is such a lovely word.

It conjures up images of luscious fruit and round, pearlescent tones

That sit like strawberries and yogurt on your tongue.

Why is it we love it so much in things

Like vases and nectarines

When we hate it so much in ourselves?


is lovely, feminine, maternal

When we tune out the noise enough to let ourselves see it.


This post is part of Madeline Bea’s Sunday Creative Project.

* A note to my readers: I finally figured out how to get full rss feeds working on my site. If you would like to switch from excerpts to full feeds, just set up a new subscription by clicking here: Then you can delete the old subscription.

you capture – shapes

For this challenge, I had the idea to go and take lovely, flattering pictures of women of all shapes and sizes to show beauty comes from within, not from squeezing into size 00 jeans and filling out a 32D bra. It was to be a beautiful f— you to corporations pushing on us an industry standard “ideal” that does not reflect reality and only makes us feel bad about ourselves so we buy more products. It was to show that all bodies can be beautiful: round cut or pear shaped, athletic, lanky or motherly, there is beauty in every shape, if only we look for it. And refuse to allow our minds to be boxed in by corporate dictates.

So I set out to take such pictures. I started with my beautiful friend, who is expecting. And, oh my, she’s just gorgeous and glowing!

youcapture_shapes6aThen I started approaching women of all kinds, targeting every shape and size I could find, with only a mind for possible compositions and workable lighting. But my job quickly became more and more difficult.
youcapture_shapes3The rounder a woman was, the less likely it was that I could get her to volunteer for a photo. If she was older than 25 or 30, then it got even more difficult. One woman, who had some facial scarring I hadn’t noticed until after I approached her, positively shooed me off. I began to suspect that the less comfortable a woman was with her body image for not fitting in the “norm”, the less willing she would be to let me photograph her.

youcapture_shapes4I began to fret, wondering if I should just scrap the idea altogether and just go with pictures of circular and rectangular shapes and whatnot in still life form. But then I got mad. No! I would not cave in. This is exactly my point!

All shapes and ages are beautiful, each in their own way. Beauty comes not in shapes but in how we carry ourselves and from loving our own bodies. A woman could have the “ideal body”, but if she hunches over and shrinks back, you’d never notice it. When a woman is truly comfortable in her own skin and carries herself like she means it, then others will find her attractive. And having the “ideal” body doesn’t ensure you love your body and are comfortable in it. That is just a lie we tell ourselves when we want to lose those extra pounds. Perhaps if it comes fairly naturally to you, it might. But if you have to fight for it tooth and nail, and every day you’re weighing this and scrutinizing that, you might easily hate your body, no matter how well you look doing it.

(You might think I’m being hippy-dippy, oh, everyone is beautiful…and I’m not. In all honesty, not everyone is a beautiful person. But I’ve thought a lot about this and I do truly believe beauty can be found in a variety of different shapes, of which the “ideal” is only one. Yes, health might be a factor…but I’ve seen healthy, round people and nonhealthy skinny people and every version in between. While there is a correlation between health and weight, they are not one and the same. Shape aside, the key issue is whether you’re eating and moving in ways that are healthy – mentally, physically, and emotionally – for your body and its peccadilloes. Because physical health is only one dimension. Mental and emotional health are equally important. But physical health is just happens to be the one that’s easier for others to see.)

youcapture_shapes1So I reiterate: all shapes are beautiful. Skinny, square, or short, luxuriously curvy or lanky and lean. All shapes are beautiful.
If only we can allow ourselves to believe it too.

Ok, I’ll get down off my soapbox now.

For more shapes (and perhaps less soapbox!), head over to Beth’s site, I Should Be Folding Laundry, and join in this week’s You Capture challenge!


tell it to me tuesdays – sometimes i…

Sometimes I place my hands on my belly…
sometimesI…and wonder what it would feel like to feel another life inside.

How would you finish the phrase: “Sometimes I…”?

The Rules
I think there is real power in the human voice, as flawed as it may be. And when the voices speak together, when you have a multitude of voices speaking, patterns begin to emerge and there you can begin to understand truth. So in the spirit of the personal narrative, I am hosting a weekly challenge every Tuesday morning, where I will post a topic (ranging from the banal to the intimate) and ask readers to respond. I would love to see everyone’s answers and how similar and different they all are.

You can respond in any way you choose. You can give a fictional response or a true one. You can use words, sentences, and/or photographs. If you have a blog, you can link it with Mr. Linky below. Please be sure to include “Tell It To Me Tuesdays” in the title, and link back to this post. Feel free to use the “Tell It To Me Tuesday” button available to the right. If you don’t have a blog, but want to join in, you can just leave a comment. Please follow the rules. I don’t want to have to delete links. I like links! Don’t make me delete them.

