Self-injury can be difficult to talk about. Even choosing how to refer to the behaviour is problematic. Most mental health organisations and academics within Australia use the term Self-harm or Deliberate Self-harm (DSH). The DSM-V outlined Nonsuicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) as a condition for further study … Continue reading What if I told you…. SIAD 2015
Bodies have been on my mind. I read two very interesting posts this week on bodies thanks to the savvy Clementine Ford who shared a great piece by Whitney Teal and then wrote her own response. Both pieces are on the idea of the “right kind” of body, or the idea of what might be deemed an attractive body by society, marketers, the media or anyone who wants to register bodies to be good, bad, better, worse or unacceptable.
Each of us have a concept of what we want our bodies to be and what we think our bodies should be. That might be related to size, shape or level of perceived attractiveness. They can be considered in relation to labels of gender and sexuality. For some bodies might be a considered as to how they operate; able, disabled, healthy, sick, strong or weak or even the ability of our bodies to give life to others, take life away or be built upon in some form of cyborg, more human than human capacity. Bodies can be discussed in relation to numerous academic disciplines and intellectual perspectives and the dialogues that happen around this issue are rich in debate and detail.
Like most people I have my own ideas and issues around bodies; my body. As mentioned in the article by Teal, I’ve found the recent popularisation of the hour glass figure problematic. While I have a body size that generally meets societal acceptation, there remains plenty of other ways I can deem myself to be lacking or unacceptable by imposed standards of beauty and or femineity. The “real women have curves” tag line was long a point of contention as a formerly skinny up and down teen. In recent years the hour glass figure “trend” in fashion has seen shopping for clothes become frustrating as my body’s curves are apparently not in the appropriate places. When talking about bodies and beauty, one woman’s empowerment can be another’s dismissal (of course this issue is not resigned to women only).
I’m not anti fashion; I understand the drive of marketing and advertising it’s just become apparent that I may not be part of the key target market for fashion and beauty products. The images of models doe eyed and mouths pursed in a breathless shape confuse me. I don’t want to channel the 1950’s as a dolled up housewife or alternative sexy pin-up. I don’t want to be Miranda Kerr, Kim Kardashian or Beyonce (I’m sure they’re all nice enough). Many of my clothing choices these days come down to comfort – will this be suitable for sitting at my desk all day and comfortable enough to walk across campus to my car? Can I eat a large bowl of pasta without having to undo a button? How quickly can this be removed in the heat of the moment?
I recently had a conversation with a male friend about female appearances and in particular makeup. In a conversation about our respective love lives I mentioned being at a bar with my person of interest aware that I was probably the only female in the room not wearing makeup. My male friend sounded surprised at my barefaced choice “you didn’t wear makeup?!” I explained to my friend that while I do like wearing makeup (I trained in makeup artistry many years ago) I no longer feel the need to wear it often. Interestingly enough, he went on to tell me he thought one his person’s of interest wore too much makeup and that this in part was a deterrent for him. So even though he himself does not find heavily made-up faces attractive he still held belief that makeup was a protocol of the dating ritual. Tracey Spicer delivered a fabulous talk on the ideals held about women’s personal “presentation” in the workplace that I’d highly recommend. Ritual and representation plays a key part in our thinking about bodies, beauty and presentation. Comparison and evaluation of worth is part of that ritual for many of us.
Our bodies can directly impact our sense of worth. The academic discourses around bodies are often raised in relation to my work. When discussing self-injury words like embodiment are used; lines are drawn to the patriarchal impact on women’s bodies and the idea of the “skin-ego”. This work has its intellectual place and may be more relevant to some people’s experiences with self-injury than others. As I see it self-injury is self-worth impacting on the body (as opposed to the other way around). The self-injury body relationship is a strange one and likely varies due to the underlying issues and experiences of the individual. The experience of the scarred body is subjected to conventions of beauty and expectation of presentation. In online discussions on self-injury many who bare scars discuss their choice to “wear my scars” while others may choose to try to cover or conceal theirs. Some express that their scars are not significant enough and the same processes of comparison and value that occurs in relation to body size, shape etc can play out in relation to the severity of others scarring. I found that when my PhD shifted to the topic of self-injury many were surprised asking if I actually had scars, or exclaiming that my scars did not look any more noticeable than any individual who had an adventurous childhood. Is there a perceived “right kind” of self-injury body?
