The Separation of Body and Mind

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How did so many of us get so far detatched from our bodies?

We intellectualise our existence, elevating the fluff between our ears into higher and higher reverence, and leave our bodies neglected on the earth… which we also neglect.

The trans movement talks in circles about ‘identity’ and ‘I am what I say I am’, completely shunning the physical reality of the body that only knows what it feels and does what it is instructed to with the tools we give it.

We learn to treat our bodies with disdain, women in particular learn to hate our bodies, to see only flaws and inadequacies and never to marvel at the delicacy and intricacy of the vessel that labours faithfully to support the very mind that mercilessly criticises it.

We expect our bodies to run at full capacity when loaded with substandard and inappropriate fuel, and while deprived of proper rest and left to languish, idle, in front of screens. We complain of fatigue when we know that it comes from a lack of care and sleep.

We submit our bodies to dozens of chemicals in the name of ‘hygiene’ and even more in the name of ‘beauty’. This beauty is never achieved, never attained, we go on endlessly applying chemicals and removing our body’s natural protections, causing pain and irritation, in a time-consuming regime that exists solely to avoid the uninvited and unconstructive criticism of others.

We eat food from packets that is many steps removed from natural ingredients, we choose ‘99% fat free’ without caring about the sugars and the additives and preservatives we replace that fat with. We forget how to listen to our bodies, filling up on kilojoules rather than nutrients, trying to satisfy a hunger that we don’t understand.

The bitter contempt we harbour for our bodies is exploited in order to sell us products that won’t fix the problems we don’t actually have, and won’t ever make us satisfied with how we look.

We are our bodies. Our bodies are not the enemy, not there to be conquered or exploited, but to be harnessed and conditioned to provide us with a physical link to an incredible world where many sensations await us. Our bodies want to go on. They want to be well. And while there are times when things don’t work out for our bodies, times when things go wrong, generally the better we care for them, the better they can serve us.

Our bodies can be a refuge for our overstimulated minds. They can be strangers or they can be our dear friends and comrades.They can be an appendix, an adjunct, to our minds or they can be partner and resource.

Our bodies do not exist to provide visual stimulation to others. They exist for our own use, under our own terms. They are what we are and where we reside. They are miraculous and fabulous and come in many shapes, sizes and colours, all with untapped capabilities. They should be loved and appreciated and celebrated for what they are.

Love and appreciate your body. Forget all the things you have been told are wrong about how it looks. Care for and nurture your physical self. The rewards will be great.

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The Magic Number

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The other day I read this article about a woman who didn’t weigh herself for a year and I thought, gee, it has been a while since I weighed myself.

So I jumped on the Wii Fit to see how long it had been.

288 days. That’s about nine and a half months.

That’s two new jobs and a new house ago.

And in that time, without the scales to keep me in line, had I totally let myself go?

Not really.

I’ve gained a couple of kg, but still in what Wii Fit considers to be the ‘ideal’ range.

Which is not bad considering that nine and a half months ago I was mixing swimming, running and yoga. Now, with finishing work later, I don’t get an opportunity to go to the pool regularly. And my ongoing knee problems have vetted me out of running even semi-regularly. But I have managed to schedule in yoga two to three times a fortnight.

On one level I think it shows that I eat pretty well and I have made some progress when it comes to listening to my body and giving it the nutrients it needs without overdoing the calories.

But I think a lot of it is also the fact that I don’t feel the need to look a certain way any more. Or, that I don’t expose myself to as much media that tells me that I have to be young, thin and blonde in order to be a worthwhile human being. Or a hefty dose of both.

Yeah, I lay off the sugar, I don’t eat when I am not hungry, and I don’t keep eating when I am full. But I also don’t expose myself to as many airbrushed images of unrealistic ‘desirable’ bodies.

I feel good, my clothes fit, I am well. What else matters?

At my size, it is fairly low-stakes to be alright with my size. I don’t suffer the judgement, ridicule and even outright rudeness that bigger women have to deal with. The looks, the sniggers, the assumptions that they are lazy, stupid or both. I don’t profess to know what it is like to be what there doesn’t seem to even be a polite, neutral word for. Plus sized? Overweight? Big? Obese? Fat? None of them have the same ring to them as slim, skinny, athletic, leggy.

I have watched so many of my loved ones tie their self worth to a number on the scales, one that is the sum of so many variables but must always be lower than the previous measurement.

