Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Body Shame: "Reduce" and the "Shrinking Woman."

I received an email from a dear friends, Cinda Johnson, co-author of Perfect Chaos this morning. It was a link to a video that has been circulating for days but I hadn't taken the meager three minutes to watch.
I watched it. Again and again.

Typically my lunch break consists of numbly drinking coffee and reaping the day's internet harvest. Today I was torn out of numbness. Feel this, the slam poet Lily Myers dared me. Feel this.

Her mother is shrinking, Lily Myers says. Her mother sneaks small bits of "calories to which she does not feel entitled to." We absorb, she says. We filter. But essentially, we feel the shame of our existence within the world and strive to make it smaller.

The mother, the woman, the person we all know from either observation or experience, feels this anguish. Over decades I watched my own Great Grandmother whittle down to a lilliputous white-haired child perched on her large reclining chair. On my Grandmother's 80th birthday, with all of her dearest friends around to celebrate, she was nearly giddy about her new pants. "There a size 8, you know." She became tiny, too.

When my Grandmother was my age, women did not diet. They "reduced."

"Just a small sliver," my mother said as we cut cake at the birthday party. Perhaps she felt as though she were not deserving of a whole piece? Or perhaps she knew that her jeans would fit better if she were more frugal with her sugar. She, too, is concerned. I don't want my mother to reduce.

My mother also wakes up at three in the morning, every morning, and worries. She worries about my children, whether they are getting through hard times at school. She worries about whether there will be enough coats to go around. She worries about the world.

But how can we fix the world? How can a single person fix every trauma and problem and end every atrocity in the world? Because there are some really terrible things going on that we have no control over and we wish we could do something to heal and alter and quell and fix.

But we can't.

There is a feeling not of hopelessness but impotence. I feel impotent. I cannot fix all the broken in the world. And in this impotence, I feel ashamed--ashamed for not being able to change the world for the better--for not having control over the state of the world.

The only thing that I truly have control over is myself and my body. And there is a shameful amount of comfort in knowing this. There is comfort in dealing with body issues.

I have sounded like my mother. I have said that I am not deserving of a full piece of cake. I have believed that coffee is an adequate substitute for nourishment. I have reduced my potential to the sole task of fitting into size 8 pants.

But I don't want my daughter to be reduced to a waifish old woman. I don't want her to see this impotent shame that lurks underneath my skin and writhes and I call it flab or cellulite or "ugh." I want her to roar. I want her to fill a room with her potential and believe, truly and completely believe, that she is capable of making changes that exist beyond her flesh. I want her action to supercede her image. I want my daughter to be large.

And so we eat. We eat and we discuss the problems that would keep us up at three in the morning. We scheme. We empower each other and build our strength and make it a contagion which seeps through school classrooms and art projects and chance meetings in the grocery store. We grow. We broaden our shoulders and flourish in spite of our Great Grandmothers and Grandmothers who tried so successfully to reduce.

In my mother, I see a cycle straining to break. She heals the world one human at a time through nursing. It was in her didactic efforts that I learned that one person can provide hope and fix the world. She is not impotent nor does she wear size 8 pants. In her I learned not to be reduced by shame.

Thank you, Lily Myers, for your art and your bold, unapologetic sharing. 

To learn more about Perfect Chaos and Cinda Johnson, click here

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