Starving for Approval: Anorexia and the Mother Shadow

Mother and Child,  Mary Cassatt, 1897

Mother and Child, Mary Cassatt, 1897

Originally posted February 7, 2012

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To-day's your natal day;

    Sweet flowers I bring:

Mother, accept, I pray

    My offering.


And may you happy live,

    And long us bless;

Receiving as you give

    Great happiness.

--To My Mother, 

Christina Rossetti

Ask any anorexic who has a shred of consciousness around his/her behavior and 99% of them will say “It’s not about the food.” And as much as it’s “not about the food,” it’s also not about the models in the magazines, the actresses on the TV or the media. Sorry to blow your cover, finger-pointers, but I am done using the media as my scapegoat.

Yes, I agree that a lot of the images shown are heavily photoshopped and are idealized versions of beauty that no one could possibly attain. I also agree that many of the images (especially of women) are dismissive at best (like when she plays the one-dimensional “love object” to a male protagonist) or deeply damaging at worst (like when she is a glorified corpse for abuse and rape).

But as difficult as it is to admit, they are giving us exactly that for which we are asking.

Honestly, how many times have you and I looked at the TV and said (or at least thought):

“How old is she?!”

“Check out that plastic surgery!”

“He has gained some weight!”

“Ugh! What a slut!”

We, inside our own personal psyches, have an internal war of judgment and hatred that is then reflected in the cultural ideals with which we are surrounded. And then that judgment is projected when we see something as “ugly” (that fat whore really needs to just give it up) OR when we see someone “beautiful” (she only got that role because she was fucking the director. Give that skinny bitch a hamburger!).

How can anyone possibly win when everything around us is a mirror of our own self-doubt and fear?

We as a society are all walking around starving for approval and are too full of pride to admit just how much we want it. This approval somehow validates our right to exist in the world, but it is a temporary salve—a fast-food, quick fix so that we don’t have to face the deeper hunger within.

For me, anorexia is the quick fix. For example:

1. It keeps my body small and childlike, so I get to have the concerned attention of those around me, rather than overtly admitting my desire and risking rejection.

2. It keeps my ovaries and pelvis frozen, so as not to run the risk of pregnancy (because that would require a level of responsibility that I could never handle).

3. It dulls out the hunger within. This way, I don’t have to face how greedy I am and thus won’t feel the shame that comes with admitting that I haven’t done the work to know what I want. Or oftentimes I know exactly what I want, but expressing that comes with a high price, usually in the form of people’s judgments (which is humiliating and hits my vanity in a deep way): “Are you sure that’s what you want?” “That sounds way out there.” “You just like the attention.” “LA is just not your kind of town.” “Is that really for the greater good?” “Be reasonable.” “Save some for the rest of us.” “You’re not ready for that yet.”

4. It keeps my world organized and sane—all I have to do is be the good girl and get the good grades and be president of all the clubs and eat the good foods and avoid the bad ones and then I will be liked and will have earned some sort of credit in your world and you will allow me to stay with you for another day (yeah, that one’s really warped, ain’t it?).

In my case, this hunger for approval shows up strongly in what I call my “Mother Shadow.” Caroline Myss talks about different variations of the Mother archetype, but the overarching one that every woman has inside of her is the nurturing, loving caretaker. Yes, every woman has this archetype in her. We are biologically wired to house and nourish life: breasts, hips, vagina, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, estrogen—the whole lot. Now of course, not every woman expresses this energy through giving birth to physical children. Some women are doctors, some found charities, some are community leaders, some save orphaned kittens. It doesn’t matter how this energy is expressed, but that it is acknowledged, integrated and given an outlet.  

What makes this energy a “shadow” for me is that somewhere down the line I have chosen to reject it. For quite some time I have had an intense phobia of getting pregnant—like, my life was going to end if that ever happened to me. I have also focused very heavily on being a “career” woman—someone so driven by her oh-so-important life purpose, that I didn’t have time for that weak stuff. And I will also admit that there is a residual shame leftover from the feminist movement that if I showed any signs of domesticity, I was not in favor of women’s rights.