And the strange thing about that number on the scales is that even though nobody else knows what it is, even though it is thought to be rude to ask someone what they weigh, it still has so much power. A secret shame that really means very little. A figure that, like age, is just a number, and one that you very rarely have to own up to.

But we have all been told forever that we are supposed to look a certain way and that if we don’t fit that mould we are failures who possess all kinds of personality defects.

If you are otherwise able-bodied and you can do all the things that a person needs to do, if you can tie your own shoes and fit through doorways and get in and out of cars and walk up a flight of stairs, then you are probably fine. If you eat fairly well most of the time and spend a reasonable amount of time on your feet, then you are probably fine. Most of us don’t exercise as much as we should, but if you are going to have a go at increasing your exercise, don’t do it to be thinner. Being thinner is fairly low on the list of benefits associated with exercising.

I didn’t read all about what happened to the girl who didn’t weigh herself for a year, but I am pretty sure she didn’t die, she didn’t become morbidly obese, and she didn’t ‘let herself go’. What she probably did was eat a piece of cheesecake without worrying about what the scales would tell her the next day. She probably exercised for the health benefits and bought clothes that fit her now, not that she would fit into when she lost weight.

Even as a fairly slim person, I was for years a slave to the scales. I thought that the number meant something profound, that it could tell me how good or bad I was. But it is just a number.

Instead of patting people on the back for losing kilograms, we should congratulate them for making healthy lifestyle changes. For taking up a physical activity, for eating more natural foods, for spending more time outside or even dedicating themselves to going to bed earlier. These are the things that will make you healthier. These are the things that will improve your mood.

Weight is just a way to judge yourself. Seriously, not a single other person cares whether you are heavier or lighter than you were yesterday or last week, and they won’t even know because you won’t tell them and they won’t ask. You are not obliged to be thin. Throw away your scales. Don’t worry about the number. Go by how you feel and what you are doing, or if you are really concerned talk to your doctor about it. Losing weight is not the most worthwhile thing you can do, and gaining it is not the worst thing.

On Choice, and Why Body Hair is a Feminist Issue

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You know that thing where a topic keeps popping up so I write a blog post about it? It is happening right now.

Be thankful I am not doing a rehash of all the things wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Nope, I am not touching that one with a barge pole.

Instead I am going to launch into an attempt to organise my thoughts on choice, beauty standards and armpit hair.

This is a little bit more political than a lot of the stuff I post on here, but as I gain confidence I am becoming more comfortable with sharing these ideas with my audience, rather than hiding them in my secret feminist blog.

As women, we are constantly told that the things that happen to us are a result of our choices. That we choose to date or marry abusive men. That we choose to be single mothers. That we choose to work in lower-paid jobs. That we choose to drink too much or eat too much or act in ways that make us targets for violence. This way we are left in no doubt that whatever happens to us, whatever predicament we find ourselves in, we have only ourselves to blame. The flip side of this, that nobody talks about, is that those who harm and oppress us are absolved of all responsibility.

We are told that women choose to be prostituted, that women choose to act in porn. That to take away these choices would be taking away women’s choices, and that would be bad.

The lie that we are told every day is that women choose to be oppressed, and that men are doing us a favour by oppressing us.

We are told that women don’t want the hard/dangerous/high-powered jobs because we would rather stay at home and have an easy life while our husbands earn the money. That we want to be treated as sex objects. That we want to be abused and humiliated. That when we leave abusive partners we have chosen to break up our family, deprive our children of a father and be poor and stressed with limited opportunity to improve our lot. I hear it all the time. Women don’t want to work, they want to stay at home and be treated like princesses. Women like rough sex, but they are ashamed to admit it. Women think ‘nice guys’ are boring, so they always go for the ‘bad boys’. Women have it so easy. Women are their own worst enemies.

We are told that we only dress up to compete with other women. That we can choose whether or not to wear make-up, whether or not to wear high-heels, whether or not to remove our body hair.

And sure, you can choose not to do the things that society tells us we MUST do. But what happens if you don’t?

Body hair on women is one of my pet topics. To me it is a core feminist issue. I cannot count how many times I have been told that it is a ‘first-world problem’, or that women can ‘do whatever they want’ and most just ‘choose’ to remove their body hair for no practical reason.

And then when i argue the point I get told that it is insignificant, unimportant, that being allowed an opinion on what I do to my own body has nothing to do with feminism, that I should shut up and be glad I don’t live in Afghanistan.

