Martinis, men, and . . . monasteries? Today’s young women are smart, educated, career-oriented, and maybe a little bit fashion-obsessed. So where does the spiritual life fit in? With InStyle magazine on one nightstand, and Julian of Norwich on the other, author Donna Freitas has her finger on the pulse of a new generation of women and understands the spiritual issues that most concern them. Drawing on the stories of popular heroines such as Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw, Becoming a Goddess of Inner Poise illustrates how our life choices can have a profoundly spiritual dimension—in the bedroom, the boardroom, the beach, and at Barney’s. Freitas combines wisdom from a variety of spiritual traditions and with a generous dash of humor, giving modern women a new model for the spiritual journey
About The Author:
Donna Freitas is a professor of spirituality at Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, and the owner of an enviable shoe collection. Her research and speaking center on pop culture and women’s spirituality.
Table Of Contents:AcknowledgmentsxiIntroduction: Bridget Jones: Not Your Average Spiritual Sagexvii1The Confessions of a (Neurotic) Diary-Keeper: Why Telling Our Stories Is a Spiritual Act12Real Feminists Don't Wear Pink-or Do They? Making Spirituality Fit for Chicks (in Kitten Heels)183"Oh God, Why Am I So Unattractive?" Understanding the Body as Spiritual Temple, Not Grotesque Obstacle334"Forgive Us Our Trespasses!" When It Comes to Vice, We Shall Flourish as Tulips!495"Am Irresistible Sex Goddess! Hurrah!" When Shagging and Snogging Are Divine636"Up the Fireman's Pole": Career as Spiritually Liberating or Bane of Existence?787Bread and Wine Among Friends: Finding Spiritual Community at a Local Bar958"Have You Noticed Anything Odd About Your Mother?" Facing Family, Martyr Mums, and Smug Marital Obsessions on the Road to Enlightenment1099Tick-Tock Goes the Biological Clock: Is Chick Mummyhood a Divine Fantasy or Just Religious Fiction?12610All Goddesses Have a Romantic Side (or Ten): Love, Mr. Darcy, and Loving Mr. Darcy14111"Human Beings Are Like Streams of Water": Self-Help, Inner Poise, and Spiritual Epiphany157Epilogue: Laughing All the Way to My Debutante Ball171A Reader's Guide to the Heroines of Chick Lit: The Syllabus You Won't Find in a Course on Feminist Studies177Kindred Spirits: Conversations with Some V. Cool Real-Life Chicks: Katrina Markoff, Meg Cabot, Amy Richards, and Jennifer Baumgardner187Notes213The Author239
Understanding the Body as Spiritual Temple, Not Grotesque Obstacle
Current weight: not telling. Number of Vosges chocolate units consumed while writing this chapter: 6 (v. yummy). Number of calories consumed in approximately 5 minutes: thousands (but do not count as necessary for inspiration). Number of protein units in each chocolate: 1 (excellent as am practically keeping to Atkins-like diet if not counting the sugar).
Jailtime and Liquid Chocolate as Alternative Dieting Methods
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Like many of her female contemporaries (dare I say most, myself included), Bridget is weight-obsessed. She relentlessly counts every calorie, measures her thighs, and attempts to sweat off alcohol units and Cadbury Milktray in desperate excursions to the gym. She is convinced she would be more lovable, successful, fashionable, and sexy if she could just conform her body to a size that would allow her to fit into jeans meant for a twelve-year-old girl or, better yet, something by Marc Jacobs recently seen traveling down the runway. Thinking about Bridget in terms of body and beauty can't help but evoke images from the movie. Some of my favorites include the following: Bridget in a bunny outfit at the Tarts-and-Vicars party (which turns out to be short on Tarts and Vicars); Bridget pulling on gigantic, grandma underwear for a date with boss Daniel; Bridget running through the snow-covered London streets in a jacket and panties to find Mark Darcy. Overall with regard to Bridget's battle with her body, at the end of her first diary we learn she has lost a total of seventy-two pounds (excellent!), but then we are told that over the entire year she actually gained seventy-four (oh well-can't have everything). Bridget simply does not have the luxury of living in a Victorian-attired society in manner of Elizabeth Bennett, whose bottom remained largely hidden in flattering, empire-waist gowns that instead enhanced an ample bosom.
