The following reflection was inspired by the Venus retrograde period coming up on October 5th and active until November 16th. I’ll be co-leading a workshop called Busting the Beauty Myth, in which participants will be exploring their individual relationships to beauty. While I certainly don’t believe that everyone should do what I did and feel what I feel in my body, I am now relatively free of attachment about my appearance. And that’s what qualifies me to assist other women in their own Venus journeys: the path to health and happiness lies in non-attachment to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Except for this initial photo which is a snapshot of my own evolution, I have used images of the style and beauty icons who were important to my own self-acceptance. Enjoy.
I’ve had many types of bodies. I’ve lived as both a fat woman and a thin woman in this world. I have been both a couch potato and an athlete at various points in my life. I’ve had a healthy body as well as a body wracked by long-term illness. I’ve had a pregnant and then a breast-feeding body, and, recently, I’ve been working on accepting a body that is differently abled.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all women, and I don’t know what it’s like to live as a man, though I did dress like one for years. But in conversation with some women who were lamenting their natal Venuses in Scorpio, I got to thinking that I have natal Venus conjunct Pluto, which is going to carry with it a lot of the same issues (Pluto is the ruler of Scorpio). It occurred to me then that not all women have had the lived experience of being a G-cup, and then an A, as well as every cup size in between, like I have. Perhaps part of what I’ve been asked to do, with natal Venus conjunct Pluto, is to identify as this kaleidoscope of feminine “types” (Venus), and then routinely watch each one die (Pluto). Maybe Plutonian femininity demands all these deaths and rebirths.
I hesitated to write a narrative about my Venus transformations, because where could I possibly begin? It’s been one long, sustained, Protean ride. How about the time I gained thirty pounds in one year and went from the towering bean-pole I’d always been at 12, to a voluptuous double-D cup with some dramatically widened hips at 13? My Mom called me “Tootie” after the Facts of Life actress who went through something of the same transformation between two seasons of the show. The stretch-marks on my breasts and hips made me look like I’d been mauled by a bear in the secondary sex characteristics.
But the story I really want to tell is this one: I was fifteen and I tried to kill myself because, in my estimation, I was ten pounds overweight. I was 5’11” and had long, naturally blond hair, and I measured my weight against Cindy Crawford’s – that’s where I got the idea that I was carrying ten pounds too many. I was pretty well-convinced that anyone who was forced to look at me would throw up on the spot. I was anorexic and bulimic. My waking thought every day was that I was disgusting and that I wasn’t allowed to eat that day. If I did eat, then I would really eat, compulsively, consuming thousands upon thousands of calories and not tasting a single one. And then I would punish myself with a violent purge.
I’m happy to report that when I woke up in the hospital after trying to die, I felt like a right idiot. I had something of a spiritual awakening and thought, “What on God’s green earth does ten pounds matter to ANYONE? In the grand scheme of existence, this is less than nothing.” So you might say that my Venus transformation, of learning to value myself beyond an artificially imposed standard of beauty, began at that early age.
But I still hated the woman suit. My breasts kept getting larger and my Biology teacher sexually harrassed me, regularly, in full view of the other tenth-graders, and that’s when I started skipping class and phoning in the assignments. I never knew how large my breasts really were because I never had them measured, but when I had them reduced at age 19, the surgeon removed five whole pounds of flesh.
In high school I referred to my breasts as “useless sacs” and would put on derisive puppet shows for my friends that showcased my breasts’ ability to hold up furniture against my ribs with their weight. Whenever I made a rare appearance on my high school campus, I was forced to listen to a rap song about me, the Sir Mix-a-Lot one, but with “boobs” replacing “butts,” and some other creative lyrics conceived on my behalf and shouted loudly by teenage boys.
