The Body Is Not An Apology

Fostering Radical Unapologetic Self Love, Body Empowerment and Healing Around the WORLD!

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Scars, Markings and Memories: Stories Written on Our Bodies

By Megan Ryland

Our bodies can help us keep track of our stories. They keep a tally of sleepless nights beneath our eyes. They remember falls in joints when it rains. Our scars remind us of recklessness or accidents or illness or joyful misadventure.

When I was in elementary school, I couldn’t get enough of my body’s only big story to date: my only scar. I told the story most frequently in gym class, when I felt it would be most useful to the audience of my peers. It was my word of warning about the dangers of gym.

Before I’d even arrived in first grade, I had a gym period at my daycare facility when we got to run around a gymnasium for an hour. There were some toys and sports equipment, but we generally just ran around like wild things. There was one important rule for the playing with hockey sticks though: no slap shots.

You know where this is going. Four-year-old me was just rolling along when one of the wilder boys, Nicholas, decided to show off. It happened so fast I hardly remember how it went, but one slap shot later I had blood dripping down my face. I vividly remember worrying about it getting on the floor as I was rushed to the nurse’s room, just like I remember the sound of Nicholas being scolded in the hallway as I waited to be taken away for stitches. When he was dragged into the room to apologize, he was crying harder than I was. My memory skips forward to the doctor freezing my forehead with a needle and making a joke before stitching me up. It skips again to the phone call with my mother once it was all over. I couldn’t stop telling her about the neon pink bandage I’d been given for my forehead, while she was trying to determine how rattled my brain was.

I would tell a version of this story every year in gym class right before we started the hockey unit and I would proudly point to the scar on my forehead. It was my proof for my tale of woe (and the most exciting thing to happen to me, it seemed). I still think about it when I look in the mirror, although it’s barely visible now, and when my fingers still find it on my forehead. It’s part of the map of my body.

We all have these landmarks, made on purpose or by accident. I don’t have any tattoos, but I know that a common complaint for those with tattoos is the constant requests for explanations. People assume that there is a story behind a tattoo - and often assume they’re entitled to hear it, unfortunately. In fact, a similar demand for an explanation or story happens to those people with visible disabilities, as if their medical history ought to be an open book because their body displays some visible ‘difference.’ It’s not up to other people to define your story or demand you perform a personal story time just for them at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, people should just live with the suspense.

Some people have stories and some people don’t, but we generally understand that our body’s markings mean something to us - and we should get to decide what they mean for ourselves. We recognize tribute or memorial tattoos are part of celebration and grief. We reflect on the scars we carry and how they have re-shaped our bodies.

It would be a shame to ignore the stories written on our bodies. So much happens to us without leaving anything you can point to; invisible scars are often so difficult to explain. There is an honesty to bodies, at the very least. It can be embarrassing, but needn’t be. If as a society we let the stretch marks and surgery scars and baldness speak plainly, I think we could all feel less silenced. We could say without fear, “Here I am. My story is written all over my body.” What a world that would be, to be unashamed of our bodies and our stories.

Filed under the body is not an apology scars tattoos childhood injuries body stories

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Learning Body Stories: How We Learn Dissatisfaction Tales

by Megan Ryland

I have freckles. A pretty significant number, although not exactly impressive. I didn’t spare them a thought for a long time. My dad and my aunt have freckles, so they were just how some people’s skin looked. In general, freckles are rather boring. I didn’t realize that there was a story to tell about them until I was around ten, when I was first asked to tell one.

“Do you like your freckles?”

I didn’t really understand the question at first. What do you mean, “like my freckles”? It was like asking me if I liked my earlobes or my gums as concepts, as things to have. I didn’t think there was the option to dislike them. They were just there. The conversation was a formal introduction to body dissatisfaction. I remember stumbling through my confusion to respond at the time. I could hear from the tone of the question that I was expected to say “no,” and I was nothing if not a compliant child at ten. I said something that involved a shrug and “I guess they’re okay” with a wrinkled nose. I told the story of my body the way that the listener expected: I was dissatisfied.

