Women and folks socialized as girls are taught from the earliest age to scrutinize and criticize the crap out of our bodies, so it’s no surprise that our relationships with our bodies can feel fraught—but they don’t have to be. The degree to which you judge your body doesn’t actually have anything to do with what your body looks like; rather, your relationship with your body is largely comprised of the thoughts and feelings and judgements and beliefs that you have about it. We can liberate our minds from the stories about our bodies that don’t serve us but do serve racist, sexist, ableist, and other oppressive structures of power.
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Episode 3 Transcript
Quick trigger warning: there is a very brief mention in this episode of pregnancy loss and death of a loved one.
Hi. Welcome to School of Bitchcraft, the show about body sovereignty and how to claim it. I’m your host, Dr. Sabina Singwell, and this is episode three.
In the last episode, I talked about what it means to have a relationship with food, and since there are probably only 3 episodes of this podcast in your podcast player, it will be very easy for you to go back and find that episode, which you might want to do before you listen to this one.
One of things I discussed was that when you think about the relationship you have with food, it creates space between you and food so that you can explore some of the stories that you hold about food. That way, you can see if those stories are serving you.
The thing is, though, in our culture, exploring our food stories leads very quickly into stories we tell ourselves about our bodies.
So that’s why we’re talking today about what it means to have a relationship with your body.
Hoo—are you feeling the heaviness of this topic already? LOL. This is a topic littered with thorns, knots and traps.
And that is a cultural story in and of itself: the fact that food stories and body stories are so fused together that it seems impossible to pry them apart–this is a cultural choice we make. It’s not a de facto A to B situation, even though so many of us believe that it is.
And that’s because, in our diet-addled world, it can be hard to unpack our food stories without fear entering the scene like two seconds later,
because if we’re going to talk about food, we need to talk about health, and weight! And sugar! And FAT! AND DEATH!!!!
(I mean, that’s how it goes if you’re a little on the health-obsessed side of the equation,
and, like, let’s get real–what woman isn’t, thanks largely to our current construction of North American womanhood as part-time junior nutritionist and hypervigilant health custodian.)
In other words, if you identify as a woman or were assigned the gender of “girl” at birth, it is deeply countercultural NOT to get sucked into an obsession with health.
So all of this really points to this simple fact that making space for talking about our relationships with our bodies can just feel super fraught.
This is because our RELATIONSHIPs with our bodies can be highly judgemental.
Our relationships with our bodies, in fact, can feel SO judgemental that that judgement?
Can actually block us from truly inhabiting our bodies, embodying our bodies, living our lives fully in our bodies.
Instead, we judge our bodies, shame our bodies, and live an existence where, if we aren’t punishing our bodies, we are sneaking ourselves past our bodies. Instead of fully inhabiting our flesh, we hold back; we treat our bodies as mobile meat containers for our brains; we avoid looking at ourselves in the mirror or we spend all day obsessively body checking.
I mean, when is the last time you lightly and lovingly put your hand on your own stomach? Not to pinch your flesh or poke to see if your abs are there or admire it or bemoan it in a mirror. But to just lovingly let your hand come to rest on your belly.
Have you ever done that?
Do you want to take this as a moment to just place your hand on your belly and just inhabit it? Feel it? Be there with it and for it?
Mmmm. Yes. Belly! That’s your belly. And I don’t care how round or hard or soft it is, ahhhh! It’s your belly and I love it. I do. I love it.
Why is that so countercultural?
We spend so much time trying to get away from our bellies and denying our bellies and manipulating our bellies, time and energy that could be spent on so many other things. We squish our bellies into jeans or Spanx (tho–is anyone doing that during coronatimes? Not sure). We deny that it’s rumbling when it tells us it’s hungry, or we insist that it likes kale even when kale gives us gas or we wrap a measuring tape around it in an effort to size it up and have IT tell US whether or not we are worthy.
And all along, your lonely, lovely belly is just doing what it’s supposed to do: processing your food into energy units and pooping out the rest, all without you having to think about it.
But gratitude and appreciation for what our bodies do for us is not often a major narrative that many of us have when we think about our bodies or our relationships with them.
I know that this is not always the case. Sometimes we are able to tune in to stories about, for example
our bodies’ accomplishments, like the distances our feet went, or the speed our bodies went, or the things our hands made.