How I should feel about my self-injury body has at times been imposed on me by others. Many years ago I had a boyfriend who insisted on scrubbing my scars with harsh methods of exfoliation and tried to “help me” find the best potions and lotions to reduce my scars visibility. Before these experiences I can’t recall being bothered by the marks on my skin. I had another experience when I was chastised for not concealing my self-injured body. This individual claimed that by not doing so I was attempting to wear my self-injury as a “badge of honour”, the accuser drew a parallel to his sexuality “I’m gay but I don’t come in here wearing arseless chaps”. If these are the ideals placed upon the self-injury body then the assumption is that scars must be of a thick keloid appearance to be warranted as sufficiently damaged, self-injury bodies must also be kept out of sight to avoid imposing upon others and that self-injury bodies should be seen as in need of repair.
I’m not planning to offer solutions to any of the ideas or issues raised here. We each have our own choices to make when it comes to bodies and the expectations and conventions placed upon them. In my mind when it comes to our bodies, they are nobody’s business but our own.
Today concludes the Easter long weekend, a time for indulgence – be that in a belief system, a series of hangovers, chocolate – name your poison. For myself it has been a television series on DVD, a couple of neglected books and readers, and of course the odd Easter themed confectionery.
There was no family gathering this year (my folks are off enjoying one of their many caravan adventures), meaning my Easter treats were limited to those exchanged with my housemate (creme eggs) and those that I purchased myself (hot cross buns, chocolate and fruit). Even thought the treats have been more minimal than previous years our household has been struggling to balance the consumption of sometimes foods, with the desire to put our feet up (Dance Academy marathon anyone?) and our guilt driven attempts to exercise.
Last week I caught up with a friend of my and we both proclaimed that our bodies had changed. We’d “acquired” some extra digits on the scales and agreed we weren’t unhappy with the numbers but still wanted to make some “adjustments”. The season has changed and consequently I’ve had to drag my jeans out. I’m not a fan of pants. Leggings, yes; shorts, sure; but jeans and long pants annoy me. During the time spent with my friend I was constantly having to rearrange my jeans. They essentially fit, but sit the wrong way and the waist band crushes against my bladder. Stand up, and the jeans need to be pulled up and twisted to prevent plumbers crack. Cross your legs and the denim grips my calves. Most jeans showcase my muffin top and love handles while equally giving me an eye catching camel toe. Jeans are not my friends.
No seriously, pants are uncomfortable!
Despite my general annoyance at long pants, I equally dislike being cold and do not like wearing stockings or tights. Being of short to average height long skirts are generally too long for my frame (yes, I could take them up or have them taken up) and hence jeans become a winter necessity that I endure. Perhaps if I spend more money on my wardrobe I would find more comfortable options than the chain store limited collections. However, given my currently limited income I generally find a couple of pairs that are bearable and simply count down the days until summer returns.
Size me up
I have so far purchased one new pair of jeans this year. They were of the mass produced, unethical, cheap kind. I took the size I though I was to the dressing room. I managed to get them as high as my knees. I’m not a skinny girl (not anymore) but this sizing just seemed ridiculous! I wondered if they were a small make, or if every other store I shop in practices vanity sizing. Consequently I purchased the next size up – the first time I’d had to purchase this size – they fit perfectly and when I got home I promptly cut off the tag in pure denial of the new number.
For many years I was skinny. When I was in high school the tween/teen market weren’t marketed to, at least not like they are now. My teenage years were spend mostly shopping in the kids section. Women’s clothes did not fit my up and down frame. During my early twenties I was on medication that had the side effect of weight loss. I was a stick, but by then I was a stick with boobs which meant somehow I fit an acceptably attractive body image. This was probably the time in my life that I was least active and by far most unhealthy (in a multitude of ways). So although I was deemed as attractive I didn’t feel particularly at ease with my body.
