Why I don’t have to Love My Body

I just discovered something FANTASTIC. Indeed, I do believe it is the best form of procrastination I’ve ever come across: Stumbling.

There’s this website (application? I’m no web guru…) called “StumbleUpon” and it basically directs you to random websites based on this interest check list that you fill out upon registering an account.

First thing I stumble upon last night is this. “Love Your Body.” Right on the home page it reads: “At Loveyourbody.org, our vision is to create a world where you’re free from rules, pressure and self-punishment. Where people of all cultures and sizes embrace their unique beauty, standards be damned.”

At this point, I’m starting to feel super uncomfortable…

Further down on the home page it says: “Once we stop “fixing” ourselves, we become free to invent lives that inspire and excite us–full lives we can actually enjoy. Imagine the possibilities.”

Hmm.

I’m sure that the folks who created this site were very well intentioned. But we all know that good intentions don’t always turn up good results. (Think of anything from botched birthday surprises to colonization. The latter probably one of the largest global catastrophes in human history. “What is this colonization business?” you say? Check out this zine for starters – “500 Years of Indigenous Resistance” by Gord Hill.)

Some of us really appreciate feeling confident, strong, and sexy. Some of us aren’t really all that concerned with feeling sexy or really couldn’t give two hoots about being ‘strong.’ It can be a great thing to take stock of your talents every once in a while to remind yourself that you are valuable and precious.

Sadly, I’ve seen the ‘love-your-body’ folks too often rely on burlesque shows or fashion spreads that showcase ‘full-figured’ women (heaven FORBID we ever say the word FAT. Sacre bleu! While you’re *gasping*, check out this awesome fat blog!) This undermines the potential power of finding inner confidence and instead appropriates strength and inner power to physical appearance, which is most often realized through sex appeal. Ah great. We’re once again objects of desire. Pretty young things.

I’ve heard the love-your-body rhetoric over and over and over again. In the hallways of Women’s Studies Departments. In Women’s Centres. On feminist blogs, websites. In magazines. In advertising. I’ve been told more times than I can count that the true secret to happiness is loving yourself for who you are, regardless of what anyone says.

If loving myself and being happy were as easy as just ignoring what asswipes have to say about me, I would have a shit grin on my face all the freakin’ time. Life would be GREAT.

In For Real Land, the causes of my ‘unhappiness’ are quite a bit more complex and I’m sure this is true for many other people too. Like… almost everyone.

So let me break this down for y’all. Here are three things I’d like to say in response to love-your-body hoohah.

1) Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words really do hurt me and make my life difficult.

One of the key lines of love-your-body hoohah that I hear all the time is something to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter what people say.” This is a really simple way of ignoring the fact that oppression is systemic and doesn’t only exist in insults hurled at people who don’t conform to normative standards of beauty, size, ability, etc.

Actually, it does matter what people say.

It matters for a whole bunch of different reasons. It matters because it hurts and makes me feel like shit. It matters because it will affect how people perceive my intelligence, my qualifications, and my ability to play nice (didn’t you know that dykes don’t play well with others?). It matters because I live in a material world where I often have to use money to access housing, food, and clothing. (Dumpstering is great, except when all the stores around you BOLT DOWN their dumpsters and put up ‘security’ cameras around the back. Bastards.)

Even if what people said didn’t matter and we could all just ignore the slurs, jabs, and insults thrown at us, hurtful words are really just the tip of the freakin’ iceberg for folks who have to live with systemic oppression.

It’s all fine and dandy for me to just keep on keeping on when a dude yells ‘DYKE!’ at me through the open window of his speeding car while I’m chilling out eating my fucking ice cream on a fucking bench. (That was one fun Saturday!)

It’s another thing when a professor in my department calls me “a Queer” to his colleagues with a lilt in his voice that tells me that he has no clue what it means to reclaim language or the power and purpose of self-identifying. It’s another thing still when, upon entering a job interview, I get full up-and-down double takes from the panel of interviewers COMPLETE with simultaneous ‘oh-jesus-I’m-so-uncomfortable’ fake coughs and darting eyes.

Which leads us into my next point:

2) Words are often the least of my worries.

I assume that the logic pattern that serves as the foundation for the love-your-body camp of thought goes something like this:

‘Women are sad’ — ‘Women are sad because they don’t love their bodies’ — ‘Women don’t love their bodies because they’re taught/shown that beauty is very narrowly defined’

(I realize this is oversimplified. But stay with me for a second – I’m bringing it down to the bones so we can see at what point good intentions turn into not-so-good results.)

Before we can even get into a discussion about genders and why “Women” as a single category silences whole communities of people (!), we need to first talk about systemic oppression.

“Whaaaat?”

Ok. Here’s a quick Systemic Oppression 101: Oppression doesn’t just manifest in racial slurs or homophobic jokes. It also rears its nasty head when people try to access meaningful employment, health care, shelter, citizenship, and basic human rights. All of these barriers to access are created and supported by systems of power. Who has power, who doesn’t, who is allowed to wield their power. All important questions that can help us to start thinking about oppression and identify possible sites of resistance.

