Remorse and Reparations: Asking my body for forgiveness

This article by Jess Baker is on rolling with the changes in our bodies and the stuff that arises when it happens. Baker, like many other activists, has an evolving relationship with her body and the society/people who have affected how she feels about it.

But I recently had a realization that I think goes a step further. Instead of forgiving my body for gaining weight (or getting sick, or aging) what if instead I asked my body forgiveness for being such a jerk to it for so long? Not in the disordered “my body is a temple so I must only eat raw/vegan/paleo/clean/carbless/sugarless/fatless food and exercise three hours a day for ever and then I’ll be immortal” kind of way, but in the way that we ask our parents for forgiveness because when we have kids we realize what dicks we were when we were young.

I’ve been so damn mean to my body on behalf of society, people in my childhood, rando other people, and even my scared, scarred inner child who is terrified of being visible in the “wrong” way. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t buy into my internalized, patriarchal, fucked-up narrative about how my body is supposed to look to be acceptable and lovable. But that narrative still happens sometimes–especially, like Baker talks about, when my body changes. And even though I forgive myself for internalizing those negative messages, like all grownups, I also have to take responsibility for my actions. When I’m a jerk, I can’t say to my daughter, “I was in a horrible mood yesterday because I had a headache, but you were mildly annoying so it’s okay that I yelled at you and made you cry.” I have to say, “Hey Sweetie, I was super grouchy yesterday and I was mean. I’m really sorry. You didn’t deserve it.”

I owe my body the same kind of  apology. For criticizing it, objectifying it, dissociating from it, and manipulating it. For sucking in my stomach instead of taking deep breaths. For squeezing it into spandex shapewear that squishes my organs. For fixating on the parts I feel particularly critical of like my neck or my stomach (as if they’re somehow detached from my brain). For all the unhealthy diets I went on in my teens and 20s (I’m looking at you, Weight Watchers and Slim Fast). For the ways I try to psychologically lock myself away from my body when it “misbehaves” but treat it like a show pony when it’s “better”.  And most recently, for freaking out about gaining weight when I was on high dose steroids for three months and chronically ill.

So Baker says this:

“It’s about dismantling the thought that there is a “perfect” body to achieve. It’s sometimes about letting go of the belief that you are nothing more than your body.”
This is good. We are more than how we look to others. But are we more than our bodies, which are what we are made of? What if we turn this idea on its head?One of the things I’ve become gradually aware of, especially through my study of psychology and phenomenology, is that we ARE our bodies.  Not how they look to others– because that’s completely subjective and out of our control. Not how they compare to an oppressive, controlling set of social norms that are utter bullshit. And certainly not based on a financially corrupted health system that claims to be able to determine health based on one variable (and then sell you shit you don’t need by promising redemption).

What I mean is I wouldn’t be having these thoughts or writing these words without a body. I need a heart that beats and blood that circulates and lungs that process air to even have a brain that thinks this stuff up. Freud thought that instincts, the source of emotions, originated in the “viscera”–not the mind. And the more time I study emotion and development, the more I see the body’s role in the functioning of the person, rather than the mind’s role in the functioning of the body. Our bodies continue to do all this amazing stuff–breathe, walk, taste, smell, react to our environment–regardless of how appreciative or disparaging of them we are.

So to my body: I’m sorry. Please forgive me for being a dick to you. I was taught to be that way, but I take responsibility for my actions. I am grateful to you for continuing to be amazing even when I treat you disrespectfully. You rock! I will try to remember that my consciousness is part of you, rather than the other way around. Thanks for sticking by me. Love, your psyche.

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