Sometimes I feel like my body is me, and other times I feel like my body merely houses me. I know I am a biological entity, and my belief is that I don’t exist without a body. I need the biological processes that my body provides for me. As an earthling, I can’t survive as just a brain (or a mind.) So why is my relationship with my own body so complicated?
It wasn’t always. As a child, I didn’t question my body at all. I was one with it. If someone had asked “Who are you?,” I would have given my name and told them what I liked – colours and foods and animals. And if they said, “Who are you really?,” I would have said, “I’m me – the one standing right here – and I can walk and jump and swim and sing and think about things.” There was no distinction at all between who I was and what I looked like and what I could do. I liked myself. Everything worked.
I was a girl and I looked forward to puberty and turning into a woman. I felt proud, as if this were an accomplishment. I liked the idea of gaining curves and becoming attractive to boys. I had acne and oily hair, and my nose and my feet grew far more quickly than the rest of me. But I came through it feeling like it had been a success. As a teen, I was kind of brainy and artsy. But underlying that, I was completely at home in my body. Teaching swimming classes at the local beach, I enjoyed the body confidence of receiving compliments, and knowing I was strong and fit. Both relatives and strangers noticed and approved of how I looked. Sexual attractions and explorations made me feel good about myself. This adulthood business was going to be fun!
At university, I was thrilled to be in the company of other academics. I worked out at the college gym and pool most days. But my body started to betray me. Over the course of a long-term relationship, I was anxious about its future. No matter how sparkling my life appeared to others, I suffered from stomach distress, light-headedness and fainting spells. Then, as now, young women are told it’s “just stress” and we should simply “lighten up.” It worsened in my early working life as I continually scanned my environment for rivals (based on my boyfriend’s behaviour) and compared each of my physical features to every woman he knew. I bought into the culture which told me I had to compete, and to prove myself day after day in order to earn his affections. When our relationship finally combusted, I was convinced it was because I had gained 7 lbs and I had failed in my duty to be flirtatious and fun.
Throughout my twenties, I focused on my job and my colleagues. I identified as a worker and a friend. It was a conservative decade and not a body-conscious one. We wore Lopi sweaters and pleated jeans and Reebok Princess sneakers! We were cozy librarians with our knitting and our cats. Our size and shape did not matter. Sure, we took aerobics or aquacize for a few weeks a year, but we didn’t mean it. If any of us ever married, we expected our lives to continue in the same way, but with inoffensive men and children underfoot.
But the men showed up and so did the kids and everything changed and so did our bodies. I didn’t see children as my biological destiny, but I did want to be a parent. After a miscarriage, I knew that every mom on the planet had an apparatus superior to mine. I hid my sorrow under 25 lbs of new fat and then gained 32 more the next year with a pregnancy and a healthy baby. I exulted that my body was obeying my will. Then it was a novel experience to be thought of as “fat” for the two years it took me to slim down.
As a parent, I was expected to be tired and frumpy. A three or six year old is aware that some parents are large people. I was pleased to be average sized. My body worked again. I could lift and carry a kid and a stroller and a car seat; I could survive a bouncy castle or a ball pit; I could be a lap to sit on or a piggyback giver; I could demonstrate a lay-up shot or a dive to an admiring child; I could work an 8-hour day and still wash the car and mow the lawn. So in my 30s, I felt capable in my body.
A big switcheroo occurred in the following decade. I was single and dating again. Middle-aged women were now dressing like teenagers and getting Botox and boob jobs. In an unexpected twist, men were now being ogled and treated like eye candy and toy boys. In my T-shirts, hoodies and jeans, I was, at least, the “cool mom.” But was I up for “hook-ups” and sending naked selfies? After a couple of unsatisfying relationships, I opted out and decided to go it alone. I ended up meeting Rom after a year-long platonic friendship on a music website, with only fully clothed photos being exchanged (well, until we met, anyway!)
It is hard to know what bodily self to present to a new partner at age 45. Ultimately, the only answer is, “The one you have.” What I like best about mature physical love is the ability to laugh at and with each other about the way our bodies work. They are funny, awkward, vulnerable things. And surprisingly resilient.
Maybe it’s a function of being past my child-bearing phase, or being in settled relationship, or just being over 50, but my body sense has dramatically changed in the last 5 years. I feel like I’ve fallen out of all gender expectations, and I’m past being identified primarily as a woman, wife or mother. I just feel like a person. I am female-appearing and have no desire to change that. I have all the advantages of being cisgender and heterosexual. I’m sure I take it completely for granted, but I feel sort of “post-feminine.” My body serves me well; I am not opposed to its presence. But I am neither proud nor ashamed of it. It simply is. I feel like my real life is in my thoughts, words, and deeds; my work and my interests and my relationships. My body doesn’t have much to do with it, except as a vehicle to accomplish those things. And, of course, to delight in sensual pleasures, but any body can do that. I expect I will feel this way until my body starts to fail me and my abilities diminish. In the meanwhile I plan to take full advantage of pleasures of the flesh 🙂
I have always been drawn to the life of the mind. I spend my time thinking and reading and learning things. But I am happy that my bones and blood and neurons and all my parts provide a container for that to happen. Sometimes I even like my packaging!
Your body – are you for it or against it?