May 06, 2008

On the topic of body love...

So, for those of you who don't obsessively read the comments (it's ok, although you're missing out!), a little update: a comment by the illustrious Miss CripChick on my BADD post has been leading to a sub-discussion of, among other things, body love.

How timely it is, then, that I just discovered an extraordinary site called The Body Image Project. It's kind of like PostSecret, in that it invites readers to submit anonymous comments (and, in some cases, mixed-media "postcards" which look directly inspired by PostSecret) about things they would otherwise be ashamed to say. As the name suggests, though, these comments are all about how the posters see their bodies.

They're not all positive, mind you - not hardly. (In fact, I think the site should probably come with an ED trigger warning.) The site's stated goal is:

to have women and girls take that brave step to share their stories, break the hold these perceptions have and ultimately reveal to those who share and to those who view this site - you are not alone.

And a lot of the stories that people are sharing are incredibly painful. I'm picking excerpts here that I think are illustrative but least likely to be triggering; still, if you are likely to be distressed by depictions of ED, don't read the excerpts ***preceded by asterisks.

"Age 70":
***Next came the diet doctor. I remember my mother bringing me and the doctor taking my "before" picture. Every week I went, got pills, weighed and had a little question and answer session with the doc. One of the answers I can recall was, "if you eat from a pig, you'll look like a pig." His name was Dr. Repp in West Philadelphia. Needless to say, when I passed out one day my mother threw the pills down the toilet and I didn't go back to Dr. Repp. I think I weighed 150 lbs when I started with him; I recall losing 10 lbs in one week.

"Age 22":
I have hundreds, probably thousands, of dollars worth of tattoos on my body. I am more proud of them than anything else, but just once I want somebody to say "Oh, she would be so pretty if it weren't for all of those tattoos" instead of complimenting them. I have them so people look at the tattoos instead of looking at me, I want somebody to really see me someday, and think that I'm beautiful. Maybe someday I'll stop putting beautiful things on my body and actually believe that my body is what's beautiful.

"Age 20":
***I am standing in front of my boyfriend, naked. He is staring at me. I don't know what he is seeing. Appreciation? Awe? Disgust? He turns away. He hands me his tee shirt. So you don't get cold, he says. I turn away. Do you think I'm fat? I ask the carpet. No. I think you are too skinny. I can see your veins beneath your skin. He doesn't know what's important. He doesn't know what this means to me. He thinks girls should be big and curvy, and I think I should disappear.

Or simply, from "Age 24":
I'm a feminist, a confident woman, an advocate for body positivity - and it takes a man telling me I'm beautiful for me to believe it. I make myself sick.

Heavy stuff. But there's some hope there - some stories, not just about women with "perfect bodies" unquestioningly accepting that definition and bragging about it (though, hell, it would be nice to love one's body uncomplicatedly, wouldn't it?), but about women with variable types of human bodies and how they came to love them. And these, I think everyone should read:

"Age 61":
That said, here is what I have deprogrammed. Mother said my lips were big; I know they aren't. In fact, I think I have a beautiful mouth. Mother said my legs were fat, like tree trunks; my legs aren't small, but they're not fat either. I have the same legs as my Dad, my brothers, and 2 of my 3 children. They are solid Italian legs, but not fat. My mother's people have skinny legs. I almost like my legs. Mother told me that my butt was big. I am very proportionate. Mother said my hair was too straight and she was always putting perms in it. I love my hair. I've put back the red (strawberry blond) I had as a child. I think my hair is very, very pretty. I love my eyes; they are strikingly attractive.

"Age 22":
I think I started to be less ashamed of my body when I dropped my long hair and got my gigantic mohawk. Suddenly everyone around was complimenting me. They said things like, we love your hair, it looks like the sun. I felt powerful with my hair spiked out to look like it could kill someone. The mohawk is long gone but the feeling of confidence in being visible is still there.

And I love my body. I really do. I walk around in my apartment naked and whenever I see myself in the bathroom mirror I smile and look at how long my armpit hair is getting. Sometimes I feel like a five-year-old, sitting in the bathtub poking at my belly and thinking of how it's like a flotation device. I'll never drown.

"Age 51":
Gravity and hot flashes have begun to take their toll, but I still love my body. It is strong and healthy, hasn't failed me yet and has given life and nourishment to three wonderful children. The miracles of the workings of the human body are often taken for granted and shouldn't be. Watch a woman wrestle with news that the pregnancy being carried won't have 10 fingers and 10 toes and one has a new respect for the miracle of conception and embryonic development. Watch that child grow and learn and beat the odds of her birth and prognosis and in the end we are each a miracle in our own right. A few pounds, curves, or lack of either do not form our soul, our heart or our unique contribution to this world we live in.

Now, I understand, objectively, why this particular site is geared toward women - so for those of you who either:
  • identify as women
  • have found your body image significantly influenced by being perceived as women (and thus held to women's body standards, rightly or wrongly)

... I encourage you to submit to the Body Image Project.

But we here at Quench have a little more flexibility in our gender policy (... and, um, in our genders, most of us) - so I'd like to encourage any of y'all, of any gender, to comment here as well. I'll ask the same question they ask there:

"When you look in the mirror, what do you see?"

And I'll add another one:

"How did you come to see that?"

(... my own answer upcoming, when I'm not in class!)


cheyennejack said...

This was the first post I've read at quench zine, but it was well written and definitely thought-invoking.