[Transcript:

Regina: I love her. She’s like a martian.

Karen: God, my hips are huge!

Gretchen: Oh please, I hate my calves.

Regina: At least you guys can wear halters. I’ve got man shoulders.

Narration: I used to think there was just fat and skinny. Apparently there can be a lot of things wrong on your body.

Gretchen: My hair line is so weird.

Regina: My pores are huge.

Karen: My nailbeds suck.

(The girls look to Cady to contribute her own flaw.)

Cady: I have really bad breath in the morning.

Regina: Ew.]

The stories people tell about their bodies often leave me confused and dissatisfied, like my own story about my freckles. I can’t read their minds and imagine the whys or wherefores of those stories, but I know that I have felt pressure to shame myself, to tell the story of dissatisfaction for the pleasure or benefit of others. Standing in front of mirrors or peers, I remember the sharing of flaws as a form of bonding; I tell you something I dislike about me to comfort you in your own dissatisfaction, or vice versa. It’s a dissatisfaction spiral and I hated telling that story. It never felt like it ended happily. When I saw the clip above in Mean Girls I recognized it as a dramatized but familiar scene. These were conversations I moved away from as soon and as often as possible.

The language we use for bodies, perhaps especially for girls and women, is rarely positive. When we speak about our bodies, it seems taboo to celebrate them and appearance (not utility) is the focal point. To be proud of your body is an awkward story to tell. I don’t really know the words, even now. I can easily articulate the ‘flaws’ of my body. I know what that sounds like. What is the body language for self-confidence and assurance in our own beauty? I can say, “I feel/am/look beautiful” but I cringe at the thought of describing myself in detail, justifying that assessment. However, we do this with our perceived ‘ugliness’ all the time; we can describe exactly how dissatisfied we are with each part of our body, what sags or wrinkles or bulges. Why don’t I have an equal arsenal of adjectives and verbs to detail my beauty? Short answer: it serves advertisers and corporations to teach us what we have to fix, rather than encourage body satisfaction.

Part of The Body is Not an Apology movement is about telling different stories about our bodies. For me, it is about embracing and describing and celebrating the beauty of my body without cringing or mitigating. We need to practice having conversations that end with joy and satisfaction. We need a body language that serves us and describes us as magnificent instead of fixer-uppers. I believe that stories are powerful and the stories that we tell about our bodies matter, so I look forward to telling more beautiful stories.

Oh, and I like my freckles just fine, thanks.

 

Filed under the body is not an apology body talk negative self talk counterstorytelling mean girls body stories body positivity freckles change the narrative

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You Do Not Have to Invite Everyone to Your Birthday Party

by Content Writer, Rev. Katie Norris

I was mortified one day when a parent asked my son if he wanted to have a play date with her child and my son looked the parent straight in the eye and said “No. I would not like a playdate with [your child].” In my head I was thinking I should intervene, maybe tell the parent “What my son really means is not this week, but maybe later.” (Which of course meant the parent would probably keep asking for a playdate and I would need to keep deflecting the invitation.) I also felt pressured to later tell my son that he could not refuse a playdate, a kind offer from someone, because that is not “nice.” Then I was scared to death that the parent would ask me why my son did not want to play with her child. What would I say? The truth - that my son does not feel comfortable with your child and often finds your child aggressive?

Shouldn’t my child be allowed to say that he does not feel comfortable around another person? I do not think it is appropriate for me to force my son to accept playing with a child that often pushes people around and does not play well with others. Sometimes we parents might talk to each other and discuss how our kid is a biter and we are working on helping the child learn emotional control and good social interaction skills. Most of the time we might set up short playdates and see how it goes. We might then work together as a community to help our kids interact well together. That usually happens between really good friends and family, and is not something you will find in every interaction that you have with other people’s kids. In general though, our children need to know that they can say “no.”

