Celebrating Our Glorious Goddess Bodies
By Janet Lucy
"Mommy, do you ever think about being thinner?" my ten-year-old daughter, Sarah, asked from the back seat of the car one morning on our way to school. Once I got past my initial thought that perhaps she was suggesting that I should lose some weight, I realized that I had been given a golden opportunity, plus a literally captive audience in my car. This is the main reason I don't mind the fifteen-minute drive to and from school each day: some of our best conversations happen in my red Toyota. For the last six months she has been increasingly critical of her own body, even using the F word (fat) to describe it. "So how honest am I willing to be?" I wondered in the few moments I had to formulate an appropriate response to her question. Did I want to tell her that being thin had been an obsession of mine for most of my life? Should I mention all of the unhealthy ways in which I had sought to achieve a culturally ideal body image, that is until I turned forty and began my new quest for self-acceptance?
"Yes, I do think about being thinner," I confessed. "But these days, I am much more interested in accepting myself and my body the way I am. My body is strong and healthy and I'm grateful for that." And here's my favorite part: "I am a goddess," I told her. "And so are you." I like to say that from time to time, in case I begin to forget again.
"That's good, Mommy. I like that," she replied, then hugged me and climbed out of the car.
I watched her walk into the schoolyard, marveling at how strong, sturdy, and well-proportioned her body is, and acknowledging how tender and vulnerable she also is on the inside. I felt like I'd been able to plant one small seed in her very fertile and receptive mind, knowing that she was just beginning to face the inevitable challenge of being a female in a culture that has forgotten that the female body is to be revered and honored, no matter what size or shape. I drove away wondering how I could help my daughter learn to accept and even love the natural body she has been graced with, and to discover and celebrate her true inner beauty.
I have been vigilant about not bringing negative body and weight-related topics into our household. We do not own a scale, count calories, diet, or talk about our weight or fat. In spite of my best efforts, I know that the culture we live in makes it nearly impossible for girls and women to appreciate and accept their bodies. Studies show that over half of all girls are unhappy with their bodies by the age of thirteen. We are constantly bombarded with unattainable images and definitions of physical beauty. Most advertisements are computer-enhanced and airbrushed to produce a culturally idealistic and physically unrealistic female form. Not even the women in those advertisements look like the final copy. The truth is, actresses and models wake up just like we do, with blemishes and insecurities about their physical appearance.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow confessed her own insecurities about her body in a recent interview. "Sure I'm insecure," she admitted. "I never think that I'm thin enough or my boobs are big enough or whatever." She blamed the media for pressuring women to be thin. "We are bombarded with images of twelve-year-old girls with makeup and we think we are supposed to look like that. Well, I'm never gonna look like me either," she continued. "With the way they airbrush the pictures and all, I don't look like that."
"Living in a woman's body is not easy," agrees Geneen Roth in her book Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating. "Especially if you happen to look like a woman and not like an adolescent boy. We've spent years trying to slice away what makes our bodies womanly: the roundness, the lushness. And we've sliced our spirits instead."
The mysterious power of the female body has been expressed in art, religion, and mythology since the beginning of time. Every culture in the world has deified the earth as the Great Goddess, and honored her image in all forms of art, including poetry and songs. Goddess images"hstatues, figurines, drawings, carvings, and sculptures"hfrom all over the world portray the female body as full and abundant and celebrate the body's power to create and sustain life. Could the myths and images of the Great Goddess as a full and powerful female offer women and girls today a more natural understanding and perhaps a new perspective of our female bodies? I considered. What if my daughter could see the correlation between her own female body and that of the Great Earth Goddesses? What if women and girls alike could re-imagine their own female bodies to be goddess-like?
Sarah has always loved art. At a young age she began to dabble in mixed media, and her body was often her canvas. When she was three years old, she rubbed Elmer's glue on her bare belly and sprinkled it with sparkling flecks of gold glitter. When I brought out the brown earthy clay, she rubbed that too onto her belly, face, arms, and legs. And naturally, when the watercolors came out later on, her body became her canvas again.
Recalling her earlier artistic expressions, I couldn't help but wonder if there is an intuitive knowing that lies deep within us, an instinctive desire to celebrate and adorn our own bodies in the ways of our ancient and indigenous mothers and daughters. And could I help my own daughter remember the truth she once seemed to know?
That afternoon when she came home from school, I pulled out a couple of my favorite goddess art books and asked Sarah to sit on our living room couch and look at the pictures with me. Her eyes lit up when she saw the paintings and sculptures of deified women from all over the world. Together we marveled at Venus, the celebrated goddess of love and beauty, standing on her infamous half shell with a body as full and round as the earth Herself. I commented on the different images and the variety of shapes and sizes of the female form. While she sat quietly beside me, taking it all in, I told her the creation myth of Gaia, the Great Earth mother, who offers a beautiful metaphor for the female body with her rolling hills, river valleys, and natural contours.