Next week’s challenge
: Complete this phrase: “I wish I could say…”

beauty behind the veil

behind_the_veilMy sister-in-law said it best last night, when she said, “It seems like the world is conspiring to make me a feminist.” Yes, yes, and yes. I always used to avoid race and gender studies, believing that they weren’t ultimately very helpful: that looking backward didn’t help us move forward, and that focusing on one race or gender to the exclusion of another didn’t do much to advance equality or mutual understanding. But I didn’t realize I believed a lie about what those studies were all about. And the more I see of the world, the more I can’t help but take umbrage at how ridiculously backward so much of it is. Once you start seeing bits of it, you start opening your eyes to entire swaths of it.

For example, Oprah just conducted a “Marriage Around the World” show highlighting cultural differences between married women in various countries. But as this article illustrates, she appeared to have a preconceived notion that Western women are inherently more liberated than others, presuming the hijab (or head scarf) equates with repression. Contrast that with the Rick Steves’ interview with Justine Shapiro, filmmaker and producer of A Summer in Tehran, where she discusses the time she spent with a variety of Iranian families. She observes that in Persian culture contains many veils (both literal and figurative). They make a sharp delineation between the public and private spheres of their lives, with the public sphere characterized by formality, politeness, and guardedness while the private sphere is far more familiar and comfortable. In the privacy of their own homes, they wear tank tops and Persian women exude sensuality. There is freedom and sensuality within the home, but the minute they step out the door, on goes the hijab, their choice of clothing and sensuous figures tucked discreetly beneath.

What these women see when they look at Western women are nearly nude figures objectified like toys draped over cars. They look and see a world where women are not treated with respect, and are not honored (which, frankly, with today’s hookup culture, you kinda gotta see they have a point). We say we are free, but we measure our freedom in how much of our flesh we can show off to tantalize men (and maybe even incite the envy of our fellow women). No one can tell us what clothes we can wear, but it’s not as if our society doesn’t have rules we abide by, even when it is not healthy – or even when it hurts. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a bikini wax. Or if your feet have hurt from stilettos. Or if you’ve ever gone hungry to lose a pound or two, had your eyebrows plucked, undergone cosmetic surgery or dermatological procedures, or gotten a tattoo or piercing in the name of beauty. This is not news. We all know this. And yet we still do it to ourselves and call ourselves free. With a “no pain, no gain” kind of chagrin, we accept that sometimes we have to suffer to be beautiful.

Compared to all that, donning a simple piece of cloth doesn’t sound like such a hardship. This is not to say there aren’t real inequalities in women’s rights with assets after divorce, or in persecuting rapists, or in receiving equal pay for equal work (ahem). The point is: let’s not be so quick to point fingers because you never know what the world looks like on the other side of the veil.

Women Unbound – The Red Tent

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you’ll know that I’ve decided to participate in the Women Unbound challenge. This challenge asks us to read both fiction and nonfiction books written by women authors as part of a group enlightenment/discussion surrounding women’s issues. As a participant in this group, I will post my reviews of these books here on Tasting Grace. But I’m not going to do a traditional book review where I give the synopsis and my thoughts, end of story. What I’d like to do is give a hint of what the book is about, but then talk more about what questions the book raised and what it made me think about. So if you’re not a participant of the challenge and/or haven’t read the book (or even if you have!), or even are not particularly chuffed about women’s issues, please stick around! What I’m hoping to do is pose some things to think about and hopefully engender a discussion here and try to get different people’s thoughts and share ideas. And hopefully learn something really fascinating in the process.

redtentThe first book I read was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. It’s a very beautiful book that tells the tale of biblical figures from a woman’s perspective. It tells the tale of Jacob and Leah’s daughter, Dinah, from Dinah’s own perspective and weaves a story of four sisters wed to the same man and raising his children together. It tells of her marriage and “rape” and the carnage and aftermath which ensued. With a wealth of historical detail and deep emotional connection, the book opens a window for modern readers to see what life was like for the silent figures in the Bible: the women. I highly recommend it, and if you like historical fiction and books about the bonds of kin, this book might just be your cup of tea.