As a child who was sometimes not invited to parties or to other people’s homes, I always felt very strongly that we NEVER leave anyone out. So, this blog post is a bit hard for me to write. I had to seriously question some of my deeply held beliefs in order to get to where I am today on this topic.

I have slowly learned that all of us, adults and children, get to say who we are comfortable spending time with. I am not saying we should promote leaving out the kid in the class everyone makes fun of because the child is overweight or likes to go to Comic Cons. We do need to teach children not to judge other people and to always be kind, even if we do not like or do not have much in common with another person. But we must look objectively at the idea that children do not need to be friends with everyone.

Everyone is different and because of that not everyone is going to be close friends with us.

My son has not had a birthday party in four years. We have not had one because most schools and parents have a policy that we need to invite every child in the class to a birthday party. (They don’t say you can’t have a party if you don’t invite everyone, just that you can’t hand out the invitations at school if everyone is not invited. That makes perfect sense to me. However parents discourage this because eventually someone finds out that you had a party and did not invite everyone.) The last time we invited the whole class to his birthday party, I almost lost my mind. It was too many kids. It was too overwhelming for me, and honestly it scared the heck out of me. Also, my son tends to make one or two close friends and it seems pointless to invite 30 kids to a party just so we can follow this social construct.

When we promote the idea that any time a child has a party, everyone they know needs to be invited, we are teaching the child that they do not get to say “no” to being around people they are uncomfortable with. We are also teaching the child that they are responsible for someone else’s emotions. It is not my son’s fault if a child who was not invited gets upset.

When we promote the idea that everyone needs to be invited, we are teaching all of our kids that worthiness is contingent on how many friends you have. One of the hardest things to learn in life is that our self worth is not contingent on how many parties we get invited to or what crowd we hang out with. Just because we do not have a lot in common with certain people and we do not get invited to their events does not mean they do not like us, and it does not mean they are trying to be mean. Those are assumptions we make.  

I have found that unless I keep in mind the fact that my son deserves the respect of being allowed to choose to spend time with people who he feels are kind and safe, then I fall into pressuring him to “be nice” and be around people he does not connect with or does not feel safe with. If I show him that he has a choice in who spends time with, then he also learns that other children get that choice too and he does not have to be invited everywhere either.

I know its a balance, but sometimes I think we fall too far on the side of promoting the belief that the only way to be nice is to never draw boundaries. We can be nice and draw boundaries.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Filed under children respect birthday party birthday parenting invitation boundaries

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Respecting Children’s Emotions

by Content Writer, Rev. Katie Norris

I recently fell in love with this quote by Janet Lansbury:

“Children need our empathy, acceptance, and comfort when they are upset. Even in infancy, our children have a deep need to know that their feelings are legitimate and that expressing them is okay with us. Smiling, laughing, tickling, or telling children they’re okay when they cry might seem more benevolent than reacting angrily or telling them to be quiet, but the message is the same: You shouldn’t be upset. Your feelings aren’t valid or acceptable.” (from Lansbury’s post The Happiest Kids Don’t Have to Smile)

As a parent, I understand that an adult’s first response to children’s emotions is often to tell them how they should feel. Usually we do this in an attempt to make the situation better. However, in our need to fix things, we forget that the most important lesson we need to teach our kids is that emotions are normal!

Many adults are annoyed by children’s emotions, and insist that a child with emotion is bad, selfish, manipulative, or in some way just wrong. This surprises me because the children are having the same emotions the adults are having. Why do we adults think that kids’ emotions are bad when we often feel the same way?

For instance, kids often ask for a toy that “everyone else” has. Sometimes the children cry when they can not have the toy. This is when parents start to say “My child is so selfish,” or “Haven’t I taught my child better than to only care about material things?,” and “I told my child that tears won’t buy them a toy.” Really? Haven’t we all wanted something someone else had? Haven’t we all felt sad when we did not get what we wanted? This emotion is not bad and it does not mean the child is selfish. It just means the child has emotions, just as we all do.

As adults, our job is to validate children’s emotions and help them regulate those emotions.

How about saying, “I know you really want that toy. It makes me sad sometimes when I can’t get the things that I want too.”