I have got into countless discussions on the topic and been told countless times that body hair on women is unacceptable. The words most commonly used to describe underarm or pubic hair on women are: gross, nasty, disgusting, unhygienic, dirty. Who is going to volunteer to be considered all of those things, when simply picking up a razor can prevent it?

Admit it, just reading this you are wondering why I am writing about such an icky and insignificant topic. You’re thinking ‘ew, I just had lunch, I don’t want to hear about your armpit hair’.

Ask yourself, would you grow your armpit hair? Would it be okay if your wife or girlfriend did? Why? Why not? Because it is gross or dirty? Is it really? Why?

Yes, we have a choice. But choosing to go against the majority is difficult. And it shouldn’t be.

When I chose to stop removing my armpit hair I did it for a number of reasons. I get bad razor rash, which leaves me with nasty red spots and sometimes big lumps, especially in summer. I wanted to see if not shaving would prevent this. It did. I also realised that I had been shaving the hair off since before I even started growing it. That I had never had more than a couple of millimetres growth. I had no idea what it would even look like if I let it grow.

But mainly, I wanted to see if I could. If I could really choose.

And do you know what? This tiny choice was incredibly difficult. I had to deal with worrying about what everyone thought. Would they think I was disgusting? While most people won’t come out and say it, if you ask them they will tell you that they find it a bit yuck. You certainly don’t have to travel far on the internet to find out that whether it is on Madonna or Sofia Loren or the woman next to you at the train station, 99% of people think armpit hair on women simply should not exist.

I have not personally encountered a single woman who would even entertain the idea of not removing her underarm hair. And when challenged, the women I have talked to about it all tell me that they choose to do it.

It took me months and lots of self doubt to finally be comfortable with my decision. My partner pulled faces and told me it was ‘manly’, but he has learned to live with it. Wearing singlets, raising my arms in public and letting the rest of the yoga class see it took some real guts on my part. This tiny decision, this thing I do for me and me only that anyone can do at any time? It was a real eye-opener. A real consciousness-shifter. A pivotal event in learning how to really make my own choices for myself.

Having our appearance micromanaged by society blocks us from dealing with the ‘bigger’ issues. The lipstick/body hair/skirt arguments are all manufactured by the patriarchy. None of those things should matter. But ‘choosing’ to shave your legs and ‘choosing’ to be a stay at home mother are two sides of the same coin, and go hand-in-hand with ‘choosing’ to be a prostitute. We are told we have a choice, but those choices are laden with threat and consequences. To you or me, feeling like you have to wear make-up  to fit in at work is a lesser hardship than feeling like you have to let men pay to rape you so you can pay your rent, so you just do it. But a win is a win. Oppression is oppression, and the ‘little’ oppressions are supposed to keep us obedient and teach us how to submit to the ‘bigger’ oppressions. You have to teach a horse to eat from your hand before your can teach it to carry a saddle and rider. And you have to teach women to ‘choose’ to shave their armpits before you can teach them to ‘choose’ to be owned, abused, humiliated and discarded.

By making that one tiny choice, I learned how to make an actual choice about what I do with my own body, regardless of the collective attitude and outside influences. Maybe next I will get a short haircut on my head or go out without a bra or shop for clothing somewhere other than the women’s section of a store.  You have to learn how to choose what you do with your own body, before you can choose to demand to be treated like a fully-fledged human being.

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

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Sometimes I go looking for trouble, sometimes it finds me.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital waiting for my pacemaker review. I glanced at the stack of magazines on the table next to me, pushed aside the ‘Women’s Weekly’ and ‘That’s Life’, and picked up a glossy beast innocuously titled ‘Women’s Health’.

I started to flick through. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I really thought there might be something in it actually beneficial to women. Clearly my years of avoiding commercial media have made me soft. What I saw was a manual for making yourself sexually attractive to men.

The quick-fix diets, the fashion and make-up tutorials, and most disturbingly, the ‘what men really think’ article that could be summed up as ‘men want women to pander to their every requirement, and be decorative and sexy but also faithful and not slutty, while men do whatever the hell they want’. I pulled a face and put the magazine back on the stack at this point.

Seriously, this magazine doesn’t even try. It is just another waste of paper telling women how to fit into the tiny box of ‘acceptable’ that has been created to control how we look and how we live.

So of course, I went looking for trouble. I visited the websites of both Australian Women’s Health and Australian Men’s Health to see what kind of message these publications are peddling.

Women’s Health in a nutshell – how to get your chocolate fix without getting fat. How to drop a dress size – fast! How to zap belly fat or get great legs. The Fitness section had subheadings for Running and Yoga – activities that are not likely to cause increase in muscle mass and therefore affect your apparent femininity.

