Monday, August 22, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about embodiment lately.  Growing up in a culture that teaches women, from a young age, that they must work on their bodies endlessly, I came of age believing that I consisted of two separate entities.  I was me, Stephanie, and I had this body that Stephanie was in.  It's definitely a weird disconnect.  It's not that my body was somehow unfamiliar to me.  It was always that my body was a thing that belonged to me.  It wasn't actually me.

I think a lot of messages women receive about beauty and appearance reinforce this disconnect.  We're encouraged (in a heteronormative society) to want a man to love us for our brains, not our bodies.  Some of us feel like "a thin girl trapped in a fat girl's body."  Many of us look in the mirror and feel depressed that our external appearance isn't "correct," that it is not an accurate representation of who we truly are.

I struggled for years with these issues, and they linger in some ways.  For example, as a diehard contact lens wearer, I'm sometimes surprised when I look in the mirror while wearing glasses, or if there are pictures of me in frames.  Then again, as a diehard contact lens wearer, I'm quite unused to seeing myself in glasses.  But spending years looking in the mirror and feeling surprised that I looked so much bigger than I felt--that was a problem.

I don't have a recipe for fixing embodiment issues, just a smattering of things that helped me.  An avid doodler, I stopped drawing "myself" as slim.  I started to check out online shopping sites that used plus sized models, even if I wasn't buying anything.  I mentally checked myself any time I worried about looking "too fat."  I would go sleeveless and remind myself mentally, several times throughout the day, that no one cared but me.  I would wear clothing that made me feel awesome, instead of clothing that I thought would hide all of my horrible, terrible, unacceptable flaws.  I started working on hair and make-up for fun, which switched my focus from "hiding and changing" to "decorating and enhancing."

I don't know if I'll ever completely destroy the disconnect, but it's a relief to lessen it significantly.  I'm so much happier with myself and my life without the disconnect looming over me.  And the funny thing is, as the disconnect lessens, as I take care of ME instead of MY BODY, I get more compliments on my fashion sense.  Go figure.

So far, though, I've found two ways to erase the disconnect, at least temporarily.  The first isn't that shocking--it's sexual activity.  No matter how much my body weighs, or how large or small it is, no matter how insecure or not I've been feeling, sexual activity lets me be me, not just a mind and a body.  The effect lasts for about as long as the encounter, usually going over slightly until I get distracted from thinking about it.  I never feel "one" during sexual activity with a partner, and that's never my goal.  I just love that I feel one with myself.

The second way to erase the disconnect is running.  I guess running is similar to sexual activity in a lot of ways, and it's not surprising to me that both methods of erasing the disconnect are physical activities that make people feel good.  But somehow, when I'm running, it's just me.  Compartment syndrome didn't even bring the disconnect back; even though I knew the problem was with my calves specifically, it was still me, not my body.

I've been very ambivalent about my post-pill weight loss, and I've written as much on multiple occasions.  I spent years trying not to obsess over my weight; obsessing over it only increased the disconnect.  But now, like it or not, I'm losing weight, and I have no idea how much I'm going to lose before it stops, and what life will be like from now on.  I like knowing how I function; I know that if I eat ice cream and don't take a lactase pill, I will feel like crap.  So, what are the new rules for my weight?  The old rules were easy: weight will go up about 5lbs a year forever, no matter what you eat, HAVE FUN.

As I've written about before, losing weight has benefits, even if I was happy and healthy before.  This is a culture that treats fat people, especially fat women, like shit.  So yes, I will be happy to not have as many people treat me like shit.  But I don't like that my mom keeps obsessing over how "skinny" I look now.  Yeah, I'm totally healthy, but she was excited when I lost weight from ulcerative colitis, and upset when I didn't lose weight while I had mono.  It's not her fault; again, this is a culture that doesn't care about health as much as it does about fat vs skinny.

But the biggest downside is that the disconnect is returning.  I look in the mirror and the person looking back isn't really me anymore.  I look at my stomach, and it's not my stomach.  My thighs aren't my thighs.  My face isn't my face.  My arms are still mine, only because they haven't changed.  My calves have changed, but not from weight loss; I'll have to get used to my calves being floppy.  But that's different; that's change I made intentionally, for reasons other than a disconnect.

The disconnect appears even when I'm not looking in a mirror.  A lot of my clothing, especially jeans, fit differently now.  Going to the grocery store today was so strange; the fabric of my clothes moved across my body so much differently than usual.  My body, not me.  There's the disconnect.  Because after finally minimizing it, looking in the mirror and seeing me, moving around and feeling me, things changed, and right now, this isn't my body.

Embodiment is a tricky subject, but hopefully this resonates with some people.  My goal is to see how far this weight loss is going to go, hit that plateau and maintain it, and get back to work erasing the disconnect as best I can.  I don't want to be going through life trapped in my body.  I just want to go through life as me.

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