A Beautiful Thing
I wrote this for The Regis Magazine, a local university publication. You can read it here, or watch/listen to me read it on my youtube. I'll also include the portraits of me featured in the issue!
Some of the contributors and students
A body is a beautiful thing. It deserves to be dressed up and complimented as well as made comfortable and accepted in all its flaws. Advertising is even starting to spread the message of body love and acceptance, claiming that ‘bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful,’ as a means to sell soap. And while it is true that all bodies are uniquely attractive, and worthy of appreciation, what’s missing from this dialogue is appreciation for our bodies as something entirely removed from physical beauty. What happens if we start thinking of our bodies as more than a means to attract others? As more than a decoration or even a means to express ourselves? What makes my body my own?
Taking ownership over our bodies means attaching value to the inside as well as the outside. And by inside, I’m not referring to your inner-goodness as a person, although I wouldn’t discount its importance. I mean the capacities of your physical manifestation. I mean your ability to think, talk, get from point A to point B; your ability to grow, to dance, to reflect. Not all bodies are capable of the same things, in fact, the incredible variance of abilities is largely what shapes us into who we are.
I do not mean to say that ability is the standard against which beauty should be measured – certainly not. In our culture my able-body grants me a great deal of privilege insofar as my experiences greatly align with the status quo and are vastly overrepresented in the media. My body is often deemed ‘superior’ to those who are differently abled, considered the ‘norm’ and portrayed as the ideal. Even the advertisements that broadcast the message that all bodies are beautiful rarely feature persons with visible disabilities, and people who are neurologically atypical are scarcely portrayed as more than just the Other. Those who do not fit neatly within the status quo are considered “less able,” but by limiting our understanding of our bodies to value only one kind of body- one that is able-bodied and neurotypical – we perpetuate a society which accommodates some of us and claims the rest are less capable. By accepting this, we are not only contributing to the ongoing oppression of people with disabilities, we are also, as a society, failing to grasp the totality of the human condition. The beauty of the human body does not come from its ability to function seamlessly within our society – it comes from our unique combinations of characteristics.
My body is beautiful because it allows me to do what it is that has come to define me. It allows me to think, sometimes too much, and to dance, badly, and to laugh, at whatever tickles my brain in just the right way. It’s beautiful; the corporeal complexity that leads from a thought to a phrase to a conversation. My body is beautiful because it has powers I have not yet discovered, or made use of. My body is beautiful because my brain is connected in such a way that I exist as myself and not someone else.
I do not claim to understand how my body manages to do so much for me. What I do know is that I owe it to myself to appreciate all that I can do, and know the limitations of what my body allows. I can’t have the body of a supermodel, I can’t play professional basketball, I can’t do math very well at all. But these limitations do not define me; they are merely a part of me. Every body is shaped by different powers and boundaries. Every body is uniquely equipped for this life. A society that is too focused on the value of physical attractiveness ultimately overlooks the true beauty of our bodies.