Forgive me the misleading title. I don’t have a great relationship with my body. Never did. It’s never moved well enough, or fast enough. Always been too fat. Not reliably been able to keep up with demands for output, work and energy. It gets tired easily, (I think) it hurts a lot, sometimes it doesn’t bend enough. And yes, I know there are implications in talking about my body as somehow separate from me, but that too is part of a whole-life issue. ‘Me’ is not this unco-operative pile of flesh I am required to shunt about in order to get anything done.
My body is not a temple, because with temples there at least is normally a period after construction when people feel enthusiastic about them. As a consequence I struggle with pretty much everything in Paganism calling upon us to recognise the divine in ourselves, honour nature as it manifests in us and so forth. Other bodies, sure. This one I struggle with.
Normally this is not something I poke around in much. I push against my limits, apologise for what my body is not, and what it fails to sustain. I try to keep it in passable working order – decent food, sleep, exercise, not too much alcohol, etc. What I’ve not been doing much of through my life, is thinking about why I relate to myself in this way. I have taken it as self evident that my overweight, can’t run, gets tired body is just something to try and overcome and apologise for.
It’s not entirely about me, I realise. It’s very much a response to other people’s demands and expectations. What other people wanted me to do, how they want my body deployed as a resource, what they want to be able to do with it. My relationship with my own body has been shaped almost entirely by the utility it has for other people. For an assortment of reasons (some pertaining to my body, some to the nature of the other people involved) I’ve spent a lot of my life failing to meet expectations. Rather than getting angry with anyone else for the impossible demands placed on me, I’ve internalised it as self loathing.
There was a patch, to take one example from many, when one set of obligations and duties had me up and busy until gone midnight reliably, while another set required I get up at 7. I don’t function well on reduced sleep, but the idea that something else in that situation should give a little didn’t even cross my mind at the time, and it certainly wasn’t on offer.
We all judge each other. If someone is struggling or claiming to suffer, we make judgements about whether we believe them. Some people seem to naturally attract sympathy and compassion. I have tended to attract assessments that I am lazy, trying to get out of things, making a fuss and not really making an effort. If I tried harder, that might help, I get told. I also tend to find that my body-problems are frequently assumed to be of my own making. Too fat, losing weight too fast. Too sedentary, too busy, eating wrong, eating too fast, not relaxing, not managing my time well enough, not making the effort to be well. Or that it is imaginary. At so many points in my history, any problem I’ve had has been my responsibility – blamed, shamed and pressured. It’s only in the last few years that the idea of being gentler with me has entered the equation.
The story I have been telling myself my entire life is that if I was thinner and prettier, people would be more sympathetic. No one is troubled by the aches and pains of the ugly sisters. I don’t treat anyone else that way or apply those measures to anyone, but I don’t put up much self defence. That’s just ‘making a fuss’ and it goes with the melodramatic and lazy accusations all too tidily.
So I live my life running, always trying to do more and better and faster, partly to appease the voices I have internalised, and to squash the fear that I am everything I have ever been accused of. To change that, I would have to entirely unpick vast swathes of my sense of self, and replace that with something. It’s a large task, but even to consider that it might have value is to step away from those old stories about who and what I am.