It begins when I think I can do an end run around my body.
I know, right? But I try, don’t I, all the same.
Most of the time, I act as though this bag of blood and bones and organs will pulse along no matter what I do to it, no matter how I fuel it or drive it or ignore it, no matter how minimally I maintain it. All the things I do while I subconsciously tell myself, “The body won’t mind. We’re friends; we’ve been together forever. We’ve always gotten along. No problem.”
Most days I go through life this way. Sleepwalking.
Pretty bad, yes? But then the waking is worse.
This morning I rolled out of bed, slipped out of my sleeping clothes (let’s not pretend and call them “pajamas” or anything that fancy; they’re mostly looser, more comfortable day clothes like sweat pants and t-shirts and underwear, because what will the body care?). And then I begin to dress.
And then I become aware. This body is not what it used to be.
Let’s not talk about the hair that’s thinned to the point where I’d rather keep it short and expose the dome than let it grow to its current version of “long” and reveal how much and how unevenly it’s thinned. Let’s ignore for now the neck that sags just a bit. We’ll even go past the skinny arms because I can tell myself, “Well, they were always thin.”
Everyone’s got their spot (or spots), I suppose, that tell the tale of their neglect. Mine is the belly, distended, that every now and then I look at as though it has betrayed me. As though, of it’s own, it decided to rebel and expose me for the slacker that I am. I look at it, wondering why it did this to me. I move from despair to dreaming of making it taut like Willem Defoe’s. (I mean, have you seen that guy? He has the physique of a sentient collections of ropes.)
And this is how I swing: from neglect to obsession; from luxuriating in license to wallowing in judgment.
As if my body is some separate entity that I entered, that exists independently of me. When and how did my body become it’s own being to either be ignored or disciplined and dominated? When did I separate my self from my flesh?
It seems this is how so many of us live, at a distance not only from our own bodies from bodies generally. I know, there are the so-called “beautiful” ones that others have, the ones that we admire and desire, and there are the other ones that we denigrate. But either way we judge. In either case, we weigh them on our internal and cultural moral scales.
This becomes more than a matter of who we ogle and who we shame, though it certainly matters in that way as well. As far as I can tell, culturally we have no idea what to do with bodies. We treat them as empty vessels; we treat them as status symbols; we shape and we carve them as though they were clay or stone; pamper them as though they were pets; we discipline and scold them as though they there wayward children.
But through all our responses, we seem to forget: They are us.
My body isn’t a possession; it’s not a tool. It contains—no, it embodies my humanity. It’s the very manifestation of me. And I can’t treat myself or any other human with the compassion and care and respect we each and all deserve if I won’t embrace and love all human physicality.
Embrace every way a body does or doesn’t look like mine. Embrace it in its health and its infirmity. Embrace it whether damaged or whole; embrace it whatever its level of functioning. Embrace it in its youth and its maturity and oldest age. Embrace it as it changes. Embrace its right to exist; embrace its beauty in whatever form it takes.
A great late 20th and early 21st century philosopher encapsulated this sentiment, as he did all of his insights, into a silly ditty. Like all of his work, and all great insights, it grows increasingly profound the more you fully you contemplate and accept it: “Every body’s fancy; every body’s fine. Your body’s fancy, and so is mine.”
Imagine for a moment if we took those statements literally. What would our nation look like at this moment if we had ever embodied this belief in our policies, our institutions, and our laws? If they determined the way we deal with whatever kinds of bodies we encounter?
Because right now, on the streets of our cities, in the halls of power, judgments about bodies are literally killing us. People are dying because of where they fall on the hierarchy, because we find some bodies more unacceptable than others.
So now, I’m looking at this body of mine—I’m looking at me—embodied in deep brown skin, thinning hair, distended belly, noodlie arms an all. And, damn it, I am fancy and fine. And so are you.