Saturday, 21 May 2011

Trying to talk about my body

I'm not sure how to even start the internal conversations I want to have about my body. I always seem to be on the defensive, trying to prove myself one way or another. I guess it comes with the territory of being fat, being female, and a whole host of things that put me in a constant war in which my body is weapon, territory and battleground, usually all at once.

I've been thinking about a lot of things around this; about why I feel so strongly that my arms up to at least my elbows, and my whole legs, should be covered - and this isn't any kind of religious or moral principle, and I'm pretty sure it's not a phobia or an anxiety thing, it just is. I've been thinking about my utter lack of awareness, where I've done things like stood on a nail and known I was in pain but had no idea which part of the body the pain was in, and what this says about my relationship with my body.

If you read my posts regularly you'll realise that I tend to give a lot of examples with no real point. If there is a point in this it's that my body and the way I think about it are really fucking complicated. I'm not sure if it's any more complicated than anyone else's because hey, half my point (yes, I've gone from no real point to between 0.5 and 1.5 points, what of it?) is that I don't tend to express this often. And lately I've been finding that a lot of the fat acceptance/HAES type models that have done so much to change - arguably save - my life, really limiting.

I understand why people find it so important to talk about bodies as neutral - sometimes it's a shorthand for morally neutral, which I utterly agree with - and sometimes it's creating a space away from the constant shit about how seemingly everything isn't acceptable. And I understand why people want to celebrate them, as a reaction against the constant shit. And I understand that many people simply feel that their bodies are neutral, or awesome and something to be celebrated.

Bodies as neutral is a good starting point. But for me my body carries a lot of history, the evidence, both positive and negative, of a lot of my life, in all kinds of different ways. I gained a lot of weight in my teens dues to medical error - and not the sort of "crap I measured out the wrong dose" error that we all understand how we could make, but a series with a deep institutional basis, a whole heap of prejudice, and an utter disrespect for the autonomy of, and unwillingness to listen to, a teenage girl who didn't interact with them as teenage girls should. There have been other, unpleasant factors outside my control that have influenced my weight as well.

I'm trying to work out a way to acknowledge this. To acknowledge the physical effects of having bodily autonomy removed without going back to hating my body. To talk about this in appropriate spaces without coming across as being a good fatty because I have an excuse, unlike everyone else (I very much doubt I'd have been skinny anyway, but this isn't the point). I'm not even sure there is a way, in the context I live in, to acknowledge the link between my body and hurt without buying into a societal disapproval directed at myself, but it's an attempt I'm beginning to make anyway.


Anonymous said...

I don't think women should feel dissatisfied with their bodies. I think most of the pressure we put on ourselves to be attractive comes from our own desire to find a partner or be sexually attractive to others. In my opinion the majority of men decide whether they like a woman or not based on whether she is good looking. Superificial I know, but it's why beauty matters so much in today's society. However some men place more importance on the other qualities that woman has to offer.

I have written a few posts for 'It happenz blog' that pertain to body image (under the pseudomyn, Freckles).


LudditeJourno said...

Hey Anthea,
thank you for this. It is, quite simply, beautiful and honest. I agree with you about how complicated this is, and about our bodies being road maps to our experiences of life, both good and bad.
I've spent a huge amount of time trying to "live in" my body - feel connected to it, know what is happening in it, truly notice the "good" and "bad" feelings I have.
I've done this partly because I'm a very head person, and I know that is limited as a way to experience the world. I've done it partly as feminist statement "you will not control how I experience my body". And I've done it partly because of understandings I've come to around separation of mind and body which are so culturally situated they make no sense to many peoples....yet western scientific models encourage us to think about our bodies as machines rather than connected to our sense of self, soul, being.
And, as I've already said, I'm very able bodied, so I come to this from that perspective. Which has privileges and problems of it's own. I can remember, when I'd had a long break from being sexual with other people, confiding in a friend that I was nervous about getting naked with someone else again (not something I usually struggle with), because of body anxiety.
She laughed at me, and I understand why. I'm slim, athletic blah blah blah. But that didn't change that feeling.
I don't know to talk about this easily either, but I LOVE you setting up a space to try. Thank you.

goodgravey said...

I just wanted to echo LJ's thanks. Body image hasn't been quite so much a problem for me. Being male, society tells me that it doesn't really matter all that much.

But the one thing that has affected me is a genetic condition - neurofibromatosis. It can range in symptoms, but for me it means I have dark fibrous lumps all over my torso (back and front) and some on my head and other scattered areas.

This really did affect me for a while until I met a woman who was a naturist, and I joined the Wellington Free Beach group. Their complete lack of body-consciousness was enormously helpful to me.

But there is still that nagging voice at the back of my mind. And people's attitudes are interesting.

Must've been over 12 years ago now, I remember going out for a run and ended up taking my top off because I was so hot. I passed a couple of young women (it was along Shelley Bay Road in Wellington). I heard one of them laugh (you know the way you can tell it is at you) but heard the other one reprimand her - which I thought was rather nice.

It is incredibly complicated though, this whole issue. We all have to live within our own bodies, but society gives us so many really fucked-up messages that they (our bodies) seem alien to us.

I am also really lucky in that many many years of introspection taught me to listen to myself. My cranial osteopath has often commented to me that my body responds really well to treatment, and that it does "talk" to me. It is a really nice place to be, and I have no idea how to get there.

For me, the cost of knowing myself was years of being utterly lost - especially inside my own mind.

What I think it comes down to is the same thing as in the John Kirwan "depression" ads. Whether the difficulties you face are with your mind, spirit or body, the same things apply. Know that you will get through. Hang on to hope, however small it may be. And take time our for yourself.

With these things, it makes it easier for your real core (the one I believe is good and strong within us all) to get a voice and start to emerge.

stargazer said...

i also want to say that this is a wonderful post. me too with the body issues, for various reasons. the thing is that i know i've been socialised into this, i know all about the beauty myth, i know the messages that the cosmetics & weight-loss industries are intended to deliberately make me feel dissatisfied with my body so that i'll buy stuff. but knowing doesn't affect the feeling inside my head that my body is not a pretty thing. surrounded as we are by images of hot young bodies in all of our media, and increasingly so, does make me feel inadequate even when i know it shouldn't.

the disconnect between knowledge & emotion is huge, and partly it's because i also know there's a whole societal expectation and narrative about what an attractive body should look like, and mine doesn't. i can't escape that societal pressure, and any attempts to change it tend to result in some pretty hostile reactions. intellectually, my mind just refuses to let me spend money on stuff (cosmetic procedures etc etc) because i don't believe i should have to do that just to feel good about myself. but i still don't feel good about myself.

so thank you from me as well, for starting this conversation and trying to create a space for us to express ourselves.

Anonymous said...

I'm assuming, too, (perhaps without sufficient evidence, but forgive!) that poster/commenters are "young". If we can find a way through all the cr*p that "young" face, then that will set us up well for what I can see as the even more humongous amounts of cr*p that "older" people face re bodies. Think about how older people are treated. We ain't seen nothing yet sistahs. Signed: Tree Climber

anthea said...

Thanks for the comments everyone - you've given me a lot to think about. I think the disconnect between how we feel we should feel about our bodies/how we think about our bodies and how we actually do feel about them is pretty common, particularly amongst feminists/people who have been exposed to feminist ideas. Will be thinking and writing more in the future.

Amanda said...

Anon: No actually, not everyone here is young. We are also well aware of the stupid ideal that women are washed up at 40. However, if we start fighting body shaming at a young age, we'll fight it all the way through.