Why do we alienate ourselves so much from our bodies? It’s that big piece of machinery attached to your head. ~Carrie Latet
Female bodies are the subject of constant, and often contradictory, messages about what they can and cannot do: They’re too weak to run a marathon or lift dumbbells, but all-powerful when birthing a child. Pregnant bodies are too weak to carry a bag full of books, but are resilient enough to carry a screaming and kicking toddler (that one drives me crazy). White female bodies- and by extension, all female bodies- are asked to be some bizarre mix of childishly slim and sexually adult (and, of course, the balance is tricky: thanks to a long history of manipulation, bodies with darker skin and/or fuller figures are always told they’re “crossing the line” and becoming “too” sexual by default). Female bodies are playthings for male sexual desire (because, of course, this is a heterosexual world, right?) and objects of such adoration that they find themselves on pedestals simply for existing, “too pure” for such animalistic sensations such as lust.
I call bullshit.
There’s a whole branch of feminism devoted to the notion of reclaiming bodies and body-centred messages. It encompasses everything from critiquing ads that associate Black, Latina, or Asian women with less-than-human imagery, to deliberately dressing and adorning one’s body to repel the lustful gazes of others, to encouraging female athleticism. My favourite aspect of body-centric feminist thinking, however, is the emphasis it places on our autonomy and the ability we have to control our bodies and how they’re read.
Think about it. While we can never control anyone else- not really- we have an immense amount of control over what signals we use when moving, talking, and even dressing ourselves. We may not be directly able to control the global enterprises that encourage people- especially women- to surgically alter their eyes or bleach their skin, but whether on the road or not, whatever our bodies look like, we can take pride in them.
That’s right. Me, I live and work in the U.S., where dis/Abled bodies, trans bodies, fat bodies, Black bodies, elderly bodies- in short, any type of body that People Magazine would probably revile- are at best ignored and at worst targeted for abuse. Those of us who grow up here internalize these messages so that even we who escape those targeted categories often wind up desperately devoting ourselves to maintaining our membership in the socially protected ones. I’m White, able-bodied, slender, young, and cisgendered. In spite of a lifetime spent battling a minimal amount of weight gain and worrying about how fluffy my hair is (very), it’s relatively easy for me to say that my body is something to be proud of. And it’s MINE.
Just try saying that for a moment. My body is MINE. It’s not a magical charm that wards off predators or dispels media myths overnight, but it’s not something that we’re used to saying to ourselves either. Your body is yours: it’s often the first thing that people use to judge you when they meet you, and it’s often the first tool we use to communicate something about ourselves to strangers (those of you with pierced ears, try wearing safety pins instead of earrings and see how people react to you differently!). We have an immense amount of control over ourselves, our abilities in this world, by making ourselves at home in our own skins. When we’re comfortable with who we are, we’re more comfortable pushing our comfort zones in other areas of our lives; we’re more comfortable setting boundaries with ourselves and with strangers; we’re more confident in our capacity to do what we want to do. Owning our bodies, in that sense, is far more subversive than the simple phrase “my body is mine” initially conveys.
My body is mine. It swells with pleasure when tasting new foods; it trembles with delight at beautiful new vistas; it drags with fatigue when jet lag sets in; it propels me through crowds with a buoyant confidence. Every breath, every trip, every movement is the product of the relationship I have with my body, whether it’s a good day or a bad day. My body might not be good at being on magazine covers in the U.S., but it’s very good at doing the things I want it to do (for the most part). The more I’m comfortable with mine, the easier it is to cease judging (or being jealous of) others, and the easier it is to encourage others to become comfortable with theirs. The more comfortable we are with our bodies, the less power those mixed messages have to influence our self-perception.
I take pride in my body because it’s been going strong, in one sense or another, for twenty-four years. How do you take pride in yours?