News, Blogs and Updates from Wife, Mother, Author, Activist -- Carre Otis
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While in Milan for Fashion Week I sat and talked with the wonderful people from Vogue Italia.
Watch the entire interview.
When you become a parent, it’s not all about you anymore. Thankfully! A new level of awareness and responsibility springs forth, a powerful concern for another’s well-being. For me, having two young daughters has not only expanded my access to joy and deepened my sense of gratitude, but it has heightened my concern for the dangerously subversive messages they’ve already started to receive.
While I’ve been a devoted social activist and champion of women’s issues for some time, it wasn’t until this “Mama Bear” instinct kicked in that I truly understood the media’s influence and the grave implications it has on the way women feel about themselves. It’s not just the lone advertisement that screams, “Find Mr. Right Before it’s Too Late!” or the single magazine cover plastered defiantly with “Fight Aging!” that’s going to demolish one’s self-esteem. It’s the cumulative effect of this constant barrage that erodes and undermines our confidence.
The good news is that we have choices about how we react to such messaging and how we relate to other women. I’ve learned to surround myself with women who lift me up and leave me feeling nurtured rather than drained. I’ve learned to watch my words too, particularly around my daughters — two of my greatest teachers — doing my best not to gossip about other women or even myself. If they were to hear me put some of those seemingly automatic thoughts on loudspeaker, such as, “I look bad today… Look at those bags under my eyes…” I now understand that it would impact them in a profoundly unhealthy way. Just as young people absorb all kinds of messages from the media, young girls learn what it means to be a woman by watching the older women in their lives. As role models to young girls, we have some big challenges ahead of us.
I’m proud that today, at 43 years old, I’ve come to value the aging process and focus on inner rather than outer beauty. This has come with time, spiritual practice, motherhood and many mistakes along the way. I’ve learned to anticipate growing older with a sense of excitement. I want my daughters to see their mother fearlessly and gracefully claiming her body, her voice and her years.
Easier said than done, of course. For me, it’s required discipline: Just as I’m careful about what my daughters are exposed to, I’m just as careful with myself. I avoid magazines that critique what female celebrities are wearing, what they’re buying and what they look like. I skip right past channels that exploit “cat fights” or reality shows. And I’ve learned to walk away from any real-life judgmental conversations about women. They bring me down. They bring us all down.
In order to cultivate a healthier outlook, I’ve worked hard to shift some of my personal paradigms as well. In the modeling industry, while my own image sold dangerous messages to others, I too was receiving some pretty warped misinformation about standards of beauty. I internalized shame about aging — it was something to run from, lie about. I was encouraged to jump on every job I could before my 20-something expiration date. But even before modeling, I’d been trained by my own cultural influences to worry about my looks and fear those inevitable wrinkles and stretch marks. Long before I was a part of the media-machine, I’d decided that there was essentially only one good way to look — young.
How do we maintain a healthy concept of beauty? What does it mean to look and feel beautiful in a time when shielding ourselves from such messages is nearly impossible? In an era when revealing how old we are is taboo and asking a woman her age is impolite, a risky social move akin to bringing up religion or politics at the dinner table. If she dares to state her age, she’s given a “compliment,” whether sincere or not, such as, “Wow. You don’t look your age.” Why in the world has that become a hoped-for complement? Why would looking one’s age be something to dread?
Yes, media’s a culprit, but it’s hardly the only player contributing to this fear of aging and these warped ideas about beauty. I feel the media can and should help host the solution. I blog, I tweet, I sat for a round of television interviews to promote my memoir and I recently walked the runway in Milan for the only “plus size” designer to showcase at ANY Fashion Week.
Just as I screen what my daughters view, I’m also the “mama bear” in my professional career, and I select exactly how and where I want to insert myself into the media and what messages I want to convey. I believe that no “look,” no matter how seemingly flawless, equals happiness.
I often wonder how women, together, can transmit such positive messages on a larger scale. How extraordinary would it be to experience a supportive sense of community, one that collectively dismissed toxic media messages? How beautiful would it be to feel part of a unified whole, a member of a powerful sisterhood. What if we sought to actively create such a community and then committed to nurturing it on an ongoing basis? I think this begins at the individual level, first rethinking how we relate to ourselves, then to each other — at home, at work, and even online with like-minded strangers. I’d like to think this is possible. I’m committed to doing my part for my daughters, for our daughters; and I’d like to do this work with other women who think it’s possible, too.
So happy I could share my thoughts with Jason Wachob from MindBodyGreen. Check out my interview here.
Thrilled to support The Model Alliance! Take a few minutes and read my latest article at modelalliance.org .
Hi everyone! I wanted to let you know that my talk about healing sexual intimacy with trauma survivor and certified professional coach Michele Rosenthal is now available online here- Healing Sexual Intimacy. Michele and I had such a great discussion a month back that she asked me to join her again on her show. She also asked if I would ‘guest blog’ for her website this month. Healing Sexual intimacy is part of the profound work I have done and I thought it an appropriate subject with the upcoming Day of Love/ Valentines day around the corner.
You can learn more about Michele here: Your Life After Trauma
Long ago in my life there was a yearning. I struggled to find my way. I searched, wondering if this ‘thing’ was outside of me? Perhaps it was a ‘place’ I might someday arrive at. If only I could have more of ‘this’, do more of ‘that’, experience more of me, love more of you. On and on it went, reaching towards the external. Whether it was obsessive shopping for mundane things I didn’t need, or indulging in substances that would never fill the void, it all resulted in an unfulfilled desire that pulled me down. This grasping and lack of fulfillment continued for nearly two decades.
I thought I would never find my way back home to a place where I no longer had to search restlessly. I wanted to be in a place that was settled, soft, open, and aware. Above all, I wanted to be content. That craving took me on a different kind of journey. And as I found the courage to travel both internally and externally I began to find my footing.
