My body, my choice: dissonance and positivity

// 13 March 2011

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Disconnected.JPG[Image is split in half. In the right-hand half is a person’s torso dressed in jeans and an Iron Maiden t-shirt, with a studded leather wristband on the wrist, which is resting on the leg. In the left-hand half is a person’s torso wearing a tight red top and short black skirt with a silver necklace. The hand is resting on the hip.]

Body positivity is, to my mind, a key tenet of feminism and indeed any kind of anti-kyriarchism. The body does not dictate the worth of the person. Any person in any body, whatever its size, shape, needs or configuration, is worthy and no person deserves shame for their body. Our beauty standards are sizeist, ableist, misogynist, cissexist, binarist, ageist, racist, probably other -ists as well and thoroughly broken and everyone’s body deserves celebrating for being the shell that holds a person/s, a person/s who is/are always of worth.

But it’s hard to reconcile this with body dissonance. I have body dissonance that is very touch-sensitive – it is the feel of the body that affects me more than the look of it, if I am not wearing clothes – but also sparked off by the look of my body in clothes. Sometimes that feels hypocritical – I advocate body positivity, but yet I have massive issues with parts of my body.

It’s not hypocrisy. This is a point that I am making, in hopes that it both drives it home to me and reaches other people who may feel the same way.

Dissonance is not something I should ever have to apologise for. I can’t help the fact that I have it. It’s not going away. No amount of self-acceptance is going to get rid of it. I personally experience it as unconnected to my lack of gender – the only connection is the social side of it, where people see my body and gender me accordingly, but the purely bodily side is nothing to do with gender or lack of it.

But here’s the thing – that doesn’t mean that I cannot be positive about this body. It still doesn’t deserve shaming. I imagine it would be attractive on someone else. The only thing that is wrong with it is that it is not my body. On me, it is fundamentally wrong. I doubt anyone who has not experienced dissonance will truly understand that, but it is possibly the best way I have of putting it.

It is different to how I feel about my pudginess (for the record, under clothes it is little enough for me to be accorded thin privilege in society, although I am not actually thin); in that case, while I don’t like it, I know where that dislike comes from (our sizeist culture) and it feels totally different to body dissonance. On the whole, I am now accepting of the fat on my body, for which I am thankful.

I am fond of saying that the body I love and the body I have are different things. This is true. That doesn’t mean that my body is anything negative, anything to be ashamed of. As it is, my body is an article of worth – and it is an article of worth no matter what I choose to do with it. It will be an article of worth if (I would love to say when) I alter it to get rid of most of the dissonance. And the same applies to everyone.

Your bodies are of worth no matter what they are like. And they will be of worth through anything you wish to do with them – your body, your choice. No-one’s body should ever be demeaned. No-one’s body should ever be shamed. We have to be conscious of the place our feelings about our bodies are coming from, since we live in a culture of body-shaming and many of the feelings come from a bad place, but we do not have to be ashamed of those feelings. Nor do we have to be ashamed of what we choose, with understanding and enthusiasm, to do with our bodies, or of anything that necessitates a change to them. Our bodies, our choices.


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Comments From You

Crimson Crip // Posted 13 March 2011 at 12:28 pm

We should never be judged on physical appearance. A body is not the person, it is merely the means of carrying the real you, the person inside. We all have worth, and we should not allow others to measure it. Self worth is the only relevant measure. To quote, those that mind do not matter, and those that matter will not mind. Unknown and paraphrased.

Vicky // Posted 17 March 2011 at 5:20 pm

I disagree with the dualistic approach that says that body and person are separate things. My body is not my shell. It is a beautiful and necessary part of me, even if I’m not always able to appreciate that.

I have suffered from an eating disorder for years. When it was at its most serious I would look down at my arms and fail to recognise that they were mine, I felt so disconnected from my body. I couldn’t respond to my body’s most basic need for food because I was convinced on some powerful but illogical level that really I was just pure intellect and will, with no need for this fleshy skin. It took me a long time to realise that my anorexic body was trying to express pain to which language couldn’t do justice. It was telling me something about myself and my life that I hadn’t been able to articulate in a safer way.

Now it tells me all sorts of other things – that I like the feel of velvet, that I enjoy the taste of strong spices, that I coconut oil on the skin smells nice, that my limbs will pull me across a lake in a long-distance swimming competition if only I give them the food they need to face the challenge. My body is part of me. It isn’t the whole me, but it’s a significant part. I still have poor body image, but I’m learning to think of my body in terms of what it says as opposed to how it looks. I let it be part of the conversation and I honour what it has to tell me.

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