Last Summer, my friends and I along with each other’s families got together for our annual beach day. Our friendship has transcended the test of time and now we have become family. It is a tradition we began building about four or five years ago. We are now parents and our kids get along so well they call each other cousins, so why not spend a nice summer day at the beach. The location: Robert Moses.
As usual, the ladies were in charge of food and assigning what each family will bring, it becomes one big potluck. The guys are in charge of the beverages and set up: chairs, canopies, etc.
For the past two years I was unable to participate due to my arts events, however my son attended. As I mentioned in my past essay, I made the decision that 2016 was the year of showing up and being present and that included family events. Both my son and I were excited, finally I was going to be able to spend quality time playing at the beach with his cousins.
We arrived at the beach and gathered at a nice spot right in front of the water so that we could see the kids and they could see us. The water was perfect, the sun was beaming, laughter all around, exactly what we all needed.
My niece is a photography aficionado so it was not unusual for her to bring her camera and shoot pics of all of us in between. As I was laying in the sand with my book in hand I asked her to shoot some pics of me by the water during sundown, specifically I wanted a picture of my feet as the water will hit them and then wash away but in a close angle and then one where you could see my feet and the sunset. That was the specific request, I know I am a bit extra, but there’s always a reason behind my madness. I had already been thinking about writing my experience with the 2016 journey of showing up, saying yes to the things that most scared me and loving myself fully but I wanted a few set of photos to accompany the writing and that was one of them.
We walked along the water and as she’s shooting the pics, we stopped to get the shot I wanted, and as you could probably imagine, it took a few shots to take the right one and in the interim, my niece kept shooting.
As we got ready to return home I asked her to email me the pictures once she uploads them in her computer.
Sunday morning, I’m lying in the couch savoring my cafe con leche and reading when my phone beeps indicating that someone texted me. It was my niece. I clicked on her name and there it is a picture of me walking with a message from her: I love this picture! with a heart emoji. At first I stared at the picture with surprise, a bit of verguenza and pride, all those feelings, mixing at one time: one big asopao of feelings. Surprised of seeing the shape of my body, my weight loss journey was paying off, verguenza cause my booty looked huuuuuuuuuuuuge, but like a good huge, curvaceous, well defined Latina big booty and pride because shit I looked good!
I am a confident woman, I know I am smart, intelligent, goal getter, over achiever, an observer, beautiful and fearless when it comes to express my opinions, at times I can be bold but most of the time I do express my opinion without being disrespectful or mean. Over the past year, this has gotten better. I wasn’t always like this and still from time to time I think I’m not good enough at this or that, subconsciously I am shaming myself. Women are held to an unattainable standard over and over again, every goddamn day! We’re always being compared to the next women who’s absolutely different from us. We practice shaming on ourselves and on other women too! Don’t lie! We all do it!
From an early age we are taught that everything about ourselves and especially our bodies is up to debate and criticism. We are not taught to love ourselves and accept how different we are, from how our hair looks, how our bodies develop instead we are taught that how others feel about us dictates our own feelings. From there our bodies become a heavy burden to bear.
- “Niña no comas tanto!”
- “Te estas poniendo gorda”
- “Ningún hombre te va a querer así!”
- “Tienes que hacer ejercicio”
- “Vas a comer otra vez?”
These are some of the things I was told constantly by family members from my Abuelita to aunts and even my mother, but I still remember how not eating everything that was served on my plate was enough reason for punishment. Confusing right? If you eat too much is wrong and if you don’t eat at all is wrong too.
Puberty was not a nice experience either: my body developed big boobs and a big booty which was also the cause of shame and burlas among my sister and cousins…. A reason to be hidden through clothes: “para que no te veas tan tetona y culona”. Today, those parts of my body I wanted to hide have become a reason to show off for compliments by men and women. Confusing, again. Right?
Since we are kids, we learned to shame our bodies, to be unhappy about them and being very critical of them. Yes, this is learned behavior. Our bodies become a sense of discomfort, looking in the mirror turns into your worst nightmare and shopping for clothes becomes one of the most scariest and painful experience. I remember not wanting to try out clothes let alone stand in front of the dress room mirrors. Social settings made me anxious, especially around boys, I will stay around the adults or seating in a corner. If you are asked to take pictures, you refuse and if you have to, you hide them, you want to erase any evidence of you. I’ve been there. My Throwback Thursday go as far as 1998.
It took me many years to transform that hatred/shame into love and acceptance. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, yes the country where many beauty queens were born, so yeah according to society I was far from a beauty queen. Although, now I know I am my own Beauty Queen, and I say this as I fix my crown. When I moved back to NY in 1998, things began to change. Seeing the confidence of many women who looked like me or who were very different than me in shapes and sizes allowed me to look in the mirror with a different set of eyes. Still that was not enough…
If you haven’t read Naomi Wolf’s “The Beauty Myth”, do yourself a favor and add this book to your list. Wolf also argues in this book how women are seen by men through their bodies instead of what’s inside:
“Men are visually aroused by women’s bodies and less sensitive to their arousal by women’s personalities because they are trained early into that response, while women are less visually aroused and more emotionally aroused because that is their training. This asymmetry in sexual education maintains men’s power in the myth: They look at women’s bodies, evaluate, move on; their own bodies are not looked at, evaluated, and taken or passed over.”
