What does it mean to be a woman? - Suzanne Heyn

What does it mean to be a woman?

What does it mean to be a woman?

I’m waking up from being ashamed of my body. And believe me, I didn’t think I was ashamed.

For example, I’ve lived much of my life crossing my legs when I sit. It’s what women do. Society says only men spread their legs when they sit. Why? Why are some people so embarrassed to do happy baby pose or supta baddha konanasa, lying down with the soles of the feet touching and knees bent, spread outward? The conditioning goes that deep.

For years my body and I had a deceptively simple relationship. And because of that, I’ve mostly ignored it.


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Sure, I eat healthy and exercise, but have I embraced my feminine power? My right to feel totally comfortable in my own skin?


Society says: girls, watch your bodies

I developed young, and as my breasts budded in about the fourth grade, the boys came wandering over. I didn’t like the attention and so hid myself, ashamed that these pockets of fat could attract so much unwanted attention.


Society says it’s the girls’ fault, we must hide ourselves to prevent unwanted attention. Not that little boys must learn to respect women’s bodies as they do their own. 


I drank my way through college, hitting every bar in sight and enjoying my pretty face, cute enough body and ability to attract men. So long as I was drunk at the club. But that was my life, my delusion. And it was the truth at the time. My womanhood was my sensuality, my self-esteem predicated on my ability to attract a suitably hot mate.

During this time, even though I used my body to walk, to drink, to dance, I thought little of it, living mostly inside my head. My body was something that I inhabited fully when intoxicated, but the rest of the time I took up as small a space as possible. I relied on alcohol to make me feel powerful, like I imagined a woman should feel.

That changed when at 27, I lost my breasts to cancer. I have implants and nipples for anyone who cares, but they’re not the same. But the thing that really changed my relationship to my sexuality was the hysterectomy.

Cancer developed because I have the BRCA2 mutation, which greatly increases the risk for not only breast cancer, but also ovarian cancer. I had surgery to reduce the risk.

At 27, I went from a girl transitioning out of her party days to bald, boobless and in menopause. It took me a long time to feel beautiful again. Even now, it’s totally fine to talk about breasts, but early menopause? I can feel many of you turning away. I would want to.

The past five years have been an interesting journey of reclaiming my femininity. Learning to feel beautiful and womanly, without many of the attributes considered classically feminine.

Tapping into the power of feeling comfortable in my body and redefining what it is to be a woman. Without alcohol. Without the physicality. If I don’t have breasts, can’t have children or even get my period, what is it that makes me a woman?


It’s got to be deeper than sex. 

While getting more involved with spirituality, I learned about the Divine Feminine, and for the first time began asking questions like, yes, why can’t women show their nipples when it’s perfectly fine for men to?

Why is a woman who cares for the family and home worth less to society simply because she doesn’t make money? Why are women who choose to stay home and nurture their children looked down upon, like they should want more?

Not that staying home is the right choice for all women, but those who want to play an important role.

This is the first time in my life I’ve  thought deeply about these questions. I never really thought what it was to be a woman because honestly, I was busy trying not to be one. Trying to act cool like a guy, tough like a guy to get ahead and be taken seriously. Women have hurt me, as I’m sure I’ve hurt them, and I had a strained relationship with my own gender.

I doubt I’m the only one.


We often talk about class warfare, but what about gender warfare?

With women stepping all over each other’s toes in the workplace to make it in the masculine world, overrun by aggression and competition. Why not assert our femininity as our divine right and the perfect complement to the masculine energies that have ravaged the planet and left many people without clean air, clean water or good education?


Feminine qualities balance the male

The issue about body acceptance goes much deeper than loving our bodies. It’s about loving and respecting feminine qualities, including Earth, the ultimate mother, and our innate femininity, which is much deeper than a breast. It’s about seeing sensuality as more than something that’s available for men, and at the same time, our relationship with men as something deeper than intercourse.


The Divine feminine encapsulates qualities like creation, receptivity, intuition and compassion. The feminine is about nurturing, strength from receptivity and wisdom. It’s about rest. It’s the moon to the fiery sun. The yin to the yang.


Society can’t yet accept the feminine because opening up to this powerful, divine force means an upheaval for these times of scarcity and competition.

It means loving people we’ve pitted ourselves against. Seeing ourselves in the people we’ve marginalized. Loving ourselves when the world’s economy turns on not enough.

Masculine traits have their place, and I’m not anti-man at all — I’m married to an awesome one — but we need balance.

And most of all, we women need to love ourselves. Love our bodies for their curves and their amazing abilities. Build muscle because we want muscle and not because we want to impress the guys. Connect to each other because we need each other.

Not be ashamed of our private parts because they’ve been shamed for centuries. Not limit our definition of what it means to be a woman by sex or body parts because we are so much more than sexual beings. But all the while embracing our sensuality because it’s our divine right.

I feel like sex and love have gotten really intertwined, and it’s not the whole story. Love isn’t just erotic love.


Love is holding your loved one’s hand as she goes through her first chemo treatment. Love is telling her she’s beautiful when she’s bald.


