My sister-in-law's tattoos
A post about accepting the physical body.
My niece used to have two stuffed monkeys. They were "loveys," or blankets crafted into the shapes of animals.
One of the monkeys was called "Own Monkey." I could never tell the difference between the two stuffed monkeys, but she could . But whenever I think of "Own Monkey," I think that my niece is her own monkey. She eats when she's hungry. She dances when she wants to. She seems to be in tune with her natural impulses and rhythms.
At heart, we are all our own monkeys. But sometimes we act as if we're other people's monkeys. We let other people inscribe on us the stories of our own physical bodies. And when that happens, we can sometimes suffer from lack of acceptance. There are so many cultural narratives that tell us not to deeply care for ourselves.
Although friends often comment that I take "good care" of myself. I suffer from a lack of self-acceptance of my physical body sometimes . I used to think that might have to do with getting older. Crows feet, laugh lines, and aches have emerged where there were none before. Then I pause to think, I almost always had some physical insecurity. When I was 16 it was acne. When I was 10, I was too tall. When I was 19, I was too short. At one time, my breasts were too small. Now they're too big. My hair is at times too curly. Other times, it's not curly enough.
When does it ever end? Occasionally, the skewed inner narratives of my friends come to light when I hear them talk about their physical selves in moments of despair. Sometimes a breakdown might be triggered by the offhand comment of an ex-boyfriend or by the act of comparing one's physical self to those images projected onto our psyches by our culture.
I don't have the last word on how to get over that self-criticism. I wish I could tell those suffering, "You are all beautiful," and they'd believe me. We don't criticize the shapes of trees, why do we criticize the shapes of our physical selves? When we walk into a forest, we'd hate to imagine all the birches and the cedar taking the appearance of one homogenous tree type. But we do it to ourselves.
We download an app to take away that mole or that curve that isn't in fashion this season, and we project all those alterations of our dreams onto ourselves, onto each other. Even in activities in part developed to heal our own dissociation from our physicality, as in yoga for example, competition festers and comparisons of physical posture to physical posture abound. When you look at the exercise industry, one that promotes the maxim, "love your body," you see gyms shaming the natural limitations and fluctuations of our physical selves. In his essay, "Against Exercise," Mark Grief writes:
"Fashion historians point out that women freed themselves from corsets worn externally, only to make an internal corset, as they toned the muscles of the abdomen and chest, and dieted and exercised to burn away permanently the well-fed body that whalebone stays temporarily restrained. Though the exerciser acts on his self, this self becomes ever more identified with the visible surface. Through he works on his body, replication makes it ever more, so to speak, anybody."
The physical body - what a story it is. And how many stories do we have about it? Is it your body's story, or just somebody's story? How do we get over stories that aren't working about our bodies? How do we not fall into despair over the physical self, so full of capability, so remnant of a miracle, so unknown, so made of - life?
One of the ways I've found helpful to let go of others' narratives of my physical body is to make up my own stories. I do things to experience the physical body as mindfully and creatively as I can. I try to practice ways that bring out a feeling that I'm my own monkey, and not someone else's.
Here are some small actions I've found helpful to reclaim the narrative of my own physical body. Maybe they'll help you.
1. Perceive the smallest movements of the physical self. Bring your attention to quiet details. Marvel at what you've never noticed before about your skin, your eyes or your hair.
2. Get a tattoo. Reclaim the story of your skin with your own images.
3. Look at other physical bodies and find the magnificence in them. Pay attention especially to those who don't fit the beauty trends at the moment, but don't exclude those who do.
4. Stare at one body part, for example your hand. Remember all the things it did for you today, yesterday and the day before. See you ancestors in your hand. Say, "Thanks hand."
5. Meditate and send warmth, wisdom and compassion to each part of the physical body. Take extra special care to the neglected, disowned or disliked parts.
6. Surround your physical body with a colour. You can do this imaginatively or with clothing. Choose one that you that protects and energies you.
7. Take up dance, rock climbing, swimming. or any new physical exploration. Steer clear of those that emphasize competition or encourage an obsession with the outer appearance,. Choose ones that fill you with joy. Experience the energy of your physical self in a way that is not about the static appearances replicated in photographs. Experience physical strength, the beauty of physical movement and inner physical determination.
8. Write a story of your physical body. Tell its tale from the beginning. Where did the physical body begin? What happened along the way for your awareness to arrive here in this physical form in the way you inhabit it now? Write a poem. Tell the tale of your physical body in epic poetry or in a series of haiku. Maybe it's an absurdist drama?
9. Write what you don’t like about your physical body down on a piece of paper. Then burn those pieces of papers and throw the ashes in a garden called, "Yesterday."
10. Eat some delicious food. Something with vegetables. Choose ingredients so nourishing, light-filled and energizing that you forget about your hang-ups. Prepare the meal yourself. Contemplate your connection to the land through each bite you're eating.
Enjoy what you can about your physical body. You're lucky to have one - imagine life without it? Own that monkey!