Learning to stop worrying and love my bum. Also, privilege. Damnit.


Don’t you hate it when everything you do seems mired in some kind of foggy maze of constantly messing up somehow? I know I do. You know where it really gets me? Body image.

Yes, body image. That one. What I would call an Achilles’ heel, if it weren’t that Achilles seemed to have a pretty darn good image of himself and didn’t spend much time worrying over whether anyone was noticing the dry skin on his heel, and whether his heel was too knobbly or not knobbly enough.

Working out a way to feel happy in your (okay, my) own skin is notoriously difficult. We’re all supposed to want to lose 10 (or 100) pounds, to be darker or lighter, to detest every stray hair or uneven skin tone or boniness or squishiness or muscliness or… I could go on. But I won’t be the first, and you’ve all heard it too many times before.

I’ve tried a lot of different strategies to be okay in my skin, with varying success. Once, I even tried dieting and exercise. At once. That was not a good, er, fortnight*.

So instead, I work on accepting myself as I am and working on showing myself the same kindness that I would others. I look at my body not as something to be perfected, but a canvas on which my experiences are written- from the squishiness of my thesisbum, to the stories that come with scars. To the way that my eyes wrinkle when I smile in exactly the same way as my relatives do. These things are who I am. They are where I come from.

But the thing that’s done the most for me in terms of feeling good about my body? Was a complete paradigm shift. I started to Exercise More (and also eat more. Because nothing makes a girl hungry like actually working up an appetite). Gradually, my body stopped being a thing which was there to (fail to) look a certain way. It became a thing that did things. A thing that would run this far- just a little further than before. A thing that could pick up a thing just a little bit heavier than the thing it could pick up before. Get a little further up a wall. A few weeks ago I walked a couple of hundred kilometers, and my body became a thing that hurt like hell and kept going.

And I stopped caring too much what it looked like. And then I started really appreciating what it- what I- looked like. I used to hate showing my legs- all knobbly knees and too-pale skin. But I’m not going to be ashamed of legs that walked me for miles and miles and miles. Legs that held up me, my backpack, and litres upon litres of water. Legs that dragged us uphill and hurt like hell and kept on walking. Those aren’t just plain good legs. Those are bloody brilliant legs. Hell yeah, I’ll wear skirts and shorts. Who cares about pale skin, knobbly knees and more bruises than you can shake a stick at? These legs rock.

And feeling that- feeling that sense of power and purpose in my body- I get angry. As women, we’re told too often that our bodies are there to be pretty. To look a certain way. There’s barely any mention of how wonderful it is to have a body that does things. In fact, there’s a whole lot of shame even there. How many people do you know with not-socially-considered-ideal bodies who don’t feel even a little self-conscious at a gym? Or going for a run, or a swim? How many people don’t do those things, and therefore lose out on the joy of having bodies that slowly but surely can do more and more things, because of the censure- internal and external- for simply being open about the shapes of our bodies? For being seen to be ourselves in public? For daring to not be ashamed?

Of course, here’s where you get to privilege. Not just the kind where it’s safe- physically, at least- to be embodied in public. Or the kind where you’ve managed to scrape together the gutsiness to brush off whatever’s going to come your way. The more basic kind. If the only way I’ve been able to be happy with my body is by making it stronger, isn’t that a wee bit ableist? Isn’t the very idea that bodies need to be somehow redeemed- either through excessive prettiness or physical ability- ableist as all hell?

Having a body that’ll run, climb, swim, row and pick up heavy things is one hell of a (temporary!) privilege. Having a body that’s gender/size-normative enough to pass without comment in a swimsuit (god I love swimming) is one hell of a privilege. Then again, existing as a (queerish, femme-but-not-the-right-kind-of-femme) woman trying to navigate my way into being happy with the body I walk around in sure as hell ain’t a privilege.

And this is the thing. Here’s the thing where we inevitably fuck up, because there’s too many cards stacked against us from too many damn directions.

Bodies shouldn’t need to be redeemed. Bodies don’t need to be redeemed. They’re fine just the way they are. But all of us walking and rolling our way around in them are living in a society that demands we redeem our bodies. That we make up for taking up space by being pretty, by being capable, or by being decently ashamed of our very shape and our very skin. Ideally, all of the above.

