by Kate Greenaway, BaAppSc (Physiotherapy), Goonellabah, Australia
The other week I had one of those Stop and Take Notice moments. I was walking around the local swimming pool to the women’s showers in my wet bathers, after having a lovely time in the pool. I was a bit cold and one of the males on staff was walking towards me. I had spoken to this man before and I knew him to be sensitive, sweet and completely harmless. I could feel he was going to look at me as we passed and all of a sudden I was feeling extremely vulnerable – my body went into an old pattern of pulling my shoulders inwards and caving my chest in – like I did when I was a teenager at the beach in my swimmers walking past men who stared at my breasts. You see, even though I have a petite frame, I had really large breasts as a teenager and I used to get awful, sexual comments from boys my age, AND older men. Being a curvaceous young woman was agony for me so I used to hide my body in large shirts. I thought I had moved through this and healed those self -conscious years, so I was shocked to feel this in my body now – in my late 40’s and feeling mostly content with my body.
As I walked towards this man I could feel how important it was to stay open to him, meet his eyes and be as open as I could be. It took a lot, but I did this and we smiled and it was an innocent moment of two people meeting each other; he was as sweet and harmless as he had been every other time. At that moment I knew that if I had shut down and looked away from him it would have been a clear message of rejection to him… and who knows how he would have felt about himself.
As I felt more into this moment I knew it was clearly a choice to shut down or stay open to a) what I was feeling, and to b) that man just doing his job.
I learnt so much from that moment.
I learnt that letting myself feel vulnerable gave me a greater understanding of me and what was still affecting how I felt about my body. I also learnt how our unresolved issues can strongly affect any meeting of another person (whether by a look or a body gesture), and in this case especially, between a woman and a man. This moment allowed me to feel just how many times in the past I would have given men the wrong message, where in fact it had nothing to do with them. This felt pretty ugly, but it gave me a greater awareness and understanding about the unnecessary complexities we can bring to our relationships.
The next week I had almost the same situation – after a swim in the local pool – this time walking past a younger man, who was also on staff. As I passed him I had no shrinking in my body and it was far easier to meet his eyes and smile openly – I felt quite solid and it felt like I could have been walking past anyone fully clothed. I had a greater appreciation of myself in that moment, and in my growing strength to choose to stay open to others, no matter what the situation. A very wise woman said to me recently: “if you let yourself feel the hurt or the vulnerability it passes, but it’s a gift at the same time, as you grow so much from it”. It was this wisdom and my choices that supported me in those moments and allowed me to feel in my body how true her words were.