Men’s Health had different subheadings in the Fitness section – Muscle Building and Cardio. Because apparently muscles are only for men. Weight loss short-cuts also feature, and under the heading Sex and Women is a section on how to ‘improve your game’, also known as ‘getting women to have sex with you’.

Where Women’s Health has recipes and nutrition information, Men’s Health has supplements and cooking tips. Apparently women know how to cook, but men don’t.

One of the first articles I saw on the Men’s Health page was about ‘ticking off your bedroom bucket list’. This is an article about getting your partner to indulge your sexual fantasies. And it begins with the author doing ‘what any man would do’ – plying his partner with alcohol to make her more receptive to his suggestions. According to Men’s Health, manipulation and coercion are an important part of the male sex life. Good to know.

Presumably that is why Women’s Health is dedicated to making women decorative and sexy and fuckable and educating them on how to do what a man wants in bed.

The covers and images of both these magazines are so bland and generic as to almost be sterile, yet the air of casual harmlessness hides a disturbing theme. They tell men that they must be buff and tanned and healthy in order to get all the women. They tell women that they must be slim and tanned and healthy and wear just the right amount of make-up in order to be seen as acceptable.

These magazines are the media equivalent of that moron internet troll who tells everyone that fat people are gross because they are unhealthy. They are the published version of the constant reinforcement of the gender binary. Their titles suggest that they care about the wellbeing of people, but their content perpetuates the sterotypes that harm every person who does not look like the airbrushed models in the photographs.

Why can’t there be a magazine simply called ‘Health’, which is gender neutral and doesn’t set out to divide the population? Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and managing your mental health are issues relevant to all people.

On the topic of mental health, I did a search for ‘depression’ on the page of both magazines. Nothing showed up in the links for either on the main pages, so I had to do some digging. It seems that mental health is not sexy or cool enough to feature in these publications, despite it being a huge health issue for men and women.

I think what bothered me the most about the content of these magazines, is that they seem to represent the attitudes of society in general. Rags like Cosmopolitan and Cleo make a point of being racy and over-the-top, but these Health magazines present as wholesome advice for everyday living, rather than the manuals for slotting seamlessly into the patriarchal abyss that they actually are.

Making Words From Nothing

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I’ve really dropped the ball in here lately, my writing hands have just gone on strike and I haven’t felt compelled to put anything down in print for a couple of weeks. But it’s that thing about how the more you use something the easier it is, so I’m going to start typing and see what comes out.

It is pouring with rain here and has been for hours. It has rained so much in the last week or so that I have turned on the hoses to drain water from the tanks in the goat areas down and away from their places of shelter. And I think the tanks are still filling faster than I can discharge the water.

The does are very comfortable in the big shed with all the hay they can eat and an indoor water source. The kidding pens have been cleaned out, and just need some straw put down in order to be ready. The two spotty does, Meredith and Juno, are due any time now, but not looking terribly imminent. Kidding is stressful and exciting.

The bucks are not having such an easy time, as their makeshift shelter is smaller and has a dirt floor. I have put down a thick layer of straw and given them a big tub of hay, so at least they an eat and lie down without getting wet.

The chooks have stayed in the big chook house today, it is even too wet outside for them. The ducks and geese, however, are having a grand time.

My cheese fridge lay down and died a few weeks ago, and a part had to be ordered from overseas. I am still waiting for the repairer to come back and fix it. I want to make more cheese!

Yoga has become my exercise of choice, with Hot Yoga slightly edging out the regular Hatha. The heated environment is a great comfort when it is five degrees outside, and the extra stretch afforded by warm muscles is also a bonus. But I think what really attracts me is that slightly altered state that comes from working quite hard in the heat. It takes the mind/body benefits of yoga to a higher level.

I am becoming stronger and more flexible, even three weeks in. I can now do poses that were actually not possible when I first started. I can maintain a full plank for more than two seconds.

My sugarlessness is going well, although pretty much everyone thinks it is a silly idea (there is sugar in everything, do you eat fruit? there is sugar in that, everything in moderation I say), I find it beneficial for me and that is all that matters.

I am slowly adjusting my attitude to fat in my diet, and while I still wouldn’t eat a packet of chips, there are some high-fat foods that I am starting to eat more of and at the same time I am fitting back into my size 8 jeans that I haven’t been able to wear for ages. Something is working.