Sometimes our stories are about deeply embodied feelings, like disappointment or grief: the pregnancies we didn’t carry, or the emptiness of our arms because of the people we can no longer hold, or the parts of our bodies that are injured or no longer functioning as they once did.
Some of our loudest narratives, of course, are those of shame. The shame of our bodies getting older, getting softer, changing. The shame of the stretch marks, the wrinkles, the skin that just doesn’t behave like it did when we were younger.
We counteract the shame by buying gadgets and serums and hair dye, instead of addressing the feelings and thoughts of shame themselves.
We go on diets. We punish ourselves. We pummel ourselves.
Is this the kind of relationship we want with our bodies?
I know, I know–we do these things to our bodies
to get them into the shape and size and texture we want
so that we CAN have the relationship with our body that’s easy, peaceful, dynamic or fun.
But we’ve got it all wrong.
Punishing and pummeling our bodies, restricting our food, and doing all the other things we do to manipulate our bodies will not lead to a relaxed and peaceful relationship with our bodies–ever.
Remember, the question for yourself is not “what kind of body do I want?” The question is “what kind of a relationship to my body do I want?”
Because the actual size and shape and topography and look of your body does not determine your RELATIONSHIP with your body. YOU do, through your thoughts and stories and beliefs and judgements.
This is why it’s possible for example, to be someone who has a disability, or is not conventionally beautiful, or is plus size, or as we like to say lovingly around here, fat (because fat is a neutral descriptor of someone’s body, and not, in fact, a slur),
and still have a relaxed relationship with your body.
And on the flip side,
it’s entirely possible to be an athlete or a model or to just be very naturally thin
and have a tortured or destructive or punishing relationship with your body.
And everything in between.
This is because your relationship with your body–your relationship with your body–is largely comprised of the thoughts and feelings and judgements and beliefs that you have about your body.
Now, before you think I’m completely out to lunch, let’s make one thing super clear.
It is absolutely true that, in our society, certain bodies are praised, valued more highly and are framed as being “better” than other bodies. Thin, white, young, able bodies are granted many more privileges and much more access than fat, brown, Black, old and disabled bodies. Built environments are ableist. Employment practices are fatphobic. Laws are discriminatory and the enforcement of laws is racist.
This is why the project of body sovereignty will always be incomplete until all of us in this interconnected web of life can achieve it.
But this doesn’t mean that, in the meantime, we can’t liberate our own minds from the stories about our bodies that don’t serve us but do serve oppressive structures of power.
So there’s a question: what kinds of stories and beliefs do you hold about your body that serve you? What are the kinds of stories and beliefs that don’t serve you?
Stories that serve you don’t have to be things like, “I love my body, I’m so sexy and hot, I’m friggin’ amazing.” Although if that’s a belief you hold, then great!
Your stories could include something like, “My body is capable.” You can choose to cultivate this story for yourself regardless of whether or not you can run fast or lift heavy or make 100 burritos in five minutes or less.
Here is another question: what would it feel like to have a relaxed relationship with your body? What would a relaxed relationship with your body look like?
It could mean you tune into it on the regular, listening to little whispers before they become shouts. It might mean you trust your body’s biological wishes for food, sex and going to the bathroom. It might mean you honour it with vigorous and languid movement, and with rest and sleep.
What kind of a relationship do you have with your body? What kind of relationship do you want? Remember, this is a different question than “what kind of body do you want?”
Remember, what kind of body you have and the quality of your relationship with the body you have are two totally separate matters.
Whatever kind of relationship you want with your body, it’s not a one-and-done situation; just like any relationship, it is an ongoing, daily practice that does best when handled with intention and attention. If this sounds hard or boring, just remember that an inattentive relationship with your body, one in which you criticize it and trash talk it multiple times a day, is also hard and boring. The work is there either way; it’s up to you to decide which set of narratives is going to lead you to the relationship you want.
In bitches we trust!
If you want to move from an anxious or punitive relationship with your body to one that is more joyful but you just don’t know how, you’ve got to subscribe to my newsletter, This Week in Bitchcraft. Every week, I share lessons for bringing a sense of ease and peace to your relationship to your body and food. To sign up, just go to schoolofbitchcraft.com/podcast. While you’re there, you can click on the “Work With Me” page if you know that you’ll benefit from one on one coaching from me. And of course, if you want to help spread the word about body sovereignty, be sure to like, subscribe and rate School of Bitchcraft in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.