Children want what we all want— to be heard, validated, and allowed to be vulnerable with another person. They want empathy and compassion. They do not need a “teaching moment” or a lesson. They need to know their emotion is acceptable and that emotions pass.

Sometimes we try to “teach” about the emotion and explain it away with words like “I know you wanted that toy. It makes me sad sometimes when I can’t get the things I want. But you know, we can’t always get what we want. We need to learn to be happy with what we have.” The more we respond in that way, the more we negate the child’s emotions and the child gets stuck in feeling that emotion because they are being told they are not allowed to feel it. Telling someone they are not allowed to feel an emotion does not miraculously make it go away; it actually makes it worse. It makes our minds preoccupied with the emotion and the internal struggle of “I feel this way, but that’s bad. Why do I feel this way? Why can’t I stop it?”

I try to show respect for children’s emotions the same way I do for adults’ emotions. First, I always validate the emotion, because it is real for them. Then if I need to help them work through something or navigate a social situation better, I always ask “Why this emotion?” or “Why this behavior?”

When my son was about four years old and he started crying for half an hour about putting his coat on in the morning, at first I validated and then I reasoned with him. I said, “I know you don’t like your coat, I understand that. But you have to wear your coat. It is cold outside and it is not safe for you to be too cold.” Of course, this did not stop the crying.

When I finally stopped and asked myself “Why this emotion? Why is he crying over putting his coat on?,” things changed. I asked my son different questions such as, “Why don’t you like your coat?” “Do you not like the color?” “What is wrong with your coat?” and finally, “Does your coat hurt anywhere?” He said “Too tight. It bothers me,” and then he started scratching at the arms of his coat. Well heck, if my coat were too tight and itched me, I would cry too if someone was forcing me into the coat every day! No amount of reasoning or validation got rid of the issue of the coat being uncomfortable. This also made us aware of the slight sensory processing issues he had with other things such as socks and the textures of certain foods.

Remembering to always ask “Why this emotion?” has drastically changed how my son is able to regulate his emotions and how we are able to navigate emotional outbursts that in the past would have led to arguments.

One of the most crucial lessons in radical self love we will ever teach our children is that their emotions are valid and that it is okay to express emotion. If we do not teach them these truths, they become unable to connect with their inner selves and they are not able to connect with others. When we can not connect with ourselves, we become self destructive and hurt ourselves. When we can not connect with others, we hurt other people.

I strive every day, to the best of my ability, to teach my son radical self love by showing him that his emotions are okay and that not only it is all right to share his emotions with me, but I am also honored that he chooses to be so vulnerable with me. That vulnerability is sacred and I will always respect it.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Filed under children respect emotions vulnerability Rev. Katie Norris adults parenting janet lansbury radical self love

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Hugs Not Required

by Content Writer, Rev. Katie Norris

The Body is Not an Apology promotes radical self love and body empowerment. If we are to truly advocate for these values, then we need to not only do this work for ourselves as adults, but do it for children as well. We adults struggle with these issues mainly because of the culture we were raised in and how the adults in our childhood treated us. Knowing this, I believe we have an obligation to learn from our own experience and try as hard as we can to give the children in our lives a better chance to grow up with radical self love.

One thing I believe we are terrible at teaching our children is how to make the rules about their own bodies and their personal space. Some of you may be surprised by that statement because so many of us tell the children in our lives never to let anyone touch them in a private body area and never to talk to strangers. Even though we teach kids body safety in term of sexual abuse, we at the same time teach them that their bodies are  not their own.

Here is a simple example:

Parent: “Joey, it’s time to go. Give your grandmother a hug.”

Joey: Crosses his arms and looks at the ground.

Parent: Getting close to Joey’s ear, “Don’t be rude, give Grandma a hug.”

Joey: Whispering, “I don’t want to.”

Grandma: “Joey, don’t you love me? Come here and give me a hug goodbye.”

