Nancy Colier
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Why Women Chase Perfection, Even Though It’s Killing Us

Women feel both outraged and powerless in response to the war being waged on our bodies, the coup for control over us. Women’s power is yet again being taken (or attempted to be taken). While this siege on women’s bodies is real and dangerous, in fact, the patriarchy has always controlled our bodies. Its narratives and structures establish and enforce our core beliefs, the assumptions we make about just “what is.”

The patriarchy doesn’t have to do anything to enact its system of control over us, we do it for them. What’s most insidious about the patriarchy’s control of the female body is that women have internalized its system and become its most powerful enforcers, perpetrating its methods of imprisonment upon ourselves.

We’ve grown up in this cultural paradigm and internalized its ideology. Consequently, we also believe that our bodies cannot be trusted and are unsafe to inhabit. If we want to be successful in this society, we understand that our bodies need to be policed and managed, and used as instruments for the greater goal of being what’s wanted and desirable. With this as our core belief, we depart our own homes and give up our bodies as our primary residences. We stop living from inside our bodies and learn to relate to ourselves from the outside, as if third-person characters in our own lives. It is the ultimate paradox: we abandon ourselves to take care of ourselves.

Women feel trapped, pressured to play by the rules and jump through the hoops set up for us by our patriarchal system. If we don’t, play the game, we face rejection and aloneness. We behave obediently within a system that fundamentally doesn’t work for us, even when we know it’s sucking the life out of us. We conform and perform dutifully even when we know that it is the system for which we’re conforming and performing that keeps us imprisoned. It’s the dance that’s killing us and yet we keep dancing.

But I’m not here to cast blame, or make another case for why it’s our fault that we feel powerless and trapped. In truth, there’s little chance for a woman raised in this culture to feel safe listening to her own experience, or living inside her body, for that matter. The pressures to disconnect from ourselves and our bodies are strong and real. Simultaneously, the payoffs for participating in the system as it is are also strong and real. But so, too, are the consequences. In the end, such a system: abandoning ourselves and turning against our own bodies, leaving home in order to be safe and ensure we have a home with others, can only generate the most fragile kind of safety or self-esteem. Ultimately, playing by the rules is a recipe for feeling powerless and trapped.

In order for women to awaken our inner voices, trust that we can speak and live from what we really think and feel; for women to feel safe being who we are, even when that may not fit into the patriarchal ideal, women need to go even further than knowing, speaking or even acting on their own needs.

We need to return to our own bodies, to re-enter and live from inside our own physical experience. To invite ourselves, not just our thoughts and feelings, but our senses, our bodies, back into the conversation and into the experience of living. What’s needed now is a paradigm shift away from the patriarchal system that has us relating to and at our bodies, from outside of them, with our bodies as objects for patriarchal review and judgment—and towards a new system of our own making, one in which we relate—from and through our bodies, with our bodies as our guides, inseparable from ourselves.

As women, we want to feel more than just not exhausted. We want to feel authentic, empowered, and free to live the full expression of who we are, to be ourselves even if we don’t know who she is just yet. We cannot actualize ourselves or claim our full power while simultaneously ignoring, rejecting, and vigilantly controlling our richest source of self-ness and power—our bodies. The path back home to ourselves demands that we take up residence in our original home, precisely the place we were told we needed to vacate, to trust the very place we were taught to distrust. In order to do this, we must radically shift our whole conception of our bodies—from being shameful and rejected “objects” that need to be policed and adorned for the pleasure of others, to being the trusted “subjects” of our lives and a place we can and want to inhabit.

Our work is to reunite the fundamental split—from ourselves—the one we believed we had to perpetrate on ourselves. To unlock the source of our deepest power and wisdom, we must re-establish residence within our most vital source—our own bodies.

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