As a woman, I think of my body as a landscape. Directly connected to the planet, I see how I have toxic waste dumps, beautiful mountainous highs, and long stretches of desert. I was raised in the 70’s, even then media reigned, and I was tearing images of perfect picture models that covered my bedroom closet door. Each night, I would lay in bed and wish that I could be like one of them. At the early age of 14, which is fairly normal now, I became a bulim-arexic. This was also quite normal at the time. All the girls who won the popularity contest, and became cheerleaders, were well versed in the ritual of starvation and purging. It was a common question to ask if we were going to get rid of a certain meal. Thus began my relationship with my body.
Upon graduating from high school I enrolled at an art college. The visual, and the Eros of the naked form fascinated me. I was a natural exhibitionist and had a romantic ideal around being an art model. So I began posing. I was amazed at the variance in my form depending on the artist. Some men drew me with far larger breasts than I ever could imagine. Some women depicted a round belly. Sometime I was quite tall and other times squatty. It all truly seemed to be in the eyes of the beholder.
This was the landscape of me, my body, truant to no one other than perspective. I was deeply comforted actually, and it staved off my early propensity for self-abuse, but this didn’t last long.
My art modeling days were shortened when a fashion photographer that was interested in building my portfolio for Japan discovered me. He was a true artist. We would study the human form, my landscape, for hours on end, noting the delicacy of a gesture, the look in the eye, or compassion in a pose. The human form, my vessel for expression was unimaginably imaginal. I felt otherworldly and so beautiful in those images. I was ready for the fashion world, but I was too heavy by normal standards.
Thus became the days of 3 cappuccinos a day, very little food, and extraordinary amounts of exercise. I had a chance to make it in the world of beauty. I could be one of those magazine girls on my closet door in grade school. The game began and I played to the best of my ability, went to Japan, and watched the girls with their pretty Asian eyes want their eyes to be American, round. They didn’t want their lovely epicanthic folds of their natural heritage. Surrounded by models of all creeds and nations, all beguiled by the beauty of themselves, and every single one scared to be fat. The body, the skinny landscape, and the pretty face were all we had. After 6 months I wanted more.
I realized I wanted more than to be a hanger. More than an image for the unreal. I still starved, but knowing at 5 foot 5 I’d never be a high fashion model, I chose to be an actress. This was more psychologically stimulating, but equally ardent in the area of physique. My landscape had to be perfect if I was to be a movie star.
I recall my 2nd day after arriving in Los Angeles. I got a job at a local restaurant called Spago. Little did I realize I had gotten a job at the most prestigious dining establishment in the city. My education continued. I saw the movie stars first hand and saw how they picked at their food. No dressing thank you, special request, sorbet seemed the only fit for dessert. I was in the midst of the machine and felt powerful. I would echo their eating habits and know the way.
A year later I was offered my first series. I could quit my job and become a real actress. I was overjoyed and became comforted in my new position. After 6 months, the producers approached me and said that I was looking chubbier in dailies and that if it continued, I would lose my role.
Thus began the starving of my soft and lovely landscape and the hardening of my soul.
It never stopped, the continuous fight between self-love and aesticism. The austere nature of incessant exercising and always “no”.
There is a wisdom to the word “yes”. To allow oneself to receive. It is the feminine nature. The landscape of soft rolling hills and dappled grays. I was being told to be “rock hard”. Is that what I as a women wanted?
I didn’t ask or fight back. I felt lucky to have a career in pictures. I was one of the chosen, right?
I could feel smug in my starvation. Perhaps I was better running on my adrenaline and endorphins. It was what I wanted right?
Years passed and I became harder, more fit, ideologically addicted to perfection. Hating the soft spots on my body, wanted to carve them away with one more sit-up. Until my mother called. She had breast cancer.
I immediately left Hollywood to aid my mom in her ailing landscape. She had suffered in the trenches of diet wars all her life. Her body had given up, and she was to lose one of her symbols of femininity. I watched one of her mountains go down. We held each other, took pictures, talked of our landscapes, and the pocked marked minefields of our own doing.
I was afraid to become soft even still. The ruts felt so deep I couldn’t even see any other landscape except the bottom of my choices. It seemed there was no other choice.
I began reading, writing, singing, and dancing. Using my body for creative exploration as I continued my starving days. I was finally given a leading film in a romantic Henry James piece. I had dreamt of this my whole life. I had made it. I was flown to Ireland. I jogged a minimum of an hour a half a day. I said “no” to Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day. I was going to be a movie star. Three days into shooting I was involved in a rare and nearly fatal equestrian accident where I had to have emergency surgery and was unable to go to America for months. I missed my homeland, my landscape was unfamiliar, my body broken, and dreams dashed.
I didn’t say no to Guinness after that. I sipped the brown liquid with joy at being alive. The lifetime of striation and fear of fat seemed silly in the face of death, but I knew that the grey fog of taught behavior had shrouded my consciousness, and my natural ability to play and be in my body. I realized I had work to do. As Peter Gabriel would say, “The knotted cords untying.”
I left Hollywood. I began writing music. I offered myself a simpler job with fewer expectations. I still had a hard time being in my landscape at times.
I continued my explorations, my exonerations, my expletives, and my misnomers. I knew that my soft body needed a voice. I became a student of Nia – a movement practice specifically invented to connect people to their bodies as well as their minds and spirits.
Years later, I became a facilitator, and even then I struggled against my curves in landscape. As I have grown older, my daily teaching with women of all ages, shapes, and sizes has led me to deep discoveries of scars and ravines. Hidden mossy grottoes, and angelic waterfalls of all women’s worlds. The jagged profanities of self-defeat and glistening peaks of self-love. I have had to face defeat and release all expectations of the modern world. I am, by societal standards, a fit woman.
Daily I must pass through the knotted forest, many times unfamiliar terrain, to find the golden sands and velvet beaches of comfort within my being. I cannot fight my landscape, as we cannot fight the planet. My body is my battlefield, and it does leave me no time for anything else. Is this learned?
Who gave it to my mother?
Will there be an end to the destruction of our bodies, and will we find a way to relinquish our egos to the betterment of community through consciousness?
I am still finding my way. I have still not found “the answer”.
I only know that by listening to the daily rumbles, sweet invocations, and swarthy purposes of my landscape am I enlightened. My body never lies. She never tells me something I don’t know. I have come to know she is not my enemy, nor do I have to force her to be anything other than authentic. I am tactile, pliant, and passionate. I expand, contract, and shift. I am a landscape of ever changing skies imbued with colors of unfathomable resource.
I now tell my body I love her every day. My landscape is complete, not lacking, or too anything. I am dancing through life, on my knees with grace, and flying through the breeze of possibility.
I am old and I am young. I am fat and I am thin. I am the world and the universe within. I am a woman, and my landscape is fine.