Many of us do this all the time with the kids in our lives. I have done it to my son. I was taught that we hug our family members— that it’s a sign of love, a sign of respect. When my son started to not want to give hugs to family and close friends, I started to panic a little bit. I didn’t want him to be rude. I wanted to teach him respect. When I did not require that he give a hug, other adults were upset with me for not parenting better and teaching my son respect for his elders.

image

[Photo description: A young boy and his mother are sitting in front of a tan colored wall. The boy has short brown hair and is wearing a naby blue winter coat. His mother has her arm around him and she has brown hair in a ponytail, red glasses, and she is wearing a royal blue wool coat. They are both looking forward and smiling. Photo is copyright of Jeff Norris.]

Finally I realized that if I believe we all decide what gets to happen to our bodies, and if I do not think adults should be forced into intimate contact, I should never require my son to give up authority over his own body. Not for anyone.

Hugging is not a sign of respect. A sign of respect is when we treat other people with care and we honor their wishes. A sign of respect is when we do not force our bodies on another person. Requiring that our children hug others as a sign of “respect,” or out of duty, or to prove their love means we are not respecting our children.

In fact, we are teaching our children three things:

1. Their bodies are not their own.

2. People in power can take advantage of their bodies.

3. When they have power, they can take advantage of other people’s bodies.

We can teach our children to be respectful by teaching them to say goodbye to their grandparents and thank their grandparents for having them over for dinner. Our children do not need to give “hugs and kisses,” or even say “I love you,” if they do not want to.

I encourage all of us to think about the ways in which we accidentally teach our children that their bodies are not their own, and take steps to end that cycle. I know it’s hard because the pressure from other adults is fierce. For the safety of the children in our lives, whom we love and seek to protect, we need to do it anyway.

Blessings,

Rev. Katie

Filed under respect Rev. Katie Norris children adult emotions personal space love radical self love self love Body empowerment

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Stories We Tell About Bodies: I Too am Harvard

by Megan Ryland

Part of our language for bodies in this society is related to notions of identity, background, history and context. I’m talking race, gender presentation, age, visible ability and many other factors. They say that a picture is worth a 1000 words; your body can be worth millions before you even open your mouth. Unfortunately, what our bodies ‘say’ depends on the viewer. Racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, ageism, classism… they’re all systemic forms of discrimination that involve a viewer drawing conclusions based on the appearance or functioning of your body, typically without you saying a word. The only way to change these prejudiced conclusions is changing the systems that encourage this way of viewing.

I, Too, Am Harvard is an initiative trying to re-write the story that people hear when they see Black students on the Harvard campus. Sick of dealing with all of the stories, myths, stereotypes and prejudice projected onto their bodies, Black students are speaking out and challenging those narratives.


[Photo: A young Black woman stands in front of a chalkboard. She is smiling and holding a sign that says, “Having an opinion does not make me an “Angry Black Woman.” Type across the picture reads, “#itooamharvard]

[Photo: A young Black man stands in front of a white wall. He is wearing large, black headphones and  holding a sign that says, “No, it’s NOT RAP.” Type across the picture reads, “#itooamharvard]

Check out their tumblr here and take a moment to watch their video explaining the goals and perspective of the project. It is a great video for a really important initiative. The stories that people tell about certain bodies - certain people, certain groups, certain races - restrict people in real ways. These stories have the power to deny jobs, sway juries and limit opportunity. Rejection of stereotypes is part of rejecting racism and other systems of discrimination. It is also the first step towards telling new stories.

This project inspired I, too, Am Oxford, which brought people of colour into a conversation about the prejudice they faced on the Oxford college campus in the United Kingdom. The fact that a project in one country could spread quickly to another is nothing new these days, but it’s still a great demonstration of the way that new communication methods open up doors for telling stories differently and carrying on new conversations. Below are two images from that project, which you can find here.

[Photo: A young Black man is standing in a courtyard holding a whiteboard that reads, “My voice is NOT the voice of all black people.]

[Photo: A young woman of colour is in a courtyard and wearing a light teal head scarf. She is holding a whiteboard that reads, “YES, I am an international student… from Canada!”]

