On a trip to New Zealand, I was touring the wine country, and the tour guide pointed out the rose bushes planted at the ends of the rows of grape vines. My initial thought was, “What a lovely idea,” and I asked if they planted white roses for white wine grapes and red roses for red wine grapes. Our guide laughed and said, “Not exactly.” He then went on to explain that the reason for the roses was that if there was a problem with aphids, they would show up on the roses first, giving the farmer ample time to protect the grapes in the vineyard.

Immediately my mind went to all the women and girls I have worked with over the years — who struggled with eating difficulties. They were like the roses in the vineyards. Because they tended to be very emotionally sensitive and highly intuitive, problems in their families, communities, or in their culture, would register in their Being more readily and symptoms of distress would show up in them more quickly.

What if we were as clever as these farmers and recognized their eating/food/body image struggles were a tangible forewarning of a problem within our entire society, our entire culture? What if our media understood that the reason the bodies of models, celebrities, and movie stars have been getting thinner and thinner over the years is not an indication of changing beauty standards or the latest eye candy for the masses – but is, instead, an attempt to alert us to the danger of dieting mentality and emotional illiteracy that exists in our culture — and threatens us all?

And what if those who are struggling with eating and weight could see themselves as part of an entire culture that has been conditioned, even manipulated, to think of thin as good and fat as bad? Imagine if they could see themselves as sensitive beings who, at some very deep level are the heralds of a larger truth … that they are sounding an alarm that there is something really, really wrong … and that they broadcasting with their bodies the need to take action, now, before the problem becomes so widespread that it destroys us all.

The problem, as I see it, is we have become such a literalized, material culture, that we are loosing our ability to allow the non-visible qualities of our hearts and souls to grow and flourish. As we focus simply on the physical, concrete aspects of our existence (our bodies) and continue to narrow our definition of what they should look like, we fail to value the aspects of our Being that make us unique and special. We are encouraged to look, think, and feel like everyone else in order to “fit in.”

The “roses” I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the years have been some of the brightest, most creative, most talented people I have ever met. But they did not see themselves that way – at least not initially. They saw themselves as worthless, incompetent, unattractive, and weird. There was a common theme underlying their diverse struggles with eating and weight. It was a pervasive sense of not quite fitting in, of not seeing things they way others did, of being a “misfit.”

My job was not to help them fit in, but rather to help them find – and celebrate — the uniqueness of their Being so they could see how their sensitive nature was an important and valuable contribution to the world – not something to get rid of. Once they learned to embrace and give voice to their “Beingness” with words, their struggles with food, fat, and dieting became a distant memory.

Can you relate to this in any way? I am curious about your thoughts and would love it if you left a comment.

Anita Johnston Ph.D.
Light of the Moon Cafe

  • That has been my belief to a long time that we are a reflection of a society that is full of disorder. I watch the media, women on the street, in shops in restaurants, especially where I live in Italy where there is so much going on around body image. Generally I feel that they fear being fat, getting old and even being women. I often feel I am carrying their sickness for them, being largish and also with a large belly. I am what they fear.
    I work very hard at loving and being compassionate with myself. It has taken a few years to be in the place but I still have moments where I forget. The more I am strong in my power and honest about myself, the easier it is for me to just be.

  • I so love what you have written Anita, and the wonderful invitation in your words. I also love the comments others have already posted – yes, your exquisite metaphor does indeed “validate self trust and feminine intuition” – just imagine the transformed world we can create together when those things become “normal” and sought after. I was delighted by your recognition of those roses – living in New Zealand I am familiar with them – and In my own work at Luna House I have used a similar approach to show that the ways in which women so commonly suffer and struggle with their menstrual cycles and menopause are like the canary in the mine, showing that there is something terribly wrong, not WITH women, but FOR women. Your lucid and liberating words show so beautifully that what needs to change is not inside us, but around us. We are inherently perfect and profound in our design – imagine if we can stop trying so hard to adapt to demands that don’t suit us, and begin instead to trust and accept everything in us that is soft, feminine, sensitive, emotional, changeable, spiritual and loving as a guide for living. Thankyou for this lovely mirror you have raised in which we can look to see ourselves as we really are. xxx Jane Catherine

  • It’s hard to say; are we just so shy or insecure that our antenna is finely tuned or is there not a place for us in this rigid culture? All I know is when I read the first chapter of your book and worked at embracing the feminine; things became so much easier. That mind set also seemed to draw kindred spirits.

  • Thank you so much Anita for this new metaphor.
    Beautifully written but not just that. It sings of my truth and existence my whole life.
    What it particularly affords is a positive focus to move forward, to be thankful for my superpower. It validates self trust and the feminine intuition.
    I can be a blooming rose, aphids and all.

  • I can completely relate to this, I have always found myself to feel like the black sheep of the family, and really found it hard to mix with people on so many levels. Though now that I am in recovery, I have found myself my authenticity. I was able to put my thoughts and feelings into words in the form of a brainstorming style template which helped me to realise the catalyst in my ED and how to work my way to seeing the real me, not me that held the hand of an eating disorder. Thank you

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