The Myth of Gaia
Spinning, spiraling, dancing freely, Gaia rolled herself out of the vast and timeless universe into an earthy ball. She sculpted from her soft, brown form majestic mountains, rounded hills, flat plains, and deep valleys, and she filled her crevasses with oceans and streams of water. The sun kissed her exquisite body, bringing forth strong and sturdy trees, medicinal and edible plants, and beautiful and fragrant flowers. The heavenly sky rained upon her, bathing her with a warm and gentle shower. Soon Gaia was covered with a rainbow of sparkling colors"Pturquoise and sapphire blues, emerald greens and ruby reds"Pand jewels adorned her flesh. Gaia was filled with joy, and a creative life-force energy pulsated through her body and radiated from her being. She continued to spin in a cosmic ecstasy and she celebrated her new life and form. Gaia loved her new fullness, with all of its curves and contours, and wanted to share the joy of living in a body with other energies and spirits.
In time, her fertile earth body conceived of other living creations in many colors, shapes, and forms. Gaia, the Great Mother and earth goddess, loved and cared for them all. She nourished them with an abundance of flora and fauna, and refreshed them with clear, cool waters. Blessed by the sun, and with her sister, the moon, Gaia created a harmonious rhythm of cycles and seasons, and all of her creatures danced around her in a joyous circle of life.
Afterward, I left the books out on a small wooden table in the living room and noticed that Sarah went back to them a couple of times that week to look at the pictures.
A few days later, I decided to check on the seeds I'd been planting in the back seat of my Toyota. We were in the car again, this time driving home.
"So what would you do," I asked her, "if you were a mother and you had a beautiful and precious little girl who thought she was too fat?"
"And you mean she wasn't?" she asked.
"Yeah," I continued. "What would you tell her or want her to know about her body?"
She was quiet for a moment, then replied, "Well, the most important thing is that she not criticize it. And I'd want her to know that she was beautiful however she was."
I glanced into the rear view mirror and saw her clear blue eyes shining back at me.
Maybe I had found a fellow passenger on my journey toward self-acceptance.
Try the following activities with your daughter and begin a new conversation about body image in our culture:
- Choose a goddess art book from the library or bookstore. Goddesses in Art by Lanier Graham, and The Heart of the Goddess: Art, Myth, and Meditations of the World's Sacred Feminine by Hallie Austen Iglehart, are just two of the many wonderful resources containing images of goddesses in sculpture, paintings, and photographs. Look at the pictures of the goddess' bodies and notice or discuss the different body types and how they are celebrated. You might even like to compare these photographs with the body images in today's fashion magazines.
- Read the "Myth of Gaia" with your daughter and consider the similarities between the earth and the female body.
- Get some earthy brown or gray clay. You can also use modeling clay or beeswax. Create your own images in all shapes and sizes of earth goddesses. If you feel really bold, sculpt an image of your own physical body. Then place it on your altar or in another sacred place as a reminder of the natural beauty of your own goddess spirit and sacred female form.
Janet Lucy, MA, is the co-author with Terri Allison of Moon Mother, Moon Daughter"hMyths and Rituals that Celebrate a Girl's Coming of Age (Fair Winds Press 2003). In her private practice called Soul Work, she inspires women to discover and celebrate their true selves, and facilitates weekly writing circles for women. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA with her husband and two coming-of-age daughters.
Moon Mother, Moon Daughter: Myths and Rituals that Celebrate a Girl's Coming of Age (Fair Winds Press 2003) is a spiritually focused book for mothers whose daughters are coming of age. Full of fun mother-daughter activities, goddess myths, practical advice, and age-old wisdom, Moon Mother, Moon Daughter is for any woman seeking a new path to womanhood for her daughter or herself.
Bibliography & Further Resources
Brumberg, Joan Jacob. The Body Project - An Intimate History of American Girls. Vintage Books, 1997.
Graham, Lanier. Goddesses in Art. Abbeville Press, 1997.
Iglehart, Hallie Austen The Heart of the Goddess"hArt, Myth, and Meditations of the World's Sacred Feminine. Wingbow Press, 1990.
Roth, Geneen. Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating. Bobbs-Merrill, 1984.
Sjoo, Monica and Mor, Barbara. The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the World. HarperSanFrancisco, 1987.
Spretnak, Charlene. Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths. Beacon Press, 1978.