There are three things that struck me while I read the book. The first regards ceremony and rites. In the early parts of the book, Diamant delves a lot into what women did together. As they were not members of the public sphere, their lives involved much cooking and child-rearing, yes, but they were also very connected inter-personally and spiritually. Diamant talks at length of the community of sisters who see each other through major transitions in life and celebrate together moments like the moment when a girl sheds blood for the first time and becomes a woman: the time when women learn that blood is the price for giving life. As I read on, I realized that we have comparatively little in the way of ceremony and rites-of-passage. Part of this might be due to the way society has progressed: that with science and learning that fertility festivals do not actually increase fertility and dancing before the cloud gods does not produce rain that we have learned more about how the world works. But I wonder if maybe we haven’t lost something along the way. We have proms and marriage and religious holiday traditions (and what we do have has largely become uber-commercialized and sometimes engenders at least as much stress as joy), but most of us no longer celebrate things like when a girl becomes a woman and a boy becomes a man. Important passages go unmarked and unrecognized and there is little sense that these life transitions are indeed special and worth attention. Mothers show daughters how to use a tampon and they both move on without another thought. There is little of the sacred feminine, little celebration, little sense of community, sisterhood or brotherhood surrounding the different stages of life. Comparatively. Perhaps the biggest coming of age surrounds crossing an arbitrary age barrier delineating the legality of driving and drinking alcohol. Which neither are things that say anything substantial about people’s relationship with the larger community. And I wonder: to the extent that some of these communal celebrations have disappeared, have the binds that tie us as a society weakened?

The second thing that came from this book was a very real sense of what it was like for women to not have any choices in life. When things really mattered, very often, choices are made for them by men. It took real manipulation and chicanery to take control of one’s own fate. And what Diamant illustrates so deftly is that women in this time could not even cry foul at injustices. Not only were they not allowed to, they could not even conceive of the possibility of claiming an act against them had been unjust. It simply was the way things were. It is a difficult thing to wrap our heads around now, when we can look and say, “Why didn’t she complain? Why didn’t she fight against her oppression?” There were socio-cultural blinders preventing these women from even entertaining the possibility of fighting back. It’s easy for us to judge in hind-sight, to see outside the social frame of the time with the benefit of a different perspective. But it does raise the question: what are we blind to? Are there things that we don’t even see because it never occurred to us to question them?

And finally, there is a moment between Dinah and a dear friend of hers who says, “Dear one…I am so honored to be the vessel into which you pour this story of pain and strength.” I am so honored to be the vessel. Herein lies what I believe to be one of woman’s most incredible strengths. We have the strength to endure, to survive, to sacrifice, not only for ourselves, but also for others. When we falter, our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends become the vessel when there is too much to bear. (I don’t mean to say men don’t do this too; men can be incredibly caring, strong, and supportive.) But can we recognize in our sisters fellow vessels of the world’s burdens? Can we, even where there are betrayals between sisters, forgive and live with an undivided heart?

If anyone has thoughts on any of this, I would love to receive them. I would love to have a discussion and hear what others think. I hope you all find this fascinating too.

reclaiming our….

If you take a little gander over at my right hand column here, you’ll notice I’m reading a book titled with that one little c-word. I’ve been wanting to write about it, about the things it makes me think about and wonder, though I’m having a little difficulty pinpointing exactly what I want to say. Mostly because 1) I don’t want to come across as some kind of crazy femi-Nazi when I cry out for women’s rights, and 2) I think this book is SO important, something EVERY. WOMAN. IN. AMERICA. needs to read. And I don’t wanna mess it up when I talk about it. So because it is so important, I am going to talk about it, and I apologize ahead of time for the rambling.

So the reason it’s called…what it’s called… is because it didn’t use to be a bad word. It used to, in ancient times, just mean woman. But because, in the way of history, what is associated with women often carries negative connotations, so the word acquired negative meaning. And so on, through the ages. Inga Muscio, the author of this book, says we need to reclaim this word, reclaim it in a positive sense, in a way reclaiming ourselves: our womanhood and our femininity. (Because vagina, apparently, means “a sheath for a sword”, and we ain’t nobody’s sheaths, thankyouverymuch.)

“There will remain much sadness in the world until people are willing to rise to the task of facing the world’s pain in the bathroom mirror.” She talks a bit about how we hold ourselves to unrealistic beauty ideals (how cliche that sounds, but I promise, you feel the truth of it deep down, emotionally, when she talks about it), often basing almost our entire self-worth on how we think others think we look. (I would say men, but in all honesty, I think women dress up to make other women think we look good, mostly to compete with other women.) And we hate ourselves when we think our thighs are too chubby, our tummies and arms are too flabby, our knees are too knobbly, our noses are too big, our lips are too small, or whatever whatever, because it’s all a bunch of crap. And we hate it so much, we mutilate ourselves with knives and needles and chemicals and machines, trying to meet these ideals. And we hate ourselves when we look in the mirror. While we live in a patriarchal society, I’m not sure there’s much use in blaming men so much as just realizing how we engage in our own persecution and oppression. Yes, we engage in our own persecution and oppression. And we hate on other women who don’t meet our standards of professionalism, creativity, beauty, ideas on breastfeeding, child-rearing, etc. instead of supporting each other and realizing we each just do the best we can. Why do we hate on other women so much? I dunno. I mean, yeah, we’re great with our friends (most of the time). But other women? We can be so catty with each other, can’t we? This is why the problem of achieving equality is so damn hard: because the inequalities are so subtle, so hidden, so insidious, and because we can’t get rid of the self-hate.

