Okay, reader, prepare yourself, because I’m about to make another college-course-relating-to-life intro to this post.
So in several of my classes this semester, the body has been a big topic. Most discussions mirror Proust’s narrator’s claim that the body is an unknowable creature we are bound to—most of us live divorced from our bodies, seeing it as the vessel that allows us to follow academic pursuits or complete items on our to-do lists. We’re often unaware of its signals and feel little concern when it starts falling apart at the expense of our intense schedules. We take no ownership and have little understanding of the vessel that gets us through life, and thus are missing out on a huge aspect of ourselves and our lives.
At first, I wholeheartedly bought into this idea. It made sense to argue that we’ve all forgotten we have bodies. As I sat in class sniffling after too many late nights doing homework or read books while absentmindedly pedaling on a stationary bike at the gym, I bought into the idea that we toss aside our bodies in favor of tasks for our minds.
But the more I thought about it, the less confident I felt in the claim. How could we ever forget we have bodies, when they’re regulated so closely? With constant reminders of what clothes to put on them, what makeup to cover them with, what exercises to do to improve them, shouldn’t the argument be that we can never divorce ourselves from our bodies? How could an idea that initially resonated so strongly with me actually be misguided?
I did some more thinking, and I may have discovered what makes it possible to be both unaware and hyperaware of our bodies at the same time. While the understanding of our body’s signals or acknowledgement and respect for our embodied experiences comes from an internal connection with our bodies, the societal expectations that keep us thinking about our bodies are completely external. Not only do the pressures come from outside sources, but they also focus only on the external aspects of our bodies. We forget what it feels like to have a body, but we are not allowed to forget how it looks. We are hyperaware of our appearance, but often lose connection with everything going on inside—our breathing, our heartbeats, muscle soreness, illness. Our minds are not inside our bodies; they’re somewhere else, observing them from the outside and cut off from communication.
Many of the thinkers I’ve learned about who point out this disconnect argue that we should reclaim our bodies, reform that connection between them and our minds. I’m inclined to agree, but how do we go about it? Some would say that we need to write through our bodies, others that we should practice mindfulness. It seems to me that as infinitely diverse as our minds and our bodies are, we’re all going to need to find our own paths to bring them back together.