Love Your Body Day: Complex Body Relationships

This post is part of the 2011 Love Your Body Day Blog Carnival

As feminists share tips, stories, and body love today, I am pleased to see that some are also highlighting the negatives of the body-love imperative.  While fighting body-negative messages is crucial, it is important to recognize that the goal should be acceptance of others’ bodies, not unqualified love of one’s own.  For many people, including transgender, genderqueer, and intersect people, people with disabilities, people with a history of eating disorders, and those with a history of sexual assault, body love may not be a comfortable or appropriate goal.  It’s important to realize that for some of us, a body is an inconvenience or a hindrance, and that experience is just as valid as body-love.  

So what tips would I share on Love Your Body Day?

1.  Speak to others in a thoughtful, compassionate way about bodies.  Recognize that people’s relationships with their bodies vary widely and respect that.  Don’t speak in absolute terms or offer advice when it’s not wanted or needed.  For example, don’t sing the praises of exercise–many feel that while it’s wrong to criticize someone’s weight, exercise is right for everyone, and that simply isn’t true.

2.  Be gentle with yourself if you have difficulty with body-love.  Sometimes our bodies are disappointing.  They might not function how we’d like them to.  It might be hard to gain or lose weight.  We might have health problems we can’t control, or a body that doesn’t feel right for our gender.  If nurturing your body isn’t appropriate for you, try nurturing your mind or your spirit.  A lot of body issues are mental health issues, and it can help to have a safe space to talk those out, even if they aren’t “fixable.”

3) Look for and give support where you can.  It might be helpful to share experiences with others who have similar body issues.  This doesn’t have to be a formal support group–I’ve seen plenty of this on Twitter and Tumblr.

4) Think of ways to visualize yourself or express your creative spirit–this doesn’t necessarily have to involve your body.  For example, you might design an avatar or a work of art to represent you, make a spirit wall, practice creative visualization to envision yourself in some way other than the embodied, or use fashion to cover your body or make it less noticeable than what you’re displaying on it.

5) Assert your right (and others’) to take up space in a way that works for you.  It’s okay to say that your body fucking sucks.  You have a right to be sad, hurt, or angry.  Anyone who insists that you love your body, get over your issues, or make more of an effort to love yourself is practicing emotional abuse.  You have a right to inhabit physical space as well.  You have a right to accommodations that you need.  You have a right to say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable.  You have a right to tell others not to say things about your body that they think are positive, and not to touch your body.  These are all parts of bodily autonomy.

About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on October 19, 2011, in (dis)ability, body & size, feminism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have to say, I think that some of these philosophies are damaging to women. While I think it is absolutely essential to embrace ‘who you are,’ and that many types of bodies are beautiful, etc…I think sometimes it is attitudes like this that do not foster health or wellness. Taking care of yourself is a part of loving yourself, regarding yourself, and respecting yourself….not to fit into some sort of ‘image,’ but just to nurture what you have.

    If you struggle with gender identity issues, a physical disability or an illness – these are particularly difficult and challenging issues that might need working through with a therapist or others. It’s agreed that to be at your best mentally and physically, you’ve got to work through these.

    ..but ultimately, your body will help to determine the quality of your life for the rest of your life. Paying attention to it, listening to it, and caring for it, is one of the most loving acts you can do for yourself. Obesity is never healthy, it will end your life prematurely…just the same as starvation through anorexia will as well. Why not encourage health? It’s not about ‘size,’ it’s about giving yourself the gift of a better quality of life.

    I think sometimes as feminists we have to get honest. “Don’t sing the praises of exercise?” Are you kidding? Whether ill, disabled, mentally challenged or otherwise, movement is life altering and positive for everyone if they are able to do it – both on mood and on the body. The research is clear on this. Why not talk about something that has been life altering for you?

    As a person who has overcome unbelievable things to learn to walk again, to function BECAUSE of exercise…I know my peers often view me as fit and healthy now – they have no idea of my past. They tell me ‘you’re so lucky,’ because I’m fit. But, truth is, I work everyday at it. I eat right, I go to the gym, I work my ass off. To me, every time someone says how ‘lucky’ I am, I want to explode on them. It’s about choices. I make a choice they don’t make – and I hear about it. “oh, you’re so lucky…you’re so skinny (I’m not, but maybe compared to them)…you eat like a bird (I eat the vegetables instead of the brownies at work).

    I’ve noticed that “body acceptance” is almost always unidirectional. They criticize people who value fitness and maintaining a certain body. But, isn’t true feminism about respecting ‘everyone’s’ choices? If someone wants to watch television, not exercise, smoke cigarettes, and eat fried foods all day it is none of my business…but we make choices. I hope no one criticizes me for my choices too.

  2. Thanks for coming by and commenting in detail, Jenn.

    In response I’ll say that I hear where you’re coming from, but I disagree that body acceptance is unidirectional. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement is all about body autonomy. It’s fine to be thin, it’s fine to be fat. I understand how painful it can be to be criticized for being thin. I’ve been there, and fat positive folks used to drive me crazy because all I felt was aggression towards my body and my choices. But that’s a minority of the movement.

    Incidentally, “obesity is never healthy, it will end your life prematurely” simply isn’t true. I recommend a book called “Fat Politics,” which looks objectively at public health research and finds that while diseases that are often associated with fat do cause poor health and death, adipose tissue does not. Where a person carries weight, for example, affects health outcomes. You’re right that exercise usually improves health outcomes, regardless of your size or whether it causes weight loss, if you choose exercise that is right for your body and your mental health (incidentally, my point about exercise is that it’s often used as a proxy for food policing–again, bugging someone to exercise more isn’t the same as someone deciding that exercise is right for them). Some diseases are correlated with fatty tissue, but it is not clear that the diseases are caused by fat–they may cause weight gain, or a third factor may cause both. Often someone can reduce risk of disease, or manage an existing disease, without losing weight.

    You say “why not talk about something that has been life altering for you?” and I think this is the crux of the problem. Talk to people who ask you questions and want to hear your story, certainly! There are many people who do need inspiration, or want to know how they can exercise with a disability, or want to know how to motivate themselves, and you’re wonderfully placed to help them out. But I find that exercise is one of those topics people bring up regardless of whether you asked. I am used to being shamed for not exercising, being told I will die, that I will develop diseases, that I am killing myself–by people who have no idea what my personal body condition, mental health state, and history of exercise is. I’m not entirely opposed to exercise, and I am trying to do more yoga because it has a positive impact on my mental health, but getting up at 4:30 every morning for a workout would have a negative impact due to exhaustion. Certain exercises also hurt me physically, others hurt me financially, and some cause gender dysphoria. So my point is simply that folks should back off of their friends and family and allow people to make their own choices.

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