Last night was lovely! 22 women met at Khalima's lovely dance studio, Illumination, and, indeed received some illumination - at least, I did.
We began gathering around 6 PM and ate and visited for about an hour before settling in to a circle. Khalima read a poem about love by Alan Ginsberg then I led a brief meditation to help us all think about our bodies and how we feel about them. Shortly thereafter we shifted the circle so I could show slides of my work. Sadly, the projector showed the flesh tones as green rather than peach, so I think it was difficult to see the complete beauty of the models. Darn! But no one seemed to really mind. I spoke for about a half hour, telling stories about the models and their experiences modeling and/or how they felt about their bodies. I categorized the models into ages/stages of life as well as into groups like "scars", "pregnancy", etc. At the end of the show, I showed my self portrait and talked about how it felt to me to be seen naked. We moved back into a circle and the conversation began.
And what a rich one it was! Women shared so deeply. One of the best aspects of it for many of us was that there were women of many ages there - from 22 to 70 or so. I think it was rich and valuable for each of us to hear from people of another generation and what their experiences have been.
For example, there was talk about dressing provocatively. One of the older women there said that she found cleavage in the workplace distracting. She is of the age that she was one of the women who helped break through the glass ceiling. She went to work in a blue suit, white shirt, and red tie, just like the men. It was very important to dress professionally and not provocatively so that she had the best chance of being taken seriously. She said the secretaries who dressed for their bosses were not respected, and that made it tough for other women who were trying to make it in "a man's world." A younger woman, probably in her 30's, got visibly upset by those comments because she likes showing her cleavage and feels she has the right to do so. It makes her feel good. Other women agreed with her. Another young woman who was raised in a conservative church had a mother who talked to her about the way she dressed. She told her that her skirts had to be down to right above her knees and she couldn't show her midriff. Rather than revolting and being angry with her mother, the way this young woman told it, she understood that her mother was trying to tell her that it was important to show her body only to those she wanted to see it, and that showing her midriff and legs to everyone wasn't respecting herself appropriately, or in ways that would serve her best. The woman said that instead she chose to wear funky fun colorful clothes and show her individuality that way. It worked for her.
(To those women who were there, if I've mis-stated something that was said there, please feel free to email me email@example.com to correct me - my memory may be off a bit, and I much prefer to be accurate! Thanks!)
I brought up the idea I've toyed around with that we, as women, dress more for other women than for men. When I'm getting ready to go out with other women, I pay a lot more attention to what I'm putting on than I do when I'm going out with Chris. I know he loves how I look, and he isn't interested in fashion or any of that stuff, so it's a bit wasted on him if I take a long time to doll up. He compliments me when I do - he notices something! - but it isn't a big deal. But when I'm going to go out with women, especially in a group where I don't know the people very well, I take extra care with what I wear. I notice myself concerned that I match, that I'm relatively fashionable, that my hair looks good, and maybe, just maybe, in extraordinary circumstances, I'll even put on lipstick! I feel a bit tense that they might notice if my shoes are comfortable rather than fashionable. Not that they'd say anything, but I'm guessing they'd notice. I don't care all that much for myself, but part of me doesn't want to be judged, even by people I don't know. It's goofy. The anxiety is annoying when I think about it now.
I have one friend who is exceedingly aware of her appearance and is always quite wonderful about telling me what she likes about how I look. I appreciate her compliments, though I don't really know what to do with them. Partially it makes me feel uncomfortable that someone is noticing my physical being so carefully. Will she notice I've gained a pound or that my bra doesn't match my shirt? (not that I undress in front of her, but she might see the strap showing somehow). Being judged positively so carefully makes me aware that I'm probably being judged negatively too, though she's generous enough not to comment on my flaws most of the time.
I don't usually reciprocate with compliments. That has been an issue between us. I think it hurts her feelings. When I was thinking about it today, I realized that I don't say anything because I don't really notice how she looks. She always looks very put together, and I guess if I think about it, I could tell that she has worked to look a certain snazzy way, but I don't really pay attention to that sort of stuff. Maybe I'm more like a guy. When I see this friend, what I'm focused on is talking to her for hours on end, sharing my life with her, hearing what matters to her and what she's been up to. I love her mind and how she thinks. Her perceptions are quite different from mine generally, so it's always fascinating to get inside her head and learn what she's thinking about different things. I really don't see the scarf, the hair, the layers of interesting designer clothes she's put together just so. And I think I've disappointed her deeply that I don't. One time after she'd chastised me for not complimenting her even though she always compliments me, I took the time to look and ran down her body to name off what I was seeing. It was a lesson in awareness for me. It also felt farcical because I just don't care about those outer accouterments.
Intimacy with others is what matters to me. I focus on their soul, their feelings, on learning who they really are. It's a different level of interaction. I find I don't often pursue friendships with people unless we can achieve a certain level of comfort, intimacy, and authenticity. It just isn't worth it to me otherwise. I was in a marriage where intimacy wasn't possible, and it was incredibly painful to me. I wanted it so badly. When I met Chris, I was drawn to his ability to go deep and to be with me as I delved my depths, both the gorgeous and the hideous ones. It's one of the most important things in life to me.
So back to the Red Tent Evening... such a digression!
It was intimate. Women shared deeply. Authentically. Intimately. We all seem to have stories about our bodies, hurts, wounds, triumphs. It was such a blessing to hear them in this circle. Thank you, Khalima, for making it happen. Thank you, each of you gorgeous women, for being there and sharing yourself with us all.