By: Genevieve David, LCSW

Psychotherapist, NYC

The fleshy part of my body it would seem frightens me. It has always frightened me, as long as I remember. And yet as I look back at photographs of myself as a little girl, riding into the wind on a bicycle, smiling at the camera astride a brown Shetland pony, or standing in a polka dotted green and white bikini next to my grandparent’s pool, only when the photos show me at twelve or thirteen, wearing jeans, that my posture reveals a self- consciousness that I hadn’t seemed to feel before. None of the photos expose an ounce of flesh too much.
How can the internal experience of a young woman’s body be so at odds with the external experience? Where do the voices I hear in my head still today originate? Why are they so powerful?
As Winnicott, a famous pediatrician and psychoanalyst said: “there is no getting around the fact that each man and woman came out of a woman.” When I read this quote it shocked me. It’s true and obvious, but collectively we seem to deny its truth. It is split off from our collective memory.
My body has felt split off, separated off as something to be conquered, manipulated, obstructed. As I write those words down, I hear the echo chambers through time. I remember my grandmother at the head of the round table, taking her place while my grandfather sat directly in front of her, on the hour and on the half hour. She was tall and slim and wore her white hair in a bun. She was elegant but not too much, her blouses often tumbled out of her skirts, her face was clean but for a little powder and light pink lipstick if she was going out. Bunions on her feet meant she wore wide sensible heals. But she maintained a containment. With coffee came one of two dark chocolate wafers. For tea came tiny biscuits called Japonais, which we were allowed two. I always felt I wanted more. And that feeling of wanting more was translated in my mind as being greedy. At home my mother delighted in catching us with our hands in the cookie jar from her office at the end of the hall. Not angry she would call our attention to our greediness, “haven’t you had enough?” When we went to serve ourselves more food she always gave it to us but we had to overcome her implied message that we were being greedy, “are you really hungry?’ The underlying message was I don’t need to eat any more. Why shouldn’t I eat anymore? Because I am fat?
As a mother I found myself making remarks to my children and in particular to my daughters. Was I trying to prevent their feeling as I had? Was I trying to protect them from themselves as my mother had and my grandmother before her? Yet what I did was make them feel like I did, still, too much or too little but never just right.
I always wondered what that ‘too muchness’ was that I felt and the shame when I feel it. The ‘too muchness’ began with my being a baby and fed on someone else’s schedule, ‘too muchness’ began when I was fed honey in my milk because my mother was worried and I grew enormous, then she worried and stopped feeding me as much.   My body became something she felt she needed to scrutinize, manage, control, and contain the same way she had had her body scrutinized, managed, controlled and contained.
Still today when she has cream in the fridge, she will stand in front of the fridge, leave the door open and stick her finger into the container and gleefully take fingerfuls into her mouth, nearly always dripping cream onto her clothes. She will share these antics with us not considering that now as an adult she no longer has to steal cream from the fridge, she can bring it out and spoon it into her mouth. The guilt and shame is what is splattered down her shirt and her sharing it with us is her way of recognizing how stuck she is but not enough to make way for her desires.
My father keeps my mother’s dark chocolate in a cupboard in the hallway, where he doles it out to her after dinner, as if she was unable to control her appetite, she still needs it controlled from the outside. Yet when she lived alone for a few years she was slimmer than she is now.
She taught me that my appetite is something that has control over me. It needs controls put in place. My appetite translates to my fleshy parts are unacceptable, although one is hard to distinguish from the other: fleshy, appetite, desire, sensuality, sexuality, her sensual desire is full of guilt and shame and yet she pursues it despite her guilt and shame, still like our childhood habit of stealing cookies from the jar. The act of stealing to fulfil our desire leaves an excitement tinged with anticipation of the danger of being caught. And still as I prepare meals for my family I prefer to be on my own, I feel the gaze of others like the gaze of my mother intrusive and calculating my appetite. And my youngest daughter is like a shark in the kitchen, nothing gets past her.
I have created another generation of women who split off their appetite, only to see it in the other, or rebel and eat or don’t eat as an inner revolution. And yet and yet these fleshy bits I don’t want to accept are not solely the fault of my mother, nor my father, grandmother or even myself. Our society enables us to view ourselves as imperfect flesh, which leads to being too much desire, appetite, too loud, too clever, too emotional, or not enough, not loving enough, not sexual enough, not nurturing enough, not ambitious enough.
What of sex when we can’t learn to love those fleshy bits? What of love when we can’t learn to accept our fleshy bits?
As soon as I pass judgement or divide my body up into bits and pieces, dismantle this perfect body as it is, fail to honor and love my full self, I cannot really love those around me.

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