Reading & Writing the Body

On facebook I saw an image that stated, “Don’t judge me by my skin color, my hair color, my body size and my outer beauty. If you do, you will miss entirely who I am.” Of course, I understand the sentiments motivating this proclamation. None of us like to be judged by superficial details nor do these details encapsulate all that we are. Still, that last statement grinds against me. Don’t these details about ourselves actually influence and reflect a lot about who we are?

My white skin comes both with privilege and guilt that is shaping the woman I’m becoming. No matter what size I am, the scars on my skin are signs of my complicated relationship with food and my body. My slightly bowed legs tell you that I developed vanity much later in life. There has always been something in me as untamable and every changing as my curly hair.

Testimony. Mixed media collage on wood. Barbara Bickel

There is, certainly, so much more to me than what you can see. Still, as Barbra Brown Taylor says in her book Altars in the World:

“Our bodies have shaped our views of the world, just as the world has shaped our views of our bodies.  Each of us has a unique body ‘signature,’ which consists not only of our distinctive physical characteristics but also of our posture, gait, our way of using our hands.  The moment I come into a room, you can tell that I was 5’10” in the eighth grade.  All these years later, it is still difficult for me to stand up straight. To square my shoulders requires an act of conscious will, since that only makes me taller” (40).

Knowing that I weighed 240 for so long explains a lot about me when I walk into a room. How I’m so comfortable bluntly interacting with men because of years being treated more like one of the guys than one of the girls. My self-consciousness about moving in small spaces (thus why I’m utterly uncomfortable during liturgical services with all the standing up, sitting down and kneeling). How I always stand tall without slouching, slightly sucking in.

All of these outward signs say something about who I am. That I’m most at ease on neutral terms with men. That I’m as much of an introvert as I am an extrovert…There is much more that I’m sure my body says to others that I’m less aware of. As Taylor tells us,     

“‘It is easier to lie with the lips than with the body,’ goes an old proverb, which goes a long way toward explaining why many of us are so reticent about our flesh.  It is not easy being so revealed to every passerby, who can often read us better than we can read ourselves simply by watching the way we walk, sit, or eat.  Our bodies are prophets.  They know when things are out of whack and they say so” (41).

Just before I left New York City, Ben could see the signs of my unhappiness in my body. In the five pounds I’d already gained back. When I first began debating leaving my job for Cliff, he read my dissatisfaction and exhaustion in my coloring. Julie could hear my faltering confidence in my voice. Before I knew I would leave, my body signaled that I would.

If you know nothing of me other than my skin color, my hair color, my body size and my outer beauty you will not know me well, but I can’t say that you would know nothing of me. Accepting what you could learn of me through my body, teaches me something about myself.

“The body is a great focuser, whether the means is pain or pleasure.  The body is a great reminder of where we came from and where we are going, on the one sacred journey that we all make whether we mean to or not” (Taylor, 65).

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