I don’t remember discussing with my plastic surgeon what size I wanted my new breasts to be. At the time I went to his office for a consult, I had shaved my head and was dressing pretty exclusively in Carhartt’s and work shirts. I can’t blame him for assuming I was a butch lesbian. When I woke up in the hospital that time, I was devastated to discover that the surgeon had cut me down to an A-cup. I felt like a ten-year-old. My body didn’t feel like my body. Chiefly what I remember is the novel experience of being able to see my stomach, and to be able to put on a belt without first contorting myself on the floor. Also, the sweat. For the first time in my career as a woman, my arms rested against my sides instead of being buoyed by balloons. I had never felt sweat collect in my armpits before.
In the eyes of society, I was a different woman, or not a woman. The constant sexual attention ceased. Because of my height, I was frequently mistaken for a man. My former prom date did not recognize me when I ran into him at my job.
Ultimately I grew to accept this new body, but all I had really accomplished was transforming my outside. Inwardly I still roiled with disgust and self-loathing. I had discovered Riot Grrrl and Goddess spirituality simultaneously, and internalized the rhetoric that women are naturally curvy, and that big is beautiful. I ate compulsively, all the time, and gave myself the gift of fatness and of not giving a fuck. My weight soared above 200 pounds. In spite of the self-loathing, it was heaven, to be free of the expectation that my body existed to please others, or that its sole purpose was to measure up to an artificial standard driven by commercial greed. My Riot Grrrl mouth loved to call out the weight-loss and cosmetics industries and how they preyed on women’s insecurities. I owned a ceramic copy of the ancient Venus of Willendorf fetish, and handled it in my bouts of self-hatred, to reassure myself that I was made in the image of Goddess.
What happened next was that my progressed Sun conjuncted my natal Venus. I’d be really hard-pressed to come up with an explanation, other than the astrological, to account for my radical embrace of self-love. All of a sudden, I began to think that perhaps I had judged my mortal enemy – MEN – too harshly. I started acting kindly and generously toward them, and even entertained the idea of dating them, after a long stint with a “women only” focus. Notice the Libran signature of Venus here, the need for balance in perspective.
There’s no way to talk about how I evolved as a woman without indulging in some highly gendered ideas, so forgive me for that – but in all honesty I think the reason “trans identity” is even a thing is because of Venus and Mars. The force of those planets, as the female-male polarity, makes the majority of us feel that we must align with one gender or the other.
When my progressed Sun conjuncted Venus, I started wearing make-up for the first time in my life. I grew out my hair and styled it with accessories. I bought dresses and frilly clothes at the fat store. Some part of me resolved that I might never be thin, but I could always be FABULOUS! Oh, did I LOVE that fleshy woman I was then. I spent a lot of time adoring and adorning her.
That’s when the weight loss began. Slowly, over several years, the compulsive behavior around food stopped, because I no longer needed my body to serve as a walking “fuck you” to society. I had other things I wanted to do with this body now, like love it and give it pleasure. The healing was complete. I had stopped waiting until I was thin to be good to myself. I had decided I was deserving of love right now, and it was amazing how quickly the food hang-ups disappeared when I no longer needed them to punish myself with.
Under Pluto stimulation to my chart, my thinner body became a hard body. I exercised religiously, mostly just to prove that I could transform myself into a person who exercised. My previous physical activity could be summed up as “all sloth all the time.” And while there was power, and control, and triumph in being a person with muscles and athletic ability, there was also – disappointment. With every pound I dropped or muscle I sculpted, the unwanted sexual attention ramped up another exponent. I also found that having a thin and toned body revealed new imperfections to obsess on in place of the flab: wrinkles! scars! et al.
So I would mark that experience, of having the body I’d always wanted, of eating right and exercising, and still being unhappy – as a pivotal moment in my ongoing Venus education. The lie that the physical makes us happy was revealed to me so starkly, in all its twisted shade, that I’ve never forgotten it.