One of the most memorable scenes in Bridget's diaries (regarding the ever-fluctuating state of her arse) is when she makes it down to 119 pounds (hurrah!), shimmies herself into a sexy black dress, and proudly and slimly arrives at the party of her friend Jude. Bridget is ready to show off her new-and-improved bodily state yet is quickly met with a series of dismaying questions upon her arrival. "God, are you all right?" asks Jude immediately, when she sees Bridget at the door. After Bridget explains she has lost seven pounds, Jude, while staring at Bridget's "deflated cleavage," comments that "Maybe you've lost it a bit quickly off your ... face" (which we know is code for "You've lost it all in your boobs"). Over the remaining evening, Bridget is told that she looks, among other things, drawn, tired, and flat, and she even receives a concerned, post-party phone call from Tom claiming that she looked better before. Thus Bridget's "historic and joyous day" turns into a realization that after "eighteen years of struggle, sacrifice, and endeavor," her "life's work has been a total mistake" (especially since intentions were to slim thighs not boobs). And, alas, Ms. Jones didn't learn from her prior experience, since after landing herself in a Bangkok prison (on a Thai vacation with Shazzer, no less), she rationalizes a potentially tragic jail experience into an excellent pound-losing, thigh-reducing affair.
Similar to Bridget's positive rationalization of her stint in a Thai prison, I will confess here to uttering my own secret, joyous "hurrahs!" in response to a rather unfortunate fall I had not long ago. I was left with both jaw and mouth injured in such a way that I could only consume liquids (mainly large vats of liquid chocolate) and very tiny chopped-up pieces of sashimi for approximately three months. But rather than grieve this unfortunate situation, I instead saw it as an opportunity for bodily purification in manner of self-disciplined slimming regimen! I watched (v. silently) as pounds disappeared while I sipped my miracle, exercise-free, anti-Atkins diet of chocolate soup and started fitting myself into fashionably sexy low-rider jeans, like Britney Spears (at least from waist down). A complete inability to smile or move my lips was a minor inconvenience, as it enhanced my self-image as a supermodel-like figure walking down a catwalk in a sexy pout. And, of course, at the pinnacle of my waif-like bodily state, I received many Jude- and Tom-like comments from friends registering their concern at how "thin I had become since the accident." Translation: "Wow, you look horrible, and your face is hollow in addition to being immobilized by injury" (life's work all a waste).
Bodily Obsession: Transformative or Tragic?
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After acquiring an array of knowledge regarding the beauty myth, à la Naomi Wolf, and the problematic influence of magazines like Vogue and Elle on a woman's body image, my warning bells are set to go off at the weight-induced obsessions of Bridget and my own tendency to rationalize negative situations as slimming opportunities. The beauty myth advises us that Bridget-style calorie counting, despair over pound-age gain, as well as the understanding of weight loss as our life's work, is tragic in nature. Like many women today, we grow up well aware of how cultural expectations, religious institutions, and the fashion industry (almost always orchestrated by the male species) shape our mind-set regarding our bodies, beauty, and what we wear. I know enough to cringe at cultural trends like Rolling Stone's recent parade of mostly naked female pop stars on its covers, most memorably (I think, anyway) the October 2, 2003, issue with Britney baring it all from the waist up, pressed against a wall (v. porno). But I am also honest enough to get the humor in Bridget's journaling about her weight, since though I know when to cringe, I also know the realities regarding our bodies with which most of us still struggle (and when seen through Bridget are really quite funny, which is liberating in and of itself). No matter what we read about women's body and beauty images, it's difficult to shake our desire to fulfill them (though not necessarily in manner of naked appearance on magazine cover), and Bridget's obsessive calorie counting makes us laugh because so many of us obsess as much as she does.
