrate the body type that is particular to you?
How comfortable are you with shining and being seen in the world? How much is that a direct correlation to how much you shut down your own feminine radiance and power?
How much do you accept and love your own body type in face of an environment which seems to advertise something else?
How do your relationships with men reflect how you treat your own inner feminine?
It is never about the outside. It is always about what is within you.
If you feel like your form is not accepted by the outside world I invite you to really take responsibility and ask yourself, how much DO YOU accept your form?
Loving your emotions, doing work to accept and celebrate your femininity and sexuality (through Tantric arts, woman’s circle, yoni massage, conscious erotic dance, Transfiguration, therapy and of course, the mother of all emotional healing: Clearing) is going to be the single most important thing you will ever do in your life in order to let go of these unhelpful behaviours, step into your full power and radiate the way you were born to.
The world needs you in your power.
The world needs you in your radiance.
The world needs you connected to the depth of your feeling.
The world needs you to love your body and all the fractal representations of Shakti that there are.
It is the only way we will come into fulfilment, peace, unity and ecological sustainability on this planet.
Drop me a line. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Come and work with me if your heart calls to.
May we all live in peace, happiness, love and unity.