I love my body. As a woman raised in a society that teaches women that their bodies are imperfect and inferior, I bring to this love a sense of heart-felt victory.
It is important to note that I did not spend my life trying to hammer my body into some artificial idea of perfection. Even if I had one of the body types that have been pre-selected as perfectable — and I do not — it wouldn’t have worked because I did what everyone does all the time every day: I got older.
Being old — a subjective state that depends on what you’re trying to do — makes it impossible to be perfect in any physical sense. And like most young people, I didn’t realize how cute I was when I was young. I was still struggling with not being “right”.
Because all women get that lesson. We’re not right.
I’m discussing this in terms of women, because I’m most familiar with how that happens. Men, at least straight white men within a range of body types, don’t get these lessons the same way.
There are a number of other body issues that come up for those who are trans or nonbinary or otherwise not part of what society has deemed to be the way things are. The history of mocking gay men as too feminine and lesbians as too male sets the stage for even harsher abuse of trans and nonbinary people.
All people raised as women, in pretty much all cultures, get the message that their bodies are imperfect. In some cultures, they are even treated as the source of all sin (evangelical Christians, for example). Their bodies are wrong.
I learned to love my body by taking up martial arts. I know that’s a stretch, because one aspect of martial arts is learning to do things with your body, some of which are very difficult. And further, martial arts training is often based on some very male thinking, so the idea of what bodies are supposed to do and how they are supposed to look makes the assumption that women are inferior in some way.
And yet, training first in karate and later more extensively in Aikido taught me to love my body, because I figured out that I learned things by using my body, that I was not just the person who thought, but also the person who moved.
And I love to move.
It breaks my heart every time I see someone on social media who dislikes their body. Sometimes it’s due to pain or sickness, and while that seems reasonable, I still find myself wanting them to love their body despite the parts of it that don’t work well.
Many, if not most, people have physical issues that limit what their bodies can do. The older we get, the more likely we are to have such issues.
Right now, my right shoulder and upper back are achy. I have done something in there — perhaps strained some ligaments or muscles or otherwise damaged my shoulder — and while it is not serious pain, it’s a little worrisome. I seem to have done it by pulling a cart upstairs while favoring my left leg, which was bothering me a lot earlier this year, first with sciatica and then with some knee range of motion. Also, my right hip (or perhaps it’s my glute muscle) is acting up and as I type right now several fingers on my left hand are tingly, making it hard to type.
I’m allergic to some pollen, get sinus headaches when the wind’s from the wrong direction, and my gut occasionally decides it doesn’t like what I’m eating, though not with enough consistency for me to figure out the problem.
That’s not to mention the trifocals I wear because of old-age farsightedness and a little astigmatism or the fact that my hair’s getting pretty gray and that I’ve got wrinkles and also I had a mole removed a couple of years ago.
And yet I love my body. Those things don’t matter. They’re not the sum total of my body.
I have always been an intellectual, someone fascinated by ideas and always interested in digging into them. I have also always been someone looking for truth in the philosophical or even spiritual sense.
What I discovered when I learned to use my body was that physical understanding was essential to both of those endeavors. I get at the truth more easily if my body shows me the path.
There are those who claim that the study of martial arts is not philosophy. I disagree. I found my path to philosophy through my body.
So I love my body. Creakier movement and a little pain here and there aren’t going to make me give that up.