Now, I may get in a lot of trouble for saying this, but well…it’s my blog, so fuck it. While I am extremely grateful for the women’s movement and for what it did to bring to light the gender inequalities within society, I think it did a disservice to the deeper feminine energies within us. It taught us how to act like men—or rather, provide us with the false sense of masculinity that parades this planet as being “in one’s power.” Goal-driven, unwavering, never showing emotion, working non-stop, constantly producing, going up, up, up.

This particular flavor of nurturing Mother energy needs the soft, quiet receptivity of moment to moment connection and intimacy. This is at the heart of what we are missing within our culture and the very thing for which we are starving.

I was all good at being seen as Kali. Or the Bitch, the Whore, the Sex Queen or any other kind of wild and destructive feminine archetypes. But since I had rejected the Mother within me, I had to find secret ways to “sneak” her into my life (for that is how a shadow works—if you deny it in the conscious mind or body, the unconscious will find ways to get a hit through the back door, whether you like it or not). So, like a drug addict or an anorexic who has her once-a-week-secret-cookie fix, I would seek out the constant approval of women I considered to be authorities to me. Teachers, leaders, mentors, family members, even my own mother. I was morphing myself, moment by moment, into this person that would be likeable and loveable enough to receive the momentary nourishment of a Mother’s love.

Of course the problem with that is, somewhere down the line, I forgot who I was. My validation became a search of some feminine external, rather than the integrated feminine within myself. And so when I would slip up and my cover was blown, I revealed myself to be someone altogether different that who I pretended to be. It almost felt like an act of betrayal to those I loved, and most importantly, to myself.

I thank the Universe for my anorexia. Some may say “Oh my God! If only we had known then we could have prevented this from happening to her.” But what you are missing that anorexia is not the cause of my pain, but a warning signal that some other thing in my life is out of alignment—that I am not living authentically in my skin. To use the analogy of putting your hand on a hot stove, the anorexia is not the hot stove itself, causing the burn. The anorexia is the bundle of pain receptors sending messages to my brain saying, “Take your hand off this stove before you kill yourself!”

And so, here I am. In San Fran-Fucking-Cisco (of all the most random of places), facing the fertile Mother within me and learning to love her deeply. To expose my hunger and embrace the possibility of getting full and fat and pregnant with energy and giving birth to something. Receiving love, in all its forms, and knowing that I don’t have to produce anything in return or have all the answers. Redefining what success is for me and cultivating an unbearable amount of gentle patience with myself as I learn to take responsibility for my life. And to answer the most dangerous question of all—the one that may have me spinning in circles for lifetimes to unveil.

It’s a question we all have, really. We spend millions of dollars every year on gym memberships, guru books, self-help workshops, therapy sessions and calls to the psychic friends network in the hopes that someone will give us the quick answer. OR we spend billions on porn, alcohol, television, cigarettes, shopping, sugar and empty-calorie sex so that we can numb or distract ourselves to point where we don’t hear this question lurking in our basement anymore.

It’s time to turn on the lights. My shadows are quickly exposing themselves. And when the anorexia comes around again, I will get down on my knees and give thanks—for then I will know another rejected piece of me is waiting just behind that veil of fear. And in meeting her, I will have come one layer closer towards answering that ultimate question: Who am I?

Embracing the Spiritual Paradox: The Sacred, The Profane, The Mundane

Amor Sacre Amor Profano, Titian

Originally published June 24, 2011

All right. I can feel it. This is going to be one of those entries that tries to mash up 15 journal entries into one barely coherent post. I apologize in advance. I’m not a writer. I just play one on the internet.

So, what does spiritual mean to you? Is it something high in the clouds? Pure? Is it deep and connected? Is it trippy altered states of being? Is it devotion to one omnipotent being? Is it being in nature? Or something completely different?

