Last week I posted a pic of myself on social media, biking with my 4 times pregnant, stretched stomach showing just a bit. I’ve never received such a response from anything I’ve posted and it made me realize how much even I – who promotes body acceptance and vulnerability – have been afraid of being seen as I am. There’s still an old belief that if I’m seen I won’t be accepted – and yet I do accept myself. I guess I don’t necessarily trust others to do the same.
After the overwhelmingly positive response I received, I looked through my photos on social media and imagined myself from the outside looking in. I realized that I write about my scars but I don’t necessarily show them.
Here are two photos of me taken on the same day. One covering the physical marks that remind me of the beautiful beings I helped create, and the other showing them. In both I was sweaty and flushed from my bike ride and in both I felt absolutely beautiful. At the end of the day, both are of me and I apologize for taking so long to show up publicly in this full expression of myself. ❤️
When I work with clients of all ages, I often invite them to create a wheel identifying the different elements or spokes that make up themselves. I’ve learned with time that it’s best for people to choose their own spokes, centre and circumference of the wheel. I often share my own with them to give them a sense of the exercise, but it’s much more powerful when they make it unique to themselves.
As with anything we are often drawn to the finished product, but I find that the awareness that comes from the process of creating the wheel is often more important. Was it easy to make or difficult? Were certain spokes harder to fill than others or were there some that you didn’t want to put at all? Were you critical of the way it looked or sounded? Did you struggle to see what already is and instead seek out what isn’t? Were pleasure and sexuality a part of your wheel? What makes your wheel turn and who or what is at the centre?
I love looking at the simplicity in my daughter’s wheel and being reminded that there are always “happy things that make us feel better” when we’re willing to look.
As I continue to grow and learn and get more comfortable incorporating parts of myself and my beliefs into my life and my work, I’ve started to feel uncomfortable using the word “heal” when referring to what I hope to help women achieve through my work. The definition of heal is “to become healthy or sound again” and to me that implies that we were once healthy and whatever we did or was done to us needs to be fixed so that we can become healthy again. I don’t believe that any of us need fixing. I believe that our pain, “brokenness”, trauma, and shame are just as valid parts of ourselves as our greatness. In fact often our greatness is a direct result of our brokenness.
I can see now that when I feel like I need fixing it’s usually because I’m waging battles — both consciously and unconsciously — with my stories and experiences that I deem shameful and bad. By not accepting or allowing them to be a part of me and my view of myself, I become fragmented — and a separation is created within me. It takes a great deal of energy to keep these parts separate and much of my energy is fed into hiding these perceived imperfections from others. Hiding and living in shame creates not only a separation within but a separation with out — and essentially distances me from the people that I most want to be close to.
I saw examples of this separation in my daughter whom we adopted as an older child. When she first came home she tried her best to be perfect and any time she made a normal mistake she would either apologize profusely or do whatever she could to hide it. The behaviours she used to cover her mistakes were often far more damaging than the mistakes themselves and after awhile trust between us became a problem. She seemed to be putting her energy into separating her “flaws” from herself and in doing so, was separating herself from me. Sensing that she felt the need to be perfect in order to be loveable, I began to praise her for making mistakes. I expressed my love for her “flaws.” Her spilled milk, forgotten lunch containers and messy room. Then I took things a step further and told her that I didn’t need her to be perfect or “fixed”, as adopted children often believe, and that it’s okay that she may always feel a sadness or brokenness about losing her birth family. I acknowledged that her wounds from this loss may never fully heal and that no matter what, I accept and love her as she is. I didn’t want her to think she “should” be anyone other than herself or that I needed her to feel better in order to love her. To deny the painful truths in her story would be to deny a part of who she is. I can honestly still feel her entire body sigh with relief upon hearing this.
I’ve carried this understanding with me ever since as a reminder to not gloss over or try to “fix” her or my other children’s pain or shortcomings, but instead to acknowledge and accept them as a part of their whole being. I don’t need them to be any “better” than they already are.
Through my work these past few years and in particular the shared vulnerability that happens within a Bodysex circle, I’ve learned to stop hiding in shame and acknowledge the parts of myself that aren’t so pretty to look at. In this acknowledgement and in the acceptance mirrored back to me from the other women, I’ve largely come to trust and stop fighting those parts of myself that I’m in battle with. When I stop resisting, the stories lose their power and — like a tapestry with many different threads — they become just another part of the intricate story of my life. They integrate into me. The meaning of the word integrate is “to put together parts or elements and combine them into a whole.” To be whole I don’t need to be perfect.
If you choose to sit in the circle with me or work with me in any capacity — I will not proclaim that you’ll be healed because I don’t believe that you need fixing. I don’t and won’t see you that way. I won’t pretend to have all the answers or that I’ve “arrived” at a place that you should also be. I will however, do my best to allow you to see me as a whole person with many curves and corners of both darkness and light. In the end, maybe healing is just realizing that in spite of my brokenness, I’ve been whole all along.
*** people who know me well know that I love words and their meanings and I don’t take it lightly which words I use. Just because this is how I feel about the word heal, doesn’t mean I think you’re wrong for using it. This is just what fits for me.
Last week I woke up to the sight of my 7 year old daughter laying beside me, wrapped in a quilt made by one of my Bodysex sisters. She had made the quilt for me last year in exchange for a friend of hers to attend one of my Bodysex retreats. Since then the quilt has mostly been used in my counselling office or at my retreats — providing warmth and comfort to women when they need it.
Seeing her wrapped in such a perfect symbol of sisterhood, I couldn’t help but think of the trickle effect that Bodysex has, not only on the women attending — but on the next generation of children. Even if they never attend a workshop, the very structure and concept of Bodysex is one we rarely see examples of in today’s culture. Women supporting other women — absent of competition. Real naked bodies — not on display, but simply being. Honest, vulnerable sharing of our most hidden stories, greatest fantasies and everything in between. Shared celebration of self pleasure as our fundamental birthright. And the healing experience of non sexual, loving touch from women who actually SEE us.
