What messages did you get about your body when you were a teenage girl?
I was told by my parents that I had a fat bum and a spotty face.
My sister told me I had BO (and she was probably right, but even so, it didn't help me feel any better about myself as a self-conscious teenager!)
I noticed my Dad (and most other men) eyeing up or chatting up women with big boobs and ignoring me.
All of a sudden, I wasn't getting attention, because I didn't have big boobs and I didn't conform to the mainstream notion of beauty.
Or, correction, I did get attention, but only in the form of wolf whistles or lurid and sometimes utterly demeaning comments made by men when I walked past. Oh, and the odd grope too. I could have died of embarrassment!
And yet I was still the same person, the same super smart, athletically gifted, incredibly creative, kind-hearted, beautiful soul I'd been as a girl, yet now with a blossoming woman spirit of my own.
Which, of course, this "ugly", "worthless" and "object" programming deflated.
Suddenly I felt invisible. Unseen. Of no value.
Society taught me that my value as a woman was dependent upon me looking a certain way. But I didn't look that way. And so I concluded that I had no value.
Luckily for me, the effortless connection with my body, which was an essential part of my nature from the get-go remained with me as I engaged in dance and sport for pleasure.
But it wasn't until many years later, as I began to teach The Nia Technique - a conscious dance and embodiment practice - that I really learned to love, appreciate and connect with my body in a whole new way.
Now, after 16 years of teaching and holding space for women as a teacher of dance, yoga and tantra, I see the same sad story is STILL repeating.
Women hate their bodies and speak with disdain to themselves. I very rarely, if ever, come across a woman, who truly loves, embrace and inhabits her body. Or who shamelessly claims her beauty. And girls are doing it too.
My 16 year-old daughter tells me that most of her friends are unhappy with their physical appearance. Many of them self-harm or diet excessively. And they are constantly speaking negatively to themselves.
This makes me both want to weep and stand up in fury at any source, whether it's a parent or a media outlet, that perpetuates this ridiculous beauty myth.
The lie that's sold is that by looking a certain way you will be rich, happy and/or attract a perfect man.
After working with women for 16 years I can tell you this is categorically untrue.
Conforming to the mainstream notion of beauty (which, of course, changes with time and is defined by.. hmmm.. people who want to make money out of your insecurity?) does not in itself make women happier, richer or able to attract quality men.
You know what's most magnetic and attractive ? Self-love and inner radiance: a beauty that shines out from the knowing of one's worth. And an effortless freedom in the body and its sensuality that doesn't need to be pumped up or put on show.
Dependence on an externally defined notion of beauty is a disempowerment.
Dependence on external approval of your appearance is a disempowerment.
As a woman, you CANNOT stand in your power, sexually, spiritually or any other way, unless and until you truly love, embrace and inhabit your body.
Whatever else you believe or are told is a lie. Told to keep you small and a hapless consumer of endless beauty products.
Parents, carers, teachers, aunts, uncles - I urge you to be mindful of how you speak to your teenagers and what you model for them. Please remind them that they are inherently beautiful, lovable and worthy and that no end of expensive clothes, make-up or hair styling would ever change that.
And if you don't believe that about yourself when you look in the mirror, hold off from projecting your self-loathing onto your children or the women around you (bitching about other women's appearance is a sure-fire way of holding up the patriarchy) and do the work to heal that rift between your body and soul.
My Dancing the Goddess practice is powerful way of cultivating that authentic radiance, love and ease in your body (next workshop - Embodiment - coming up on November 24th, 2019 at The Yoga Factory in Southend), and in my next Awakening Shakti 9-month online programme for women, we spend a whole month developing intimacy and healing our relationship with the body. If you want to go deeper quicker, then contact me to discuss one-to-one coaching. I've been helping women love and connect with their bodies for the past 16 years.