With more and more storytelling tools in the hands of many different people - computers, the internet, camera phones, camcorders, tablets - there are more people representing themselves and deciding the stories their bodies tell. These initiatives are just a taste of the work being done to create new stories, especially about belonging, prejudice and othering. They refute the assumptions that white and/or otherwise privileged people will make about them based on the stories told too often about their bodies. I hope the greater access to media, especially visual media, will help to popularize more stories and let more people be heard in their own words. Please check out these great projects!

 

Filed under the body is not an apology stereotypes Stereotyping change the narrative I too am Harvard I too am Oxford racism anti-racism activism people of color academic racism academic activism counterstorytelling

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Body Language that Changes You

(English subtitles included. You can find the subtitles in additional languages and a full transcript here.)


The Body that Changes Itself - Amy Cuddy “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”

By Megan Ryland

Body language is something you speak to others, but you also use it to speak to yourself. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk takes a close look at the power that the body and movement can have.

Before I go any further, I do want to problematize the way that power is invoked in the video.

1. The idea that there is a binary of powerful people and powerless people is reductive, as power is relational and in flux.

2. Imagining that individual actions can easily and quickly overcome systems of power is misleading, to say the least.

3. The video does fail to address any systems of power or interrogate why certain people may feel more or less powerful. This is not a small oversight.

4. Frankly, I am hesitant to toss around psychology studies, especially involving brains and hormones. Personal policy.  

5. Furthermore, I think a great deal has to be simplified in most TED talks and depleting nuance really does hurt the message of most videos. It makes the solution seem too easy.

You can’t really just change your life with power poses. Those poses cannot overcome a homophobic hiring manager or a racist judge. Power is complex, nuanced and historical. It’s not as simple as she makes it seem. When we’re talking about human thoughts and behaviour, it hardly ever is.

With those misgivings in mind, I still wanted to share this video. Although I have reservations about the way that she uses the term power and the narrative thrust of the lecture, I think the idea that our bodies can influence our thoughts and feelings is really interesting to consider. In addition, I’ve felt my own body enact what she talks about.

I feel different when I take up space differently. I am also sensitive to how other people are taking up space in these ways and will respond according to their body movements. When someone is dominant in a space, I usually feel it and respond by taking up less space. When I catch myself doing it and resist that urge, it sometimes helps me retain my feeling of control of the situation. This isn’t going to be a universal experience or sentiment (sometimes you can’t fake it until you become it, Professor) but I think it brings attention to the performance of dominance. It reveals how manufactured dominance and confidence can be. I like the idea that you can construct, can practice, a sense of being entitled to hold your own space.

Being unapologetic about taking up the space you need is often difficult for people socialized to play small or constantly told that they are too much. When you are habitually told to collapse and pipe down and turn inwards, it’s not surprising if you cross your legs and keep your head down and hunch your shoulders. You try to go unnoticed to avoid scrutiny, judgment or punishment. Telling people that they can practice owning their bodies, their space and their confidence is positive. It can be legitimately helpful to encourage people to inhabit space without shame - just don’t promise that it will stop other people from trying to shame them.

You deserve to be here, as big or small as you please, whatever other people say. “You are supposed to be here.” I don’t think it hurts to get a reminder. Play big.



Filed under body language power poses amy cuddy ted talks taking up space owning your body the body is not an apology manufactured confidence

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Our Bodies, Our Stories, Ourselves

by Megan Ryland

(Content note: homophobic violence)

“Write your self. Your body must be heard. Only then will the immense resources of the unconscious spring forth.” – Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa”

What is the language of your body? Philosopher Hélène Cixous speaks about women writing from the body in her classic piece “The Laugh of the Medusa” and I vividly remember reading the quote above. Connecting my body and my voice and my writing was a radical notion to me at the time. I frequently forgot my body when I was thinking; I forgot that my body was a part of that process. I have spent the last few years chewing on the idea that my body is more than transport. It is part of my story. It speaks my story all the time, in fact. My body has its own voice - it’s own language. We all do.

