Archive for category Body Image
TweetJanuary is a war on our bodies. It’s a war in so many ways. It’s nestled right after a holiday speckled December, full of drink and food sprees, exit fall/begrudgingly hello winter, and January is there. Waiting. Regardless of the bleak gray sky, we wipe our mental boards clean and vow better habits, more living, less poor choices. And some take January and the promise of more living to declare war on their bodies. The dieting, restricting, cold turkey, no holds barred workouts.
It’s no wonder the war is conceded by Valentine’s Day. It’s never sustainable.
Body consciousness is taking center stage.
I’ve been thinking about my body. A lot. Experience has told me that while there’s a temptation to generalize that most women suffer from body hyper vigilance, I know that while the stressors are different, this vigilance very much includes men. Who DOESN’T think, criminalize, criticize, and punish their bodies in January? At the very least, most people take a hard look in the mirror and pick ourselves apart, one limb at a time.
So when I read THIS, a jarring response essay by the profane yet sensitive Margaret Cho about her history of body issues after she received horrid comments about her body and recently inked tattoos, I paused. She goes ape shit on two readers.
Things I could say should be left unheard and unsaid because I am not willing to be the bigger person. I do not take the high road. I take the low road and blows below the belt are my absolute favorite. The best revenge is not living well. The best revenge is revenge.
About 2% of me, all raised-eye brow and all, thinks, “Oh, Cho – c’mon. Don’t take the low road.”
And the 98% of me rejoiced. It was so refreshing, and honest. It was like the part of me that I am in a room with only the closest people I know; where you laugh too loudly at inappropriate things; where you say what needs to be said in whatever words find their way to your tongue without censoring. Dammit, she’s honest. She’s so honest about NOT taking the high road. Cho received staggering points from my respect bank simply because she’s not one of these faux reputation, Tiger Woods family man/I’m actually “addicted” to sexing White women in dirty places facade. Cho claims nothing but herself, which includes CHOOSING to go below the belt.
I couldn’t help but feel ghosts around me. Misty, clammy ghosts that appeared in the room and gently licked my skin, bringing me back to my 10, 14, 17, 23, year old self when words, hate, eye daggers and jokes were thrown at me because of my weight, my skin color, my heritage, my hair, my hairiness, my almond eyes. The ghosts were as real as ever. My breath caught and I suddenly was a little girl being told to go back to my own country. Being called every kind of word used to describe round and full. Then I was a teenager being told to only date my own. Own what? “YOUR own.” Then a running, young woman with a car full of teenage boys speeding by yelling derogatory slurs. Then there was the eroticizing of my racial make up. And then, always, there is teasing. Relentless, torrential, acid rain on the tender skin of growing up girl.
I fly my flag of self-esteem for all those who have been told they were ugly and fat and hurt and shamed and violated and abused for the way they look and told time and time again that they were “different” and therefore unlovable.
The body is a war zone we grow up in. For those who are accepted as “normal” and capable, light skinned and perky, demure or graceful, it’s a playground. But for those of us on the other side of the fence, it’s a battleground. I was never beat as a POW, but there are scars reminding me that Cho is right. When those around you patrol and use your body for shooting practice, how are we not suppose to grow up defensive and use what we can for survival? I dismiss Cho’s critics (or her lone “lost a fan” fan) who call her words too harsh and unnecessary.
How does one measure abrasive behavior when bound in a triggering and defensive situation? Why are we so quick to jump on those who defiantly take below the belt shots in defense when its clear the attack was unjustified? I think those who did not undergo hard times are quick with their high road lectures and low on understanding human psychology.
Being called ugly and fat and disgusting to look at from the time I could barely understand what the words meant has scarred me so deep inside that I have learned to hunt, stalk, claim, own and defend my own loveliness and my image of myself as stunningly gorgeous with a ruthlessness and a defensiveness that I fear for anyone who casually or jokingly questions it, as my anger and rage combined with my intense and fearsome command of words create insults meant to maim, kill and destroy.
If words are used to kill someone’s spiritual and mental livelihood, it makes sense that their vitreous ego’s defense is made of the same ammunition: words.
And call me a crazy Catholic, but I hear a spiritual knock on the door of Margaret Cho. There’s something familiar about her beckoning injured birds to come to her for comfort.
I want to defend the children that we still are inside, the fragile sensitive souls who no matter how much we tried were still told we were not good enough. I want to make the world safe and better and happy for us. We deserve beauty, love, respect, admiration, kindness and compassion. If we don’t get it, there will be hell to pay. I am no saint, but I am here for you and me. I am here for us, and I am doing the best I can.
