Thursday, July 27, 2006

Body Thoughts

I went swimming yesterday. And I really enjoyed it. I am a good swimmer. In normal life, I am a bit clumsy, a bit of a klutz. In the water, I am different. I love the water, and I glide through it with the grace that is somewhat lacking when I am on land.

Part of this lack of grace is my tendency to live in my head. For a long time, I believe, I was barely aware that I really had a body. I think a lot of people like me, girls who are praised for being brainy, for their good grades and neat writing, don't really connect with our bodies. Our bodies are basically something that keeps our heads, where we really live, off the ground and able to reach for more books.

And when I did pay attention to my body, it was usually negative. I think the teenaged years were the worst. I was not, in fact, the ugliest and fattest teenaged girl in the world as I believed at the time. Pictures from the time actually show a rather pretty girl of normal weight. Slim, rather than otherwise. But, of course, I spent most of my teenaged years comparing myself to airbrushed models, agonising over every flaw, and castigating myself for my greed, my laziness and my inability to look like them.

I think I was a pretty typical girl. And I'm a pretty typical woman. As Digger Jones has often said, women have body issues. Serious body issues. Maddening, insane, loony toony body issues.

We don't get to loony toony land by ourselves. Your average western woman, growing up, has seen thousands of images, heard thousands of accounts, of women as we are expected to be. And we would have to be deaf, blind and completely oblivious for at least some of it not to register. For at least some of it not to make us ashamed.

Now, there was one time when I was pretty much utterly free of these thoughts: when I was pregnant. For the first time, my body could grow in size and I was nothing but delighted. I was proud of my magnificent porn-star breasts. I stroked my bump with great satisfaction. I did not feel fat. I felt womanly, curvaceous, fertile, and abundant.

It was fantastic. And a large part of my pleasure was that fertility treatment was very hard on my body and my self image. Not just the morning needles in the belly, the messing with the hormones, the fear that too many treatment cycles might have horrible consequences like breast or ovarian cancer, but the utter lack of privacy. I am a modest woman, physically, and it felt like every doctor in the world and their asistant had peered up my clacker.

Every aspect of my cycle was so closely observed that I feared the whole system would shrivel up and die from sheer embarrassment. And despite the fact that I had never had more evidence that my body was working perfectly, despite the fact that it was my partner who was infertile and not me, the endless medicalisation of what should be a natural process gave me a deep belief that my body was defective, somehow - otherwise, why else would it need this treatment, and why did it fail me despite the treatment? And me and my defective vagina and my defective womb wished profoundly to be left alone together to sulk.

So the contrast between this experience and the beauty, the mystery, of my pregnancy was a deep source of joy to me. And I thanked my body every day for giving me my precious child.

Now, unfortunately, that experience is over. My post-pregnancy, post-childbirth body is no longer a source of joy to me. The extra kilos that nurtured my baby have stayed with me. The skin that streched so beautifully to accommodate a much-wanted, much-love child has stayed stretched. My body is not just bigger but, well, sort of floppy. Wobbly. I don't recognise it as mine.

I think most women feel this way about their bodies after they've had a baby. One of my favourite authors, in her journal of her son's first year, said that when she lay down at night, she could feel her tummy resting quietly beside her like a puppy. Another woman I saw on TV said that her arse was so big she felt like she was being followed. A friend of mine said that, if anyone wished to know the whereabouts of any part of her body, they should start in its original postion and head south. I know what they mean. And the less said about my thighs, the better.

I exult in the beauty of my son's body. But I am ashamed of my own.

Something must be done. But no dieting. I hate dieting. Dieting to me is just an orgy of self-hatred. It is a false promise. It is months of deprivation and hard work followed by months of gaining back everything you lost, with interest.

So I swim. One major benefit is that I see other women naked in the changerooms. I see how even the women who really are fat actually don't look that bad. A bigger woman can look like one of those stone age fertility goddesses - with her jutting belly, her huge breasts, she looks formidable and powerful rather than vulnerable and ashamed. And I see how the slender, fit ones who look so good in their clothes are not so perfect. They, too, have little bits of cellulite. They, too, have bits that wobble. And we all have our beauties, as well. We are all women together. We are all, in some profound way, the same. For some reason, it makes me feel compassion, empathy - for them, and for myself. For my body.

And I swallow my fear that everyone will look at me in my bathers and judge me. I hold my chin up and walk proudly to the water. And I feel my body, I feel me, strong and free, moving gracefully through the water.


Blogger cagedone said...

Hi Emily,

Well I am first up this time, its Saturday and well, the red wine sings.

I just wanted to tell you that a long time ago in a far away place there was a girl, i forget her name...but my friend and I found her attractive. She wasn't pretty, but she was just attractive, sexy, aluring. My girlfriend (wife now) was shocked that we found her attractive, she could not understand it. Nor could we when we looked at things on face value. Some women just ARE. It just had nothing to do with her physical attributes.

believe it or not, and I do speak for a lot of men, those perfect women are NOT attractive to men. Now I will put my marketing hat on, these so called perfect women are marketed to YOU, they are made to look attractive to OTHER WOMEN, because it is you that buy their products. These perfect women are what women THINK they should look like. It has nothing to do what what men like.

Now, if your comfortable with who you are, you are confident with men. You embrace your sexuality, you know men will worship you. then mark my words they will, regardless of what you look like. little minor stretch marks, a few lumps here and there mean absolutely squat. if you are self conscious about them then THAT is a turn off a lot more than actually having them.

A woman confident of her sexuality who fits in a economy class seat is absolutely fine by me :)just because your partner has a low libido it does NOT make u unattractive.

bleah time for some more red :)

4:58 AM  
Blogger loz said...

hi Emily. first time to comment here... I saw your link at someone else's blog (PP's, I think) & came by.

I wanted to say that I really related to this entry, partly because of specific things you wrote & also because I've often had a bad self-image & real self-consciousness in situations where I've compared myself with other women. I'm glad you have a way to move past that for yourself, in the water. thanks for sharing all this :).

me, I have this dream about what I call a 'scarf dance', which may be impossible to ever do in reality (various reasons), but I do it in my mind at least & feel completely free, strong & perfect, uninhibited & as graceful as I've ever dreamed I could be.

while here I thought I'd also say to cagedone, on my own behalf: thank you for what you wrote! it's really great to get that kind of perspective, especially from a male.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Hi there

Thanks, cageone. I believe you. It is amazing how people tend to take you at your own evaluation.

Loz - I'm glad you relate, and I'm not crazy! Would this scarf dance be some kind of dance of the seven veils?

2:43 PM  
Blogger loz said...

hi again, Emily.

no, the scarf dance just came to me in my head one night while I was listening to music with a friend (specifically: Tears For Fears' Woman in Chains). the song made me feel like breaking free, dancing, put me in this dark meadow under the full moon, music all around me & breeze blowing through me; naked, but for a giant, billowing scarf. graceful :). imagining it is a very... empowering feeling for me, and given that I have arthritis & fibromyalgia, besides other related body/mind-type issues, the whole idea of being completely free to move & without inhibition about myself in any way is very liberating.

you can read what I wrote about it, if you want:

11:37 PM  

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