Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Loving the Humanist Body

My daughter was the fattest baby I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding. She weighed 20 lbs by the time she was three months old. And no, we weren’t feeding her bacon; her diet was 100% breast milk. Once she started walking, she began slimming down and is now perfectly proportioned, but for quite awhile during her toddlerhood, she was the rolly-polliest-looking girl around. The thing I remember and love the best about my daughter’s fat toddlerhood is how she used to mock me about it. She’d stick out her belly and pat it and say, “Daddy and I both have bellies! YOU DON’T HAVE ONE! HA!” She loved her body, and loved that she and her daddy were both members of a club I didn’t belong to.

Both of my kids have belly fetishes. My two-year-old son in particular likes to climb up in my lap and rub my stomach under my shirt. Sometimes he just walks up to me in public and yanks up my shirt, with no inkling whatsoever that maybe I don’t want the whole world looking at my flabby, stretch-mark-ridden stomach. This happened to me recently when we were hanging out with some other moms and, responding to my clear embarrassment, one of the sage moms said, “Isn’t it beautiful how our children love our bodies?” And that sort of shocked me. Because it’s so simple—and so lovely and true. Our children DO love our bodies because our bodies are the tools we use to hold them, to nurture them, to protect them. And my body is really, really good at doing those things. My body is a wonderful, capable mother-body…stretch-marks and all.

Several weeks later, I ran across this video, which was made by the students of Arts and Ideas Sudbury School:

I was in tears within the first few seconds. It’s so obvious! What are our bodies for?! For aesthetics? Sure, a little—but for the vast majority of our day, we are using our bodies for more tangible things: to be creative; to think; to work; to play; to have sex. When we’re unhealthy in a way that limits our abilities to do these things, we need to take better care of our bodies. But the way we nitpick things like stretch-marks and crooked teeth and wrinkles…what the hell? It degrades the amazing wonder of the human body. It degrades the glorious things we can do with our bodies.

The Humanist philosophy is a joyous worldview that celebrates what human beings can do. When we allow ourselves to get hung up on the aesthetic aspect of our bodies to the exclusion of all the other marvelous things about the human body, we are doing a poor job of living out that philosophy. Of course, having this realization doesn’t mean I’m going to immediately be completely comfortable with the way childbirth has ravaged my body, but I can at least choose to spend more energy focusing on the ways my body serves me—and the world around me—very, very well. So, maybe it’s a little cheesy to say we should love our bodies, but it’s an important message. Our bodies carry us through our lives; they are the way we experience life. Our bodies allow us to exist. We spend too much time thinking about what’s wrong with the way we look and not enough time thinking about how the marvelous experience of being alive is facilitated by our marvelous bodies.

For the way it provides me with the ability to solve problems, to care for the people around me, to type a blog, to make love—for all these things and many, many more, I love my body! And I love the bodies of the wonderful people who are using their own bodies to improve the world around us.


The Mother said...

As a physician, I see people abusing their bodies all the time. People who weigh several hundred pounds, people who smoke, people who abuse drugs.

Our bodies may not be temples, but they are all we have, and life with our families is precious--regardless.

charbabay19 said...

You know, it's funny. I designed a winter hike with the humanist community up in these parts during the winter because I thought it was really important to stress the validity of physical experiences- the balancing of the mind and the body for people who are so typically used to being "stuck in their heads." And I spent a week researching the history of Humanist body philosophy (there is very little- so much of my time was spent designing my own and searching for additional resources that never showed up). What's funny is that you were able to capture much of what I was going for, in a practical, eloquent, and realistic way. It would have served me so much better to have spoken from experience rather than research (that's what Harvard will do to you I suspect). So, thanks for the reminder. And hey, when are you moving to Cambridge again? :)