Embodiment: War, Détente, Peace

This piece is about a year old (I write a lot that I sit on or discard or can’t figure out what to make of) but it feels as relevant as ever. And, interestingly, the idea of “body détente” came up in a recent journaling exercise I did, so I guess it is, as ever, an ongoing process.


I want more than a détente with my body, I want peace.

I often go back and forth on the idea of body love. On the one hand, it feels vital, life-saving, and profoundly radical. It is a political stance and action (praxis, if you will) that has the power to counter and subvert centuries-old systems of power. On the other…I’m just fucking tired of thinking about my body. And how it succeeds and fails to fit into someone else’s ideals. And actively practicing body love (or acceptance) takes a lot of energy.

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to live in a culture that doesn’t hew to Western ideals around bodies. And then I wonder what it would be like to live in a society that doesn’t value dualism but rather understands and values the wisdom of both the body and the mind and understands them as intimately connected if not the same thing. And then I think about how cats live in their bodies. If you have a cat (or have a friend who has a cat) spend a few minutes one afternoon watching how that cat inhabits their body. They snuggle into a little circle to sleep, shifting and stretching to get it just right. They get up suddenly and spend twenty minutes tearing around the house simply because it feels good in their body. They demand cuddles and pats because they feel good.

I aspire to be cat-like in the way I inhabit my body. And I realize that embodiment can not be reached if the best I can do is detente with my body.

Not actively hating my body isn’t enough. Not being actively at war is not enough. It is a respite. It is important. It is a step on the way. But it can’t be the end goal.

In my work I sometimes talk about intellectual knowledge versus felt knowledge. I think there are a lot of feminists and other body-positive people and activists who are stuck in the intellectual knowledge of body acceptance but who haven’t yet reached felt knowledge. We say, we shout, we tell everyone in our lives that they deserve to love their bodies, to be at peace in them. That all bodies are good bodies. But that felt knowledge eludes many of us.

I don’t have answers, but I have my own process and praxis which help:

  • I don’t shit talk my body or others’ and I don’t let people do it in my company.
  • I move in ways that feel good, that feel like coming home (dancing), that feel empowering (weight lifting), that feel natural (cycling).
  • I strive for balance in my food ways–eating in ways that nourish my body and nourish my soul, sharing meals with others, being gentle with myself when I make choices that don’t feel great after the fact.
  • I don’t read or watch tabloids/gossip media.
  • I challenge body-shaming or judgmental language
  • I seek out writers who I can learn from and discard whatever isn’t helpful.

I am still trying.


4 thoughts on “Embodiment: War, Détente, Peace

  1. I hear you 🙂 another great post! I have a close friend who is carefully raising her daughters. She doesn’t talk about bodies in terms of good/bad/attractive at all, only for functional purposes. I didn’t expect it to be so freeing for me, but it is and being around then, combined with my own hard work and deliberate curating of my environment, is helping me think about my body less in that way. I have so much more brain space for bigger things now.

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. This is such a struggle for me as well, but one that I’ve been winning more often than not in the past few months or so. The praxis thing is huge for me as well – it’s been praxis that has lead me to a much deeper mental acceptance and even love of my body. My praxis list includes everything on your list plus the following: mindfulness meditation practice, avoiding a lot of TV, running on nature trails/arboretums, and mindfully/consciously exchanging critical self-talk with funny/cute/positive words (for example: “my weird floppy belly” becomes “my adorabelly”). And lastly, this one is hard for me, but I’m better at it than I was before: consciously choosing to believe that when my husband tells me I’m hot/gorgeous/beautiful/etc, he really means it. Even though I know I don’t fit the media’s definitions of those terms, it doesn’t matter. And of course the enculturation that women go through that requires us to reject compliments is a huge challenge to overcome, but I’m working on it 🙂

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