I had my hair cut by an actual hairdresser and she was very complimentary about the general condition of it. That is six months without shampoo, and going strong. I will need to colour it again at some point, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. The protein hair masque that my sister made is pretty well magic, and fixes that straw-like feeling when my hair gets too dry.

I am yet to go back to the razor, and you would think that if anything would reveal hairy underarms as being a source of unbearably bad hygiene it would be hot yoga, but your argument is invalid because deodorant. I am no more or less smelly than I was when I did shave, so ner to all the people who think hairy armpits on women are ‘gross’. If you don’t like it, don’t grow yours.

I did read an interesting comment about how because women are taught to remove their body hair from the day it starts to become noticeable, many of us have no idea what we even look like with such hair. And I was like, bloody hell, I’m 36 years old and I have no idea how long my underarm hair will even grow if I let it. What a sobering thought about the expectations that society imposes upon us. We don’t even get to see what our body hair looks like before removing it, we just remove it because of imposed standards of beauty and justify it by saying it is our choice.

Maybe it is just a phase I’m going through, but I spent many years not feeling like I wasn’t really allowed to be myself, so now I am trying on different things to find out what it is I really want to do when it comes to my own body. I definitely do not want to alienate anyone who does shave or wax, because there are a lot more of you than there are of me.

There are a lot of things I do or don’t do that are different choices to those that most people make, but they don’t change the sort of person I am. If you saw me in the street and didn’t know me you would never guess that I don’t eat sugar and I don’t watch TV and I wash my hair in home-made goat milk soap and I don’t wash my clothes in detergent and I don’t shave or wax the parts that most women do. You would never know if I didn’t tell you.

I live in a fairly isolated little bubble. The only time I really link with a peer group of sorts is during goat showing season. And my goat friends all understand the pros and cons of an alternative lifestyle. It doesn’t matter what makes us different – what matters is what we have in common, what links us. As I begin to interact a bit more with the local Permaculture group I am starting to feel a little less fringe and a little more like part of something bigger. I hope to extend this link over time.

So now all I have left to do is decide what dinners to make over the next few days. And do a bit of baking and make some yogurt. And do a couple of loads of washing. See, I am just like everyone else.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Piece of Meat? Let Me Count The Ways..

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Another community service announcement about body image.

I consider myself fairly enlightened and self-aware. Yet, there are still a lot of things I do simply because society.

We live in a culture where women are decoration. If you don’t believe me just watch TV or look at any magazine. Look at music videos, adorned with interchangeable scantily clad gyrating dancers. So many publications consider balanced gender representation to be a mix of well-dressed men and undressed women.

Is it any wonder then that women find it incredibly difficult to break out of the mindset that in order to be valuable they must look good? And that if there is nobody to look at them, there is no point making an effort?

In my younger days I was often told that I should wax my arms. Yes, I have hairy arms. No, I did not wax them. I did, however, shave my legs, shave my underarms, pluck my eyebrows and tidy my pubic hair. I still do some of these things.

But why? Even though it makes no difference to my own health or functionality, why do I feel the need to do this to my body? Especially when I don’t have anyone to impress?

I can’t go out in a sleeveless top without hairless underarms because I wonder what people will think. When I had a massage recently I had a moment of panic when I remembered that I had not shaved my legs in weeks and wondered what the masseuse must have thought.

At the pool I tell myself nobody will notice before I leave the change room in my bathers and hairy legs. It’s the middle of winter. And besides, they should be looking at my boobs, not my legs.

We have become so used to being commodified that we commodify ourselves. When I was doing the rounds of online dating I made sure to put up a full-body shot of myself to show that I was not fat. I thought that would give me an edge in a competitive flesh market.

So I resolve to be true to myself and not let the confines of what we have been trained to do to ourselves influence the way I keep myself. No more razors. No more waxing. I will probably still pluck my eyebrows. But the rest of me can grow wild and natural.

As long as I am happy with how I look, that is all that matters. I know that the hair is meant to be there.

Do any of you have the courage to do the same? If not, why? Do you worry about what others will think? Have you convinced yourself that it is unclean… I mean, has our culture convinced you of that? Will your husband leave you if you stop shaving your legs? Will men find you unattractive if you don’t get around with a full Brazilian? And if they do, is that your problem? Your responsibility? Do you really want to make yourself look acceptable for someone like that?

You are not an object for display. You are worth more than someone’s opinion. How you look does not define you. You are beautiful and anyone who judges you otherwise has the problem, not you.

Live for yourself. You are the only person who can make you happy.