This is also the part where I part ways with corporate feminism. I don’t think we prove our power or achieve equality when we act like men, when we play cut-throat in the professional world and pooh-pooh the “mommy track”. I think we gain power and equality when we demonstrate how vital and important a feminine perspective is: when we run offices like collaboratives rather than hierarchies, for example. When we celebrate people in all endeavors and place value in all creative/academic/professional pursuits because each person has an important role to play and service to perform: the homeschooling mother, the baker, the florist, the accountant. When we say what happens in the home is every bit as important as what happens in the office, in the classroom, or on Capitol Hill.

Muscio also touches on rape, and how because of the way our bodies are built, we are subject to violations that some persons can do in the space of a coffee break, but that have ramifications that last a lifetime, or lifetimes, into the next generation. The statistics on rape are appalling, especially when you look at the numbers perpetrated on young children, and that is only counting the ones that are reported. “If you haven’t been directly targeted, someone in your family most certainly has. And if it has affected your family, it has affected you too, possibly in deeply personal ways, in phobias or neurosis, in anxiety or self-esteem issues. No one is exempt.” If you think you haven’t been affected, remember: silence is the perpetrator’s best ally, and “denial is one of the most common responses to heinous abuse”. Muscio is not far off the mark in saying we exist in a rape culture, when those of us who have not been raped feel lucky for having escaped it thus far, when the persecutions of rapists are so meager, and when so many movies in Hollywood glorify it, portraying it in a way that is sexy rather than offensive. (FYI: for those who have suffered from sexual assaults, or those who would prefer to avoid movies with violent sexual scenes, there is a website Movies That Trigger where someone has compiled a list of movies containing such scenes so you can be properly forewarned and avoid movies that may trigger panic attacks or depression.) For this reason alone, we should learn how to protect ourselves properly and develop strong systems of support – because any woman who has experienced sex that wasn’t entirely on the up and up can probably have an inkling of how deeply traumatic those violations can be. Even I, who abhor guns, am gearing up my guts to learn to shoot. I dislike them so thoroughly I will absolutely never own a gun, or keep one in the house (especially when I have kids), but one never knows when one might be presented with a situation in which one has to use a gun. So it’s best to know how to do it safely and properly.

So I don’t agree with every thing she says, but it is a good feeling to be shaken up sometimes. To be metaphorically slapped in the face and forced to think differently about something, even if it’s just for a while. Even if you don’t change your mind. To have someone lovingly tell you, “Wake the f— up.” Because it is gratifying to wake up, even if it is to disagree – if you honestly consider her point and really, really figure out why you disagree – and even more so when you are shaken out of your rut long enough to be reminded to love yourself. That you deserve to be loved, and most of all, that the love has to start with you, when you look in the bathroom mirror.

a message for the women

wombI’m sure we’ve all heard of penis envy (Oh Freud, did you ever even talk to a woman, really?) But is there such a thing as womb envy? Do men ever feel envious that they cannot bear life? That the powerful changes and emotions of the pregnancy experience is something they can only try to imagine? Certainly, they provide a necessary and vital function in the creation, protection, and rearing of future generations. But they never feel another heartbeat beside their own. Nor do they feel the warm glow of new life within.

Really, it is truly a magical and wondrous thing: our ability to conceive life. That within our bodies, a separate and (all-too-soon) autonomous being can grow and develop. That we can give nourishment, lavish care, and truly devote our entire lives and beings to another. That we can even bear life so another might experience the joy of motherhood.

And that we, too, are connected to the moon and the oceans, waxing full, and then shedding and beginning again in lunar cycles. (Which, by the way, did you know? Up until a few decades ago, we were told the cramps associated with menarche were merely psychosomatic? It’s a wonder no woman ever punched the lights out of those making such claims. Thankfully for us, it has been scientifically proven it’s not just all in our heads.) And we are connected to each other, converging cycles with those close to us.

Of course, the pain and unpredictability of childbirth is terrifying. And I’m sure the terror and helplessness men feel as they watch their wives bear children is significant in its own right. But the raw power of such self-sacrifice in order to create a beautiful, new life is something only women can know.

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