Bodies Worthy of Respect

Laurie and Debbie say:

On September 29, the U.S. Senate passed the horrifyingly anti-democratic “detainee bill” which, along with removing some of the most basic rights in the U.S. Constitution, as well as effectively repealing the United States’ participation in the Geneva Convention on ethical treatment of prisoners of war.

This got us to thinking about how the work that we do relates to this world in which our (American) government tortures freely and without embarrassment. Laurie’s artist’s statement speaks to this issue:

“In my neighborhood, some people had concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms, and newspapers and magazines had photographs of the piled-up naked bodies of the Holocaust dead. … I needed to transform the images of the piled-up Holocaust dead into work that honors the living body.”

As with all human cruelty, the roots and justifications for torture are complex and varied. At the same time, the overriding attitude in contemporary culture that the body is a thing outside our real selves, which it is our task to control. From medieval scourging to contemporary hair removal, from corsets to botox, the assumption that pain, discomfort, and even poison are appropriate body management techniques goes virtually unchallenged. The underlying structure tells us repeatedly that effective control of the body can define such crucial concepts as maturity, self-control, and good discipline.

The body positive work that we and so many other people do is intrinsically anti-torture, because it starts from the position that we are our bodies; respecting ourselves is respecting our bodies. This means discarding two crucial beliefs:

1) there are “right” and “wrong” ways to look, for example, thin and blonde and white is inherently better, or more attractive, or more appropriate than fat, brunette, or brown;
2) control of the body is success and anything else is failure.

Our work says that bodies are not, or need not be, the reflections of our consciences, or the evidence of our successes and failures as human beings. If the body is the tool of the mind, then hurting the body to improve or reveal the mind is justifiable. If the body is the mind is the heart is the spirit, then the lines are much harder to draw, the justifications much harder to support.

If the mind/body dichotomy was not so prevalent, torturers (and those who order torture) just might be harder to find.

torture, body positive, body image, detainee bill, Geneva convention, Body Impolitic