Tag Archives: bodies

Attraction, bodies and culture

Human bodies are such interesting things. We’re a diverse sort of species. We come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, colours and builds. Some of us are naturally quite furry and some of us are skinless landsharks and all places in between.

The bodies we have are affected by our health and our ancestry. What we eat and how we spend our time will all have their impact. Most cultures have standards for what counts as especially attractive and that’s diverse too.

To what degree is our capacity for attraction informed by our cultures? What happens when our desires don’t neatly match what we’ve been told to want? Or when our bodies aren’t considered socially acceptable? One obvious case in point here would be the obsession some cultures have with youth being the standard for beauty. We all get older, and fighting that process is pointless – but it does make a lot of money for beauty industries.

For me, attraction doesn’t begin with a body. I can find people aesthetically pleasing without feeling any urge at all to follow through on it. If I connect with someone emotionally, then I will find them attractive. I don’t have a type exactly, I’m not much affected by gender or gender presentation. I tend to go for high cheekbones, but that’s about it, and it’s certainly not a deal breaker.

How someone’s voice sounds is a bigger factor in attraction for me, than what they look like. I assume it wouldn’t be a dealbreaker but at the same time I’ve never been attracted to someone I didn’t think had a gorgeous speaking voice. I’m also really affected by how people smell, although that’s not easy to spot when it’s happening. We can unconsciously gather a lot of information about each other from smells, so for me it’s only been when people’s smells have changed that it’s registered with me.

I’m very much attracted to creativity, imagination and unusual minds. I like interacting with people who think deeply, and who are interested in things, and excited about things. What exactly they are into turns out to be less important. I like spending time with people who have passions and wild enthusiasms. 

Who we find appealing informs so many aspects of our lives. It’s not just about romance and sexual partners. It’s there in how we pick our friends and our social spaces. It can inform who we vote for and who we hire. There’s a lot of privilege that comes with conforming to certain kinds of beauty standards and lots of scope for abuse, shaming, disrespect and disadvantage the less you conform to those standards.

When Nature isn’t Nice

The difficulty with nature-based spirituality is that nature isn’t always nice. It’s not all beautiful sunsets and pretty flowers. I blogged recently about how the otters have eaten the ducks locally. It’s all too easy to tip into a survival of the fittest, nature red in tooth and claw kind of take and end up feeling that might is right, along with all the horrors that brings.

Nature of course is complicated and nuanced and vastly diverse. Existence is messy. Nature doesn’t reliably condense down into simple messages, but it does encourage us to accept complexity and avoid simplistic takes on things.

Nature can be especially challenging when we’re thinking about our own bodies. To what degree do we want to accept or resist natural processes? It is perfectly natural to want to stay alive, but at some point, the pursuit of life at all costs will result in something hideous, where death would be a blessing.

To what degree do we see overcoming nature in our own bodies as important? Suppressing natural human-ness is often seen as more civilized and professional. But, keep holding those farts in and you can damage your appendix. There’s a story about a gentleman who actually exploded… 

We ignore nature in our own bodies at our peril. We can’t triumph over body-nature forever – there’s only so hard you can push, only so much you can do without. Our minds and bodies break, sooner or later. We’re better off if we’re allowed to live in gentler ways. We’re better off if we are allowed to respect nature as it manifests in our bodies rather than constantly fighting to suppress it and overcome it.

What the body knows

We’re encouraged to think of body ailments as symptoms to be managed, and as a nuisance to fend off. We have a vast array of pain killers, stimulants and tranquilisers available to make our bodies behave in prescribed ways. What we’re not encouraged to do is to assume that if something is awry with our bodies, there may be a perfectly good reason for this. We are not encouraged to seek those reasons out, much less tackle them.

Sleep deprivation is widespread, with many people not getting the 8 hours minimum our bodies need each night. Many of us have stressful, sedentary jobs but don’t have the energy to release that in physical activity. Stress gnaws away at us, creating anxiety symptoms that crop up randomly, to be drugged into submission, or ignored. Exhaustions breeds depression symptoms as our bodies try to reduce energy output. Missed meals, poor diets, lack of food education and the greater availability of poor quality food, all contributes to reducing health.

Then there are the issues of what the body knows. We take in a vast amount of sensory information all the time. We filter out most of it because it is more than we can consciously handle. Sometimes less conscious bits of our brain are still chewing on that input, and eventually respond to it. Our bodies learn to throw up if we eat something we’re allergic to. Sometimes they also learn to throw up in response to people who are emotionally toxic as well.

There are patterns of behaviour that cause me bodily panic. At first I felt uncomfortable about this. It was socially awkward. What panics me is people whose words and actions manifestly don’t fit together. Historically, this has been a danger sign for me. Having taken the time to pin down why I panic, I realise that serious emotional dishonesty is not something to take lightly. People who make grandiose statements they do not mean are not emotionally safe for me to be around. I will be forever mislead, always having to second guess, never able to trust and that’s no kind of relationship. I eventually concluded that my body is right, and where I get those reactions in future, I will quietly step away.

Some of it is less rational. The sound of footsteps on the stair in the flat makes me edgy. Rather than ignoring this, I worked out it stems from a time when the sound of footsteps on the stair really was a thing to be edgy about. A warning of impending unsafety. These days it isn’t, so when I feel that fear I remind myself that things have changed, and my body calms. It is becoming less of an issue. Sometimes we hang onto triggers long after they are relevant, but its only by taking them seriously that we can find out what they mean and then gently unpick them.

If we do not take ourselves, and our bodies seriously, we are easily manipulated. If we are not allowed to trust gut reactions, or to draw breath and figure out why we are uncomfortable, if we have to keep calm and carry on, we are vulnerable to mistreatment. Our bodies know things. Millions of years of evolution have shaped our fight and fight responses to help us stay alive. Those tap into office politics as readily as they do to possible tiger attacks. There is wisdom in our bodies, but only if we take it seriously, and listen to it.