I say yes. Just yes. Whatever your answer is, yes. And your answer, yes. And your answer, yes. Because the bottom line is that ALL THAT EXISTS IS SPRITUAL. PERIOD. To deem one area of your life as being “spiritual” (i.e. when I do my meditation) and another as non-spiritual (i.e. when I drive my car or scream at my child) is to create divisions in your life, namely, the good, the bad and the boring. And this division leads to an underlying tension in all that you do. When things are good, fear of losing them creeps in, so you must grip, lest they slip away. When things are bad, you must reject and shut out the world. When things are boring, you must constantly seek out anything to fill the emptiness. All of these are ways to escape the present.

We’ve all felt “sacred” moments in our life. The sun making its first appearance on a fresh spring day. Sculptures of beautiful men and women. A baby being born. Our first kiss. A song. A group in deep prayer.

But what about when you are sick on your knees and hanging over a toilet? How about when you are washing lettuce? How about when your anger and jealousy consume you? How about when you are unlocking your door? How about when your marriage ends or your mother dies or you see people killing each other in foreign countries because everyone has a different name for “God”?

This post is not just about “sacred sexuality” or “sacred prostitution” (which is where most people go when they hear the union of sacred/profane). Indeed, what the hell is “sacred sex” anyway? What makes intercourse that is done with breathwork/chanting/eye-gazing anymore spiritual than a fingerbang in the bathroom of a nightclub? True, participants may be more conscious in one scenario than another. Participants may be more in alignment in their personal integrity in one scenario than another. Maybe not. But all experiences stand alone on their own as spiritual and opportunities to plug into ourselves deeper. It’s just our idea of that we believe spirituality to be that keeps us grasping for certain experiences in life and avoiding others (which is the fundamental nature of suffering).

What if we explored the possibility that THE UNIVERSE DOES NOT MAKE MISTAKES. Can we expand our perspective and hold the paradox that everything, from Wall Street tycoons to rapists to priests to crack addicts to paint drying to the Dalai Lama to George Carlin’s seven words are all expressions of Spirit and offer an opportunity for connection and self-reflection.

Doesn’t mean life is easy. Or pretty. Or nice. Or exciting. Hell it downright sucks a lot of the time. And yet if you can slow down and simply feel what is (underneath your history or expectations), you would see the miracle it took to bring you here. Mel Robbins has a great  where she says that the odds of being born in this moment in time are one in 400 trillion! Now imagine those odds coupled with another person being born in this moment AND the odds of your two sharing the same energy field. Now imagine more miracle-people moving in and out, like threads on a loom. What an incredible tapestry of life you weave. And you are an expression of Spirit. And so is the chair. And the floor. And the cockroach. All these pieces coming together for you to interact in service of self-realization in your one miracle-life.

Furthermore can we begin to see that pain is actually a gift on the journey. Your anger and fear provide valuable information as to where you are out of integrity in your life and where your desire lies. Your grief in losing a loved one is a chance to crack open your heart and cleanse your soul of past residue. War is a reminder that there is still so much work to be done in the INTERNAL landscape of our spirit (as Osho says, “You cannot change the society first and hope that individuals will change later on”).

So notice where you are fixed in your perspective in life and try to invite in a new way. Notice who or what you deem as “worthy of your attention” and who is not. Notice who you blame for all the world’s problems. Bush. Obama. Republicans. Corporate America. Porn. Hollywood. The Government. Your Parents. Whatever. Then invite the possibility that all that is just is. Begin to take responsibility for your own life. Begin to accept the challenge made to you on the miraculous day of your birth: to come to know yourself and your soul’s purpose through self-discovery in relationship and integration (not in avoidance, rejection or “rising above”) to all that is.

You chose this life. Really. If you don’t like it, you can bitch and moan and blame and try to run away from it and into the “sacred.” Or you can choose to accept responsibility for all that you are, find the Spirit that already exists in this moment and move forward empowered to create the life for which you were born.

For a brilliant (and more succinct) view on the topic, check out Ken Wilbur’s talk on Beauty and Spirit, where he explores the Good, the Beautiful and the True (in my language, the Sacred, the Profane and the Mundane). Shout out to Jason D. McClain who brought this stunning video to my attention.