Tucking the quilt in tighter I continued to watch her, hoping that her little body would soak in some of the power of the collective stories and pleasures that the quilt holds. That as she grows and becomes a woman herself she will find acceptance in her body, love of self, enjoyment of pleasure and true sisterhood.
I love you Naya <3
I wrote the following blog post nearly 3 months ago yet haven’t had the courage to share it until today. Wondering what was holding me back I sat with it for awhile and realized that it isn’t that I’m afraid to be seen this way – that’s my old story. It’s more that I’m afraid that in sharing my feelings about something that has been this difficult for me, I might being dismissed. I’ve heard many well intentioned women say to me “God if I had your stomach I’d be laughing” or “I don’t know why you’re so hard on yourself – I wish my stomach looked like yours.” I understand that they see theirs as much worse than mine but those words don’t make me feel better – they make me feel worse. They dismiss how deeply painful it was for me to not give birth naturally. How hard it is to have visual scars of pregnancy and yet no real birth story that gives me “credibility” amongst women. My shame is drawn in the scars on my stomach and today I’m saying fuck you to the shame. This is my mama tummy and I accept it.
We read and hear so much about self love, radical self love and the idea of loving our selves exactly as we are. I think that this kind of dialogue is important and the idea is a beautiful one, but I also think that in it’s own way it sets us up for disappointment and failure. When my teachers Betty and Carlin interviewed me for Bodysex facilitator training 2 and a half years ago, they told me that they believed the biggest gift that comes from Bodysex is self acceptance. They made a point of saying that this was more important than self love. At the time I didn’t fully understand what they meant, but I listened and held that idea in my mind as one of importance.
Body shame has always been a part of my life. As a teenager I remember feeling insecure about my small breasts and overly muscular legs. I thought that, like the women in Cosmo magazines, my breasts were supposed to touch together. When I had sex with my boyfriend I’d use my arms to push them in – hoping that he wouldn’t discover my “deformity.” The main source of my physical shame however, has been my stomach. Not only have I felt shame over how it looks from stretch marks and loose skin, but after losing one baby and giving birth to 4 by cesarean, the ever present scar has been a visible reminder of how my body failed me at what I’d wanted the most.
Late this summer I asked my friend Dana to take photos of me naked exposing my stomach. It felt like a monumental thing for me to do as I’ve always found ways to keep this area hidden. The meaning of shame is to cover and hide and a part of me has believed that if people knew what I really looked like or my full story they’d be disgusted.
As I stood having these photos taken I felt beautiful. It wasn’t that I necessarily loved my stomach the way it looked or that I loved all of the stories that brought me to this place. I may always mourn the stomach of my youth or the fact that my babies weren’t born naturally. But I can and do accept that this is how I look now and that my babies weren’t.
Fast forward to today and I’m soon to lead my 5th body sex circle. For the first time in my life I feel like I can understand what Betty and Carlin meant. And because this acceptance is true and not an attempt at some form of radical self love that isn’t really there, I no longer care if someone else doesn’t like my body, finds it unattractive or if they think I’m less of a mother for not giving birth naturally. I’ve nourished all 5 of my children with this body (plus a couple that weren’t my own) been cut open 4 times, given love and caused pain. I’ve experienced grief, loss, joys, endings and beginnings. Through all of this my body has carried me. This body and the stories drawn on it, are me. By accepting it and them, I accept me.
*photo credit 1 – Stiina
*photo credit 2 – Dana Kellet
After pouring English breakfast tea into my beautiful hand made mug, I take my first sip and sigh. Growing up with an English mother I have always loved the ritual of drinking tea. Boiling the water, letting it steep in a pot, pouring the milk first and then the tea – it has to be made a certain way otherwise I’d rather not have it at all. Setting the mug down on the counter I go back to my task at hand – washing an assortment of brightly coloured dildos in the kitchen sink. Tonight I am teaching a Penis Pleasing Workshop at Positive Passions, and this is part of my preparation.
A buzz from my phone interrupts my thoughts as my 2nd oldest daughter texts to say that she’s having trouble getting her little sister to sleep. “Try singing ‘mama loves you’” I text back, hoping that she falls asleep soon or she’ll be grumpy tomorrow.
My awareness shifts back to my work and I continue to wash the dildos noticing the differences in each one – colour, veins, testicles and size. Wondering which ones the women will want to practice on, I settle on a variety and set them onto a towel to dry.
Ten minutes later – carrying my mug of tea in one hand and my rainbow of dildos in another, I go to the workshop room and set up the space.
I sit down and begin going over the material while at the same time wondering if the kids remembered to feed the bunnies. Standing up to grab my phone to text them, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the wall. On the outside I look like one woman but on the inside I know I’m made up of many different women. Women reflective of all of the journey’s that I’ve been on. I see the madonna, I see the whore, the sensitive and the rude. The woman who used to be too scared to walk into this store, and the woman who can now comfortably talk about anything and everything to do with sex. I’m all of these women.
It has taken me time to get used to talking openly in this way and also to learn that there are times when it’s best to not say anything at all. If I’m honest I can admit that I still worry about judgement from others and have to remind myself all the time that I can be both a loving mother and a sexual woman — especially in a culture that tells me I can’t be.
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. The workshop participants have arrived and it’s time for me to go greet them.
Mug in hand I walk to the door and say “Hello my name is Natasha. I am a mother of 5, Sex educator, Orgasm Coach, and Bodysex facilitator. Today we are going to learn different ways to pleasure a penis…. “