I took this photograph recently at the three day Raising the Skirt workshop. (Be aware of nudity on the link). Whilst the actual event only lasted three days it feels like years worth of learning, a challenge to the messages we get from birth about how we should look and be.
Even if, like me, you believe you have shaken of the injunctions to mould your body to fit the form prefered by society those earliest lessons are often the hardest to unlearn. Be good, be quiet, be pretty, smile for the camera, kiss the strange man with the scratchy white beard, be a girl, or a woman, in the way we say is correct.
I was struck by the pebbles because of their diversity, and this diversity, this beauty comes about because of what they have been through. Bashed by the waves, pounded by winter storms, thrown against each other, a cataclysmic wild existence until finally they come to rest against each other on a beach under a cold northern sky.
Those things which make us as people unique, our own personal storms, are not mistakes to be hidden away, shameful secrets to be forgotten. Just like the processes which make each pebble itself our life experiences are part of our own beauty and wonder.
So it is too for our bodies. Scars, cellulite and stretchmarks are airbrushed out by a society which like the husband of Effie Grey seems to prefer carved stone to living breathing women. Our bodies are declared obscene, or ugly, unslightly and most certainly not beach body ready. Our bodies though, just like the pebbles on the beach, are changed by the storms we endure, making them ours. Each stretch mark and scar has its own story, in many ways the stories of our lives are written on our bodies, and it is a story that deserves to be told.
Over the course of the workshop I saw the diversity of our bodies in a whole new light. It is so rare to see another naked outside of certain contexts. Freed of the expectations of sexual desire, which is the usual context in which we see another uncover certain parts of the body, I was struck by how the very diversity itself is beautiful. Just as each pebble has been shaped into its own self by the forces around and upon it, each body, each woman, each person, is the result of their experiences. When we airbrush out the imperfections we airbrush out those things which make us perfect. Not a topshelf or fashion model perfect but the perfection of being, of experience.
Perhaps the hardest step is moving from seeing this perfection in others, as they are, and applying it to oneself. To say your body and your story are perfect as they are, so my body and my story must also be acceptable, be valid, be beautiful, be worthy of being seen and heard is a huge step.It is a radical act of self love and self acceptance to say I too must be, like the pebble on the beach, shaped by my storms into the being I am meant to be.