Part of that external journey took me to Katmandu, gateway to the Himalayas. I traveled by foot, up winding mountain passes, across hanging bridges that swayed over great white water rivers that fed the lands below.
I traveled by train, plane, bus and horseback, through cities filled with smiling faces, ancient languages, cows standing proud in the midst of traffic jams on crowded city streets. I visited the sacred temples and Stupas, lit candles and whispered mantras. I sat at the feet of extraordinary teachers, listening for hour upon hour to all that they had to share. I was not the first to come to visit them. I would not be the last.
Of course I was in search of the Lama. The Guru. I had traveled across oceans to find the master teacher who would have every answer. I dutifully attended loud and sweaty yoga classes, trying not to be irritated with the politics some of the teachers preached while the class was groaning and struggling in downward facing dog.
One damp and grey day in Malibu, I walked the windswept beach. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I watched as the menacing waves rolled in, shifting the patterns of sand and stone, transforming all that they washed over. I returned home, dried off and made a cup of tea. I was alone with only the sound of the distant ocean for company. I had been living alone for several years and despite all my travels, all of my yoga classes, all of the teaching’s, I still was alone.
I realized in that moment that at a certain point, the search must stop. I had been so damn busy searching that I hadn’t yet taken that final step. I had to surrender. What I had been searching for was within. I just needed to do the precious work to reveal and stabilize it.
I took the basics that I had been given, the treasured instructions that are shared between teacher and student, and began to put these principles in to practice. I began to recognize when I slipped back into seeking balance externally, and to counteract that urge by literally sitting with it. I sat with it on my meditation cushion or just by taking several deep breaths. Step by step, day by day, I wove a thread of continuity. I made a commitment to follow through, and to be with what was. Instead of going out on a shopping spree or getting ‘busy’ with mind-numbing activities, I would turn my attention towards more mindful things, like weeding my garden or writing in my journal. Everything that arose became an opportunity to practice mindfulness and compassion. Almost paradoxically, out of this peace the great passion of my life arose.
This spirit permeated my existence and my actions. It became an energy that was so perfectly woven into every fiber of my being that all I needed to do to access it was to slow down. It infused my intuition, my answer and question process, my overall sense of calm and contentment.
The process of searching outside of myself had blinded me, as it has blinded so many others, from what was right there all along. At last, I was able to directly connect with this passion and it fueled me to discover the many ways to meet my life’s purpose. By realizing — or rather, remembering — that the fire of passion must first be ignited from within before we can experience it externally.
I now feel I embrace this fire in my everyday life. I find it cuddling with my daughters in bed before the sun rises, or embracing my husband after a long trip, to the work I do speaking with teenagers about self esteem and healthy identity issues. Passion-in the purest sense of the word-is my life force and my enthusiasm for sharing this passion is what guides my way.
How we feel about ourselves and bodies affects much more than I think we realize. Our self image, confidence and feelings of self worth ricochet out through the universe — and certainly the universe of our daily lives and interactions. Our feelings impact other people, shaping their feelings about us as well as about themselves.
Do you feel happy? Confident? Beautiful? Centered in your place and mission in your workplace? At home? In relationship? With your children? With self and others?
Self-love is the battery that powers every other kind of love.
I believe many of us suffer the effects of living on an autopilot of low self esteem and negativity. We’re shut down, dismissing the very need to be in healthy dialogue with our inner selves.. The relationship with self must be nurtured first before we can expect to experience fulfilling and reciprocated relationships in other areas of our lives. Self-love is the battery that powers every other kind of love.
By inquiring inwardly about the exact nature of the relationship we have with our self we can identify where that nurturing might need to take place. Let me explain what that looks like.A decade ago, when I was actively working on recovering from 20 years of anorexia, I began to unravel and understand the exact dialogue I was unconsciously having with myself. I used harsh words of judgement and criticism to cover up the fear and loneliness I was experiencing. I was angry, but I was persevering in my healing process.
One day, after a long session with my therapist, I was at home attempting to prepare a meal. Food preparation was part of my therapy and it invoked fear and dread. I was still convinced food equalled fat and that my body would betray me. As I numbly cut vegetables and watched the clock on my brown rice, I became acutely aware of the discussion that was going on within. “Bad. Fat. Ugly.” The words grew louder. Like a cruel mantra these words encircled me. I was amazed and saddened. Was this really the way I spoke to myself? I picked up the phone to report this discovery to my therapist. I felt like finally the crust of ignorance had been cracked and I finally knew exactly what that unconscious dialogue was.
For the first time, crucially, I experienced true compassion for myself. I felt heartbroken for the woman standing alone in the kitchen. Saddened that anyone, let alone my own self would call her such terrible names. Intellectually, I knew I wasn’t bad or fat or ugly, but those words had played automatically in my head for so long that I believed them almost at my core.
Over the next few months I worked diligently to break this automatic response. My mantra shifted, slowly, to one of love and affirmation. I counteracted the negative every time I caught it and learned to closely monitor my triggers, understanding that any time I felt frightened or alone I tended to go on an abusive inner rant.
Meditating on this carefully and patiently helped to arm me with some basic defenses. Deep breathing and journaling did their healing work. Slowly, and it was slowly, my relationship with myself became one of love, respect and compassion.
It took years of solo work and transformation to see how this inner relationship with self affected every single thing around me, from job opportunities to relationships with friends and lovers.
By taking responsibility for how I felt about myself I was able to transform my relationship with the outside world.
There are some questions that we must ask ourselves. And as hard as the search for the true answers will be, the transformation we experience and the gifts that come from the resulting balance are worth the work. But we can’t leave a single stone unturned.