Maria looked at me, her computer in her lap, her face full of tears. "I feel horrible," I said, "just writing about my stomach I feel horrible." It looked like she might go through a whole box of tissues writing about this.
If you know or live with Maria, you know not to be disturbed by her crying, it is just another way of talking through things, a sharing of emotion. It can mean great pain, or great joy.
Her piece was a beautiful piece of writing, authentic and heartfelt and brave.
Today, and on and off all day, she was working on a piece about the shame she has always felt about her body, and especailly her stomach, she has often told me how she feels fat often, she is ashamed to show her body. Last week, she began a belly dancing class, a wonderful way, I think of coming to terms with this painful neurosis, she can speak about it herself, and in her own voice.
As many of you know, shame is the hallmark of the abused child, the feeling that they brought degradation onto themselves, and that there must be something wrong with them to have been targeted and demeaned. I think I understand, I am familiar with abuse, but I believe women understand this body shaming much more than men do, since they experience it much more often than men do.
Many men have learned to objectify women, to see them in terms of certain notions of the body, rather than the mind or soul. Maria never looks at me that way, thank God, what I look like is of no interest to her, she sees much deeper than that, something men could learn from if they could listen.
If she loves me, it is not because of how I look.
When Maria first told me she was fat, some eight or nine years ago, I laughed, I thought she must be joking. But it wasn't funny.
She is skinny as a stick, not that it matters to me, yet I saw soon enough that this was a symptom of a much deeper agony: she was ashamed of herself, this remarkable, gifted, intelligent, caring and very beautiful person had somehow been made to feel that she was repulsive and not worthy of love or pride.
I told her then what I told her today, this was not about her stomach, it was much deeper than that.
But you can't tell a person who thinks they are repulsive that they are not and persuade them. Why should they believe you? They are the only person they can really trust about that.
You can love them to death, and support them as best you can, but they must ultimately decide whether they are worthy, or beautiful or not, and not in men's terms, or even in other women's terms, but in their own terms.
I am not the one who can convince Maria that she is not repulsive, only she can really do that, and it is a long and hard road, I have walked on that path. We get that about one another.
Maria is working on it, and hard. Her piece today was a big step forward in coming out of this suffocating closet of shame.
So is her art, which is filled with images of empowerment, strength, and and radical ideas about beauty. So is her belly dancing class, where she will be showing her belly for the first time to other people than me, and she has often tried to hide it from me. One day, I hope she will do her belly dance in public.
She says she is excited about her belly dancing class, she means to dance with "attitude."
I can't speak objectively about Maria, of course, I simply love her too much and too completely. I love every inch of her, inside and out, certainly including her stomach, which I do get to see from time to time. Her soul is a thing of great beauty, and when I can, I love to make circles on her stomach, it puts her sleep and calms her down just like it puts Gus to sleep: instantly.
Sometimes hubris strikes, and I think I can persuade a bit that the shame that sometimes envelops her is not in any way her fault, or a reflection of how she is or really looks. It is simply not true that she is repulsive or has anything to be ashamed of. It is a question of truth, I believe.
She is coming to that herself, bit by bit, step by step. When I read her piece today, I wanted to cry too, because I know all too well that when you come out of the darkness and into the light, that is the very meaning of what it is to heal.
Dance right on, girl.