My thighs are my thighs; my belly my belly. As totally objective bits’o’me, I’m not sure it makes sense to love them or not. Staring at them can’t make me love them; what I love is what my body does.
There’s a lot of good stuff about my body that I emphasize to my family when they get worried that I’m overweight; I can run (jog) (puffily) five kilometers (takes an hour), I can lift a 20 kilo dumbbell without a hernia, I can ride a bike for a few hours without dying.
There’s a lot of good stuff I DON’T necessarily emphasize to my family; I can go clubbing wearing high heels and drink ten pints without falling down (much) (more than twice in a three hour period) (fine, one hour), I can eat my own body weight in Camembert and/or Stilton, and I can fuck for hours (AT LEAST 15 minutes) (I hope. I don’t really time it).
I don’t love my body separate from these experiences, because I don’t know it separate from them; I love my body because, and as, it takes me through these experiences.
Asking teenagers and young women to love their bodies in the abstract seems hard and a bit useless to me. It was what I was always encouraged to do, and when I stared at my belly for an hour and didn’t love it, I felt like I had failed. I love my body when I connect to it, not when I contemplate it as something separate from me. It feels too much like we are encouraging young girls to become the object of their own gaze, to almost objectify themselves; to scrutinize themselves whilst repeating in their head “LOVE YOURSELF, YOU MORONIC CHICK”. Spending hours staring at one’s pot-belly doesn’t increase the love of the pot; it reduces one’s existence TO that pot-belly.
Our existence is bound by our body. However well or badly it works, I enter, experience and feel this world through my senses. My brain functions occasionally and can sort and process these senses and produce thought and philosophy that extends far beyond my mortal existence (red wine helps). But my body is still the front line troops. That’s why I love its bravery and its scars.
I have, for example, the most fucked-up knuckle I’ve ever encountered. Four days after I turned 24, I tripped over my own feet. I nearly recovered, one step, two steps – FABOOM. Flat on my face. In rush hour. In the middle of the Melbourne CBD. I grabbed a fence on the way down, my little finger caught it, and whipped around to hit the back of my hand. Mortified by having FACEPLANTED IN PUBLIC, I leapt up, and continued on my way out to work. Within ten minutes, my right hand blew up to the size of a golfball, so I called my dad (hello daddy’s girl) and was advised to head to the medical center. Turns out I shattered my knuckle on my writing hand. And by shattered, I mean when the doctor looked at my x-ray she said “wow, looks like fireworks, eh?”. (At which point I nearly vomited. That’s my hand, dude!!).
So I had about seven weeks in the most ridiculous cast you have ever seen (literally there was duct tape involved. Go Aussie health system!), whilst in the midst of writing my PhD thesis. So I had a sulk, got yelled at by my supervisor who seemed to think I had done it deliberately to avoid a deadline, and spent about an hour stubbornly trying to chop an onion one night.
And then I learnt to type one handed (not that hard). Also a gym routine that avoided the right hand (I was the chick on the exercise bike with an elevated hand-in-a-cast to avoid swelling). And that onion, whilst unevenly chopped and a bit blood-stained, was damn freaking tasty (and full of iron!).
Since my hand recovered, I’ve had these weird tremors in it, which my Dr Sister explained was the nerves recovering; I’ve gotten awful aches in it, which other doctors have explained is arthritis; and I’ve got the most awesomely ridiculous knuckle which has made grown men wince when they realized how torturously unnaturally shaped it now is (hint, twice the size of the normal knuckle, and the general shape of well-chewed bubble gum). Six foot tall rugby players with cauliflower ears have gone white.
So you could argue that my hand let me down when it shattered. Thing is, then it healed. And I get to say that I wrote this thesis despite a busted-arse hand. And I get a new favorite drunk trick, making macho blokes feel my knuckle (which worryingly has also occasionally worked as a pick up line).
So I love my knuckle. Not because its beautiful, cos by God its ugly! It’s not something I have talked myself into loving, I have not ‘accepted’ its deformity. I love my knuckle because of the story behind it and how tough and strong it makes me feel. That I wrote a PhD chapter despite it. That I learn how to (really slowly) chop an onion with one hand. That I still managed to entice people to date me and sleep with me with a giant cast on my hand (WITH DUCT TAPE. And foam. It was like Macgyver made it on an off day). That I gave a lecture.
I love what my body does. I love that it can break so badly the doctor gets a bit freaked out, and then heal itself. I love that I have this silly knuckle to remind me of so much – remind me of when I was 24, in the middle of my thesis, just beginning to lecture and beginning to discover that setbacks would not necessarily break me.
I love the scars, the broken bits, the weird bits. Not because I Decided To Love My Body, but because those are the symbols for the times I threw myself into the world, that I collided with it. And however much I’m dented now, I hope I’ve dented the world as well. Not through breaking the fence, obviously, but I hope that in my time on this earth, in my body, I have a lasting and significant and positive effect. I can’t love my body in the abstract – I can’t look at it in a photo, or a mirror, and think “hell yeah that’s hot!”, and that’s not because I find myself repulsive or gross. Its something about the inaction of the image in the mirror, and of course my associations with mirrors – that sense that I should be scrutinizing it to discover my imperfections. Away from the mirror, my body is strong and awesome and unique and me. In front of it, it feels like an image apart and separate from me.
But I can find pride in my body’s fitness, in its scars and its potential; in other words, I find pride and love for my body in its history and its future, in its possibilities and in its limitations as well. And when I love other bodies, these are the things I look for too – the scars, the odd bits, the bits that tell a story. This is what we should encourage; for all people to view their bodies not as a blank slate for others to interpret, but as our own stories, that contain our own truths and history. Our bodies are our own, maybe the one thing we can be sure we own in the world. Whatever we do, we do through our bodies, so for better or worse, it’s how we enter the world. I don’t love the hands I see in the mirror, but I love the hands that typed my thesis.
I love the action, not the image, and that feels like one of the most important things I have ever realized. So, N.O.W., I love my body; not because I find it physically beautiful, but because it is the only way I have to experience this world. If that’s not the source of my beauty, I don’t want to know what is.
Image taken from flickr user susan402‘s account under the Creative Commons License.