Decontextualizing our Bodies

I love getting massages. I try to get one at least once a month as part of my self-care routine. This month my massage was scheduled with a male massage therapist. This doesn’t bother me. I literally don’t care who gives me a massage as long as it’s an awesome massage. In thinking about this it struck me how odd it is that even with my body image issues I don’t care who sees me naked as long as the context is a massage. I don’t care what the massage therapist thinks of my rolls or my cellulite, yet if I went to the beach I would care immensely what everyone else thought of my rolls and my fat. It occurred to me then that context matters a lot when it comes to our bodies.

All the times when I feel really insecure about my body are actually related to the context. If I’m in a situation where I feel like my body is being judged by others, like being at the beach then, I contextualize my body through the lens of judgement. I don’t actually know that I’m being judged by anyone. Maybe I didn’t feel judgmental about my body before I got out of the car or before I left the house. But because of the context of being at the beach with people, my perception changes.

If I’m in a situation where I feel like my body is being sexualized, like when I’m dancing at the club or if I catch someone checking me out, that adds context to my perception of my body. I did not perceive my body as an object of someone else’s gaze or as a sexual object until someone sexualized my body. My perception changes based on the context of being sexualized.

If I’m in a situation where my body is being appraised by others for its worthiness, this adds the context of my own worthiness. I may not have been thinking about whether or not my body was worthy or whether I was worthy, but as soon as someone else adds that context my perception changes.

In reality, my perceptions of my body are often rather neutral until context is added. When I think about my body without thinking about what others think of it, or if it gives me worthiness, or if it is being sexualized by others, then I don’t really have a lot of thoughts about my body positive or negative. I may think about whether it’s sore from the hike I went on this week, or if it’s hungry, or if it would feel better to sit or lie down, but beyond that I’m not attaching a lot of meaning to my body.

I start to attach meanings to my body when the context forces me to change my perception of my body. In situations with others I have to contextualize my body in order to understand what it means to others. But what if I didn’t? What if I made the conscious choice to decontextualize my body the way I do when I get a massage? What if I rejected the contexts others give me for my body? I might end up being a lot happier.

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