I AM A WOMAN- a strong, gentle, sexy, intelligent, kind, successful, beautiful woman.  I say this with pride and confidence as I think of all that I embody as a woman.  I love women, I love being around women, and I love being a woman.  Growing up with mostly Italian women in my large family, and being the oldest of four girls, I think I can say with certainty that I understand, empathize, and feel compassion and love for all the complexities, advantages, trials, and joys of being a woman.  Reading Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls reassures me that though the road of womanhood is far from easy, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.  And I love how “old Christine” would never have said that opening sentence but this Christine can say it with conviction and gratitude.

Reviving Ophelia is a book I have been reading for several months (I am a slow reader, especially during the school year ;).  It is from the early 90’s and is about the trials and tribulations growing up as a young lady in our society.  Pipher is a clinical psychologist and after working with female adolescents realized our society needed a “wake-up call” to see what is happening to young girls.  The book is broken into sections: depression, eating disorders, suicide, addiction, divorce… while Pipher illustrates each event with actual clients she once worked with on that particular issue.  As a counselor, who is passionate about working with female adolescents, I chose this book because I thought it could help me understand and support my female students more thus enabling me to be a better school counselor.  However, I have gotten so much more from this book than I had ever anticipated; I learned about me.

Each section brings back a part of my childhood and young adulthood, and has offered me the opportunity to ask forgiveness and compassion.  I have apologized to my mother for being an “insane”, highly emotional teenager as well as thanking her for doing an amazing job raising three daughters as a single parent.  I have grown a deeper understanding and compassion for my father, and appreciated that he did the best he could do raising his four daughters.  I feel love and compassion for all that my sisters and I endured being young children of divorce, in a non-divorced neighborhood.  But the person I offered the most forgiveness, compassion, and kindness to was my younger self.

I felt somewhat vindicated in the sense that how I treated myself was how most females do, yet disheartened by that reality.  Pipher writes how most young girls, full of life and confidence, lose their true selves when trying to fit into society’s world as the most desirable female.  “Wholeness is shattered by the chaos of adolescence.  Girls become fragmented, their selves split into mysterious contradictions.” (p20)  “Culture is what causes girls to abandon their true selves and take up false selves”.  (p37).  While reading this, I was happy I “survived” that stage of my life, yet sad for my nieces who are still carefree, unaffected by cultural demands to be a pretty, skinny popular girl.  I felt encouraged for my ability to help all my female students, yet challenged by the rigorous up-hill battle that I know lies ahead.  I feel empowered that I overcame all those demons being a young girl in society gave me, but confident knowing that I can support the young females in my life in a unique and authentic way.

The section of the book that had affected me the most was the section on eating disorders, or what Pipher cleverly titled “Worshipping the Gods of Thinness”.  My freshman year of college, I staggered down a dark, painful path of unhealthy, self-destructing eating habits.  I do not know if it was due to external influences or internal insecurities, but I do know that my need to feel in control of out-of-control experiences robbed me for close to two decades of the simple joys of life.  Food was not my friend, it was an enemy.  I was haunted by constant thoughts of weight, diets, fatness, and never feeling thin enough, pretty enough, or good enough.  That is so sad to write.  But due to a life-altering experience I began to see my body as a treasure.  I saw food as health.  I saw life as a gift to be enjoyed.  And I saw yoga as my god-send.

Yoga, for me, has nothing to do with how I look, but how I feel in my heart.  It is that connection of the mind, body and soul.  I could come to yoga class, without a care of how I looked because I knew I was in a judgment free environment.  There are times when those old habits resurface, along with those nasty voices and feelings, but I do not stay there long because of yoga.  When I practice yoga, I cannot feel hate or negativity, only love and gratitude.  This is something I want all people to experience.

Women predominantly come to the yoga studio.  Yoga is often viewed as a “women’s thing”, not masculine enough for men.  This is completely untrue.  I LOVE when men come to the studio because they are doing what makes them feel good and not influenced but societal ideations.  But this blog is about women, so back to women… I like to think they come to a yoga studio to feel safe and accepted in a judgment-free environment.  I like to think, women come to feel connected, ready to explore all the challenges they may be experiencing and to work through it the mat.  This is what makes women beautiful.  We can all practice in a communal space, with privacy on the mat, exploring, sharing, dealing and being with all that is occurring, while still feeling that love and connection in a community.  I have been one of the many women who have cried on my mat because issues come up, yet I stay knowing I am not being judged but rather supported and loved.  I have had many women thank us when leaving our studio, saying how great that experience was and how they can’t wait to return.  This is why I love yoga and why I love being a woman.  I can be me, feel whatever I feel, and experience it with a community that understands.

I want to tell all the old “Christines” that life is not about how thin you are, how pretty you are, how desirable you are to society; it is about feeling the best you can feel, loving the best you can love, and knowing that you, more than anyone else deserve your love and affection.

I know I am here for a reason.  I know what I have been through is a lesson to be learned and shared with others.  I know I am here to empower and inspire the youth.  Therefore, I will share these thoughts with my adolescent girls; however I’m not sure if they will believe me.  But, regardless,  I will teach them the beauty of the breath, and to remind them, even for a moment, how necessary it is to love yourself in a safe, judgment free environment.           

“After all those years as a woman hearing ‘not thin enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not this enough, not that enough,’ almost overnight I woke up one morning and thought, ‘I’m enough’

~Anna Quindlen


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