Starving for Approval: Anorexia & the Mother Shadow.

Via Candice Holdorf
on Mar 1, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

To-day’s your natal day;

Sweet flowers I bring:

Mother, accept, I pray

 My offering.

And may you happy live,

 And long us bless;

Receiving as you give

Great happiness.

~To My Mother, Christina Rossetti

Ask any anorexic who has a shred of consciousness around his or her behavior, 99% of them will say, “It’s not about the food.” And as much as it’s “not about the food,” it’s also not about the models in the magazines, the actresses on the TV or the media. Sorry to blow your cover, finger-pointers, but I am done using the media as my scapegoat.

Yes, I agree that a lot of the images shown are heavily photoshopped and are idealized versions of beauty that no one could possibly attain. I also agree that many of the images –– especially of women –– are dismissive at best,like when she plays the one-dimensional “love object” to a male protagonist or deeply damaging at worst –– like when she is a glorified corpse for abuse and rape.

But as difficult as it is to admit, they are giving us exactly that for which we are asking. 

Honestly, how many times have you and I looked at the TV and said, or at least thought:

“How old is she?!”

“Check out that plastic surgery!”

“He has gained some weight!”

“Ugh! What a slut!”

We, inside our own personal psyches, have an internal war of judgment and hatred that is then reflected in the cultural ideals with which we are surrounded. And then that judgment is projected when we see something as “ugly” (that fat whore really needs to just give it up) OR when we see someone “beautiful” (she only got that role because she was fucking the director. Give that skinny bitch a hamburger!).

How can anyone possibly win when everything around us is a mirror of our own self-doubt and fear?

We as a society are all walking around starving for approval and are too full of pride to admit just how much we want it. This approval somehow validates our right to exist in the world, but it is a temporary salve—a fast-food, quick fix so that we don’t have to face the deeper hunger within.

For me, anorexia is the quick fix. For example:

1. It keeps my body small and childlike, so I get to have the concerned attention of those around me, rather than overtly admitting my desire and risking rejection.

2. It keeps my ovaries and pelvis frozen, so as not to run the risk of pregnancy (because that would require a level of responsibility that I could never handle).

3. It dulls out the hunger within. This way, I don’t have to face how greedy I am and thus won’t feel the shame that comes with admitting that I haven’t done the work to know what I want. Or oftentimes I know exactly what I want, but expressing that, comes with a high price. That price is usually in the form of people’s judgments –– which is humiliating and hits my vanity in a deep way. “Are you sure that’s what you want?” “That sounds way out there.” “You just like the attention.” “LA is just not your kind of town.” “Is that really for the greater good?” “Be reasonable.” “Save some for the rest of us.” “You’re not ready for that yet.”

4. It keeps my world organized and sane –– all I have to do is be the good girl and get the good grades and be president of all the clubs and eat the good foods and avoid the bad ones and then I will be liked and will have earned some sort of credit in your world and you will allow me to stay with you for another day –– yeah, that one’s really warped, ain’t it?

In my case, this hunger for approval shows up strongly in what I call my “Mother Shadow.” Caroline Myss talks about different variations of the Mother archetype, but the overarching one that every woman has inside of her is the nurturing, loving caretaker.

Msartist Theresa Huse

Yes, every woman has this archetype in her. We are biologically wired to house and nourish life: breasts, hips, vagina, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, estrogen –– the whole lot. Now of course, not every woman expresses this energy through giving birth to physical children. Some women are doctors, some found charities, some are community leaders, some save orphaned kittens. It doesn’t matter how this energy is expressed, but that it is acknowledged, integrated and given an outlet.

What makes this energy a “shadow” for me, is that somewhere down the line I have chosen to reject it. For quite some time I have had an intense phobia of getting pregnant –– like, my life was going to end if that ever happened to me. I have also focused very heavily on being a “career” woman –– someone so driven by her oh-so-important life purpose, that I didn’t have time for that weak stuff. And I will also admit that there is a residual shame leftover from the feminist movement that if I showed any signs of domesticity, I was not in favor of women’s rights.

Now, I may get in a lot of trouble for saying this, but well…it’s my article, so fuck it. While I am extremely grateful for the women’s movement and for what it did to bring to light the gender inequalities within society, I think it did a disservice to the deeper feminine energies within us. It taught us how to act like men—or rather, provide us with the false sense of masculinity that parades this planet as being “in one’s power.”

Goal-driven, unwavering, never showing emotion, working non-stop, constantly producing, going up, up, up.