I think there’s a God, or Buddha, or Spirit, or Life, or Universe, or WHATEVER you want to call the deeper Source of our existence, there in her words; rising up to defend what she knows is rightfully true: our inner selves, fragile and uncertain, still need assurance and community.
I think that when we rise to defend ourselves, what was ugly turns into something divine. Perhaps divine, for some, is equated to some pristine, soft green mountain side with Julie Andrews twirling in mother nature. But for me, rising up to defend our humanity IS divinity. Cho self-stamps herself as damaged and gorgeous, not saintly. And there’s something spring water refreshing about that. There’s something cathartic and necessary about her uproarious defensiveness. It reminds me how acutely human we are at any time, whether on Twitter or working in a factory, or writing in a library. We, at any time, are so vulnerable to the thoughts and words of others that we cannot take each other for granted. We can no longer afford to assume that those around us are not tender. We cannot afford to assume that the memories of those we encounter are blemish-free. And we can no longer mislabel aggressive defense as aggression. Not for those who have been the cork board for thousands of pin jokes. Rising up for ourselves is not rude. It is not unstable. It is not crazy. You haven’t truly lived until you defended yourself against pure spite. As
each one of us designs our path of connection to others, we also design our individualized plan of defense for self-preservation.
There’s a time and a place for healthy and healing and bomb-like anger – which is different from the foul breath of negativity – just as there’s a time and a place for the high road. When you learn the difference and know when to practice the former, it’s become a rite of passage.
If you haven’t yet defended yourself against unwarranted hatred, don’t explain to others to take the high road.
If your body has not undergone physical violation or emotional trauma of harassment, do not assume you can locate and point to the high road.
If your life has not been used as a target for cheap funnies, hasty attempts for laughter at your expense, don’t judge the response of the humiliated.
January is a declared war on our bodies. Let’s start a revolution and wave a white flag. Wave it high, unfettered, and free. We surrender to no one but ourselves.
I grew up hard and am still hard and I don’t care. I did not choose this face or this body and I have learned to live with it and love it and celebrate it and adorn it with tremendous drawings from the greatest artists in the world and I feel good and powerful like a nation that has never been free and now after many hard won victories is finally fucking free. I am beautiful and I am finally fucking free.
TweetThere’s nothing sexy about pain. There’s nothing even remotely redeeming, glorified, cute, or remarkable about pain.
I came into this realization quite quickly Sunday morning when I was dressing Isaiah for mass. I began lowering him to the floor, felt a horribly familiar pop! in my lower back and I immediately recognized that telling radiating heat that spread throughout my lumbar region as I fell on one knee. Isaiah screamed in my ear as he harmlessly wobbled back from me so he peer into my face to see what was wrong. All he could see was my face going paler by the second and my breath quicken in short spurts and outbursts, trying to control the pain.
No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
Not again. Not again. Not again. NOT AGAIN.
I just got back to the gym this week. I just started getting back on the treadmill, back in the zumba studio, back for my first swim in the pool. I just …
I just got over my back injury from last month.
Remembering my phone was in the inner pocket of my purse, I slowly walked to my purse on the ground and gently leaned forward. I reached and immediately fell and screamed in pain.
I somehow got my phone, I don’t remember how. (A friend told me that when her back went out, she blacked out from the pain.) I remember feeling calmed by the smooth surface of my phone, thanking God it was charged and relieved that Nick was only 5 minutes into his day, ahead of me, and on his way to work. I whispered frantically to Isaiah that everything was fine and threw him a toy as I winced in pain. He hobbled away, whimpering at the site of his mother in such disarray and distraction.
I burst into tears and could barely get the words out to Nick, “My back…w-w-went ou-ou-out a-a-a-gain…”
It was at that moment that I retreated from the world, the pain was overwhelming, almost blinding.
A co-worker told me later she saw Nick walking on the street when he was talking to me, all dressed up for work, briefcase in hand, but in an unusual walking speed, “a near run” she told me. So she stopped and offered him a ride to wherever he was rushing to. “Home,” he said, “Leese threw her back out again.”
It’s hormones, my chiropractor told me yesterday. All the hormones and chemicals that loosen the pelvis and back, readying the body to deliver a baby, are still in your body and, likely, the lumbar region isn’t as tight as it was before and isn’t as strong. Doing household chores and lifting things can sprain, strain, and injure the lower back, says the doc.
All of this from hormones? Still? It’s been 14 months.
Hormones and chemicals can linger in your body, doc says.
A number of friends – all who have given birth in the past two years – have confided of their recent and surprising chronic lower back pain, some so severe that it prevents mobility. Few have found comfort. All have tried natural healing, gym trainers, chiropractors, physical therapists. This strange community of back pain mothers comforts me.
