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February 21, 2008

A Letter to the World About My Body

Dear Everyone Who Isn't Me, and Especially the Wonderful Women of BlogHer,

I want to participate in your Letter To My Body project. I really do. I think it's wonderful.

But in trying to compose a letter to my body I realized something: I don't see my body as separate from my self. Presumably here, "self" is mind, while body is some sort of symbiotic adjunct. I don't pretend to understand mind/body split. All I know is that when I say "I," and when I say "me," I mean, in both cases, my body + my mind + my soul, if there is such a thing. My "self" is something composed of all the things I put "my" in front of, and my mind is no more--or less--connected to my self than my body.

This is not because I am Special And Better Than You. I live in this fucked up western youth and beauty obsessed culture, too, and I'm not all that strong-minded. Just ask my container of cornnuts.

I think it's, very simply, because I am a type 1 diabetic. Diabetes shares with other chronic, incurable illnesses a number of traits, and a great many effects on the psychology of the sufferer. But one thing I think is unique to diabetes (I say this in all ignorance; there could easily be other diseases with similar traits) is that the disease enables many diabetics to track the effects of eating and exercise--the twin bugaboos of skinny-bitch culture--on their bodies and minds in real time, and gives them the tools to control these.

I won't go into the details of why (I might at another time); let it suffice that diabetics under a regime of insulin therapy can feel amplified effects of eating various foods, or not eating enough food, or exercising too much or too little. These effects are felt immediately, in a matter of minutes or hours. And, most importantly, these effects work immediately on the brain functions, so that a diabetic's mood, rationality, even intelligence, memory, and problem-solving abilities, can change literally minute to minute depending on food intake and exercise.

When my blood sugar goes down, it's not "my body" failing "me," it's me fucking myself up. My mind disappears with the failure of my body. I literally lose the part of me that people seem to most consider the "self" when my body crashes. I don't see mind and body as dependent upon one another or arising out of one another. They are the same. They are two ways of talking about me.

You may not see this in diabetics who got the disease during or after adolescence, and you may not see it in teen girls whose parents underscore society's body-image lesson. But I got sick when I was eleven. I was a late bloomer in any case, and eleven for me was hardly even "tween." My first experience of body-consciousness was the disease and its management, not fat and boobs and periods and sex.

Sure, I thought I was fat all through my teens and into my mid-twenties, when I smoked so much that I got really, really skinny. But I never got into the habit of doing anything about it, because the consequences of crash dieting and excessive exercise (insulin shock) or of not taking my insulin (which helps you put on weight) were so severe and unpleasant that I would simply rather be "fat" than have to live like that, day in and day out.

Don't get me wrong. Just because I consider my body's "flaws" in the same way I consider my personality flaws, doesn't mean that I haven't hated myself, and don't still hate myself often and often. I do hate that my thighs are fat. I don't like my legs, period. I really, really wish that that roll around my waist would go away. In fact, the moment a fad diet appeared that spoke the language of diabetes, I jumped on that wagon train and am still riding it.

I smoked heavily for well over a decade, and still smoke a little now and then. I used to drink like a fish, and still tie one on when I feel I can get away with it (I usually can't). I pig out. I do recreational drugs, when I can get them. I avoid exercise. I do all sorts of self-destructive things, still.

But when I diet, I'm not punishing my body, I'm punishing myself. When I struggle to control my diabetes, I'm not fighting my body, I'm fighting the diabetes.

I am my body, so the struggle is not against my body but against myself. It can be a subtle distinction sometimes. But at other times it's a huge, honking distinction.

It can be a bad thing. Because I don't objectify my body, I dress and groom to express my mood to a much greater extreme than most of the people I know. So I'll often mismatch the occasion, or go for two days without showering, or fail to wear makeup in formal situations and then go all out with the eyeshadow to go out for a beer. Other people seem so much more able to look better than they feel. I'm getting better at this, but it's hard to look like something I don't feel.

But it, of course, can also be a good thing. Because when I feel good about something smart I said, I feel good about my body. When I feel good about some beautiful prose I wrote, I look beautiful. When I manage to be kind to someone I don't have to be kind to, my shoulders relax. I don't live split in half.

Like right now, just now, when I was thinking about writing a letter to my body, and I peeled my mind away from my body for a moment and I did not at all like what I saw.  My body, apart from "me" is just a collection of failures. I hate seeing photos of myself for this very reason. I don't know how to pose for pictures. What I look like is in motion, because my mind and body are always in motion. You can't freeze a frame of that and get a true picture of me.

I don't think I've ever put this into words before. I've just never been good at participating in girltalk about bodies. My answer to "if there was one thing you could change about your body, what would it be?" is, of course, "take the diabetes away." But if you changed that, I wouldn't be me. Even that is me.

I've always been discomfited by this line of talk, and always thought my uneasiness was just political. But it's not. It's personal. I just don't think this way, and the project of trying to heal your mind/body split by underscoring your mind/body split seems like the wrong tack to me.

Talking to your body as "you" rather than "me", making two of one, won't make you love the putty that is your flesh any more than you already do. Hell, I have terrible trouble loving myself, and my every grain of flesh is animate.

Just wanted to try to articulate that.

Love,

Claire

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Comments

Curses, Light, you're taking the thoughts out of my head and turning them into beautiful prose again! If it isn't enough that you're eight feet tall and dazzlingly beautiful, you have to be smarter than me, too? I'm going to make myself a tinfoil hat *right now*! (Or, to be more concise - squee!)

oh great. now you're implying that i'm an alien! will the persecution never stop?

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