On Belonging in Your Body
making the world a better place for women
The first thing women want is to feel that they belong in their bodies.
We want to feel that our bodies are ours, and we want to feel good in them.
It is the first thing we want because our bodies are the first things within our reach.
Most of us—sometimes, or often, or most of the time—do not feel like we belong in our bodies. As women, to want to belong in our bodies is to swim upstream against a torrent of discouraging messages. These messages, over the course of history, have given us different versions of the same choice: be of a certain age, of a certain weight, of a certain orientation, of a certain hue, of a certain physical ability, of a certain body type—or be worthless.
To that end, I’d like to spend one column dispensing some homespun advice about how to fight this good fight. This post is dedicated to women. Cisgender and transgender, straight and queer, and the majority of women who fall somewhere on the spectrum. If you are by personal identification a woman, and if you find yourself somehow trapped in that term, this post is me asking for a dialogue with you. Maybe none of this will seem new to you, but we could all use reminders about how to be a person in a world that dismisses personhood.
Dear Woman, dear Friend,
You have been told that your body is a tool. It is a wrench in the hearts of the adoring and the weak—lovers and bosses, professors and baristas, and anyone else who will serve you because they want you.
You have been told that your body is a meat sandwich—by brilliant women who could’ve been your mother. They tell you to throw a dinner party, invite all the men you know, and dish up your wits instead.
You have been told that your body is a cloud. That when you walk on the bar, your feet don’t touch marble. You have been told that you are a goddess—that is, when you’re not being a whore.
All this is not true.
Friend, your body is a home. It is the home of your person, because you live in it every day, experience through it, weave stories out of it, have your ideas in it, and make jokes with and about it.
Your body, your home, your personhood—belongs entirely to you. It is a gift you got for being born, and you get to decide when and with whom you’re interested in sharing that gift. The rest of it—what they tell you—is a tangled knot of nonsense.
Realize that when you say, “It’s not them, it’s me—I just don’t have the discipline to be, well, whatever they want me to be,” that the thought didn’t originate from you, but from a complicated system that profits from making women work, buy, and fuck themselves out of feeling worthless.
Become critical of any thought that turns you on yourself. Recognize the extent to which images are designed to destroy women’s power by making us seem intrinsically incurious, lovably fragile, painfully entertaining, fantastically accommodating, brainless sex objects, or neurotic brain-boxes.
Value your sexuality as it is, not as someone tells you it should be. Women vary tremendously, and learning about other bodies should only make you embrace variety, not look for a norm. There is no such thing as a norm. There is only “healthy” and healthy means consent and satisfaction. Instead of rushing to define your sexuality, rush to discover it. Play with it, try stuff, judge the outcome, let go of the things that don’t work, and remember things that do.
Dear Friend, I write to you to to remind you, that you cannot reject your body. To remind you that we are not somehow above our bodies, because we are our bodies. We are also our minds. Fear, panic, self-doubt, your need to be right, your need to be good, your need to be in control, your defenses—these things will often demand that you somehow deny one, body or mind, in the service of the other. We commit violence to ourselves when we treat the two as separate. Practice living inside your body. It’s the only thing you’re guaranteed to have with you in your time on Earth. Living inside your body is merely the practice of living inside yourself.
Dear Friend, I don’t know how to do it either. When undressing, whether for the mirror or for my lover, I have to remind myself that I have a body, and that that, is okay. I can go through weeks, immersed in work and self-doubt, completely ignoring what’s good for me, what my needs and desires are. I need reminders, as much as all women do, to be good to myself, to let myself belong in my body.
We can all be each other’s reminders. When a woman we know and love says “Oh I hate my belly,” we say, “I love it.” When she says “My thighs are huge and gross” we say, “I love your thighs.” When she says, “My boobs are too big/small/saggy/pointy/far apart/whatever,” we say, “I love them.” When she says, “I don’t look beautiful,” we say, “You are beautiful.” Because her body, all those parts she criticizes, are her. Again, the key is being attracted to her as a person, and being honest about that. The best way to undo the tangled knot of nonsense that discourages women from belonging in, owning, and embracing their bodies is simply not to contribute to it. Hopefully, we can make the world a saner, sexier place.
this column was written with help and wisdom from the sexual health blogs, The Dirty Normal, The Pervocracy, and Captain Awkward