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Why do we apologize for our bodies?

June 1, 2010

This post is partly a lovefest for Jill, but mostly it’s a challenge.

Last month, when I was visting Jill, I apologized to our groups of friends for holding us up because I had to go to the bathroom. But before I left Jill stopped me and reminded me that I don’t have to apologize for my body. It was a small moment, but I’ve held on to it. It affirmed my body’s needs and my ownership of it so simply, yet powerfully, and I continue to check myself when I’m about to apologize for it.

And we do apologize for our bodies SO OFTEN. Recently the Rotund wrote: Fatties, I Challenge You; In Fact, I Dare You in which she challenged readers to cut it out:

You do not take up too much space. You are not an inconvenience. You are not a slacker. If it’s the first time you’ve ever done something, you do not have to apologize for not being perfect at it. If you have done something a hundred thousand million times, you still do not have to apologize for not being perfect at it.

Why do feel the need to apologize for our bodies’ needs and justify the choices we make about them? As I continue to incorporate body positivity into my life, I still find myself listing off what I ate all day to justify why I’m hungry now, or explaining, in detail, what made me so tired that  I need a nap. But these are choices I’m absolutely allowed to make on my own, without any justification to anyone else. I decide when I eat, sleep, move and how I maintain my own personal health and appearance. Apologizing for, or justifying these choices and needs to others is unnecessary.

This is also an area where we can be body positive allies to others. When we remind others that they don’t need to apologize for their bodies or justify our choices about them, we affirm there sovereignty over their bodies. To repeat a quote I’ve used before (by Hazel/Cedar Troost), when we advocate for body sovereignty,

we won’t have only the strength of feminists behind us in challenging rape culture, nor only the strength of sex-posotive, polyamorous, and BDSM communities in fighting sex phobia, nor only fat people in fighting medically mandated eating disorders-we’ll have the sum total of everyone who wants their body back. And that’s most of us.

So do you accept that challenge? Will you stop apologizing for your bodies and affirm others right to make choices about them? It starts with the simple acts of reminding each other that when we need to go to the bathroom we don’t have to apologize for holding others up, but it grows into a movement.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. adam permalink
    June 1, 2010 10:45 PM

    These are rights everyone should have. I think everyone should be able to go to the bathroom, eat, and sleep without justifying it to others all the time.

    But sometimes giving ourselves the right not to communicate with people or to ignore them (when they ask for justifications etc.) can seem a little mean or austere in practice. That doesn’t mean you have to entertain people when they ask you why your eating that. Just tell them the truth: cuz i like it.

    The issue with these justifications, or more accurately rationalizations, is that they are fabrications of the guilty mind. It’s dodging around the ugly truth.

    Luckily, you don’t have to always speak the ugly truth or otherwise compromise a conversation to be honest. Just tell a pretty truth instead. It can be a lot easier:

    Why are you napping in the middle of the day?
    I want to feel refreshed for the rest of my day.

    The only reason I bring this up is because I’ve been around people who assert their rights very strongly all the time, and it annoys me. Are they your rights? Yes. Can you do what you want? Yes. Does it need to get in the way of our conversation? I don’t think so.

    Pick your battles, people. Don’t build confidence at someone else’s expense by asserting your rights out of the blue.

    If someone CHALLENGES your right to go to the bathroom or eat something though, I think the proper response is, “Oh HELL no!!”

  2. Emily permalink
    June 1, 2010 10:57 PM

    I’ve been paying attention lately to how much I apologize. And it is A LOT. Apologizing when you mess up or feel bad about something is completely acceptable, of course, but I find that I apologize constantly for things that need no apology. Yes, I may have brushed by you when I was walking. Yes, I decided to go through the door first when we both reached it at the same time. Yes, I scolded you when you tried to steal my beer (I’m looking at you, kid at spring concert). But why do these thengs require me to apologize? They don’t, but I find myself constantly apologizing for taking up space, for asserting myself, for coming into contact with other people. I’m working really hard on apologizing less often, but it’s hard. And you’re right, Becky, we shouldn’t have to justify or apologize for our body and our choices about it either.

  3. adam permalink
    June 1, 2010 11:38 PM

    You know, I just reread that, and I guess nobody was talking about exploding on people when you feel guilty about going to the bathroom. Far from it– it sounds more like refraining from saying anything unnecessary and demeaning about yourself, which is totally fair. So bravo to Jill for supporting your right not to self-deprecate!!

    So maybe an apology is in order on my side for posting off topic. But I stand by what I said where it IS relevant 😉

  4. June 2, 2010 9:59 AM

    This is a great post and speaks very much to my today. I am following a food plan from which weight loss is a benefit and I get the same interference from the same people about my food as I do about my weight. “How can you eat that much [salad]? ” Further, I have a long ways to go and whatever weight loss I’ve had in seven weeks isn’t showing. I know that the judgments passed on me are made in ignorance. My acupuncturist, for instance, suggested I jump rope yesterday — I nodded agreeably, thinking A) I’m two months out of a cast for such a severely sprained ankle that the doctor said I’d be better off breaking it, and B) what a BAD idea such heavy impact exercise would be on my body.

    But it made me feel negative, lazy and enormous.

    I don’t think weight loss is a bad thing — I’ve had criticism from some activists for my attitude. I think it’s pro-choice if any individual wants to lose weight or chooses not to. I know that I can’t help but gain and gain and gain and that’s why a food plan is the only way I can avoid a dark future. But I MUST embrace the body I am in today. Your post has helped me re-realize that someone’s supposedly helpful comment that spiraled me into negativity is not MY truth and that I’m being as kind to my body, today, as I know how to be.

    Thank you.

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