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Guest Post: Our Bodies, Our Selves

Editor’s Note: Eve Ensler drew upon interviews from over 200 women to create her powerful play Vagina Monologues. Quite simply, she got women talking about their relationship with their bodies.

Inspired by Ensler’s work, Bored in Vernal sent us this essay, which she composed in 2002 . She writes, “I double dog dare you (women) out there to write one!”

When I lived in Hawaii, my best friend and next-door neighbor was 65. “When I look in the mirror, I see this face,” she said, “but this is not me. I don’t feel any different than when I was 18.” My neighbor and I became buddies and confidantes. We talked about the Church, the world, our families, and sex. It was surprising to me that sex was still a big deal when you were 65. I was 29, I had four children ages 4 and under, and sex was low on my list of priorities.

Things hadn’t started out that way. When I was growing up in the sixties and seventies, my parents were involved in polyamory. My mother had a long-term relationship with a well-known black minister when I was a child. Then in my teen years, a young divorcee named Linda came to live with our family. My parents also had several shorter relationships over the years. I didn’t exactly appreciate sharing my parents’ time and emotional energy with other people, and this tended to make me more cautious about forming my own relationships. In college I joined the LDS Church at age 19 and was more determined than ever to save sexual relations for marriage. However, I had grown up with a very open attitude toward sex and felt that I had healthy feelings about my body and my sexuality.

I served a mission, met my husband at BYU, and married in the Temple. Our intimate relationship was spiritual, loving, and fun. It was also very connected with our religious attitudes. We wanted to have children right away. Although non-member relatives urged us to enjoy each other for a while before we had kids, we felt a great proscription against using birth control of any kind (year: 1983). Children came quickly, as did Church responsibilities and employment obligations for my husband. Money did not come quickly. We were poor, overcommitted, and stressed-out. My husband, who grew up in an abusive situation, struggled for many years with controlling his temper.

One day my friend and I were lying on the beach in Hawaii, children digging in the sand all around us. She turned to me with anguish on her face. “I can’t make love to my husband when we are in a fight,” she said. “It makes me feel like a prostitute!” I gazed at her fondly, trying not to laugh. It was impossible to associate that word with her sweet, lined, pixie face. But I understood the feelings behind the words all too well. My husband and I were growing further apart, and with the emotional distance I felt a need to back away physically also. How could he hurt my body one minute, then touch me intimately the next? The dichotomy was incomprehensible.

As I reached my thirties, my conception of myself as a woman began to expand. I began to see a dimension of my spirituality in terms of my sexuality. I noticed that a man’s relationship with his Father God was different than that of a woman’s. The Mormon male relates to a male Deity as a role model and something to aspire to. A woman does not, though she is told that she will one day be a goddess. Much has been revealed about the characteristics and roles of our Heavenly Father. But we have no clear conception of the attributes of the female aspect of Deity. As a woman, my relationship with my Heavenly Father was one of supplicant, rather than heir.

Because of my early influences outside of the Church, I never saw myself as anything other than an empowered woman. Therefore my struggles to define my relationship with the Father God were efforts to connect and illuminate rather than to cast off any perceived oppression. This paralleled the “marital dance” I was performing with my husband, as we sought to pattern our steps into a pleasing promenade. The years it took to elucidate myself as a feminine being were painful and distressing. A crippling depression following the birth of my fifth child blighted an entire year and threatened the fragile stability of our family. But Medea rose from the sea, water flowing from her shining skin.

As I again became aware of my surroundings, I noticed what I had not perceived since puberty. It was a sexual force flowing from my inner being. I thought of this force as being held tightly in a box inside the center of my body. I could crack open the lid and let a little of it escape. Men began to notice me and make excuses to touch me. I knew this force could become a raging fire and blaze quickly out of control. So after a while, I carefully closed the lid of the box, hugging the secret to myself. Besides, fifteen years of pregnancy and nursing with nary a month between to call my body my own bound my sexuality all up with motherhood.

