Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is Your Body Seen But Not Heard?

Lauren Greenfield(photo by Lauren Greenfield Alli, Annie, Hannah, and Berit, All 13, before the First Big Party of the Seventh Grade, Edina, Minnesota, 1998. Restricted gift of Anstiss and Ronald Krueck in honor of Renée Harrison Drake, with love and admiration.)

I was sitting around today with a group of wise woman, exploring the relationship we've each had with our bodies. They are therapists, initiated into the worlds of insight and reflection, able to reach back into their experiences and make meaning. Today we talked about the relationship we've had with our bodies as women, how it's changed and what may have changed it.

I've explored this topic repeatedly in my weight loss groups--the messages we receive, the events we move through that change how we relate to our bodies. But today, Kim and Susan talked about that difficult, uncomfortable time we all know as adolescence. Prior to our bodies changing shape before our very eyes, we admitted, we were each aware of them as useful friends, beings that were functional, that allowed us to run and move and experience the world. When puberty hit, they admitted, they began to get a lot of attention. Suddenly they were looked at, examined, seen in a way that they had never been before.

Kim noticed the same thing recently, she said, when she sat in on a high school class and watched the vast differences between two twelve year old girls: one skinny, flat-chested and awkward, and the other tall, curvacious and beautiful. The way they held themselves was different, she noted. The taller, more developed girl was already getting a kind of attention that required her to interact differently in the world, to sense into her boundaries, to make sense of being seen. The other girl was practically invisible. All because of the shape of their bodies.

What happens inside us, we wondered, when the world begins to see our bodies differently--maybe before we even really know them ourselves? What decisions do we begin to make about what our body is or does or can do for us? What we each grieved as we talked further was the shift that happened away from seeing our bodies as useful, functional allies we could do things with to--as the rest of the world reflected--objects that were seen and evaluated.

It's no surprise, when we consider that this experience happens to almost every woman as she begins to develop, that the sense of ourselves and our bodies from the inside out begins to evaporate. You may not even have seen it happen. You just found yourself attending to the body from the outside in: wanting to dress it better, do the right kind of exercise, get to the right weight. A relationship that privileged how you felt in your body slowly begins to give way to one that cares about how your body looks or performs.

This is why reconnecting to our bodies and the relationships with them is not just a healing practice but a radical, revolutionary stance. It says 'no' to a cultural norm that asks us as women to collude with viewing ourselves from the outside. As we choose to look at ourselves through the relationship we have with our bodies, how it feels to be in it, we take back our power. We choose whether or not our body is acceptable to us, not based on what it looks like but instead on whether or not we are in loving relationship with it.

Ask yourself if you've abandoned your body to look at it from the outside and see what it's like to try revisiting a relationship with it instead. Notice what it feels like, what it might be saying to you, what it needs right now. Can you see your body from the inside out? Can you still remember what that feels like?

Think about a time when you were a child, before the awkwardness of puberty hit and remember the things you loved to do and experience with your body. Do you still do any of them now? And if you can't do them, what steps could you take in your life to bring back the qualities of that earlier relationship with your body--one centered on your senses, your body's aliveness and a spirit of exploration? Have a chat with that earlier body and ask it if there's anything it needs from you now that you may have left behind with childhood. Make a list of some ways you might revisit that earlier body and remember a time when your body was heard, and not just seen.

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