After the revelation that my beauty was never going to be a source of happiness for me, I felt free. I learned to ignore the vicious inner critic that was always telling me I was fat and ugly. I started to understand that that nasty, carping voice wasn’t even mine, and I began to wonder where it came from. Even though I had learned not to trust it as “the truth,” it still seemed that I was engaged in an awful lot of inner dialogue over my weight: “You’re fat.” No I’m not, I’m healthy. “You’re gross.” Everyone says I’m skinny. “You’re ass is jiggly.” My boyfriend thinks I’m cute. And on and on, all day long. What a drag, what a waste of time!
My friends in a local occult group were hosting a Life Scripts workshop, in which participants act out the early family life of a willing volunteer. I was the volunteer, and I gritted my teeth after the group heard my story. I assumed that the facilitator was going to reveal that my narcissistic father had sexually abused me. What actually played out was even more shocking to me. The facilitator called up four women to act out my mother-line, going back to my great-grandmother.
I knew that my mother had had eating disorders most of her life, but I had never considered my grandmother’s ongoing war with her big body, or my great-grandmother’s always-on-a-diet experience of living in her body, as relevant to my own story. Years and years later, lying on a massage table on a misty morning in Portland, Oregon, a native healer told me with defeat in her voice that she’d had to go back more than seven generations on each side to find a woman in my family who liked being a woman. I was not surprised.
After the Life Scripts workshop, in which the facilitator instructed me to hand the legacy of self-hate back to my mother-line with a “no thanks,” the inner critic was quiet for the first time in my life. Chiefly what I noticed is that I had about 1,000x more energy to focus on and pursue the things I loved, because I wasn’t constantly performing a type of social control called self-hate. I found that it was difficult to be friends with “normal women” because of the rampant culture of self-deprecation, and because of the assumption that we shared the common desire to be small. All my friends were either fat or outspoken feminists, and many were both.
My late twenties and early thirties were my happiest years in my body. I was fit and healthy, and free of the socio-cultural machinery that holds out being tiny as the Holy Grail of feminine accomplishment. But things change, as they always do. My body started getting sick and rejecting every type of food. It started having uncontrollable reactions that demanded hospital visits. It stubbornly resisted diagnosis and I was furious with it. I felt betrayed by my body; it had never behaved this way before.
I dropped weight like crazy because I couldn’t keep anything inside. A lifetime carb junkie, I went on an elimination diet and cut out wheat. I was already vegetarian and then I gave up dairy too. It was 2009 and delicious gluten-free snacks didn’t exist yet. I cried all the time because I was so hungry, and ate nuts by the handful to fill up.
I got really thin. My large and lovely best friend always made the same joke about being hungry for ribs whenever I wore a low-cut top. That hurt. When I looked in the mirror, I saw the face of Skeletor. I was all elbows and knees. My womanly curves disappeared and I had to buy new clothes that fit. But I had no experience dressing for this body. All the ways that I had learned to love and flatter my fat body did not apply to this new, scarecrow-esque me. Thin women, I learned, have to do a lot with scarves and blazers and chunky jewelry, to detract from their angularity.
The weight loss due to illness happened under a Saturn transit to my natal Venus. It’s something of a joke among astrologers that you gain weight in Jupiter times, and shed it when grim Saturn comes to town. If I’m honest, the most difficult part of the thinness was un-learning the “big is beautiful” rhetoric that I had absorbed as a teen feminist. All the ways I had learned to love my flesh and curves made it difficult to love my lean bones and limbs. I had to convince myself that “woman” could also include small, athletic breasts and gazelle legs. In one of life’s mean ironies (in the incorrect Alanis Morissette sense) I stepped on the scale and the talismanic “Cindy Crawford” weight glared up at me for the first time in twenty years. By that time I was several inches taller than Cindy. Her weight did not look good on me.
As my immune condition healed, my weight crawled back up. Then I got pregnant, and every woman has her own personal transformation story around that most Plutonian state of bringing life into this world. I had of course been looking forward to my pregnant belly being a deterrant to sexual attention from strangers, and was deeply disturbed when the opposite happened. My breasts inflated and suddenly I was getting catcalls. I had forgotten what a different experience it is to walk in the world wth a large set of breasts.
