In case either of these stories didn’t make it to your newsfeed, I’ll recap:
Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old black man, out for a jog around his neighborhood who was killed by two white vigilantes – one a former policeman, the other his son – because they suspected him of being a burglar. To be clear: JUST. BECAUSE. HE. WAS. BLACK. The killing took place in February. The men who killed him have not been brought to justice. The county where they live seems to refuse to bring them to justice. Recently a video was released that shows the whole thing. A 25-year-old black man out for a jog, two white (obviously racist) vigilantes out for blood accosting this man, this man attempting to survive by grappling with the white vigilante who was obviously trying to kill him, then the man running from his attackers attempting to escape and instead collapsing to his death.
What do YOU do with this story if you are a black person living in this country? Or the fact that this story isn't uncommon -- and uncannily resembles SO MANY other stories in both the recent and distant past?
As far as Adele goes: she’s lost a bunch of weight. Like, a BUNCH of weight. And in a very sweet little Instagram post on her personal feed she simply posted a full-body picture of herself saying something like, thank you for the birthday wishes and thanks to all the medical professional heroes out there working so hard to save us from COVID-19. And what she probably didn’t expect was that then the internet blew up with a conversation about her weight. “She looks so great!” say the Diet Culture steeped people who still believe the greatest accomplishment on earth is to be skinny. “She looks so healthy!” say the Health & Wellness (read: Diet Culture) steeped people who still believe that thinness is synonymous with “health.” “She looks like she has an eating disorder!” say the Body Positivity tribe who confuse policing people’s mental health and body size with true liberation from Diet Culture. And folks, these people are currently GOING. AT. IT.
What do YOU do with this story if you are a girl or a woman, a female or femme living in this culture? Or the fact that this kind of conversation takes place around women's bodies-- famous and non-famous alike-- ALL of the time?
Here’s my shorter interpretation of both of these events:
We live in a country where black people who exercise in public can just be murdered. Murdered. With no probable cause or explanation or punishment of the killer. Just murdered.
We also live in a world where women aren’t allowed to possess great talents or be known solely for those talents. Women are judged, ultimately, by their bodies – and their bodies alone.
The first story is undeniably more tragic if tragedy has a hierarchy and I believe, particularly in the case of black bodies in America, it does. It’s a tragedy white people – who live in safe white bodies – do not understand and almost never acknowledge. As a person who gets to live in a safe white body and jog around my neighborhood to my heart’s content, I am acknowledging. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change a damn thing. But I see it. I do. See. It.
The second story is still tragic in that women – no matter what their age or race or talent or celebrity status – have zero chance of being seen as whole human beings. Women are objects. Only. Ever. Objects.
And this is what I see in these two stories, as a Body Liberation Trainer: We are convinced, we are absolutely certain, that other people’s bodies… 1) are our business and 2) exist for our judgement and use.
What do YOU do when you realize you live in a culture or in a country or in a world that believes your body is everyone else’s business and that your body exists for everyone else’s judgement and use?
And this is how we go about our lives, walking down streets, going to work, reading magazines, boarding busses, driving our car…. believing that other people’s bodies are our business and that we have a right to judge and USE them in whatever way we see fit and, simultaneously, not knowing what to do with the feeling that our bodies are not our own.
This is Hyper-capitalism. The body is a machine that can be worked to death.
This is Rape Culture. The body is a container for rage and sexual aggression.
This is Diet Culture. The body is a problem that should always be trying to make itself smaller.
This is White Supremacy. The non-white body is the enemy. The non-white body is not allowed autonomy, safety, or respect.
And these are the cages we are kept in. And these are the things that happen daily, weekly, yearly, constantly to remind us of these cages. Black bodies are murdered for just being. Women’s/ Female/ Femme bodies are judged for whatever shape they make. Bodies are objectified. Bodies are made into objects. Bodies are considered objects for our judgement, for our use, for our pleasure, for our aggression, for our desire to kill.
And what these two stories REALLY have in common is that they piss me off. They piss me off so badly because of the message they send out to the world. Because of the fear they instill in girls and women and people of color (which is to say nothing of the fear instilled in people who are trans or differently abled or otherwise marginalized). Because of the violated feeling that these stories oppress people with that tells them, “your body does not belong to you.” And I just want to say, no.
Whoever YOU are, your body DOES belong to you – and YOU alone!
Whoever YOU are, your body is NOT an object. No matter what they say. No matter what they do.
Whoever YOU are, your body was BORN for autonomy, safety and respect.
Whoever YOU are, you don’t have to do anything to be worthy or lovable or RIGHT in your body.
Anyone who objectifies your body or takes away your autonomy, safety and respect is WRONG, is playing a game of Master and Slave, a game that’s about Power.
People objectify other people’s bodies because it makes them feel powerful.
People who refuse to be objectified – and refuse to objectify others-- take back their power.
Unfortunately, our justice system is set up to objectify black bodies. Unfortunately, our culture is set up to objectify women’s/ female/ femme bodies. Our power is NOT – at this moment – (only) in seeking justice or (only) in refusing to participate in the objectification of bodies. Our power – however meager it may seem – is in getting clear about how we participate in the objectification of bodies, how we allow others to objectify us, and how the objectification of bodies works to oppress people.
Body Liberation is here for this work.
Body Liberation CAN begin with breaking free from Diet Culture on a personal level. But, BODY LIBERATION is not just a personal journey out of the tyranny of your own private body image hell. BODY LIBERATION is about refusing to participate in the objectification of ALL bodies because NO body is actually free as long as ANY body is still in a cage.
is an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer; an ACE-Certified Group Fitness Instructor; a certified Yoga Teacher; a Certified Intuitive Eating Professional; and a degree-holding Health, Fitness Specialist. She lives in Frankfort, Michigan and owns Every. Body. Fitness and Yoga Studio.