My relationship with my body is… hmmm. If there’s one thing that has been more clear to me during these past few years, its that my understanding of my body has grown in ways I could never quantify. I could try for the purposes of this blog post, but the reality is that the level of ownership I’ve chosen to take of who I am and what defines me is the one thing I’m most grateful for, here.
You know that saying, it goes somethin’ like “In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been?” I’d also stand to argue that “In order to appreciate where you are, you have to understand where you were.” Where I was as a woman is so far removed from who I am today that I look back on my past with tears in my eyes… not because I have pity, but because I know the pain that this woman will have to endure in order to turn into the person I am today.
Feminism, to me, is about allowing women the space to be who they are free of gendered expectations, free of stereotype, free of gendered limitations. I know that a lot of women may turn their noses up at feminism as something that man-haters do, but my eventual embracing of feminism wasn’t born of a desire to hate men. It was borne of a journey that came from learning to love myself and, at the same time, hate the societal standards that prevented me from doing so.
When I first started working out, I struggled with the idea of entering a space that wasn’t very welcoming to women… and that was the weight lifting area. It’s hard to enter a space where you see no one who looks like you – my gym had very little to offer in the way of Blacks, women, or Black women entirely – and make yourself at home, because you consistently wonder if there’s something that intentionally keeps you away from doing so. (Notice how much this sounds like seeing persons of color in any medium, and how difficult it must be to be the first to transcend this.) You eventually realize that yes, there is something that intentionally keeps women out of the weight lifting area: a general societal understanding that women aren’t supposed to be strong. That muscles are the realm of men, and having them would make a woman look… manly. Femininity, as defined by people who aren’t, ostensibly, female… doesn’t include muscles. It was a gendered expectation that was preventing me from becoming my more fit self, and it frustrated me to no end.
Then, I moved on from working out to focusing specifically on food… and the expectation is that I’d starve myself. I’d sustain on carrots and diet coke. That’s what women do. They starve themselves and deprive themselves… and when they’ve starved themselves down to nothing and have suffered enough, maybe then I’d have earned the right to male attention. It’s just what women do to lose weight. Heaven forbid that I eat real food and enjoy myself. I, a woman, couldn’t have a sensible relationship with food. By virtue of being a woman who was changing her relationship with food, I had to be starving myself. It needed to be reinforced that I’d diet myself down to nothing.
The expectation, once I’d lost a respectable amount of weight, was that I’d done so by dieting. (Y’all know that dieting and I don’t get along worth a damn.) Dieting is just what women do. You hate food for making you fat. You fear food because it makes you fatter. You avoid food because you don’t want to be fat. You turn “fat” into a loaded term… you turn against yourself and hate yourself for having fat (news flash: even athletes have fat), you cringe when you see “fat people” enjoying their lives because you can’t enjoy yours because, well, you’re too busy being fixated on fat. It’s just the cycle that women go through. By virtue of being a woman, you’re expected to engage in this cycle.
As I moved on in trying to decide what I wanted to look like, I had to contend with demands and expectations from all sides. On one end, I was being advised that being thin was the ideal. No muscle, no “curve” – “curvy is just pretty language for fat,” and we all know how bad “fat” is – just thinness. On another angle, I was being told that, as a Black woman, I needed to keep my curves. [Black] men love curves, and if I lost mine, surely no man would want me then. From a third angle, I not only needed to have curves, but I was worthless without the right kind of curves. No gut, huge ass, giant breasts. My body wasn’t my own to make the decisions for – everything was a mitigating factor in what my body should look like. The only thing that didn’t matter in the equation was what I wanted to look like in the end.
And really, the amount of flack I received – and still receive – for being a proponent of pole fitness is astounding. The fear that Black women have of everything we do making us more sexual than we already are… prevents us from doing things that we really enjoy, regardless of whether or not they’re inherently sexual. We can’t be sexual on our own terms because we’re too busy trying to mitigate the terms laid before us regarding us. By virtue of being a Black woman, you’re constantly fighting the idea that you’re some kind of whore… and you’ll – by and large – avoid anything that could further that belief, regardless of how innocent the activity is and regardless of whether or not you’d truly enjoy it.
And can you remove yourself from it? Of course, but let’s keep it funky, here. It’s the mentality of the dominant culture. It’s a battle you have to face every day. Every decision you make to pursue your fitness in the way you want in order to achieve the body you desire – be it thin, thick, muscular, runner’s physique, whatever – is challenged by the fact that you shouldn’t know anything about fitness, woman. You’re supposed to diet yourself miserable to please a man, or “thicken up” to please a man. You’re supposed to be a whore, and while you spend your life competing to try to prove that you’re not this thing that society says is so wrong, you’re chastized for not being the whore you’re expected to be.
Losing weight turned me into a feminist because every single time I reached a new level in my journey, I experienced a road block that I’d never experienced before when I was overweight. For me, losing weight was a journey that made me more aware of my surroundings and how they affected me. No longer was I burying my head in the school books, the music, the responsibilities. In deciding to focus more on me, I had to focus on how things affected me. That included the stigmas that prevented me from being able to fully embrace my whole self and the things that make me happy. Lifting weights makes me happy. Swinging on the pole in my living room makes me happy (not, as conventional wisdom would have it, a slut.) Dieting and depriving myself makes me stabby. Knowing these things about myself and knowing how hard it was for me to learn these things are a huge part of what inspired me to start this blog and keep it going.
So, really, I’d have to say that losing weight made me a feminist because I set out to dismantle the things that preventedme from loving myself in all my totality. It didn’t make me a man-hater, and it didn’t make me burn my sports bras – they were too expensive, anyway, and y’all know I’m cheap – but it made me set out to help other women learn the language of self-love and acceptance, embrace the idea of being humble and vulnerable, and for goodness sakes… it made me set out to convince y’all to lift a weight or two and jump on a pole. Make the world a better place. You know you wanna.