One of the TED Talks I listened to during a run recently was Eve Ensler’s “Suddenly My Body.” She describes her connection to her body as a parallel to humanity’s connection to the Earth: something recognized only when it was in danger. Before she learned she had cancer, she lived “in her head,” dissociated from her body, and I had more trouble with that concept than the idea of the body as an extension of the earth.
I have always felt connected to my body. I have always felt its – or should I say, my – heart beating, my lungs moving, how my throat feels when I sing, random weird pains, and my strengths and weaknesses. I can tell you that my last cold started at 1:40 on a Thursday afternoon because that was when I noticed my throat started to feel scratchy. I have always been aware that my body could alternately be something to covet, or something to scorn. I am aware of my posture, often in the context of it being bad. I am aware of how skinny I am, and of all the connotations and assumptions that came with it – that I am unhealthy, that I am weak, that I always feel good about the way I look.
I’ve had to be aware of my body in different contexts: how it should be presented in a fraternity house, at a job interview, in the workplace, in downtown Bellevue versus downtown Portland, at church, on this blog. Underneath all these contexts and the things I do to fit into them is the sometimes frightening awareness that ultimately, my body is its own, and even though I am in it and it is mine, there isn’t much I can do to change it. I can cover it up or disguise it, but it’ll still be there, shaped more or less this way, with arms that are a little too long, a neck that tends to slouch, a belly that gets sucked in despite it being on a size 2 waist. People will always see it a certain way, and I have no control over that, no matter how much I try to mold to their expectations.
Somewhere in between Eve Ensler and me is a healthy, balanced self-image. Somewhere between complete detachment and self-conscious hyperawareness is comfort instead of fear or uneasiness; confidence instead of shyness or brashness; and pride instead of dismissal or anxiety. I’m not there yet. Are you?