I really do love my body. There is a lot more of it than there used to be, but what is here is strong, and muscular, and sensuous, and good.
This blogpost is my contribution to NOW’s “Love Your Body Day” Blog Carnival
In our masculinist culture men and women, boys and girls, learn three fundamental untruths:
- that masculine beings are superior to feminine beings;
- that the mind is separate from the body; and
- that feminine beings are more like things than beings and that they can in fact be reduced to their bodies because their minds do not really count.
A masculinist culture is one in which the first falsehood–that male beings are superior to feminine beings–is a dominant and central principle of religious, educational, political and family life.
When girls develop in such a culture, they learn to regard their bodies as things that are either
c) tools with which to manipulate men; or
d) all of the above.
This makes most women insane and depressed. From an early age we learn to regard our bodies as filthy yet seductive things that we can use to our advantage in relations with men. This is insane, as in the following definition from Webster’s Dictionary:
insane, adj. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction.
Men also learn from an early age that it is okay to use women’s bodies as things and then to throw them away when they are finished using them. This makes men insane and sometimes also slightly ashamed of themselves. Sometimes men feel soiled after using a woman’s body as a tool for their own gratification. Some religions teach men that they touch of a woman who is menstruating pollutes them spiritually as well as biologically. This is, of course, insane, a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, and social interaction.
We women learn to hold our bodies in certain ways, to suck in our stomachs, to teeter on high heels, to elevate our necks, to sway when we walk, to slide our legs deliciously together and apart. We are praised for being “feminine” when we do these things, and condemned and insulted if we can’t manage them.
Unfortunately, even those of us who are pretty good going along with the feminization project also get condemned and insulted. Generally this happens after we have been treated as things by men who are only too happy to blame us for having asked for it. To be embodied as a woman is considered a curse, a disability. Aristotle, who has exerted an enormous influence over western philosophy for the last thousand years, said that women were deformed beings, freaks of nature. Orthodox Jews thank Yahweh in their morning prayers for not having made them female.
Whether we position and drape our bodies in ways that our culture tells us are “feminine” and “attractive” or not, we are still told that our bodies are dirty. We are still called whores, bitches, sluts by people who refuse to believe that we are more than simply body-things.
But the truth is that we are not simply bodies, not simply things to be used, but rather whole, conscious beings whose minds are intricately connected to our bodies in ways that we still don’t fully understand. Emotions register as bodily sensations and bodily sensations–hormonal fluctuations, for example–register as emotions. Emotions trigger thoughts and thoughts trigger emotions. Bodily sensations trigger thoughts and thoughts trigger bodily sensations–adrenaline, the flight or fight response of our sympathetic nervous system. It is impossible to decide where the body begins and the mind ends.
Of course, this is what the masculinists have been telling us for thousands of years–that we as women don’t have transcendent minds, as they do, that we are governed by our emotions, that we either do not have any brains at all or that our brains are vastly inferior to those of men. This, of course, is nonsense, the sort of thing that we should recognize as the product of insanity, not wisdom. Men are no less affected by their hormones, their emotions, their impulses.
We women are embodied and our bodies are utterly mixed up with our minds. Therefore it is very important for us as women to keep track of what we are thinking and feeling about ourselves, and to understand how certain thoughts that we accept as real might only be responses to certain bodily sensations. At the same time, it is important to remember that certain bodily sensations and emotions might only be habitual response to certain thoughts that we have accepted as truths.
How do you feel when you tell yourself that you love your body? How do you feel about your body, and about yourself, when you accept the mass media representation of an ideal woman’s body?
Learn to re-wire your thoughts and emotional responses. Practice telling yourself that you love your body and remember how you feel when you say this. Practice recognizing how often you dismiss your body, or deride your body, or feel disgusted by your body. When do these thoughts arise? What brings them into your mind? When they come, catch yourself and say, “Nonsense! I love my body because I love myself! I am my body and my body is me, and I am a good woman.”
Take care of your body. Don’t eat so much that you feel sick; don’t drink so much that you can’t walk. Get exercise. Drink moderately. Stretch. Stay clean. Put lotion on your body and move your hands sensuously up and down and around your curves. Get enough sleep. Move languidly in your bed and feel how lovely it is to be embodied. Breathe consciously and notice how alive you are in your body; how wonderful it is to be alive, to be embodied, to feel, to see, to hear, to move, to touch, to taste, to speak–if you are lucky enough to be able to do all of these things. If you are not so lucky, then acknowledge what you do have, for you are still embodied, and your body is the not just the temple, but also the very structure, of your consciousness and spirit. You are your body and your body is you, and you are beautiful. You are a good woman.