And we deal with that any way we can.

 

*The large quantities of cake and cheese afterward, on the other hand, made a very good evening.

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6 thoughts on “Learning to stop worrying and love my bum. Also, privilege. Damnit.

  1. Without going into all the many MANY things I could say (because you, my dear Teacosy, have heard many of them before, and the rest of you, dear internet, probably don’t want to), let me just address this:

    “If the only way I’ve been able to be happy with my body is by making it stronger, isn’t that a wee bit ableist?”

    No, I don’t think it is at all, really. You never said that physical strength and ability is the only thing a person should or could like about their body, just that it’s something you like about yours. Saying “Hey, turns out this is what’s important to me” is a far, far cry from saying “Listen up, this is what’s important” or even “Hey, this is what SHOULD be important to you”.

  2. You’re over thinking this was too much.

    Also it’s not ableist to derive satisfaction from getting fit. Seriously it’s more worrying that you seem to have convinced yourself that you *should* feel guilty about that.

    We all derive pleasure from making our bodies more capable, from learning a new skill or striving for goals. You should never feel guilty about that.

    • Dude, I’m a sociologyhead. We overthink all this stuff. It’s part of the definition.

      However, I have a feeling that I’ve been misinterpreted here, both by yourself and the Statistician. I’m not saying that deriving satisfaction from getting fit is ableist at all! And I’m not guilty in the slightest for doing so. If that’s what came across from this post, then I haven’t been expressing myself correctly. Sorry about that.

      What I’m talking about is body image and the idea that bodies which aren’t fit or pretty (or.. or..) are somehow lesser as social phenomena. I’m talking about the idea that bodies aren’t absolutely fine just by being bodies, and how this plays out in society.

      It’s not even really about being fit, or feeling pretty, or any of that. Except in the way that the only ways a person can do those things is by having a body that’ll do them in the first place. And since we live in a society that really, really values these things and looks down on people who don’t have them, being able to do them is a privilege. And that both of them are, themselves, tied to even deeper narratives about our bodies being impure things that need to be cleansed and redeemed.
      Also, it’s waaayyy too late for me to be trying to talk about all of this in a way that makes a blind bit of sense.

  3. Oh good. I am glad you weren’t criticising yourself for being ablist!

    And, totally out of left field and probably courtesy of the considerable sleep deprivation, but when you mentioned your knees being knobbly it struck me that I have never heard a single person say they find their own knees attractive, and the problem always seems to be that they are knobbly, but really – does anyone ever say “I wouldn’t touch your one with a barge pole, did you not see how knobbly those knees are?”

    Equally, I’ve never noticed anyone ogling a particularly luscious set of knees. Can you name a celebrity with gorgeous knees? What would a platonically ideal set of knees look like? Not like any of the knees we see strolling amiably about the place, to judge by the unkind things people say about their own. Is there a gold standard for attractive knee-ness that everyone in the entire world is missing, or is a knee just a knobbly, unassuming joint coming in for a lot of unfortunate criticism?

    Okay, yeah, it’s definitely bedtime. Sorry.

    • “…I have never heard a single person say they find their own knees attractive, and the problem always seems to be that they are knobbly…”

      Actually, I WISH my knees were knobbly–I’ve always disliked how fatty mine are. Just a contribution from the non-knobbly-kneed population, for a properly balanced perspective, like.

      But I completely support what you’re saying here, otherwise!

  4. Great post! I have nothing else to contribute to this at the moment, aside from the random knee comment.

    Wait. I do! As a pastry cook, I use my body to do things every work day. I need my body to do things. I need it to stand for long stretches of time, and whisk the hell out of something for seemingly forever, and carry around bags of flour that are nearly half my body weight. And that has made me really appreciate it and love it more than ever. I even go through a ritual at the end of every work day, where I wash and massage my poor feet and tell them how beautiful and strong they are and how much I appreciate them. Maybe I should do this with the rest of my body, I dunno. But I agree with you that seeing my body as a thing that does things definitely helps me appreciate what it is and how it looks.

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