Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Loving Because, Not Despite

Today is Love Your Body Day.

I've been thinking the past few days, about bodies. Bodies is a big old topic. When we talk about "loving our bodies", we're usually silently adding "...despite our weight/size". And for good reason - one source indicates that more than 50% of young women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat. It makes me wonder, of course, how many of the women included in this study were fat? How many of those fat young women indicated that they would rather be hit by a truck than be themselves?

The thing about loving our bodies is, we shouldn't be loving our bodies DESPITE of anything. We should be loving our bodies BECAUSE of everything, fat included. Nomy Lamm has written an excellent piece on this topic. Me? I don't identify as fat, because I don't think fat oppression has affected me, at least not any more so than it affects any thin person. I don't want this to seem like I think being fat is a bad thing, something I was to disassociate from, or that I think there is some magical specific weight/shape where fat ends and thin begins. I just don't think it would be right for me to call myself fat when it's not something that actually impacts my life on a day to day basis. That said, I have fat, and I do not see my fat as an inherently negative trait. I'm squishy, and I love that about myself. Kittens sleep comfortably on my belly. People of all kinds find me quite cuddly.

Fat hatred isn't the only thing that keeps us from loving our bodies, though. In my case, I spent a lot of time and energy hating on my hair. My body hair, I mean, and not just on my legs and under my arms - hair springs profusely from my neck, chest and stomach. Growing up, a lot of people told me that hair on women was unattractive. I didn't meet or even see hairy women until I was a legal adult, and by then, it was too late. I was thoroughly dependent on my (fairly ineffective) hair-ridding rituals. Even after I got the message that hairy women were real and could be successful and beautiful and awesome, a lifetime of self-hating left me a lot of insecurities. I'd say it's only in the past six months, as I've increasingly identified as gender variant, have I been able to fully embrace and display my body hair with real love and pride. While the relief and self-love have been super amazing (seriously - you may not understand the impact of this statement unless you've been paralyzed with fear at the mere thought of it, but I actually like to wear shorts in public), it strikes me, of course, that only in recognizing my gender as non-binary could I recognize my body hair as beautiful. To be a truly empowered hairy woman may elude me forever.

In my mind I see this woman, this normal woman. We know she's normal, because we see her everywhere, but she doesn't actually exist.

It's almost easier to describe what this normal woman is not than what she is, because almost everything she is becomes invisible in its ubiquity.
This normal woman is thin. We know fat women are not normal, because we don't see them, and when we do see them, they are a cautionary tale.
This normal woman is able-bodied. We know disabled women are not normal, because we don't see them, and when we do see them, they are to be pitied.
This normal woman is white. We know women of color are not normal, because we don't see them, and when we do see them, they are exotic.
This normal woman is cis and gender-conforming. We know trans and gender non-conforming women are not normal, because we don't see them, and when we do see them, they are the butt of jokes.

I'm simplifying a lot of issues here. The point is, loving your body is discouraged on many different fronts. Loving your body can not be about loving your body despite. Loving your body despite means accepting a non-reality: that this normal woman exists and everyone should/can aspire to be her. There are too many bodies whose realities can never, ever line up with kyriarchal standards of beautiful, or even of normal.

Love Your Body Day may be over by the time you read this, depending on what time zone you're in, but I encourage you to spend a little time anyway thinking about the things you have been taught to love your body despite of - the things about you that you have been told are ugly, abnormal, or just the things you have never been told are beautiful. Loving these things is a radical act.

Love everything about your body - and, I think this is crucial, also love everything about someone else's. The more we realize the vast variety of things we can love in others, the more we feel worthy of love ourselves.


The Observer! said...

Interesting post.
sunny, new delhi

Katie said...

very inspiring. i only hate my body when i eat junk food and don't exercise. if i actually try to keep myself healthy looking then i feel great about my appearance.