Monday, March 07, 2011

Loving Yourself

I posted on my LJ a video by Eve Ensler of Vagina Monologues fame where she tells of a conversation she had with a woman in Africa.  It was an awesome message, which I think is not just for women, but for men too, and it sparked a really good conversation over there.  Here, watch the video then I'll share some of the conversations...

First thing I thought was that it's so hard to "love your tree" when all the messages around us are saying it's not good enough.  This woman Eve spoke to lived in Africa, and probably doesn't have much exposure to Western media.  People around her are more concerned with living their lives than making themselves fit some perfect example and probably very few people are complaining about natural imperfections in their bodies.

In our society, even if we manage to isolate ourselves from the media that says we must lose weight, shape up, wear make up, use this shampoo, etc. to be beautiful, we still have our friends, families, acquaintences... talking about how *they* need to lose weight, shape up, do something about their hair, or the bags under their eyes, or their wrinkles...  And for someone like me, who was brought up to care so much about other people's opinions, you think, "Wow, if her size X body, beautiful face, gorgeous hair... isn't good enough, then mine must be down right shameful!"

Jacqueline doesn't put so much weight on the media as I do, but does agree with peers playing a large role in the problem. She says, "Also, you block out anything different in anyone else's body, and focus on it in your own. ... That is *you* putting a value judgment on your body yourself."

And it's even harder if your tree isn't functioning properly.  Having diabetes, or FMS, or cancer... how do you love the body that has betrayed you?  And yes, this goes for men too.  Men may not be expected to be beautiful or never have a grey hair, but let me share the wonderful analogy that my friend AceLightning thought of... modern "Western" culture, men generally aren't taught that their bodies have to match certain standards of appearance. A "real man" is supposed to live up to criteria more related to performance: to be physically strong in the sense of being able to run fast, lift heavy things, and hit hard, and also to be able to shrug off pain and injury. By that paradigm, it would be downright effeminate, un-manly, to care about what you look like.

The African woman says, "How can you not like that tree because it does not look just like this tree?". I think that, for men, we'd have to bend the analogy a bit. For most people, the word "tree" evokes images of something tall, with a straight trunk and evenly spreading branches. But the most beautiful trees I ever saw didn't match that image at all.

The first one is a smallish evergreen that grows close to the summit of Bear Mountain, on the western shore of the Hudson River, near West Point. There are many places where the granite body of the mountain pokes through the covering of soil. You can drive to the top of the mountain, and next to the parking lot is a large outcropping of this granite. The tree took root in a natural crack in the stone. As it grew, it outstripped the meager amount of sustenance it could find in the crack, and grew several long, tough roots - at least six to ten feet long! - clinging to the rock and connecting the tree with a source of nutrients and moisture. Nothing protects the tree from storm winds and harsh weather. It's gnarled and twisted and stunted in its growth, the Mother's own bonsai. And it is beautiful.

Another tree was much closer to home for me, literally. The house I used to live in until a few years ago backed up onto a "protected wetland area" - i.e., a swamp. Along the edge of my property, the ground was dry enough to support typical suburban trees. One year we had snow and ice storms all through the winter (rather like this winter that's just passing), and a young maple tree got broken right in half - the top half was dangling upside down, held only by a small strip of bark and wood. I thought that the top of the tree was dead for sure, and possibly the bottom as well. However, the bottom part began to put out leaf buds - and a little later, to my great surprise, so did the upside-down top! The tree continued to grow, year after year, with the "broken" piece budding out a bit later than the bottom, and beginning to turn color earlier in the fall. But this beautiful, broken tree taught me that life is persistent.

So a man who isn't strong or muscular in the conventional way could be like one of those beautiful trees...
So whether you are man or woman...
Love your tree!

1 comment:

  1. Your tree story are so wonderful! Unfortunately, our culture teaches us how to think of ourselves. Since we are so surrounded by that culture, it is impossible to remove ourselves entirely. Even if we don't intend to and don't wish to, we do pick up perceptions on a subtle level.


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