I toss two pills of Alleve in my mouth and tried to smile at Isaiah in the kitchen. He put his chubby arms up for me to carry him and starts grabbing my clothes for leverage, like trying to climb a tree. Nick immediately scooped him up and tries to cheer him up with a jolly, overly boisterous voice. The shriek out of Isaiah’s mouth was one I could interpret instantly, “What’s the matter with you? Why won’t you pick me up?” He’s taken away from me and, out of nowhere, I have an image of him being taken away from me the moment he was born when all I wanted to do was hold him. I shake my head, and gently stir the boiling orzo.
Is this what birthing mothers deal with, I asked my head as I stare at the back of Nick’s body. His is so strong, so solid. Simply clad in jeans and a white tshirt, Nick’s body looked beautiful to me; his wide and capable back seemed fearless. His stride was fluid, like a complicated piece of piano music keyed effortlessly. I look down at my body. A staccato mess of surgeries, stretch marks, and my skin’s opinion of the pregnancy weight gain and loss. I see my scarred belly from three surgeries with another scheduled in the summer to fix an umbilical hernia. My inner eye sees an exhausted and red lumbar region, a weakened lower back throbbing with stubborn stiffness. It strikes me, with almost a pin needle acuteness, that Nick’s body hadn’t changed at all since we had Isaiah. Nick’s body remained intact, with no incisions, no stretches, no torn anything.
I pause in that realization.
His tongue had never mistaken water for metallic liquid. His nose never became so sensitive as to be able to detect the cleaning fluid on the floor of a grocer. His heart ventricles never widened to allow more blood flow. His calves and feet never swelled with unbearable water retention. His chest never billowed with heart burn. His mind never clouded with postpartum depression. His nipples never cracked with pain so deep that his shoulders shuddered. His skin never broke out in rashes. He never vomited from anesthesia or used his foreman to protect a 6 inch abdominal incision against a winter chill. He never had a catheter put in at the same time as a suppository while compressors pumped blood away from his legs. He never had an abrasion in the back of his eye because the surgeons forgot to completely close and protect his eyes before surgery. He never had to take pills to stop, prompt, or control a menstrual cycle. He never felt a flutter of life in his belly or feel the hiccup of a new being inside his womb.
Because he doesn’t have a womb.
Nick did and does everything a parent could possibly do. He transformed his emotions, his life, his commitments, and reformed his schedule to accommodate me and every little thing I needed throughout my pregnancy and birthing experience. He respects anything I tell him or request. Nick continuously and gladly lays in a metaphorical railroad track for me and our son. If that’s what needs to happen, that’s what I will do, he says.
But in the confines of my bed, nursing this near paralysis, when I hear Isaiah’s laughter and Nick’s efforts to keep him occupied, I realize, with ringing clarity something that I could not have known or respected prior to going through it myself: our bodies are entirely different and our needs are entirely different. My body endured all of this and my body cried differently than his. I knew this beforehand, but I never really Knew It beforehand. Maybe my body never really cried until I became a mother.
So this difference between Nick and I exists. It exists as sharp as a paring knife, as real as our love. That difference – that my body changed while his did not – initially sprouted a rocketing resentment against anything him, society, and anyone else that didn’t Get It. It = women’s bodies are a terrain that only we ourselves can travel. It is not for anyone to lay laws upon. It is not to be conquered, violated, disposed, or mishandled. Along with the resentment, I also noticed a widening reverence for my body. From which new life travels, the woman’s body is the canal to existence. It is from our very bones, the calcium of our teeth, the marrow of our own breath that the woman’s body offers and sustains a new being. The woman’s body is the epitome of automated self-sacrifice. It is the ground zero of renewal — if the environment agrees that her life is valuable and the time to recover is respected. We women, we give birth. And we are also born into a new identity and a new body.
Are there two more powerful and daunting words in the English language?
But we women are also prone to set back and injury because of what our spines uphold. Our bellies swell with life and our spines pull back to hold us up and in shape. Sometimes, though, the spine gives way and loses its strength.
Pain, whether it’s the lower back or elbow, or migraine, or menstrual, is a debilitating state of existence. Not because of the physical pain itself. It’s debilitating because chronic or severe pain draws our minds inward, incapable of fully giving of ourselves to anything or anyone else. In pain, I become unlike myself. I don’t unravel. I do the opposite, I am mummified. Most people, but especially me, are social beings. I feel endorphins from conversation, laughter, and intellectual exchange. However, in the confines of a bed and four walls, my spirit goes down. My intellect goes dim and my emotions begin to go dark. Swathed and cast in my own stillness and short breaths, pain dictates my freedom. I no longer care about anything. All that matters is finding a pain-free, mobile existence. Which is why when I check all my social media outlets – email, Facebook, Twitter, newsfeeds, and listserves – I shake my head that the world is celebrating Mardi Gras and International Women’s Day. I wish I had the energy to care. I find all kinds of interesting stuff to read, but before my mind digests in the information, my back spasms again and I nearly drop my laptop in shock.
