I need to talk about the body. About my body. About the bodies of others.
I need to talk about how the body frightens us.
But we don’t really want to talk about that, do we? We would rather embrace the veneer of slogans about how we must want it enough, try hard enough, visualize our beach-perfect bodies enough, instead of sitting with the discomfort of what leads us to the kitchen to swallow the feelings we’ve been taught how to hide. And the shame that bubbles up in our chests when the messages that our bodies are failures are crammed down our throats, not only by the magazines that confront us at the check-out stand but by the well-meaning friends who check-in to ask how we’re doing and if we’ve lost weight yet.
But we don’t really want to talk about that, do we? We would rather contend that “strong is the new skinny” when strength is not only about the number of reps you complete at the gym or the visibility of your abdominal muscles but the strength of sharing your deepest traumas, of surviving the rape or the miscarriage, the abuse or the disappointment, the heartbreak or the nightmares, of living with cancer or lupus, AIDS or chronic pain, or getting through the day when it would be easier to just give up.
But we don’t really want to talk about that, do we? We would rather make claims that all illnesses and disabilities and emotional blocks can be cured by intensive exercise, by gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, meat-free, sugar-free, green smoothies and whole foods and dubious, unscientifically proven weight-loss supplements because the terror of being confronted with our own misery, morbidity, and mortality, is too much to bear for a society that thinks they can purchase happiness, health, or the ability to live forever.
But we don’t really want to talk about that, do we? We would rather say that the weight-loss industry is a means of empowerment, a means to combat the crises of obesity and poor health without dismantling the capitalism that enables industrialized food systems and weight-loss industries alike to flourish. We would rather hide the bodies that are not perfect, capitalist drones, the bodies that unsettle the neoliberal idea that individualism and hard work are enough, the bodies that remind us that we are flesh and blood rather than well-oiled machines.
But we don’t really want to talk about that, do we? We’d rather pretend that conformity is key, and that biodiversity is a myth. We’d rather believe that there is one model of health, one model of beauty, one model of the able body, the able mind. We’d rather pretend that the promotion of fitspiration can change the health of a generation without realizing that we are repeating the same message over and over. And the most frightening thing is the well-meaning tokens, the well-meaning slogans that act like Trojan horses for a eugenics of body-based shame.
But we have to talk about that.
We need to understand the body as a place of intersectionality, that among the tangles of neurons and veins and tendons are the influences of economics, politics, cultures, and society.
We need to talk about the thoughts that we harbour about what constitutes health and wellness are based on deeply-rooted systems of oppression. We need to talk about the fact that working hard in the gym for hours is a different kind of labour than the backbreaking work carried out by the bodies of many, and that despite the complaints we articulate about the laziness we hate, we would rather our laborious physical activity be a personal choice than an economic necessity.
We need to talk about the isms, the ableism, the racism, the sizeism, the sexism, and the biggest ism of all, the capitalism that underlies the profit that preys on the pursuit of perfection. That the gurus of health are the gurus of wealth and that we inevitably pay the price of profit.
We need to know that Monsanto’s genetic modification of crops is not disconnected from the attempts to genetically re-structure the shape of our society by cultural genocide. Think about what it means to put a patent on a plant, to isolate and regulate genetics under the rule of law.
I know it’s hard to talk about.
I know it’s hard to change a lifetime of indoctrination about the politics of the body.
I know it’s hard to acknowledge that the well-meaning words we say can slay the spirit of another, and that the bruises we leave in others’ bodies run so deep; I know this might make it hard to sleep.
But the bodies that shatter are the bodies that matter.
And that’s worth talking about.