They say that 93% of communication is nonverbal, with body language accounting for more meaning than your actual words. It’s a statistic frequently cited and frequently disputed, but I think the point is an interesting one regardless. Body language is a vital part of how we communicate (whatever the percentage of meaning it conveys) to both ourselves and each other. We can learn to understand the languages of different bodies. We can learn to speak it too, although we may not all use the same dialect.

My identity is part of the way my body moves. Even the way I sit speaks to who I am. I typically sit with my knees apart - which reveals how infrequently I have to consider the limitations of maintaining ‘modesty’ in skirts or dresses. In fact, due to hip and back complaints, crossing my legs ‘like a lady’ is strictly out of bounds on pain of… pain. On the other hand, my partner often crosses his legs when sitting and this is read by some as a ‘feminine’ gesture poorly matched with his identity as a straight man.

Body movement is its own language. Womanist Musings has posted the video and transcript of a conversation between Sunaura Taylor and Judith Butler from the documentary Examined Life that really digs into this idea of how bodies move in space and how we interpret that.

In the video, Judith Butler says:

No one takes a walk without there being a technique of walking. Nobody goes for a walk without there being something that supports that walk outside of ourselves…

There’s a guy in Maine, who I guess he was around 18 years old and he walked with a very distinct swish. You know, hips going one way or another; a very distinct ‘feminine’ walk.  One day he was walking to school and he was attacked by three of his classmates and he was thrown over a bridge and he was killed. The question that community has to deal with and the entire media that covered this event was: how could it be that somebody’s gait, that somebody’s style of walking could engender the desire to kill that person. And that you know makes me think about the walk in a different way. A walk can be a dangerous thing.”

This story has stuck with me in the years since I watched this documentary, especially “A walk can be a dangerous thing.” Our bodies can speak a radical language that unsettles people; there can be something disruptive and dangerous in the way we simply are. Personally, I move in a safe rhythm in most ways. The language of my body is quiet enough not to raise flags, and yet I still find it difficult to inhabit it unapologetically. I cannot comprehend the embodied experience of someone less privileged.   

In the linked video, Sunaura Taylor talks about her experience of how her movement is policed and limited by people’s interpretation of her body and her ability:

“I lived in Brooklyn. I would really try to make myself go out and just order a coffee by myself and I would sit for hours beforehand in the park just trying to get up the nerve to do that. In a way it’s a political protest for me to go in and order a coffee and demand help, simply because in my opinion help is something that we all need.”

Sunaura uses a wheelchair and requires assistance with some tasks that require holding and grabbing with her hands. Hearing her story, I think of the conversation between bodies that engage on the level she is referring to: assisting someone and addressing their needs. In today’s society, it is radical to be heard/to speak this way. In asking for help, she is asking someone to speak her language and to not be forced to translate her body constantly.

In the next few weeks, I want to focus on body language and body stories. We are constantly speaking to one another and ourselves without even opening our mouths. There are no dividing lines between identity and body and voice. They cannot be pulled apart. I believe that to be ashamed of one dims the others. When we say, “Speak your truth” I think we must also be saying, “Let your body speak. Let it be unapologetic. Let me hear you with all your voices.”

Filed under bodies body language our stories judith butler helene cixous Sunaura Taylor tw: homophobia womanist musings homophobia disability disability politics walk the walk radical movement

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The Boundaries of Affection

by Erin Strong, Content Writer

Caution: This topic might be a sensitive one for some people. The writer wishes to express that all acts of physical touch between persons are written from the position that all parties must be consenting.

 

[Image description: Two hands from what appears to be two different people are intertwined. One hand (right) is on top of the other (left). The left hand has nicely manicured nailed. The image is a black-and-white photograph.]