This particular flavor of nurturing Mother energy needs the soft, quiet receptivity of moment to moment connection and intimacy. This is at the heart of what we are missing within our culture and the very thing for which we are starving.

I was all good at being seen as Kali. Or the Bitch, the Whore, the Sex Queen or any other kind of wild and destructive feminine archetypes. But since I had rejected the Mother within me, I had to find secret ways to “sneak” her into my life (for that is how a shadow works—if you deny it in the conscious mind or body, the unconscious will find ways to get a hit through the back door, whether you like it or not).

So, like a drug addict or an anorexic who has her once-a-week-secret-cookie fix, I would seek out the constant approval of women I considered to be authorities to me.

Teachers, leaders, mentors, family members, even my own mother. I was morphing myself, moment by moment, into this person that would be likeable and loveable enough to receive the momentary nourishment of a Mother’s love.

Of course the problem with that is, somewhere down the line, I forgot who I was. My validation became a search of some feminine external, rather than the integrated feminine within myself.

And so when I would slip up and my cover was blown, I revealed myself to be someone altogether different that who I pretended to be. It almost felt like an act of betrayal to those I loved, and most importantly, to myself.

I thank the Universe for my anorexia. Some may say “Oh my God! If only we had known then we could have prevented this from happening to her.” But what you are missing that anorexia is not the cause of my pain, but a warning signal that some other thing in my life is out of alignment –– that I am not living authentically in my skin.

To use the analogy of putting your hand on a hot stove, the anorexia is not the hot stove itself, causing the burn. The anorexia is the bundle of pain receptors sending messages to my brain saying, “Take your hand off this stove before you kill yourself!”

And so, here I am. In San Fran-Fucking-Cisco (of all the most randomof places), facing the fertile Mother within me and learning to love her deeply. To expose my hunger

Jérôme Gauthier

and embrace the possibility of getting full and fat and pregnant with energy and giving birth to something. Receiving love, in all its forms, and knowing that I don’t have to produce anything in return or have all the answers. Redefining what success is for me and cultivating an unbearable amount of gentle patience with myself as I learn to take responsibility for my life. And, to answer the most dangerous question of all –– the one that may have me spinning in circles for lifetimes to unveil.

It’s a question we all have, really. We spend millions of dollars every year on gym memberships, guru books, self-help workshops, therapy sessions and calls to the psychic friends network in the hopes that someone will give us the quick answer. Or, we spend billions on porn, alcohol, television, cigarettes, shopping, sugar and empty-calorie sex so that we can numb or distract ourselves to point where we don’t hear this question lurking in our basement anymore.

It’s time to turn on the lights. My shadows are quickly exposing themselves. And when the anorexia comes around again, I will get down on my knees and give thanks –– for then I will know another rejected piece of me is waiting just behind that veil of fear. And in meeting her, I will have come one layer closer towards answering that ultimate question: Who am I?


Editor: Lindsay Friedman 


About Candice Holdorf

Candice Holdorf is a writer, performer, sex + life coach and Orgasmic Meditation trainer. She is currently working on her book, “From 6 to 9 and Beyond: Widening the Lens of Feminine Eroticism.” You can pre-order your copy here. She is a writer for elephantjournal and The Good Men Project, as well as a performer and public speaker specializing in desire, sexuality and Orgasmic Meditation. She is also a former yoga teacher and recovering anorexic who has discovered that there is tremendous power inside of hunger. Find out more about Candice on her blog, follow her on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube


25 Responses to “Starving for Approval: Anorexia & the Mother Shadow.”

  1. Beth says:

    Powerful Piece Candice………I've never experienced anorexia but………..I can relate to your understanding of what "it" is in your life! I have felt the crave for approval in my world….right now, I AM pregnant with some really powerful, life changing energy that will blossom my life wide open on a whole new plain-
    We are the one's we've been waiting for! Had an orgasmic vision experience last night: I am a lover of the Law of Attraction and I see my wildly abundant life with me in it- with all the juicy goodness that I've ever envisioned- yeah, it's in my scopes and has been for quite some time- the difference is this~ I finally put the pieces together! I forgot to bring myself along, my truest, most authentic, rawest form of ME along! And Now I am HERE! I have arrived and I am ready-
    thank you and all the women who share through some beautiful writing pieces- Blessed BE!
    With BIG love and oceans of gratitude!

