4 Questions in Support of a Just Relationship with Your Body
In a recent interview with Sonya Renee Taylor on the podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, Sonya offers a question to help listeners discern between practicing radical self-love or replicating the same treatment in which inequities are set up in the external world. The question is, "Am I in a just relationship with my body?"
To answer that question one might need to consider, how do I respond to conflict with my body?
Different frameworks for justice prescribe a different response. Many of us have learned Retribution or Punitive Justice. The roots of this system can be traced to texts as old as 2000 BS from lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Alternatively, Restorative or Transformative Justice* frameworks are currently practiced in more specific settings.** Many thought-leaders of these systems attribute the First Nations people of Canada and US, as well as the Maori in New Zealand as main contributors to this approach.
For our intents and purposes, let's summarize the difference between the two as:
punishment can change behavior, criminals will accept responsibility through punishment, and the infliction of pain will deter criminal behavior.
people are more likely to take positive action when all involved in a conflict have the opportunity to speak, to be heard, and take mutually agreed upon actions.
there is an objective right and wrong
subjective experience matters; there can be more than one right
accurately identify the perpetrator and deliver adequate punishment for behavior change
compensate the victim, repair the harm, and facilitate the offender's remorse
responding to harm with harm; often isolating perpetrator
responding to harm with care; often restored relationship and integration
*Restorative Justice is not the same thing as Transformative Justice. The Barnard Center for Research on Women made a great YouTube video about the difference.
**Today, restorative justice circles are practiced in many juvenile justice programs and movement spaces, particularly among black communities that cannot rely on current judiciary systems to conduct non-biased process. Charlene Carruthers begins her book, Unapologetic with such an example.
Coming back to our question, "How do I respond to conflict with my body?"
According to a punitive justice practice, one could say, "My body is not doing what I want it to do; therefore, it's violating the contract of our relationship and needs to be punished so it changes behavior." I see many people, whether they identify as having an eating disorder or not, approach their body in this way.
This orientation to our bodies, where it's role is to do our bidding, is one of power-over. It assumes the mind is above the needs of the body and does not allow space for the body's perspective, needs, or experience. This orientation positions the mind as superior to the body; sound familiar? Hint: white supremacy, ableism, gender-norms, etc.
Let's consider the restorative justice approach to this narrative, "My body is not doing what I want it to do and I feel frustrated and betrayed; I feel harmed." Often times there is a softening that happens when we enter the subjective experience. What happens when we allow space to actually witness our pain?
The second step where we often lack practice is turning to the body with curiosity and ask, "What is the body's perspective? What is the body's intention?" More often than not, the body is not trying to harm us but rather, it's trying to keep us alive. It's trying to help us achieve what it is we're asking of it with the resources available.
More often than not, the body is doing its best and the harm we experience is actually not coming from our bodies but from the pressure we internalize from the external environment.
So coming back to Sonya's question, "Are we in a just relationship with our body?" I invite you take a punitive justice approach and consider these questions next time you feel in conflict with your body:
How do I feel harmed by my body? Take a moment to witness the harm experienced with compassion.
What exactly did my body do to harm me? What actions or inactions took place?
What could be my body's intention with those in/actions?
What beliefs or perspective would honor both my harm as well as the intentions of my body?
I feel harmed by my body because when I look in the mirror I don't recognize myself. I can't fit into clothes I want to wear. I can't even find clothes I want to wear and it's hard to feel confident.
My body changed its size and shape and wouldn't go back to the way it was before.
I suppose the intention was to survive the situation I was in at the time and grow.
Change is inevitable, my body is not wrong for changing and I am not wrong for wanting clothes that fit and flatter my new body.
I would love to hear how these questions land with you!