Growing up, I was afraid to hug my friends. Not because I believed in ‘cooties,’ but because I thought that any displays of affection longer than a second would be a dead giveaway that I was not quite as hetero-normative as I was kidding everyone (including myself) that I was. Fast-forward to the awkward teen years, and I realised that I had grown up in a culture in which it’s not commonplace to show affection to your buddies or peers, either physically or verbally. I had grown up thinking that people just ‘knew’ whether you liked them or not. To be honest, when I realised how restrained I’d become, it made me feel a little sad.

The feelings you get when you hold hands, hug, or even touch someone who also desires a connection are so powerful that it frightens me to think that, back in my home country, we often shame people who show affection by calling them abusive names like ‘fag’ and ‘homo.’

But in China, I frequently see friends of every gender interacting in a positive physical way. I see girls holding hands with their BFFs and boys tumbling and hugging one another. I see reassuring cuddles in class when a scary moment of a movie is playing. I see hair ruffling. I see cute little nudges and shoulder snuggles. Some of these actions take place in the context of intimate relationships, of course, but many of the people I see being physically affectionate are simply good friends who are confident enough to express themselves to one another in a culture that doesn’t appear to resent or degrade the very idea.

Oddly enough, in New Zealand it is perfectly legal for me to marry a man or a woman, but in China, it is not. I’m rather taken aback by the positive emotions attached to friendship and kinship on display in China, only to have these feelings completely disregarded or frowned upon in the legal realms of marriage and partnership.

I live in hope that a conversation in New Zealand will happen soon – a conversation that questions this backwards cultural notion that physical displays of affection should be limited to a couple in the traditional ‘relationship’ sense.  I would like to see a society in which ‘free hugs’ are not a gimmick, but a wonderful display of affection in which everyone can participate without guilt.

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Difference Across Cultures: How People See Me as an Expat

by Erin Strong, Content Writer

 

[Image description: A green apple is sitting on a light brown surface towards the left side of the image. Slightly in front of the apple is a larger orange. The orange is more infocus and you can see highlights of its skin reflecting the light.]

Becoming an expat means becoming a person whose differences become highlighted in a number of ways. Of course, everybody is inherently different, but before I became an expat, I don’t recall an environment in which people have commented so constantly upon aspects of my appearance as stunningly different.

Comparing bodies is not a bad thing, necessarily; it’s something that we all do. What can be harmful, though, is taking these comparisons and turning them back onto yourself or others in a way that is discouraging and judgmental. In China, I regularly hear the word “fat” used to describe my body structure, even in conversations with mainland citizens I call my friends. Growing up, this word had a huge impact on me, as I was often outside the recommended weight-to-height ratio. Now that I am older, and in more control of how I perceive myself, I no longer experience this word as a form of ammunition against me, but as a concept that exists to very little purpose in my life. However, the initial shock of living in China and hearing this word repeatedly used to describe me re-ignited the feelings of judgment and bias I once associated with it. What I learnt, though, is that people in China use “fat” not as an insult, but as a word that compares me to what is considered a “typical” body.

Other comments, though, have left me wondering: At what point is a physical comparison simply too much?

Being white in China often leads to results in my favour. Being white can lead to preferential treatment, something I am not particularly comfortable accepting and often refuse. This treatment of skin colour extends to other areas of my body, such as eye colour and shape (even the fold of my eyelids have been described as hugely desirable), hair colour, and the size of my nose. I enjoy these aspects of myself, but they don’t represent the totality of who I am.

A large majority of conversations I have in China tend to lean towards things that I have only by virtue of genetics; indeed, this type of conversation is one that I have had abroad in other countries, and in my home of New Zealand. I remain open to discussing comparisons, but simply as a way of learning about and acknowledging difference in our world.

I would like to move away from comparisons and consciously shift the discussion to the different ways in which people collaborate to better themselves and others. I’d like to have more conversations about what truly makes hearts beat and how to find others with similar passions. I would like our thoughts and ideas to become the things we show proudly to the world. I don’t mean to devalue any physical accomplishments that people set as a goal. But I would like to see physical comparisons happen less and less so that other conversations can start to take centre stage.

 

Filed under tbinaa the body is not an apology body comparison China