Pain draws us inward.
So for me, today, the one day (unfortunately) that calls women from all over the world to stand together, I lie in bed, with my eyes closed, waiting for relief. Luckily, for me, I am certain of two things:
patience and writing can be worked on in bed
I do and can stand up for women’s rights and gender justice on a daily basis. But right now, regaining my spiritual and psychological composure after a back injury and remembering the awesome capacity of a woman’s body seems like my fight for today.
Tomorrow it may be something else.
TweetThere’s never been a time when I never thought about my body. For as long as I can remember, dating back to 1986 when I was seven years old and someone commented that my belly was cute and my lisp was cuter, I remember having a third eye. Two eyes on the world, and one eye, located in the central part of my temporal lobe kept a vigilant eye on my body. Similar to the Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings that’s always waiting for Frodo to slip the Precious on his finger so the Eye can locate its whereabouts. The Eye never sleeps, just waits.
There’s no other time of year where one’s body is more punished than the new year, and by punished, I really do mean punished. It’s looked upon with frowns, wrinkled foreheads, pokes at the mid-lower-higher-frontal-back area with short, frustrated breaths. Vows to “get into shape” sound more like threats upon oneself than promises to be healthier. The Fiery Eye is hard at work.
Women, especially, punish our bodies. If not physically, we certainly torment our bodies mentally. Scheming, thinking, plotting on different ways to *finally* get the body, shape, piece or area of ourselves to look *just* like that way we think it should. And women are never at a deficit for resources to put their plans into action.
Nearly every woman I spoke to recently mentioned transforming their bodies this year. And I began thinking of the toll this kind of mentality has on us. I began wondering how our perspectives, our self-inflicted mental knife wounds, about our bodies, scar and limit us. I began looking around at us – covered in scarves, hats, and heavy warm clothes, and wondered what our bodies would say if they could talk beneath all the layers we wrap them in. More importantly, what would our bodies say to the thoughts we have about our bodies.
Nothing can take the place of being healthy. But being healthy is such an encompassing endeavor and it often gets mutilated to solely mean what you put in your mouth. We forget that how much sleep we allow ourselves, how stressed out we become, how often we say yes when we really mean no, how often we allow the time to make love with our partners, whether or not we smoke, whether or not we bike and walk instead of driving, when and if we pray, when and if we cook really good and healthy foods – all of this matters. Caffeine. Alcohol. Processed foods. Laziness. TV. Depression. Reluctance. Darkness. These are all factors of health.
It’s not just about carbs, see.
If you’re like me and you do want to have a magnanimous healthy year, follow some advice that was bestowed on me: if you want to change, do something different. If you don’t want to change, keep doing what you’re doing.
If it hasn’t worked for you in the past, it won’t work for you this year.
Try something different this year. Try love.
A documentary made by Columbia University about Asian American women and body image. Well-shot, interesting, and about 20 minutes long.
H/T to Reappropriate.
TweetThanks to BFP for bringing up this issue. As a Filipina, I gotta post this topic on my blog as well.
Are Eyelids the Number One Beauty Concern in the Asian-American Community?
AND THIS FOLLOWING POST RANKS IN THE TOP FIVE OF ALL TIME GREATEST POSTS EVERRRRRR ABOUT THIS SUBJECT:
Almond Eyes from Claire Light
I’ve commented on BFP’s and Racialicious’ site about this. The only times I’ve ever thought about my eyes was when I was made fun of for having “chinky” eyes. I would look hard in the mirror and compared them to my White friends. I was utterly confused because my eyes looked pretty much the same, I thought. I think it was the fact that I was Asian with straight black hair that gave me away. My eyes are lidded, brown, and wide open. I have no idea why some folks would insist I have a physical characteristic that I actually do not have.
Filipinos, in my humble opinion, are loud, brown, and love to party. Weight and body image are issues, especially because other Asian races are so damn small. Skin color is huge. I can be as fair as beige in December and in August be as dark as some African American friends. Some of the most racist comments toward Filipinos have been because of our brown skin, calling us the “Niggers of the Asian Race.”
I love my skin. I love my skin.
I was in an elevator once when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “How do you keep your tan so even all the time?”
I internally gawked at her, but just smiled and said, “Oh! I have a year round membership to Jamaica-Me Tan!” and walked out.
It’s just me, that’s who I am. Changing with the seasons. Really hairy. Short. Curvy. and Lovely.