In response to an email called “Emerging Womanhood” from my Sacred Sexuality course, a member shared the following on the forum. What touches me so deeply about her response is not only the exquisite vulnerability with which she tells her stories of becoming a young woman, but also the ways in which responds to her young self with tremendous compassion. She models two of the essential components to embracing our bodies: excavating the shame stories and learning to respond to our hurt and lonely places from a place of acceptance.
We can do some of our inner work on our own, but we also heal in community. We heal shame when we find the courage to tell our stories and allow them to be witnessed and received. We heal cognitive distortions when we lay them to bare on the altar of our shared healing spaces, then replace them with the truth and find that others share these same distortions and are working to replace them with their truths. Because sexuality carries worlds of shame, we tend to hide out in this area a great deal. Through the safety and gentleness of an online space, we can emerge from our caves of shame and find a layer of healing around this often misunderstood and highly vulnerable area of our lives.
I remember being extremely curious and excited about puberty when I was around the age of nine, but like it was also a secret and something that I couldn’t talk to anyone about. I don’t have vivid memories of noticing my changing body–just flashes of looking down at myself in the bathroom and noticing the little breast buds or the first growth of pubic hair.
My family and I used to go to the bookstore a lot, and I knew exactly where in the store there was an American Girl book called The Care and Keeping of You: the Body Book for Girls. I used to surreptitiously pull it off the shelf and sit in a quiet, hidden corner to read and look at the illustrated pictures. I was totally fascinated.
At some point, either I asked my mother for a similar book or she got me one of her own accord. I can’t remember the name of that book, but it was written by a woman who wove together facts about puberty with her own personal stories of emerging womanhood. Again, there were illustrations, and I loved to sit with this book to read the stories and look at the pictures of breasts and bras, vaginas, vulvas, pads and tampons. I felt like what I was doing had to be kept secret.
My mom and my older sister were both incredibly private and didn’t talk openly about their bodies or about these changes. I felt really different from them for being so curious and feeling excited and proud about the prospect of becoming a woman. Yet because I felt I had to keep this excitement and pride secret, I had no one to share it with.
At some point, probably around the time that she gave me the book, my mom told me about getting my period, but I always got a sense from her that she was very uncomfortable and self-conscious about all of it.
In fifth grade, the “cool girls” started shaving their legs. I felt extremely self-conscious throughout fifth and sixth grade, because I now had hair on my legs, too, but I didn’t feel I could ask my mom to teach me how to shave, and I also felt a sense of longing to keep my childhood and my innocence. I remember, on hot days, wearing shorts or capri pants and wanting to hide my legs as much as possible so that no one would see the hair there. I felt ashamed and longed for the tan, smooth legs of the “cool girls.”
I think this is the version of myself that I need to visit, the eleven year old girl sitting in class with her legs tucked as far under her chair as they will go, feeling torn between wanting to stay a child and wanting to celebrate and enjoy this transition of becoming a woman.
I want to wrap my arms around this girl who looks at her legs and thinks they are so ugly now. I want to hold her bare, downy little pale legs in my lap and say: “Your legs are beautiful! See? They’re not untouchable. I’m not repulsed by them.”
I want to tell her that her body is beautiful exactly as it is right now. I know that she thinks her little breast buds are awkward, and she’s noticing her skin becoming oily and sprouting zits here and there, and she feels ugly. I want her to know that this is an uncomfortable time for lots of people, but there is beauty in her sparkling eyes, in her smile, in all of the ways that her body carries her through the world.
I understand her self-consciousness, because I still feel it too, but I’m learning to love my body. That’s part of the reason I’m taking this course with Sheryl and all of the other brave women who are showing up every day. I want to tell her about these women and how much they inspire me. I want her to know she is not alone, and that many of the other girls in her class are feeling just like she is.
I want to tell her that there is room for her sadness and her excitement. I know that it’s hard to feel so alone with these feelings. I’m here to share in the excitement with her now. I want her to know there will be times in the future when she will feel her womanhood in her bones and will love it. I want her to know that one day, when she is a woman, the way that she sees beauty will keep expanding, and she will see it in so many different shapes and sizes.
I want her to know that her empathic nature is beautiful, but that she doesn’t have to worry so much about protecting her parents from her transition to womanhood. That’s not her job. They are grown-ups and can handle it. The way she thinks they might feel, the loss that she worries they are feeling, might not be exactly how they feel; either way, they can handle it. She is free to feel everything she feels.
I want to tell her that her growth isn’t an inconvenience; asking her mom for help and guidance is scary and vulnerable, and it hurts when her mother doesn’t always respond with patience and compassion. I wish that she could respond that way for her. I’m here now to say to her, “Everything you are curious about is natural to be curious about. Everything that you are starting to feel is normal. Of course you need help and guidance; you’re still just a young girl. There’s no shame in asking questions and wanting help. You are doing exactly what is appropriate for you to do. If your mom isn’t able to give you what you need right now, that’s not your fault or your burden. There’s no shame in needing and wanting to be held through this. Your feelings of excitement and joy are also natural, not strange. There are so many reasons for joy alongside the sadness. I’m here to hold all of those feelings with you now. I’m here to hold you now.”
The next round of Sacred Sexuality will start on January 11, 2020. I look forward to meeting you there.