This guest post comes from Violet.
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Chapter 7 – Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh
In my opinion, this chapter can be summed up in two sentences, both of which can be found in the first paragraph:
“They [the wolves] live and play according to what and who and how they are. They do not try to be what they are not.” (p. 199)
In Chapter 7, we learn all about the significance of the body in fairy tales, folklore, and in the Wild Woman. We learn that our bodies are too often stereotyped into one kind of beauty, one kind of standard, one kind of ideal. Can you imagine, the author asks, only one kind of bird? Or only one kind of tree, or one kind of flower? The natural world is far too diverse than that, and as members of the natural world, we as women are just as varied.
Estes tells the story of her friend Opalanga, a tall, willowy African-American storyteller who was ridiculed for her long limbs and gap-toothed smile. As a child, “[she] was told that the split between her teeth was the sign of being a liar.” (p. 201) Likewise, Estes herself was teased for being rotund, a bit larger than the fashion standard, and consequently, lacking in self-control. These two journeyed to the lands of their ancestors, respectively, and found a surprise. Opalanga’s people were tall and willowy, like her, and many had splits between their front teeth as well. Among Opalanaga’s people, the split was considered a sign of wisdom. Clarissa Estes went to her ancestral home in Mexico and found her people to be larger than usual, thickly built, and round. They told the author that she must try harder to become round about the belly, “for women are La Tierra, made round like the earth herself, for the earth holds so much.” (p. 202)
Estes goes on to explain that the standards the world holds to women today regarding their physical bodies, the expectations of beauty that cause all manner of psychological and physiological disorders, such as eating disorders, not only reject and insult the woman, but all of the ancestors who she inherited her physical traits from – and all of the woman’s progeny yet to come; an entire genetic line is slashed away from a woman’s body identity.
I love that Estes explains that trying to adhere to unrealistic standards of beauty keep a woman preoccupied. How true I have found this to be! As a woman who didn’t lose 100 pounds until I stopped obsessing over how I looked, I can tell you that the preoccupation with acceptance by a standard of beauty that does nothing to honor your ancestry will not help you conform to it. Rather, as was the case with me, the body vehemently rejects such a preposterous idea; I gained even more weight when I tried to lose it for the sake of “beauty.”
When we are so distracted with an impossible expectation such as the “perfect body,” we are robbed of creative energy that we could be using elsewhere. The return of my own energy was slow in coming, though not so much in retrospect, now that I think about it. My ex-husband was obsessed with the beauty standard, both for himself and for his women. I spent 7 years trying to conform and growing increasingly fatigued with the effort. After he left and I began to drop my own baggage, it took me about 4 months to lose 70 pounds, 6 months to lose 80, and finally 3 years to top it off at 100.
(I would like to note that while 100 pounds is a nice, round number, it was ultimately unattainable for me on a sustained level. I was 100 pounds thinner for about 3 weeks, whereupon I gained about 10-12 pounds and leveled out there. This chapter comes at an opportune time, as it has been a while since I’ve actually gained weight, and I found my old predator waiting in the shadows for me. I face it once again, but this time much wiser, for I’ve learned that the body is not only beautiful, but the source of incredible information and functionality, as we learn in the next section of Chapter 7.)
In fairy tales, the body’s abilities are described through symbols such as a talisman, a carriage, a magic carpet, or clothing item such as a cloak or a pair of shoes. These represent the deepened insight the body gives the spirit dwelling within it. I particularly like the magic carpet metaphor because the carpet looks mundane at first, but when active by the right words, it comes to life and transports the rider to a new place entirely. Thus we can transport to other places via our senses, whether it be listening to music, hearing our babies cry or laugh, accessing memory through smells or sights, and other such faculties that our bodies give us. The sensual world is magical in its own right, and only enjoyed by an object that has the ability to sense – a.k.a. our bodies.
“We tend to think of the body as this ‘other’ that does its think somewhat without us, and that if we ‘treat’ it right, it will make us ‘feel good.’ Many people treat their bodies as if the body is a slave, or perhaps they even treat it well but demand it follow their wishes and whims as though it were a slave nonetheless.
“Some say the soul informs the body. But what if we were to imagine for a moment that the body informs the soul, helps it adapt to mundane life, parses, translates, gives the blank page, the ink , and the pen with which the soul can write upon our lives?”
I love the above quote because it puts the body as ally rather than enemy. Our soul works in tandem with our body, each attaining a level of growth and consciousness together that would be otherwise unobtainable alone.
“The body is the rocket launcher. In its nose capsule, the soul looks out the window into the mysterious starry night and is dazzled.”
It looks like this post could go on forever if I’m not careful, so let me just mention the Butterfly Maiden before I wrap it up. I loved this story because the woman who dances the famous butterfly maiden dance is described as nothing like what a delicate butterfly should look like, and the people who have come from miles around to watch her are a mixture of stunned, offended, shamed, and appreciative. She is round at the belly, skinny at the legs, has silver hair that reaches to her ankles, and dances deftly, hips and wide buttocks bouncing to the beat of the drum.
But honestly, if you wanted a butterfly to bless you, would you rather a perfectly crafted, young, flawless girl doing the blessing? What does she know other than the quest for outside approval? I am not trying to insult those who are built in such a fortuitous way as to be accepted by the mainstream without effort (though I don’t know how easy it is for them, either; what do you do when you are given the stink-eye just for being skinny?). What I am trying to say that the dancer as the Butterfly Maiden shows a body that has seen many years, that knows beyond what we can comprehend as students of her wisdom. Judging our bodies turns us into ignorance. It shuts down our right to experience magic as physical beings.
I have a friend named Chelsey who is absolutely gorgeous. A post of hers came through my news feed about a month ago saying, “Dear skinny girls, the ones who are skinny naturally and don’t have to try to be beautiful. I hope you trip and fall down a flight of stairs.”
This is what happens when we dishonor our bodies. I lived in this place of envy for more than a decade, and I can tell you, it erodes the soul. Let us celebrate our own Mariposas, our own joyous bodies, or own wild flesh.