My feet grew. At the shoe store they tell me this is a common result of pregnancy but I was totally unprepared for its effects. A congenital deformity in my foot that was manageable before pregnancy became unmanageable afterward. I can’t stand or walk for long periods without pain. My doctors have instructed me to never walk anywhere, not even inside my own house, without corrective shoes.
Giving birth created a wholly new and transcendent understanding of my woman’s body. My body had created life. Again it seemed impossible to judge my body for carrying twenty extra pounds, because what in the world was that compared against the beautiful human I now held in my arms?
Women love to preach “sisterhood” and tell you that weight doesn’t matter, but it does, it does so much. It shouldn’t, but it does. At my thinnest and most glamorous, I had a difficult time getting female clients to open up to me. My fat friends told me I couldn’t understand their lives. I became a living symbol of “spared from insecuity” whenever my weight came into range of the media standard, which is part of the reason I was so interested in interviewing my friend and colleague, Veruschka Normandeau. Veruschka, a one-time professional model and cover girl, opens up in our interview about all the ways she felt “less than,” even when being paid to serve as a symbol of beauty and glamour to others.
It’s been a few years since I gave birth and I am still carrying my pregnancy weight. An old friend grilled me about letting myself go. She didn’t tell me I looked bad; she just refused to believe what I told her, which was that given the number of other life issues I have going on, weight loss is not a huge priority for me. She fervently tried to provoke my inner shaming mechanism, the one I have long since fed to the dogs. I resisted her, and a few months later she ended the friendship. Perhaps something about my inability to feel shame over my appearance made her feel self-conscious about her starvation diets and plastic surgeries.
Now look, it’s too easy to hate “that friend” and I don’t hate her. In essence her behavior was the same as my fat friend who sneered at my visible ribs and speculated about me having an eating disorder, when she knew damn well I was sick. I have just been so struck by this twinned point in my life story: I have lost two best friends to the shape of my body, once because it was thought too small and once because it was thought too big.
This is not right. We need to do better. We need to be OK enough with our own bodies that other people’s bodies become none of our damn business. I didn’t intend to go on and on about women and weight, but how could I not? The saddest part of my job as a counselor, aside from witnessing firsthand the astounding prevalence of sexual abuse, is all the confessions I hear from magnificent, towering, accomplished women that, oh yes PS they hate their bodies, and do I have any tips for making them smaller?
This is deeply depressing to me. And though I don’t personally have it all figured out, and I can’t say I’m a hundred percent free of cultural shame around weight, I am mostly hang-up free. Mostly.
I had a bumper sticker on the inside of my car for ten years, on the dash, that read, “The only constant is change.” That is how I feel about my body now. I don’t know what the old girl is going to do next, so I don’t get too attached! Last time I went into the fancy bra store, I was measured as a G-cup. “They grow back,” the sales girl said superciliously.
If I could choose the future of my body, I would say “ageless Yogi” sounds pretty good. And as far as personal aesthetic, I am seeking to look more and more like the mythological creature that I am. (The only time I ever felt at odds with my aesthetic was when I was specifically going for “normal”).
I used to change my hair color so much that it unnerved all my friends. I see now that I’ve always lacked this attachment to being one woman, a single woman, a type. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Anais Nin’s “continuous novel,” Cities of the Interior, in which three different women characters can be understand as the same woman evolving, changing, and integrating. So I’ll leave you with Nin’s quote about Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” from A Spy in the House of Love, the fourth novel in the collection: “For the first time … [Sabina] understood Duchamp’s painting … Eight or ten outlines of the same woman, like many multiple exposures of a woman’s personality, neatly divided into many layers, walking down the stairs in unison.”
You are many women, and you are also perfect right now. If you vibe with what you just read, and are interested in diving into your own beauty narrative in a supportive environment, please check out my upcoming online workshop with Veruschka Normandeau, Busting the Beauty Myth.