Here's a picture of Chartres' labyrinth:
A labyrinth is a path that one walks to mediate and find focus. Labyrinths are not mazes, but a path that one walks to clear the mind and enlighten the soul. I walked my walk on the labyrinth with a specific intention: Self acceptance.
I'm 39 years old. Not a day has passed since I was eight years old that I haven't looked in the mirror and thought something derogatory about my body. Too tall, too gangly, too clumsy, too freckled, weird speaking voice, too fat, too knock kneed--my list of perceived physical shortcomings could fill the O.E.D. I inherited this attitude from my parents, who inherited it from their parents. The self hatred goes so deep that it colors every joyful experience of my life. I often catch myself thinking during life's sweetest experiences, "If only I were thinner I'd be even happier." Each time I think this, a little joy is chipped away from the moment because I am reminded that I'm not enough.
I have never felt comfortable in my own skin. I can tell you with exactness what I weighed on each important day in my life. My physical self loathing has colored each day of my life as long as I can remember. I carry it with me like a great stone around my neck. It drowns out the full breadth and depth of joy that I could experience and well, I'm sick of it.
I've talked to a lot of women--and at some point each has mentioned this feeling of not being enough. We are taught our physical lack at our mother's knee, in locker rooms, at school dances, on the playing field, and in dressing rooms, under fluorescent lights which show our every flaw in life sized high definition. We lament our lack of not being enough as teenagers with phrases like "I'm sooooo fat!!" at the same time swinging our gorgeous hair and silently begging for compliments and validation from other girls who feel the emptiness of not being enough as painfully as we do.
Some of us eat to fill up the hole of not being enough. Some of us have doctors remove excess fat with a sterile vacuum hose, not unlike the one you use to clean your car. Some of us develop eating disorders, get plastic surgery, take drugs, drink excessively, cut ourselves, and even inject toxic chemicals into our lines and wrinkles in a vain attempt to fill the bottomless pit of not being enough.
I'm standing on the crest of the big 4-0. Forty. Middle aged. Over the hill...in my almost four decades in this body I've been ogled, groped, leered at, felt up, patted down, and generally objectified in a variety of situations. Every gaze I've encountered since I was 13 (when those pesky boobs appeared like aliens on my chest) has left me completely confused. Is my cup size the measure of my worth? My dress size? What must I look like to be enough?
I've had several different bodies in my life, and I'm only half way through this journey. There was the tiny baby body, the awkward child body, the teenage explosion, the early twenties goddess (which of course, I didn't appreciate at the time.) Now, scarred, stretch-marked and flabby, I still carry the 35 extra pounds from my last baby--and he's nine.
I see his sweet face and am reminded that I still can't fit into those pre-baby jeans. People use words like "robust", "healthy", "big boned", and the phrase "at least you have a pretty face", to describe me. People say things like:
"Have you lost weight?"
"Why don't you join a gym?"
"What size are your jeans?"
"Your boobs are huge!"
And with every question or comment, I am reminded, with crystal clarity, that I am not enough.
In our society, body image is the litmus test we use for being enough. Both women and men feel the sharp sting of the desire to be enough. But we've all been duped over and over (and again and again) into thinking that our worth, our sense of being "enough" is directly dependent on what we look like.
I've never met a woman who hasn't been able to paste a smile on her face and pretend that she is enough. I do it every damn day. We dye our hair, constrict our bodies in spandex and elastic that raise our boobs, and slim our waists. We don the torture of high heeled shoes and fake fingernails then slather our bodies in creams (that cost more than my first car) just to prove that we are enough.
But I know.
I can feel the gap within people, the ache of wanting to be pretty, attractive, thin, and young. There is a yawning chasm that resides in each of us and attempts to swallow us whole. We are reminded of our "ideal" image every time we turn on the television, open a magazine or walk out the door. Vast and unending, dark and deep, the chasm swallows us a little more each day with the negative thoughts we feed it. Every time I think, "I'm so fat" the gap opens a little wider and I sink a little deeper. I fear one day I may disappear altogether into the abyss; the abyss of not being "enough".
And here is the real, personal tragedy of my thinking: My body rocks. For loathing it so completely, I take really good care of it. I exercise it every day. I walk, run, swim, and climb. I eat right. My health is amazing. I haven't needed to see a doctor--except to have babies--in my entire adult life. I rarely catch the common cold. I've got fabulous skin and no wrinkles (fat chicks don't get 'em). I've got thick wonderful hair. I have fabulous hands that can play the piano, cook a meal, communicate to a jerky driver, and comfort a soul.
And beyond my physical characteristics: I've got a kind heart. I enjoy people. I can engage in conversation on a variety of subjects. I have great empathy. I would give you the shirt off my back if you needed it--but on second thought, then someone would inevtiably make a remark about my chest, so, I take that back--no shirt for you.
But sexy personalities don't sell. You can't bottle "witty", "funny", or "clever". Instead, we focus on the exterior shell, the changing husk. We ask ourselves and others, "Are you losing weight? What have you been doing? You look fabulous!" We make snide comments about people who are shaped differently than us in order to prove to ourselves that we are enough. We think, "At least I don't look like that." To keep the chasm at bay, we compare our bodies to others over and over and we willingly believe the biggest lie ever told: The lie that we are not enough.
So, I am finished.
You see, I've got a daughter. I refuse to have her sit at my knee and learn in the dressing rooms that she is not enough. I refuse to allow her to be swallowed whole into the abyss. I want her (and me, and you too) to find the tools to close the gap. I am taking my tools in hand to climb, inch by inch, into the belief that I am enough. I may have set backs. The odd remark about my ample chest, or my squishy arms may push me back into the darkness, but I will hang on.
I am hanging on.
Are you hanging on too?
Today, right now, I am closing the gap. Hanging on is no longer enough for me. I want to sprout wings and fly away into drunk love for this amazing machine that houses my soul.
I am enough.
This lovely body is just right as it is. It changes every day but I am armed with the tools to help me gain ground to close the gap. My tools are good, merciful, kind, and loving thoughts about this body I've been blessed with. It is mine and it's an amazing opportunity to have one that works pretty well. I gain ground by focusing on the amazing things that my body can do.
So today, as I walked the labyrinth, I walked to be blessed with the tools necessary to make the journey. I walked for self acceptance, but not self acceptance coupled with resignation; not the disappointment of "I really loathe my body, but I'll accept it anyway." I walked my labyrinth today for sublime self acceptance; self acceptance coupled with unconditional true love for this body I've got, cellulite, knobby knees, squeaky voice, kind heart and all.
The sum total of my being is not contained in the exterior shell that is my body. The most important parts of me, and you, are written on the walls of our very souls. This means that I am not my body and neither are you.
And we are enough.