And love is being there for her, no matter what. Boobs, ovaries, hair, whatever. These are body parts. And while we live through the body, we feel through the soul. Being a woman is a soul experience. An experience of feeling and interacting with the world a certain way. With compassion, committed to creation and opening up to the intuitive forces that guide us.

And for me, as I come to terms with not having these pieces that I relied upon to feel whole, I’m learning to tap into my body, my fluidity, my sexuality from a  more soulful place. A place not of feeling from the outside in, but from the inside out.

Digging deeper to feel feminine again, I learn to accept my body as it is. Not because of what it looks like or the parts it has, but because of the spirit it contains inside.

What do you think makes a woman? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Suzanne Heyn is a spiritual blogger and online course creator here to help soulful creatives live from the heart. If you're ready to discover your purpose, live in abundance and experience the freedom your heart longs for, you're in the right place. All the wisdom you need is right inside your soul, and I’m here to help you find it.

  • Kirsty says:

    Thank you Suzanne! This post resonated with me today. I have struggled with body image issues my whole life, however in the past year I’ve learned to be more accepting and loving of my body and who I am, now and in the moment. Yoga has also really helped me overcome this and realise how strong my body is and that I’m something more than my parts. Thank you for sharing your story here and on Instagram. I look forward to reading your posts every day 🙂 x

    • Modern Yogi says:

      Hi Kirsty,

      Thank you so much for the kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and am so, so happy you are embracing your beautiful body. Thank you for commenting and sharing a piece of your journey here.

      With love,

  • Shannon says:

    Thank you for that beautiful article. I am 52 and have been struggling with the aging process. I have always put too much stock in my younger appearance and now am feeling a little depleted. On top of this, I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. With chemo causing hair loss, I began looking like an old baby doll. Last night my daughter’s girlfriend shaved my head. The idea of losing my golden locks horrified me, but then the idea took on a whole other dimension. Wouldn’t it be so nice to get to know a beauty in myself not based on what our society deems beautiful and has actually caused me some anxiety as a woman. To get to know myself as a woman from a woman’s definition and not from man or media. I think it may be very empowering , finally, and to learn to realize my potential as a woman and to love myself without the opposite sex’s approval. I also am married to a wonderful man, but how much did I love myself based on his approval of my appearance and sex? My two daughters and their friends (all in their early 20’s) were surrounding me for the shave. I hope they, in some small way, could or someday will, draw some strength from it and see that it’s not just outwardly things that make you beautiful and desirable. Anyway, thank you for your wonderful article, as always.

    • Modern Yogi says:

      Hi Shannon,

      I’m so deeply sorry you are going through this right now. And you just shaved your head. That was such a difficult time for me. Sending you so much love and blessings for health. I’m here for you if you need anything, advice or just to vent to someone who understands what you’re going through.

      It seems like you’re going into this with such a wonderful attitude, to see what you can learn. Of course you’ll have difficult days and that’s totally normal. Let yourself feel it all!

      So much love,

  • Clair says:

    Wow that was truly such an enjoyable read, I look forward to reading more. Thank you so much for your light !! You are a gift. Blessings to you and your loved ones. _Clair.

  • Kristina says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    The question of what makes one a woman is always an interesting one and, in these days of media conditioning how women should regard themselves, very important. I too have struggled very much (and still am) about my body image and accepting my body and femininity. Although I didn’t suffer some life-threatening disease, I do have hirsutism which robbed me of feeling like a women. That is, until I realized that it isn’t the hirsutism that robbed me but society which forces certain criteria of femininity that I can’t apply to myself. As Simone de Beauvoir said, one is not born a woman but becomes one (same applies to man; and she is not talking about biology, but about social roles). And she was quite right.
    Anyway, although I think yin-yang approach to this question is a fine one, my opinion is that we should try to transcend the distinction altogether. We are, after all, first and foremost human beings. But since we live in a society where women are still reduced to their bodies and different stereotypes, first we need to find a way to redescribe what a woman is in empowering way which will allow us to accept ourselves and feel comfortable in our skin. That is what you do in this article, and what every woman should do in her own way.
    If you did not read The Second Sex of Simon de Beauvoir, I recommend it. Nice starting point to deepen approach to this question.
    Best of luck,

    • Modern Yogi says:

      Hi Kristina,

      Thank you for sharing your story! I agree, it’s awesome to transcend gender roles and connect with our innate humanness. But I’m also a big believer that we’re on earth to enjoy the human experience and part of that, for me, is reveling in my femininity, whatever that means at any particular moment in time.

      I’m so happy you’ve dug deeper and found meaning in your experience with hirsutism. Will definitely check out The Second Sex.

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your story!

      All the best,

  • […] our patriarchal society, women are expected to do it all — raise children without complaint, do it joyfully and with a constant smile, while maintaining a […]

  • seemakarkal says:

    Wow, truly touched. Thankyou for sharing your beautiful brave life story. I wish you good in everything for you!

    Bangalore, India

  • […] What Does it Mean to be a Woman? –> One woman’s beautiful account of reclaiming her body, her femininity and her life […]

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