By Dominique M. Brown
The full journal article titled “On Currere, Storytelling, & Body-Positive Curriculum“ was originally published in the Currere Exchange Journal, Vol. 2, Issue 2.
My relationship to my own body has always been a complicated one. Much of it has been shaped by external forces ring at me from all sides. Sometimes my body feels like a prison, holding in the spirit that longs to be free—free of judgment from the outside world, free of the fear that follows my body, free to be part of the earth.
As a person with African ancestry possessing female anatomy, everybody and their mama has an opinion about my body. This has continually shaped how I’ve seen myself throughout my lifetime. My hair, my breasts, my waist, my butt, my womb, my vagina, my skin, my brain, my voice have all been subject to social and political debate. Without realizing or asking for it, attempting to live freely in my body has been a radical, political act.
In my mid-twenties, something fundamental happened for me, I began to realize that I might not be the hideous beast society had led me to believe. Around this time, I discovered body-positive blogs with beautiful women of all sizes expressing themselves and seeing themselves as objectively beautiful. It may seem artificial, but media images of beauty that surround us in the U.S. can be quite damaging. By only glorifying standards of beauty that are ultimately white, slender, with flowing hair, we are ruling out all other forms of beauty.
Growing up in the 90s, it was the cultural norm to straighten black hair, so I had my first relaxer at 3 years old. A harsh chemical substance was used to beat my natural curl into paper-straight submission. I would not know what my natural hair texture actually felt like until the age of 25. I’m not sure when it became clear to me that women were supposed to be tiny wasted with giant boobs and an ample bottom. Perhaps Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back” provided some guidance for the ideal proportions of 36-24-36.
Many young people develop eating disorders in an effort to fit these beauty standards. Our food system is driven to help large corporations make profits and is not held accountable to public health standards. This leaves individuals to navigate complicated scientific information about caloric, fiber, and protein intake. When I was growing up, “diet” food meant seeing actual nutritional value decline. This is not to dismiss western medicine. I love my doctors now, but most medical professionals in my experience were of little help. Going to the doctor was like awaiting the guillotine. I experienced annual berating for my failings as a 14 year old to deeply understand the emotional and physical implications of my eating habits. The advice was “lose more weight or, when you grow up, you will get heart disease and die; you will get diabetes and die; or at least you will get arthritis and be in a wheelchair.” Thanks for that information. Now, what the hell am I supposed to do? It also baffles me that people who under-eat are labeled as having eating disorders and in need of great mental health and medical care. However, if you over-eat, you are simply a fat failure. Go on a diet and fix this on your own you clown! But, don’t worry. There is a billion dollar “diet” industry waiting to capitalize on your insecurities, which most likely won’t help you in any significant way. Or, perhaps your doctor might prescribe you with a mild form of “speed” to help you...ya know...get “healthy.” Yes, of course it is important for public health advocates to promote healthy lifestyles and eating habits. That is good for everyone, regardless of your size. But, fat shaming and body shaming young women does not lead to better health outcomes.
The relationship I have with my body is one of the most profound of my life. It is such a complex, semi-abusive thing, because I was taught to hate it. All of my “flaws” were visible for the critics to observe. But, the harshest critic is me, running on loop in my head, telling me what a failure I am. The challenge with this relationship is that I cannot separate myself from my body. There is no possibility for annulment or divorce. At some point, however, I realized that it is possible to banish the inner critic to a different corner of my mind and invite in an inner, affirming voice. She can have the front row seats to cheer me on. Give me sage advice and fuel the engine that had been used for self-loathing, toward self-compassion and love. I feel really grateful for the fact that the outside forces surrounding me are changing the narrative as well. People much braver than I are screaming loudly about their experiences and publicly taking back ownership over their self-esteem and perceptions of worth. These women who dance, sing, vogue, and werk their bodies, despite being bigger, give me courage to do the same. Pushing forward in the world and moving through the forces that refuse to acknowledge my worth is, on its own, an act of resistance. So, instead of yearning to look like someone else, I’m going to dance, and sing, and love, and laugh in the only body that I have been given.
Explore your own body story with Dominiques Currere Body Story Activity.
Dominique M. Brown is a holistic educator, contemplative cultural worker and storyteller. She is pursuing doctoral research as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Educational Leadership at Miami University. You can follow her journey on Instagram @browdq