Let’s walk through a hypothetical situation. Let’s say there this person, Mytch, who identifies as genderqueer. Mytch might get funny looks when they walk around in public, might receive slurs every once in a while from completely random people. The slurs might hurt but at least they’re temporary. (?!)

Mytch might also have problems finding or keeping a job. (Think about Dani Dominick, a trans woman who was just told by the management of a farmer’s market in London, Ontario that she wasn’t allowed to do her job because she was one of “those people” who undermined the “family atmosphere” where she worked.)

If Mytch wants to buy a house, get a loan, go to school, or get personal identification that reflects their real name and gender, they’ll have to go through series of people who work as cogs in the systems that maintain structures of power.

And this is a piddling little pretend situation that doesn’t do a smidgen of justice to anyone’s lived experiences.

Gah.

OK, let’s move onto number three before I abandon my keyboard.

3) Why must I love my body all the time?!

Sometimes our bodies don’t move the way we want them to. Sometimes our bodies hurt and our pain may be chronic. Sometimes we really wish that we could inhabit different bodies with different sexy bits.

We need to accept that not everyone can control their body whenever they want to. We need to give ourselves permission to say that it’s OK that our bodies and minds are sometimes interconnected, that pain or discomfort in one can affect the other. We need to be able to talk openly, if we so choose, about how we really wish we could change certain parts of our complicated bodies.

We need the freedom to be able to say, “Today, my body is a piece of shit.” If we don’t have this freedom, if we’re told that we must love our bodies ALL THE TIME or else we’re just dupes of the Patriarchy, we have no hope of creating cultures of care. We can’t create spaces in which it’s OK to drool or spasm in a meeting or say, ‘Hey, I really need help with X.’

And here is where the door opens to some possibilities!

Clearly, I’m not a big fan of love-your-body business. I’d like to say that I think it would be great if everyone could just love themselves ‘just the way they are’ buuuuutttt… I don’t think it would actually be that great. Because it’s not real. I can’t make any sense of that in relation to my lived experience and I’m going to chance to guess that I’m not alone.

Where I think we can redirect our energies is to creating communities of care, places where we can admit how we really feel, what we really need and want and dream about. I want to see some freakin’ posters showing people caring for each other, caring about each others’ limits and boundaries. I want to see a campaign directed at privileged dudes, telling them to “Check Your Body.”

Am I asking for too much?

“What are you doing WITH YOUR LIFE?”

Oh boi. If you’re like me, this question has kept you up on multiple nights. Thoughts of [failure/outer space (!)/all that is wrong with the world] boiling in your brain! The next day you’re running on a half tank, which makes everything look even more bleak than it did the night before.

Picture of a stick figure standing under a grey rain cloud.

Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, I started thinking about academia Academia. Ze Institution. THE BUBBLE. The glass tower.

I’m stoked with my plan to write my thesis on using performative arts to destigmatize abortion. I’m SO thankful that I am able to do this, even though I sometimes feel I need to lower my voice in the hallways or fly under the radar for fear of alerting the Powers That Be, who could revoke their rubber-stamped permission.

BUT what does it mean that I’m doing this work in a University? A very conservative University at that? Aye, therein lies the rub. Is it even possible to talk about resistance within academia? If, in order to pass/be approved/etc., we need to use the tools of the very institutions that we seek to challenge, are our arguments for resistance baseless?

Oh, woe is me. I’ve gained access (easily and without debt – very rare privileges, indeed) into the system and now I’m pouting about my limitations. Poo.

Flippancy aside, this is serious shit.

Similarly to the queasiness I feel about writing on abortion rights in academia, I am also very unsettled about being a queer in the system.

So I identify very strongly as queer. Recently, I’ve been reading up on the origins of this term, both as a self-identifier and as a theory. TURNS OUT that some folks are saying that the theory is to the self-identifier as the egg is to the chicken.

In other words, I’m reading book after article after essay and I’m noticing that ‘scholars’ are in agreement that QUEER as a politicized label (or identifier that resists essentialist labels?) was born out of Academia. Yup.

How in the name of… something or someone OUTRAGEOUS… can queer be mobilized as a community-building tool, as a site of resistance, as a BEACON in this drab world, if it was BORN OUT OF THE VERY SYSTEM IT SEEKS TO DISMANTLE?

So much capitalization of words!

And this is the tornado of confusion I find myself within on this Sunday night at the ripe hour of 9:18 PM.

I need a cookie.

Best. Wednesday. Ever.

Wow! I am so excited – yesterday was our FIRST CLASS and it was spectacular! Thank you to the 12 new members of the class for being so enthused and prepared to jump into this 12-week adventure.

Next week we have a guest speaker (stoked!): Jess Crowe, who is a counselor at Planned Parenthood of Waterloo Region. She’s a fantastic human being. She’s going to share with us what it’s like to try to access a range of choices in Waterloo Region, especially how ridiculously difficult it is to get an abortion. She’ll also tell us about Planned Parenthood and the awesome services they offer to folks who need accessible, practical information about sexual health. (Everyone.)

