By Nadine, Already Pretty Contributor
Going back to school, I knew my time would be taken up with lots of book learnin’, essay writing, and late-night studying. But it turns out our professors want to do more than simply fill our heads with big, brainy academic stuff. We’re continually reminded that for many of us, sex is an intensely personal issue that leaves us majorly vulnerable. As sexuality professionals, it’s vital that we’re knowledgeable, but it’s equally important for us to have empathy and compassion. Not only are we taught techniques for teaching clients, we’re encouraged to participate, so that we can better understand the things that the people we work with might be feeling.
You may be thinking that sexuality studies + techniques = Hubba Hubba! Sorry to disappoint but to it’s pretty PG. For example, we did a very basic body image exercise. We were asked to write a letter that began “Dear Owner,” from our own bodies. I was confident I had this thing on lock. I’m not perfect but I’m at a place in my life where I feel pretty comfortable with what I see when I look in the mirror. I had no reluctance about the assignment at all, as I was fairly certain it would be largely positive.
And so I began:
I think we’re both happy that you’re learning to accept and enjoy the outside stuff. I’m super jazzed that we’re doing the natural hair thing. I feel so good every time we put our hands up there and between you and me, I think it suits you really well.
As for the rest of the bod, I know you’re into it more than you ever were before. And I know it’s because we’re coming up on forty. Sure there are some creaks and stiff parts. But overall I think I’m holding up pretty well nearly four decades in. So thanks for all of that and also self-high fives, because we can’t high ten ourselves now, can we?
So there’s that. Now here’s the not so good. I’m doing well on the outside but you know I have some challenges on the inside. The anxiety. The depression. I know that my chemistry is problematic. I know I have flawed hormones and neurotransmitters. I know you hate the unfocused fear that overwhelms your mind. I hate the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath and those awful muscular contractions. Also it makes me wring my hands, which seriously? Do I look like a fretful English school marm? I also hate the crying. Actually I secretly love the crying because it gets all the icky stuff out. What I hate is the way you make me hold it in and hold it in, because you don’t want to deal with people’s reaction to your tears. That makes my head hurt and neither of us enjoy that.
But more than that I hate that you blame me for this. I mean, I don’t hate you. I love you. And I want you to love me. And I want you to accept that this isn’t my fault. I’m not doing this to you on purpose. This is just how I am. Maybe I was like this when we were born. Or maybe it’s because of stuff that’s happened. I don’t know. But you have to believe me when I tell you I can’t help that I’m like this. And that you make everything worse when you blame me. And it’s not fair. You know other people who are like us. When their bodies react the way ours does, you’re nice to them. You say, “It’s OK, it’s not your fault,” and you accept them and love them anyway because they’re still good people worth loving. So why can’t you do that for me? Why can’t you stop being angry at me? I think if you could just accept me the way I am, we’d both be much happier.
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that. Thanks again for the outside stuff. See you in the mirror!
My fellow authors will understand what I mean when I say that sometimes writing is something you do and sometimes writing is something that happens to you. This letter happened to me. These weren’t the words I was expecting when I sat down to write this letter. I didn’t expect to wind up with tears in my eyes, confronting my own self torment. But I’m glad that it did. It made me realize I had some major cognitive dissonance going on. I would never dream of blaming someone for having a mental illness. Illness isn’t something we chose, it’s something that happens to our bodies. If you told me, “Nadine, so-and-so is angry at me because my body doesn’t work perfectly,” I’d tell you that person was being completely unreasonable. Yet I somehow decided it wasn’t really being mean and I wasn’t really doing any harm if I treated myself that way, which, um, NO! And also, WRONG!
So, yeah. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’ve learned to be nice to the outside of my body, but that only goes so far. Now I need to practice being just as nice to the inside of my body. If compassion is something I need in order to work with others, I should probably have some for myself as well. Going back to school is teaching me some very unexpected lessons.
What parts of yourself do love? Are there things about your body – inside or out – that you struggle to accept? What ways have you found of being nice to your body?
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is a new resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, having recently moved from Ottawa, Ontario to pursue a Doctor of Education in Human Sexuality. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.