One day I was in the Temple and I kept catching the eye of a young woman who was watching me. After the session, she approached me and we had a little chat. She asked me how many children I had. I told her I had eight children. She said she knew I had many children, because I radiated “Mother in Zion.” I went home and looked at myself in a mirror. Most of my wrinkles were laugh lines, so they didn’t look too bad. But my chin was definitely saggier. I held my arms out to my sides and jiggled them. No “Relief Society arms” just yet. My breasts were O.K.–round and soft. Legs were in good shape. No varicose veins after eight children, and despite an hereditary propensity! I was pleased with that. Problem area: my stomach. It was a mess. Stretch marks from my rib cage to my lower abdomen traversed rolls of fat. No wonder we no longer made love with the light on! I knew that my husband liked to look at me, but I couldn’t bear for that stomach to be exposed. Yes, I had a “Mother in Zion” stomach.

A couple of years after that, I reached a landmark moment. “sister B.,” a missionary said to me fondly, “you’re so great. You remind me of my mom.” No! His mom?? I reminded a missionary of his mom? I couldn’t possibly be his mother. I would have had to have had a baby at age…well, twenty. I guess I could be his mom. In fact, his mother could be younger than I. What a horrifying thought. I was old enough to be the mother of a missionary.

That night, as I lay within the circle of my husband’s arms I wondered if he realized that he was holding a woman old enough to be a missionary’s mother. He turned to me and gently kissed my lips. I knew that the years had been kind to us. When he looked into my eyes he saw superimposed upon my face, the face of that young girl he had married. I knew that the wrinkles and the stretch marks had become phantoms compared with the stronger, younger spirit within me. Tender feelings stirred me as I held him to my breast. Then heat began to rise between us, for after all, inside I didn’t feel any different than when I was eighteen.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Caroline says:

    BOV,
    thanks for this beautiful essay. It sounds as if you’ve arrived at a peaceful and fulfilling place regarding your body and sexuality.

    You’ve made me want to examine my own relationship with my body. I’m afraid I fall into the common trap of looking at it and wishing it were different – more toned, skinnier, etc.

    After my pregnancy (during which I gained 55 pounds!) I have surprised myself at how philosophical I’ve been about the current status of my body. I’ve accepted that it will take time to get back to pre-pregnancy sizes and that even if I do, my body will never be the same. Scars and stretches will never go away, and I’m trying to look at them not as flaws but as my body telling stories.

    As for sexuality, I’m afraid I’m at that point that you were in at 29. It’s not high on my priority list. But it sounds as if you had a real flowering in your 30’s when it comes to that. I hope I’ll have the same.

  2. Deborah says:

    BIV: When I read the line “Yes, I had a “Mother in Zion” stomach” — all I could think of was the fabulous Shape of a Mother website. I linked to it last summer, but that’s a lifetime ago in blog years. Here it is again, in honor of your post:

    The Shape of a Mother

  3. amelia says:

    thanks for sharing this, BiV. and interesting read.

    i was particularly interested in your account of your relationship with god the father. mine is very different. i don’t think of myself as a supplicant to god more than an heir to god. i am a supplicant; but i am also an heir. that is not to say thta i dismiss sex as an eternal component of identity. however, i see sex as something that shapes rather than is identity. i can’t remember a time in my life when sex defined what i believed myself capable of; i see no reason to let sex determine what i am capable of as a divine being.

    but that’s all a bit of an aside to a single point you make. i’m also interested in this idea of an aging woman claiming/wanting to still be who she was at 18. i understand the desire. and the celebration of youth and hope and beauty. but i don’t think i want to continue being what i was at 18. not even in terms of the physical (and not just because i wasn’t very pretty at 18). when i am my mother’s age (she turned 66 today), i hope i am beautiful not in spite of long(ish) life and experience, but because of them.

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