I, in all accounts, consider myself an empowered woman. I once stood in the middle of a friend’s apartment in Bangkok and yelled “I will not be told how to live by anyone. I reject any community that tries to subscribe to me rules about how I should ‘be’. I will not be told by black people how to be black, nor will I be told by queer people how to be queer” This was during a heated debate on community and belonging. I had often felt that there were things I wasn’t a part of as a black woman, that diminished my blackness. I hated the unsettling feeling that for me to be problack, I had to be antiwhite or I was a sell out. I hated that having a white partner felt like a rejection of my blackness. In the same breath, I hated that there were things about how I represent as a queer woman that didn’t align with the stereotypes that some of us wish to uphold. So, as my friends and I debated the desire for personal personhood while fully embraced in a community, I braved rejected any direct or indirect dogma that stifles my expression.
For me, it is the same thing I did when I left the church. I was no longer going to be told how to live, and love because of the community I chose. I longed for community and belonging but I longed for personal freedom even more. In my utopian mind, belonging to a community is not an invitation to give up self expression and identification, on the contrary, it is being fully embraced for your differences. Community doesn’t mean uniformity, but rather an eclectic collection of otherness to form a beautiful mural. All our wholeness, and brokenness, coming together to form the collective.
This is the kind of power that I navigate the world with and I love that about myself. This power came into question a few months ago when my partner and I were traveling in Costa Rica for her birthday. We had just spent the day walking around Tamarindo on a hot afternoon and I was wearing a button up shirt over my bikini. When I complained about the heat, she (my partner) suggested I take off my shirt and I refused. She then asked “What bodies do you think deserve to be seen”? I felt the discomfort wash over my sweaty body as I thought about that question. I tried to reason, tell her it wasn’t that but we both knew that I kept my shirt on because women with bodies like mine don’t show them. As if the Universe wanted to drive the point home, right as we were having this conversation, three surfer girls walked past us in their bikinis. I looked at them and silently thought, I will show my body when I lose a few more pounds.
Noo, it is in me! This fucked up society’s demonisation of bigger bodies, the partriarchy and misogyny that continues to define who gets to do what. Me, in all this power and rebellion that I choose to live in, am stained by body politics and this time, it is towards self. As a life coach, who talks about radical self love as the foundation of lasting change, would rather sit in heat, than show my God given curves in public. That moment was not very self loving to me. In that moment, I chose to sit in discomfort because my body didn’t look the way in which I thought bodies that deserve to be seen should look like. I was at the mercy of my own prejudice, my own self judgments and years of cultivated insecurities. I didn’t take off my shirt, but I did sit with the question for months.
For me, this moment didn’t just challenge my ideals about the body, but society’s effect on my psychology, regardless of how much I continue to do to challenge those ideals. It is easy to walk in as if we are empowered when that perceived power goes unchallenged. However, what happens when we are in moments where we have to look at ourselves face to face, and see the parts that we choose to ignore. The moments that call us to attention, disturb our imagined peace are the ones that make us think about who we are and what we believe. I still don’t know how I should have answered that question but perhaps truth would have been the best place to start. That truth would be, I have trauma that I have not addressed around my body and I don’t feel comfortable showing it. I would have told my partner about that time a stranger poked me in my tummy at the beach one time in South Korea and exclaimed “you should probably cover that up”. I would have told her about the comments I grew up hearing when bigger bodies were shown on Television “no one wants to see this”. I am a product of a society that has directly and indirectly told me that bodies like mine do not deserve to be seen.
I have been intentional in the ways in which I choose to show my body that I absolutely love it. I stand in front of the mirror a little bit longer when I get dressed and truly look at myself, not glance, but really look. I intentionally slow down when I am putting on lotion, cultivating true presence with myself. I workout as often as I can, not because I want to be skinny, but because I want to live a healthy lifestyle. I eat with intention, allowing room for moments of culinary pleasure while ensuring that I make healthy food choices. I allow plenty of conscious pleasure, with myself and my partner. I am unlearning what this society has taught me about bodies like mine and show gratitude for this body that has been with me from day one! *sigh* We are all perfectly designed AND also works in progress. Flawed and perfect beings. May we all show compassion for our shared humanity.