As a male, we have some issues too, but its highly interesting to read the somewhat chaotic - yet very real thoughts that pass through the female mind.

I was glad to see both positive and negative posts to portray both sides of the coin.


maudite entendante said...

Ok, so here goes (and let me note that I have my femme playlist on in the background to help me think):

Whenever someone asks what I like best about my body (and given the number of self-esteem raising body-positive spaces I find myself in, it happens a lot), I usually give a wry smile and say, "Well, I do have a great rack."

Well, I do.

Sometimes I add in my eyes - dark brown and almond-shaped like my dad's, with flecks of gold like my mom's - or my full, cupid's-bow lips. These are all safe things to praise - either obvious (my breasts) or uncontroversial (eyes and lips). But then I hurry to move the turn along, passing the infernal talking stick (because there's always a talking stick) to the next person before I have to elaborate or answer seriously.

Because it's not polite to love your body too much, too vocally, too publicly. It's almost obscene to say in front of everyone else that, despite a lifetime of being harassed for my body, I actually do love it. I get a kick out of that bulge that starts just below my belly button and ends right above my pubic bone, the one that you can almost never get rid of no matter how much weight you lose. It's kind of cute how it exactly matches the curve of my palm.

I'd feel like some kind of pervert if I said, right then and there, that I flex my calves when I shave them in the shower so I can feel the razor stroking the muscle and the fat at the same time (and it'd be downright indecent exposure to say I do the same thing with my big round thighs).

And maybe it would just be a little weird to point out that, without my broad and fleshy hips, my va-va would lack a certain voom.

The other reason I don't say any of this is that I'm actively trying to lose weight. Not to be thin, mind you - even at my most starry-eyed optimistic goal weight, my BMI would make me solidly and incontrovertibly overweight. (Though, at 4' 11.5" I can practically lose a BMI point by weighing myself in the morning rather than the afternoon - the scale is not exactly accurate for folks my size.) But now that I'm on an anti-depressant that doesn't cause massive weight gain, I'd like to peel off some of the weight I piled on while I was on the old meds - a good 30 pounds, if we're counting.

It's a hard thing to talk about, though, especially when combined with my claims to love my body. After all, haven't I spent my entire post-pubertal life telling my grandmother that I don't need to lose weight, thankyouverymuch, and besides, I have the most healthy diet and exercise habits in the family? Haven't I spent ages congratulating myself that, no matter how many times she drove me to my room crying with endless barbs about how much prettier I could be if only I lost some weight, I never let her actually get to me? Haven't I always said that, no matter how much unwanted attention my body got (negative and "positive" - the breasts have their downside), I was ultimately in charge of how it looked?

Well, yes. Yes to all of it. And yet here I am - losing weight. Not to be small, but to be smaller again. Not to smooth away my curves, but to keep the same proportions on a different scale. Not because I'm not sexy now, but because I was also sexy then - and I had a lot more clothes, energy, and stamina.

And with a body as fabulous as mine will be, was, and is - well, stamina's important.

But, y'know ... that's not the sort of thing you say in public.

daftgiraffe said...

Nice, ME.

So, I'm one of those people for whom it took a long relationship full of support and affirmation for me to feel at all secure about my body. I'm actually not sure how I would feel about it if I hadn't had two and a half years of someone who loved me being vocally exasperated every time I sighed about my thighs, or my belly, or my arms. "It upsets me when you say those things," he'd say, "because you're hot and beautiful and I love those parts of your body." I may be paraphrasing, but that was the sentiment, more or less. And maybe that's not really okay, that it took something external for me to feel beautiful and validated, but that's what happened. What was the most effective was his frustration - not with me, I don't think, but with a culture that could have led me to believe that having a bulge here or a jiggly part there was some kind of referendum, an indictment on my self-control and responsibility as a female to be some kind of impossible beauty ideal. And his frustration and anger in turn made me frustrated and angry, until I gradually came to look at myself naked in the mirror and think, "This is what I look like. And I am completely hot." And there was something delightfully freeing about that moment, understanding what my body really looked like and that what I had to work with was beautiful and natural and sexy and MINE, not anyone else's.

And I think it's also important to understand that desire to change your body does not have to come from a place that is external or hateful or oppressive. Loving your body means escaping this cage of disempowerment and unrealistic body obsession that leads people (especially women) to feel helpless and trapped by being unable to achieve the impossible. It doesn't necessarily mean always being perfectly happy with and proud of what it looks like, or feeling like you never need to take pains to change it, for any reason. It means being able to look in the mirror and think, "Huh, maybe I need to lay off the ice cream a bit and do some sit ups - my abs have seen better days"--and having that decision be positive, knowing that it came from from YOU, from a place of security, empowerment, realism, and self-respect. Loving one's body means being able to say that and not obsessing about it for the rest of the day.

And, while we're at it, I also have great tits.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't stand what was on my chest from the moment I started to grow boobs. I wanted them removed - I thought that was the only way that I could be treated as my gender.

After finding a group of supportive people who treat me as who I really am, and, yes, finding someone who respects me for who I am but still loved my body helped. So I'm pretty happy with my body now. It's weird because it is the first time in my life I could probably be planning for surgery and I don't want it.

I usually don't share how happy I am with my body because I don't want to promote the idea that trans folks shouldn't be able to change their bodies because they can just "learn to be okay with it."

I don't really know of anyone else I know that had a similar experience, so it's kind of a weird thing to share.