Celeste Barber is Doing the Lord's Work
What does it mean to live in our bodies without shame? (and a guest post from nutrition coach Julie Layton on Food as Spiritual Practice)
When I was 12 years old and in 7th grade I was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to spend the next two years wearing a fiberglass back brace. Needless to say, it sucked. Let me count the ways it sucketh:
I had to wear elastic waist pants all through junior high while everyone else wore tight Jordache and neon splattered Sassoon jeans.
I couldn’t sit in a cushioned chair which included movie theatre seats because the brace came down half way past my butt and the cushion pushed the brace up into my ribs and cut into my arm pits. #torture
Even wearing a thin tank top underneath while toughening my skin by rubbing myself down with corn starch didn’t stop the welts from forming all over my torso underneath the tight plastic brace.
I had to wear it 23 hours a day. I could take it off to shower. I could take it off if I was swimming. But I had to sleep in it - which was impossibly uncomfortable.
There was one good thing about the brace. A party trick. I’d provoke the 13 year old boys to punch me in the stomach and afterward when they yelled at me for hurting them, me and my friends would laugh hysterically and run away. I had friends. I had lots of friends and my awkwardness and elastic pants didn’t cause them to love me any less. I had moments when I wished I was Carrie Anderson, the pretty popular girl that all the boys liked, instead of Kelley Anderson, but honestly, the brace was more of a pain in the ass than the existential torment of my relationship with my body.
That came after the brace came off and the boobs came on. I was a curvy girl. I don’t think I was fat. I remember my friend Michelle saying, “Kelley you’re not fat, you HAVE FAT.” Honestly looking back I barely had fat. I wasn’t a lithe soccer player. I was a big-boobed dancer who weighed probably 120 pounds. I was healthy. And yet...
The messages began. My parents got nervous around my changing body and started making comments. It was no longer ok for me to eat cookies after school. My skin would get a pinch around my waist with an accompanying, “be careful here.” At 15 I started going to The Diet Center in town. I mean, who didn’t want to feel confident wearing a leotard and high waist jeans?
Someone that loves me dearly said to me once, “Kelley you’re like an anorexic but opposite, you think you look ok but you don’t.”
... yeah.. ouch. So there’s that.
We are always loved imperfectly. And at the same time, we always receive love imperfectly. I’m sure there were thousands of messages of how good, smart, funny and beautiful I was. But all I heard was “you don’t look ok.”
And what we don’t transform, we transmit right? So for as sensitive as I am to the issues around body shaming, I know my daughter has heard out of my mouth things that have diminished her sense of self and her love of her own body. And for that, I am deeply regretful.
Being out of alignment with our own bodies is a form of spiritual sickness. And when I say “out of alignment” I don’t mean that we fail to worship at the altar of Keto while riding our Peletons two hours a day. I mean that we literally can’t feel what our bodies feel. We’re disconnected. We’re heads floating above an amorphous mass of flesh that just gives us signals to react.
The shaming messages the world inundates us with disconnect us from our bodies.
Feeling how our emotions live in our body is so important to living a mindful, emotionally intelligent life. It’s also important for our safety. We need to understand how to trust our gut instincts around other people and experiences to keep us safe. If women are disconnected from their instinctual center, they are dangerously vulnerable. (And I don’t mean our instincts that have been co-opted by bias.)
Also, if we are disconnected from our bodies we can’t enjoy life the way it was intended for us to enjoy it. The pleasures of food, taste, yes but not just taste - how food can make us feel empowered and strong. The invigorating high of exercise and putting our bodies out in nature.
And sex, not just the momentary pleasure, but the whole body, whole being connection of body to body - soul to soul. We are meant to enjoy our bodies, and we are meant to know deep, true and beautiful things THROUGH our bodies. We are not just brains and hearts running around thinking and feeling things - we are meant to experience life somatically as well.
Meister Eckhart , the 14th century theologian and mystic said, “The soul is not in the body so much as the body is in the soul.”
This rings true to me. That we are corporeal and porous beings swimming in soul. Our bridge to connection is through this beautiful bag of bones.
And speaking of beautiful bag of bones, CELESTE BARBER IS DOING THE LORD’s WORK. Barber is an Australian actress turned Instagram comedian and she is a healer of body shame for women all over the globe. She recreates ridiculous social media posts and high fashion photos that often objectify women. She puts herself right there on the front line mocking standards of beauty.
We are so accustomed to seeing images that have been altered and enhanced, Barber’s self deprecating realism is a healing balm with every lol.
She reminds us what normal is and she reminds us that it’s good, it’s true and it’s beautiful. What a concept.