On the topic of body image, in addition to Bridget's well-chronicled, detailed struggles with weight, thigh circumference, and daily calorie intake, Cannie Shapiro, from Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed, is also a kindred spirit. And a complex one. When her ex-boyfriend very publicly announces that he considers her a "larger woman," Cannie retains a sense of humor about her body, but she is unable to maintain Bridget's optimism in her struggles with weight. Cannie endeavors to take off the pounds. Although she can laugh about her situation, the damage that being overweight causes to her self-image and self-esteem is clear and painful to experience as a reader. While Bridget keeps us laughing in a way that helps us look at our own bodily struggles with great humor, Cannie elicits both laughter and tears as we empathize with her own ups and downs, triumphs and frustrations, seeing how body image can weigh us down in an emotionally scarring way.
There is no doubt that Bridget's and Cannie's inner struggles with their bodies, though unique in their own way, are central issues (and potentially obstacles) in their march toward Inner Poise. This also makes the body one of the best places to explore their characters as contemporary goddess figures; it's difficult for a woman to tell her story without reference to her experience of the body. Chick heroines' obsessions with their bodies have been decried by many in the media as sad and tragic, especially if we consider them an accurate representation of our bodily self-image. Well, we fans of Bridget know that part of why we love her is that we do relate and she lightens us up on the subject. Simply calling her and others sad and tragic on this particular issue misses the significance of their struggles for our purpose here.
As we think about spirituality, we need to consider the roles that body image and beauty play for us, in terms of our spiritual identity and how we think about the divine. The fact that Bridget and Cannie so honestly and humorously confess what so many of us think not only endears them to us but helps us ask some important questions. Why are we, like Bridget and Cannie, always trying to climb out of our own skins? Why are we never satisfied with what we are born with, even if we come into the world looking like the goddess-figure her boss Daniel is shagging behind Bridget's back? What is it about our willingness to endure plucking, shaving, painting, and fasting-all in the name of fashion and our drive to be beautiful and thin? Can we find the divine somewhere lurking among all of this primping and obsessing? Will we ever learn to fully love the bodies that we are? And what does it mean on a spiritual level if we cannot?
We Are But Mere Vessels (endlessly hungry ones, it seems)
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Women's concerns about calories, bra size, fashion sense, and thigh circumference go far deeper in history than our current exposure to wafer-thin models in magazines and, in fact, can be found rooted in religious history (bet you never thought you'd read "bra size" and "religious history" in the same sentence, but there they are). As women, we have the misfortune of inheriting a history where our bodies have traditionally and literally been seen as the property of men. In addition, a woman's capacity for reproduction (the biology-is-destiny idea) has historically determined her spiritual value (or her being devalued) in Western religion. In Christianity and Judaism, following Eve's apple-eating antics, both Adam and Eve learned to be ashamed of bodily nakedness, and Eve's punishment was to become the vessel to Adam's children, in utter pain and by command of God. Though a woman's body as a vessel for children is esteemed in religion, a woman's bodily capacity for childbearing has led to her association with death, since giving birth is also coupled with God's ejection of humanity from paradise and our loss of immortality (v. bizarre and unfortunate).
The traditional male-female spiritual hierarchy is as follows: women's bodies are regarded as passive in bodily development, sex, and reproduction. We can see a woman's body change in her development of curves, as if her body announces itself to the world. These changes happen to her in full view of everyone, whereas a man's bodily changes, lucky for him, remain hidden. (In other words, boobs just grow whether we like it or not.) In sex, the man is the "active" party, and the woman (supposedly) lies passively while the man "plants his seed." Then following sex we "get" pregnant, and our bodies are tied down for upwards of a couple of years if breastfeeding, emphasizing our weak bodily state. The Catholic Church goes so far as to forbid women to take precautions against getting pregnant, since they have to remain subject to "natural biological reproductive processes," as prescribed by God through scripture. This ultra-positive (am being sarcastic) view of women's bodies, of course, was written into existence by all the men in charge of things in history (including the medieval philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas, who is famous for some shockingly negative commentary about women as "misbegotten males" that has unfortunately influenced Christian understanding over the centuries).
