By. Ashley Zimmerman
As women we are conditioned to live smaller, more compact lives than we actually have capacity for. I know countless friends of mine who are incredibly brilliant women, but at times wrestle with the imposter-syndrome of self doubt; yet still they are able to effect change as CEO’s, doctors, lawyers and more. How is it that even some of the brightest souls I have the privilege of knowing, occasionally will question their sense of identity and fierceness? It is my hunch that even a whisper can feels like a roar when it requires bold courage.
It is crucial to deconstruct these apparent yet hidden systems of abuse that easily get internalized and take up residence subconsciously. The outworking of these internalized belief structures of felt inferiority can often be externalized through behavior(s) without us even realizing it, whether by body language or a vast number of ways that addiction or self soothing comes into play. In essence oppression gets imbedded bodily, so the only way to untangle oneself from these constricting realities is to reconnect with the body and listen to its subtle whispers of intuitive strength.
Our bodies house stories beneath the dermis, most of which never see the light of day. I am fortunate enough to have loving friends who see and know me on my best and worst days. Reclaiming trust within my body takes a level of tenacity and fight; and I can honestly say after years of wrestling and working through much of my own story, I am able to love my body. To get vulnerable for a moment I would like to take a step towards my abusive relationship with food.
As a young teen I hated my changing body, whether it was the harmful comments that kids in my 8th grade class would jeer as I’d walked down the halls. Or the cultural pressures of being a bun-head ballerina a culture where most of the teachers were pro-ana and mia, meaning every eating disorder in the book “for the love of art.” As an athlete I learned to manipulate food and was addicted to the body high of exercise. For me it became familiar to get into a mentality of looking at the body as a machine that needs fuel; rather than a container which houses emotion, a soulful life-force of energy. In college, I became obsessed to a dangerous point; but I didn’t have language for my relationship to food being a “problem” because I was being praised for my ability to nail quadruple pirouettes en pointe.
The beauty I find in sharing even a glimpse of story is that it becomes a map to reclaim a sense of ownership and autonomy. My experience of oppression has been through people or external forces trying to lay claim over my body. My body belongs to me, I get to protect it fiercely and become its best friend. You have to live in your skin for a long time, learn to like the way it feels even when there’s more of you. Even when your body changes shape, stretches out or feels squishy. You are beautiful as you are even when your weight fluctuates. Taking up space is not a crime, it’s actually a more alive, robust version of beauty.
In present day as a yoga practitioner and therapeutic influencer, it has been incredibly nourishing to bend some of these ingrained paradigms and shift towards deepened body acceptance. For me fighting against harmful body narratives looks like “softening,” being more present with my needs and slowing down long enough to listen to what it might have to say. I make a conscious decision within my practice on and off the mat to take pauses and reconnect with my breath, mind and heartbeat. It is a spiritual experience to be in this sacred posture, inhabiting the temple of your own skin.
Embodying your story is about being more nourished and choosing to take a holistic stance in a body-obsessed, body-hating culture. That is a direct rebellion in the face of harmful narratives we have been force fed over time. Being able to leave comparison at the wayside allows for something magic to begin happening. It creates space to show up for your own life and finally breathe into those deeper parts of yourself that need tending to. It takes intuitive strength and requires a deepened sense of embodied, soma-trust at the helm. Hiding, blending-in or dumbing-it-down for the sake of others’ comfortability can easily become a familiar entrapment where your internal voice gets muffled and stifled or worse ignored.
We live in a society that runs on the objectification and mistreatment of women. Women who embrace their sacred feminine power are dangerous creatures, while being capable of maintaining capacity for tenderness. Wild feline species are prowess, archetypal creatures who hunt and provide for their familial tribe with maternal instincts that cannot be tamed. If wild is our true nature than why do we shy away from the fire within or mute the vibrancy of our feisty?
I’m learning slowly things about myself that I used to hate and feel crippled by now feel like an asset or strength. Move beyond the whisper letting your story roar, creating a ripple effect of freedom that echo’s. I am at the edge of an archeological dig, excavating the discovery of my buried voice.
Ashley is passionate about embracing an embodied lifestyle, she works towards cultivating spaces for others to experience deepened healing and increased body-trust. She facilitates dance movement therapy workshops, teaches restorative yoga and barre in the city of Seattle. Earned her BFA from UMKC’s Conservatory of Dance (2010) and MA in Counseling and Psychology from The Seattle School (2015).