This brought a few flashbacks of times where I had been body shamed by those unsolicited comments made by men.
Aged 11: While on vacation at tia’s house in Isla de Margarita, Venezuela during a game in the pool with the kids from the complex, we decided to ask the boys who do they liked the most, the red haired one jumped in with excitement as if he is about to win the lottery or something: “hmmm, I wished you could have Karina’s body but keep your face.” Womp womp, thanks…
Aged 19: While riding in the car with my best friend at one of Caracas busiest avenue, sort of NYC’s 42nd street, we stopped at a red light when another group of guys driving in their car stopped next to us. Of course at that age we want to flirt so my friend pulled the windows down, my best friend is tall, of Italian descent, long light hair, very fair skin with freckles and light eyes, her other friend was blonde, also very light skin and tall with green eyes and there I was seating in the back seat with my dark hair, dark eyes, freckles and my 5’1” height, so as she rolled down the window so these fools could see me I heard their laughter and one of them shouted “you can close that window.”
Age 30: Out with friends, a guy who I once considered friend decided to scold me on what he thought was an encouraging talk for me to lose weight and take care of my body . Hmmm, did I ask you? Not one time boo, boy bye!
Age 38: Some dude I used to date decided to compare me to a T-bone steak he likes to eat once in a blue because is a treat. I was left lost for words at the audacity of his statement. Thanks a-hole!
Age 41: A slick dude who approached me on social media with the trick of wanting to do business, felt it was appropriate to compliment by saying that he fantasized with my pictures because it looks like I have “that good good”… hmmm, what does that mean?
Men I need you to do better, please and thank you. Don’t do more, do a lot less and keep your unsolicited comments, compliments (which are only thought of as such in your brain), healthy advice (again unsolicited) to yourself.
I am fully aware that not everyone will appreciate you fully and this goes beyond your physical appearance but body shaming or policing a woman’s body just force us to strive for a level of perfection that we will never achieve and which causes an enormous amount of distress, self-hatred, depression and in some instances death. Be aware of this, as it is, us women put enough pressure on ourselves without your input. No need for you to become our body police.
Wolf’s book was eye-opening to begin building a relationship with my body through self-love:
“A consequence of female self-love is that the woman grows convinced of social worth. Her love for her body will be unqualified, which is the basis of female identification. If a woman loves her own body, she doesn’t grudge what other women do with theirs; if she loves femaleness, she champions its rights. It’s true what they say about women: Women are insatiable. We are greedy. Our appetites do need to be controlled if things are to stay in place. If the world were ours too, if we believed we could get away with it, we would ask for more love, more sex, more money, more commitment to children, more food, more care. These sexual, emotional, and physical demands would begin to extend to social demands: payment for care of the elderly, parental leave, childcare, etc. The force of female desire would be so great that society would truly have to reckon with what women want, in bed and in the world.”
It is easy said than done to simply shrug off all this negative comments on our bodies from: straightforward to micro aggression’s, and undercover ones but what I’ve learned thus far is that as long as I build a relationship with my body knowing what works and what doesn’t, focus on my health and not my looks or on the idea of what others think I should look like I will become more comfortable in my own skin. Self-love and self-approval take time to develop but hang in there, give yourself space to grow without looking at someone else’s perception of you. Listen to your body, talk to your body, pamper your body.
Two years ago, I began running but I did it not for weight loss purposes but more so for seeking solitude and to avoid being glued to my phone, yes it helped me lose weight, that was a plus. I also changed my eating habits but for healthy reasons, once I turned forty, I noticed all the changes your physique goes through so I wanted to increase my life expectancy. However, I don’t deprive myself of foods I crave at a given time, if I’m craving a piece of cake, you best believe I am eating it!
There are days when I don’t feel like running so I stay in and I don’t beat myself up for it, but I listen to my body when it screams “Mira coño ! Vamos a correr! I’m bored” so I listen and go out for a run.
We are brought up in a culture that teaches us also how to shame even when we are confident. oh yes! If you self proclaim to love yourself you are considered cocky or conceited. I have received direct and indirect messages and comments about posting too many selfies…mannnnn listen: all you have to do is unfollow, unfriend, hide, whatever you need to do to deal with your issues, feel free to do it. I can not help you with that because I am working on my own issues and traveling my journey. Ain’t nobody got time for your shade! I am busy working on me, being comfortable in my skin and loving everything about me including my body. Touche! (clapping for myself!!)
i like the way the stretch marks
on my thighs look human
that we’re so soft yet
rough and jungle wild
when we need to be
i love that about us
how capable we are of feeling
how unafraid we are of breaking
and tend to our wounds with grace
just being a woman
makes me utterly whole