All of the above have had a tremendous impact, not only on women's body images today but also in how we understand (or disassociate from) our bodies in relation to our spiritual identity and whether or not we are able to imagine the female body as divine. While for millennia we have been tied up with baby-making, men have not only gone out and ruled the world, laying the foundations for society and culture, but they have restricted images of God to masculine language, the male body, and male ideals of absolute power and perfection. Men see themselves as the active sex: the participants in public life, the keepers of the earth, the planters of the seed (both earthly and otherwise). Most important with regard to spirituality, men are quicker to purify their souls because they are less tied to earthly, bodily functions. They do not menstruate, give birth, or lactate for that matter, freeing them up to focus on intellectual or divine matters. The goal of the well-lived religious life has usually involved triumph over the body, and for thousands of years men have seen themselves as having bodies more adept at this battle. As a result, men have also traditionally regarded themselves as more spiritual or better suited to represent God (v. convenient as they've held all the power to determine these things), while concluding that women are more earthy in their bodily capacities and thus not worthy enough for this honor. Under patriarchy, this has led both men and women to support the notion that the male body and masculine language are most fitting to represent the divine, leading to what feminist theologian Sandra Schneiders describes as "a paralysis of the religious imagination" in how we talk about and picture the divine.
If we are to begin imagining the female body, be that the body of a Bridget Jones, a Cannie Shapiro, or ourselves as the body of a contemporary goddess, then we are going to have to do some chucking in the God-image department. Together with Bridget, and by drawing from some of the many women today who are re-imagining the divine, we can work toward letting go of this traditional God-image (v. cathartic in manner of enjoying martini as way of releasing stress post-workday). In order for us to find the goddess in Bridget and, ultimately, the goddess in ourselves, we need to think of the divine in terms of becoming (not only being), of desiring (not empty of desire), of evolving, as we, too, evolve as persons throughout the journeys of our lives. This will take an act of daring imagination on our part (as urged by Dr. Schneiders), not to mention possibly offending the male monopoly on how we are supposed to think and talk about God.
Breaking Up with God Is Hard to Do (but v. therapeutic)
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Step Number One: Think of Him and Then Try to Forget Him
The first thing we need to do as we try and locate the Girlie Feminine Divine is wipe away that image of Father God as old-man-wizard-Gandalf-in-the-sky.
Excerpted from Becoming a Goddess of Inner Poise by Donna Freitas Excerpted by permission.
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For the increasing base of 20- and 30-somethings (particularly of the single variety) who have forged their circle of friends into substitute families, created social events of television series finales and count fictional characters among their role models, here is the perfect book on spirituality. Donna Freitas, a professor of spirituality, has, like an increasing number of the new crop of Ph.D.s, found a way to legitimize our pervasive pop culture. For years, Madonna has been the subject of college classes and the Simpsons have had a recent spate of publishing attention-why not Bridget? Freitas's impressive collection of resources includes everyone from St. Augustine (Confessions) to Dorothee Soelle (Thinking About God), Grace Jantzen (Becoming Divine) to Peter Brown (The Body and Society). Directed at a generation of women born of women who marched in the streets in a desperate escape from their June Cleaveresque mothers, she emphasizes that the "challenge today is to anchor our personal journeys toward Inner Poise within the communities that already surround us, exploring the spiritual possibility in the rituals we already practice and the spiritual leaders we already are." Throughout, Freitas delights with her Bridget-inspired voice (the Bridget-speak is fun, but over the top) while seamlessly showing her prowess as a student and teacher of spirituality. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
|Book:||Becoming A Goddess Of Inner Poise: Spirituality For The Bridget Jones In All Of Us|
|Number of Pages:||272|
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