Recently, I've been working with a therapist whose focus is on eating disorders and body image. As part of that work, I've been trying to read books from the Body Positivity Movement and I attended 2022's virtual BodCon. Nothing I've consumed from these outlets has been calmly digested by my mind.
Body Positivity prefers to focus on what the body does versus how it looks. Authors Lexie and Lindsay Kite refer to this as the body being an instrument, not an ornament. But what of those of us whose bodies do not function as the instrument they are purported to be?
In their book "More Than A Body," the Kites write:
"Are your lungs allowing you to breathe? Is your heart pumping your blood? Are you able to see, smell, hear, or touch? Can you communicate your thoughts and feelings? Can you write, create art or music, or enjoy hobbies and talents?"
This is inherently ableist. Focusing on a body's normative (or, what a body 'is supposed to do' if it's operating 'properly') functions is ableist and exclusionary toward people whose bodies do not function in the normative way.
Body Positivity tells us to celebrate these functions, to celebrate the parts of the body that enable these functions. But there is no mention of what to do if your body is non-normative: if it doesn't actually perform those functions, labors to perform them, or needs assistance to perform them.
What of the non-normative experience? Can it be body-positive? Should we celebrate dys-functional bodies that keep us alive with dis-ability? Or should we dis-card that which perceives our bodies with dis-dain?
The current favored theory by Disability Studies scholars and activists of how disability exists is that of the social model of disability, which claims that it is society that dis-ables us, not our mind-bodies themselves. But this is not always a true narrative.
It's often said that to re-able those of us with disabilities, society must implement Universal Design principles, provide universal health care, and eliminate ableist thinking, among other things. But none of those lofty plans will cause my heart to stop murmuring or palpitating. They won't end the need for pharmaceutical insulin, the occurrence of bed sores, or oxygen scarcity.
So, what of the chronically ill in the social model of disability? There is no inclusion of our non-normative bodies in this model. The social model does not recognize that it is our mind-bodies that dis-able us. Should we embrace the dys-function of this model?
My body can be appreciated for what it can do, but nearly everything it does causes dys-function, dis-ability (including dys-morphia), or dys-phoria. There is no place for me in the Body Positivity Movement, which asks us to celebrate the ability for bodies to do things, things that many of us cannot do. Instead, I must approach my body with neutrality. My body keeps me alive, for which I'm grateful, but it dis-allows me the possibility of living the type of life that I want: an embodied life of physical experiences.
How do I unlearn the resentment, frustration, anger, and discomfort I feel toward my body for not allowing me to function in a normative way? How do I come to a place of appreciation and acceptance -- can I even come to appreciate and accept what my body does, and thus, its limitations? Is there a place for being at peace with the non-normative body in the kyriarchy of our society?
I've been trying to answer these questions for most of my life, as most of my life I've felt little other than disgust toward my body. I don't know if I'll find the answers via body image therapy and the Body Positivity Movement. There might not be a way to build confidence in and acceptance of my dys-functional body while it continues to perform in its non-normative, life-limiting ways... but maybe there is a way. And I'll be damned if I don't keep trying to find it.