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the shit that’s gone down recently South of the 49th parallel. American politicians have been targeting Planned Parenthood, trying to defund the organization that offers comprehensive sexual education as well as access to choice across the United States.

Here’s a video highlighting some of the recent actions taken by folks who support PP:

Since Conservative politics in Canada, especially those supported by Christian extremists, are so closely linked with Republican groups in the States, there is reason to be concerned that we might start to see similar tactics used here to defund PP in Canada.

There was a petition circulated in 2005 in Waterloo Region titled “Stop Publicly Funding Planned Parenthood.” It flopped and council dismissed it. The creators of the petition did not have any suggestions for how to address the inevitable gap in sexual education that would have arisen should PP have been defunded.

We Share Our Mothers’ Health

A truth.

Also the name of an EPIC song by a band called ‘The Knife.’

I’m taking this afternoon to think about how I may share my mothers’ health and her history, her history of access. Yep – I’ve got more than one mom! HOW COULD THIS BE? No, I don’t have lesbian moms. (Dreams sometimes don’t come true.) I was adopted. From a tiny town in Southern Illinois, USA.

I’m very happy to be alive. I love walking on this earth. But I’m very aware that the odds are that my biological mother, who was raped during a Valentines Day date, didn’t have a very full access to choice while she was pregnant with me. A Google search today shows only once clinic within reasonable geographic range to my birthtown. One. And I was born in 1989, at a time when my bio mom couldn’t have done a Google search.

I have no idea whether she would have chosen to abort her pregnancy. I’ve never met her and likely never will. But if I could travel back in time and meet her while she was pregnant in 1989 I would have fought as hard as I could to help her access an abortion if that was what she wanted.

Of course, I am speaking in a safely hypothetical world; I don’t need to weigh the reality of what that would mean for my life. (Which wouldn’t have happened.)

The only reason that would lead me to actually seeking my bio mom out would be to thank her. Thank her, yes, for birthing me, carrying me to term. But thank her more so for birthing me in a climate where she would have been demonized, scrutinized, and questioned incessantly. I hope she’s been able to heal from the trauma of how I was conceived.

Tasty Readings

Mmmm. Articles.

This afternoon – once I stop procrastinating (CROSSWORDS!) – I shall work on the course reading schedule. I want to make our readings list fun and engaging. Of course there will be some articles and essays but I am spicing things up with videos, music, comic strips, and the like. So much more exciting, non?!

If anyone has any suggestions for course readings or wants to offer advice on how to move on from a New York Times crossword (why are they SO HARD?) – email me at abortionrightskw@gmail.com.

Ciao for now, web world.

 

Rainy Wednesday Morning Distractions

First: A link!

(From “The Inherent Misogyny of the Abortion-as-Genocide Argument” from Synergy, Student and Youth Network for Reproductive Justice:)

“Students for Reproductive Rights believes that it is wrong to compare abortion with the tragic events of real genocides, and that it is also extremely offensive. To compare abortion to the real genocide of real people is highly insulting to the relatives and descendants of Holocaust victims and survivors. Genocide is an intolerable act of hatred against a particular community of people. Abortion is an essential, legal medical procedure that women desperately need, not only to give them control over their bodies and lives but to preserve and improve the lives of their families.”

Visit this link for the full article: http://arccsynergy.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/the-inherent-misogyny-of-the-abortion-as-genocide-argument/

My only beef would be about the use of the word ‘women.’ It’s not only women who need legal, safe abortions! Trans folks, genderqueers, hizes, zhes… Having a uterus does ipso facto make you a woman.

I really like using ‘ipso facto’… makes me feel super smart before noon time.

For some more think-time about queering pro-choice and reproductive justice language, check out this article at Feministing: “Why I won’t be talking about abortion as a “women’s issue” anymore” by Lori.

Second: A wicked video!

Mmkay. Back to figuring out our course readings!

Guest Speakers!

I am brimming with excitement! What a Monday – 12 people signed up, I’m figuring out how to use wordpress, AND I’ve received confirmation from two of our guest speakers!

Our first guest speaker will be Kate Klein. She’s currently finishing her Masters in the Community Psychology program at Wilfrid Laurier University. She directed a wicked production of Jane Cawthorne’s “The Abortion Monologues” in the spring of this year (2011) in Kitchener. Overall, Kate is a lovely human being and I’m really excited to have her join us during our class: A Critical Look at Pro-Choice.

Our second guest speaker will be Beth Murch. (Visit her website here!) She’s a practicing doula in Waterloo Region and currently sits on the board of the Sexual Assault Support Centre. She has two adorable cats and has one of the most brilliant smiles you’ll ever see. Beth is the most kind and generous person I know. She’ll be sharing her awesomeness with the group during our class on Sexual Violence and Body Sovereignty.

BEST. MONDAY. EVER.

From the film "Office Space" (A picture of a person making a funny face with a caption that says "A Case of the Mondays?" This is a joke and reference to the comedy film "Office Space.")