By my late twenties I’d filled out a bit. Some people told me I looked better, others (those who were used to my previously smaller size) criticized me. While I didn’t mind the extra filling I was aware that my lifestyle needed some changes and I began exercising more and making an attempt to improve my diet. I joined a gym and started weights training.
Would you like a heart-attack with that?
There were several motivations to exercise. It meant time to myself (big bonus), there was lots of nice eye candy to enjoy (yes, I’m talking objectification – I’m no saint) but more importantly I was approaching thirty and I was starting to think about my long term health. My family health histories include heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes – all those yucky lifestyle related aliments. I knew that while I could buy clothes in most stores that fit and I was classified as being an attractive size, I was also on the path to some preventable health nasty’s. Most importantly though, I knew that my mind needed movement.
“You’re one workout away from a good mood” is written on the mirror at my current gym. This is one of their better motivational signs. I can see this when I’m at the end of my workout, when my body is sore and I’m almost done, but can still do a little bit more. Irregardless of what size pants I wear or how attractive I may (or may not) appear to be to others I need to stay active for the sake of my sanity.
I’m an individual prone to low moods. I’ve been on and off anti-depressants over the last fifteen years and seen a variety of counselors and shrinks. Exercise is an important aspect of my self-care. As I get older and wiser I’m learning more and more what rituals or practices I need to maintain for healthy coping. My current mental health professional explained it to me as “these are the things I need to do”. It’s very easy to dismiss the things you need to do to maintain (your sanity), and often what works for you will not suit another and because of this unfortunately our support networks can sometimes miss the significance of “the things you need to do”.
Earlier this year I discussed my need to get moving again with my mental health dude. He suggested yoga (which I have done and do like) and walking on the beach (also something I enjoy). Going to the gym and lifting weights is not something he enjoys, so he encouraged me to pursue activities he can vouch for. Support people will often encourage us to pursue what works for them. Sometimes this can work out brilliantly, you discover something new that you didn’t know that you’d enjoy and a buddy who can help motivate you. The trick is finding what’s right for you, right now.
Do you even lift bro?
I never got around to going back to yoga classes. The last time I’d gone to one, I did not find it relaxing for a number of reasons. I have discovered that I prefer to exercise alone. Alone time is definitely on my list of “things I need”. Doing a weights session at the gym works for me. I enjoy feeling strong, I like doing something mostly physical where I can switch off my busy mind for a while and taking an hour or so every couple of days to listen to music and do something soothingly repetitive is what I need. I relish those sessions where suddenly the dumbbell I’m lifting feels a bit light and I know it’s time to pick up a heavier weight. Even the ache of my muscles the next day is welcome.
When I was little I did a lot of dance classes and played netball. I danced for ten years and have done some classes as an adult. Dancing was something that I’d regretting giving up. I still love dancing, however I have found that it doesn’t work for me as one of my “things I need to do”. A weights session at the gym or even a long walk means I can do something wholly for myself as opposed to a group or team activity where my performance affects others. I enjoy exercise that allows me full control and conscious control. The sense of accomplishment I get after going to the gym and doing a good session or as I return from a long walk is amazing. This feeling is not to do with any particular goal, it’s not about how far I went or how much I lifted. Doing something that I know is good for my body and improves my health and having chosen to do that thing is very rewarding when all too often you feel like destroying yourself.
Back to the jeans. Yes, it is nice to fit into clothes and sometimes it is the numbers that motivate us but often it is the numbers or our appearance that is the only motivation offered to us. The majority of motivational motifs available preach about body image, looks, hotness etc. Rarely is the promotion of an active lifestyle promoted beyond an aesthetic and that is really sad. Attraction is subjective, it’s different for everyone but many of the benefits of movement and exercise are universal. We need to talk more about what can be gained as opposed to what can be lost.
Now… it’s time to put my sneakers on.