  2. Thank you so much Beth for taking the time to read it. I am it touched you–you seem to be on the path to really knowing yourself and bringing that beauty to the world. Go for it sister! Much love and gratitude to you…

  3. Sara says:

    Orgasm is the compass for our deepest desire? Explain.

  4. Caroline says:

    This is an absolutely amazing, fucking beautiful article. Thank you so much. I can relate in more ways than one, thank you. I am going to read this at least twice more.

  5. Dominique says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful, honest piece.

  6. issa says:

    candice, i cannot thank you enough for your honesty and sensitive personal insights. this too, has been a lifelong struggle for me. it's one that i find many people don't understand — an ex actually used to make me "report" what i did and did not eat, which of course exacerbated everything. i teared up when i read this: " anorexia is not the cause of my pain, but a warning signal that some other thing in my life is out of alignment –– that I am not living authentically in my skin." thank you thank you thank you. your words and your story show that it is possible to cultivate that authenticity! with gratitude and well wishes.

  7. JoanaSmith says:

    Wow– Revelation! Amazing observation about the mother shadow. I had anorexia for a number of years, too. I got over it by learning how to relax and not find my validation in others' approval, but the thing about the mother shadow, I believe, is a deeper level to it that I didn't understand until now. Thank you for helping me. I'm totally being serious, here. I think this post is going to change the way I think, Candice. Wow.

    It's a problem of our culture just how much we find ourselves looking to movies/television/culture to tell us who to look like/act like…I was an actress, too, and I was always trying to "embody" this or that young hot thing back in my "tweens" and it was just such a hollow pursuit that had me wasting time wandering through malls, squandering away what little money I had, thirsty; trying to be something that advertisers were promising would bring me love.

    Also, I think *watching* actually makes us more critical of ourselves and others, but it's difficult in a society that is so separate by distance and concrete. Images on tv, computers, etc, aid us in that feeling of connectivity with other human beings even though it's not really connecting, it can't bring us satisfaction in the same way that gorging on processed food doesn't nourish us. We need to learn how to do/be and find joy in what we create/grow. Getting back to nature and what's real.

    Coincidentally–I made a post today on elephant about the mother, too. Please check it out. I'd love to connect more. I think we're cut from the same cloth.

  8. Thank YOU for taking the time to read…I am glad it resonated with you…big love and gratitude to you as well and many blessings on your journey 🙂

  9. Caroline says:

    I really can relate to this article, so thank you .

  10. Paul says:

    Beautifully authentic. This article is soaked with truth. Thank you!

  11. Thank you for reading!!

  12. I'm so glad! Thank you for reading it…

  13. Thank you so much for reading. I'm glad you can relate…sometimes putting one's self out there is really scary, as we are never sure how it will be received. I am grateful that it touched you. Be well…

  14. Thank you for reading it!! Be well…

  15. Wow! What a beautiful reflection…thank you. Yes I also had to endure the scrutiny of the food reporting, and yes, I just rebelled against whoever was "punishing" me…I am grateful you took the time to read it and well wishes to you as well…

  16. Thanks for your thoughtful reflection Joana. I think the point of "watching' and not being able to deeply connect and know intimacy is, at its deepest sense, what we are truly seeking. Your post was lovely by the way. Bright and beautiful photos. Yes, would be happy to connect more!!

  17. Hah! Well, it's hard to fully describe in a small post, but at its essence, I am not using orgasm as how you normally think of it (as climax) but as the underlying creative force that births every moment. It's the energy that drives us and when we are connected to that, we no longer fight who we are and what we are born to do. Does that help clarify a bit?

  18. rawganics says:

    Lovely stuff! Thanks for passing it over to us.

  19. Thanks for reading 🙂

  20. […] behavior from their children and feel extreme guilt over any inability to do so. Because guilt and shame are correlated with eating disorders, this may actually create a self-perpetuating […]

  21. […] Over the years, I saw how letting go of something for a period of time might work for other people, but I never saw myself as having any tangible addictions. Yeah I could give up alcohol—but really, the few glasses of wine I have a week? Will that really teach me a lesson? I rarely smoked, so that was off the table. And food? Well, I tried to give that up for seven years straight, but that’s another story. […]

  22. […] know this place. I took up residence here for a number of years, starving myself in the addiction of anorexia in the attempt to quell the voices of a ravenous (and […]

  23. […] OM is a practice that has enriched my life immeasurably. I went from a frightened, anorexic, ‘good girl’ who used relationship as a means of escape to a woman who has acknowledged her hunger as her power […]