Today, one of my students did a monologue from the play Ashgirl from the Australian playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker. It was so heart breaking to hear the back and forth of a young girl looking at herself in the mirror, not trusting what she is seeing. But the final line stopped me in my tracks and I had to swallow hard before asking her to do it again…
I’ll work hard,I’ll grow old, one day I’ll die. How can I go to a ball?
Look at me. Look at me. Look at me...Who’s that? Who are you? Who am I? I can’t see you. I’m ugly. I look disgusting, horrible.
What happened, where are you? I'm the wrong shape, size, I’m fat….
Maybe I’m not so bad. Normal. And my eyes seem very bright…
I’m so crooked....
There, I’m almost graceful. Actually, I am rather pleasing. There's something about having a body, two arms, hands, legs, it’s all rather harmonious…
What a prayer for us all as we look in the mirror. May we see the harmony and may we learn to listen to its wisdom.
Food as Spiritual Practice: Getting Rid of Black and White Thinking and Listening to Our Bodies
by Julie Layton, Generous Helping
I’m grateful for two reasons: one, because Kelley asked me to contribute this piece for her newsletter. I read and relish this newsletter every week, so I’m deeply honored to have been asked to contribute. Plus, I love writing and yet never make the time for it. Good thing that I’m very motivated by others’ deadlines and expectations (Kelley would say that’s the Enneagram 2 in me).
And two, for the inspiration that came from reading my friend Michelle’s post “What it Means to be Good” in the March 2nd edition of this newsletter (go back and read it if you haven’t). In it, she contemplates the big-ticket concepts of self-love, worthiness, forgiveness and deprivation-as-penance in light of her perception of what it is to be “good.”
So many of us see food through the lens of “good” or “bad.” Think about it. Broccoli: good. Hostess cupcake: bad. Berries: good. Taco Bell’s Nachos BellGrande: bad (actually, quite delicious at 2 a.m.). We can all agree on these, right? But let’s delve deeper: Whole-wheat bread? We know whole grains are better than white flour. So, good, right? But when whole grains are milled for flour, they’re not as healthful as they are when left intact; in fact, any refined grain acts more like a sugar in our bodies. Ugh! So…bad? If a person with Celiac eats wheat of any kind, it can be quite dangerous. So, in this case: really bad. If a family of four who struggles to get food on the table is able to feed everyone cheese sandwiches on bread of any kind, can it really be bad?
You see my point: labeling food “good” or “bad” is troublesome and downright confusing. And besides, what does “good” food even mean? Does it mean it helps you lose weight? Does it mean it’s delicious? Does it mean it fits within the confines of a way of eating you subscribe to? For example, when I was strictly Paleo, I would call rice “naughty.” There’s honestly nothing “naughty” about rice. It feeds most of the world’s population and can definitely be part of a very healthful diet. But my view was very black and white, and I was comfortable there. Any dogmatic way of eating is both comfortable and tough. Tough, obviously, because some foods are off limits and therefore tempt you. But comfortable, because someone else has drawn the line between “good” and “bad” for you.
In my own quest to better understand food and help others create their own healthful food journeys, a few years ago I enrolled in the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (https://www.integrativenutrition.com), where I received my health coaching certification. IIN promotes the idea that health can’t be achieved through food alone and emphasizes the concept of bio-individuality: that no two people are completely alike, so how we achieve health and happiness will look different for us all. “Sure, sure,” I thought, “but there are obviously indisputable truths to what we should eat.” Throughout the year-long program, IIN curated a lineup of many well-respected and credentialed people presenting their very different ideas of which foods were “good” and “bad.” It made my head spin! I panicked. “Oh great; I enrolled in this program to make nutrition clearer, and here it’s confusing me more!” I was looking for rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts; instead, all I had were more questions.
In the end, however, I came to realize what IIN was ultimately teaching its students: there are no right answers for everyone. (Aha! There’s that concept of bio-individuality.) Only we alone have the answers to what our bodies need. Not her body, not his body; my own. As a coach, I cannot prescribe any way of eating to my clients; it just doesn’t work that way. I can, however, encourage them to slow down, get quiet and notice the differences they feel after eating processed food versus whole food, for instance, or drinking water instead of soda. Because when we start listening to the feedback our bodies give us and respecting that with our actions, we will be our healthiest selves.
It’s hard work listening to ourselves, which is why so many people struggle in their relationship with food--there are a lot of other voices in there making noise, it’s easier to believe others than ourselves, and we may have to reevaluate how we view “good” and “bad” if we listen that closely.
Inspired by all of this, I have started a home-cooking coaching business (called Generous Helping). It’s my personal belief that when we cook for ourselves and our people with whole foods that work best with our bodies, we’re committing a radical act of self-love. And I want that for my fellow humans.
Isn’t that just what Michelle concludes in her reflection on what it means to be good? That there is no such a thing. All we can do is be whole by honoring who we are.