the body public

Hanging out with a pregnant friend in public meant that we met a lot of strangers. Everyone is interested in a pregnant woman, everyone wants to be friends, everyone is fascinated and interested, friendly and intrigued, and everyone is suddenly filled with all kinds of advice about your way of life, your diet, your exercise, your body. People want to touch it, people are interested in it, people are looking at you and judging you and you are on show, on display, and your body is, as I’ve heard it described by many pregnant women, suddenly public property.

It’s kindly meant, I know. People are just looking out for you! And people are always looking for ways to connect, and ways to share their deeply considered opinions with the world at large. If you see an opportunity to launch into your spiel about transfats and fetal alcohol syndrome, why wouldn’t you just leap right on that opening and slide all the way in? So to speak. But K.T., who has never been subject to that kind of public scrutiny, that public interest, that sudden, overwhelming flood of advice, was kind of shell-shocked by it. And also by the fact that it has not stopped. She’s breastfeeding now, and the baby has to eat, wherever she is. And now the world is fascinated by her boobs, has an opinion about where she feeds, how she feeds, how often she feeds, and whether her breasts are obscene.

I mean, really people? Really, this is our business, world? Really,
this is something we have to concern ourselves with? We are so
fascinated by other people’s bodies–their size, weight, height, width,
girth, fertility or lack of it. We are completely and absolutely
obsessed by the physical–who has lost weight and who has gained weight
and who looks fat and who looks too skinny and who is pregnant. And oh,
I am not immune to it, not even a little bit–I see women’s bodies on
the street, and I examine them, often compare them to my own, wonder
how we stack up to one another. Wonder what someone sees, when they
look at me, what they think, how they judge and if they could possibly
judge me the way I so often judge myself.

But. When I see my brother, after so long, he makes fun of me for looking
him up and down, cataloging the changes, noticing his hair and what
weird new changes he’s made to his sideburns, the shape of his face,
the width of his shoulders, his belly–he’s been running again! He’s
quit running! I don’t remember him being so tall! He laughs at me for
inspecting him so closely, but I can’t help it. I can call and write,
but it is not the same. His actual, physical presence is something I
miss, something that is important. Seeing him, being in the same room
with him, getting to hug him and smack him in the arm and watch him
grin is so important. The same with my friends, this past week–I found
myself examining each and every one of them, cataloging the changes and
committing them to memory for when I fly away and they are emails and
phone calls and texts, again.

What I am saying–we are our bodies, aren’t we? So much of who we are is
predicated on how we look. So much of what we know of other people is
predicated by their physical appearance, how they present themselves,
how they are in the world. Of course we are fascinated, intrigued,
maybe a little bit obsessed. Of course we wish, sometimes, that we were
invisible and no one could look at us without our explicit permission.
Of course, it is complicated and fascinating, our bodies, and the
bodies of strangers. Of course, we could learn to keep our mouths shut
about it, though.

3 Replies to “the body public”

  1. What I am saying–we are our bodies, aren’t we? So much of who we are is predicated on how we look – easy to say if one has lost weight or is accepting of one’s body.

    i like to think that i’m not my body, but i’m my soul.

  2. Supposedly at a very young age we start thinking of our bodies and minds (a.k.a. “souls”) as separate. I find this fascinating. Why? And where do you draw the line? At the brain? Certain parts of the brain? What about hormones – are they mind or body? They affect how you think, as does thirst, hunger, pain. We are our bodies, yes.

    I’ve always had terrible body awareness. I’ve always tried to pretend my body doesn’t exist, nevermind “isn’t me.” But I am trying to listen now, to what my body is trying to say. It’s not the enemy. It’s not a separate thing. I guess I still feel like my body and mind are having a dialogue a lot of times. But at least they are speaking to each other now, and on rather friendly terms.

  3. chris:

    It seems to me that our outsides should align with our insides.

    I had a terrible body image after being sexually abused as a child. I was afraid of being a normal body weight and was heavy for most of my adult life.

    I joined overeater’s anonymous and feel like at last my insides match my outsides. I reached my healthy goal weight a few weeks ago, and am so grateful that I am not in that scared small space any more.

    yes, looks matter, and yes, clothes are fun and make you feel pretty. but for someone like me, I needed to do a lot of healing to get to that place.

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