Bodies and Oppression

So this was a question posed on an online forum for one of my classes, and apparently I had a lot to say about it.

How can we truly free the human body in this culture of shame we have around us? Women are called any number of derogatory terms when they attempt to understand their body, their sexuality. Why does taboo surround a completely natural thing?

The way I see it, people are afraid of things that are complicated, important, and uncontainable, all of which a body is and/or can be, and in an attempt to make their world safer, seek to change the object of their fear rather than themselves.

Bodies are complicated. On a strictly biological level, the human body is messy in basically every way. Once you factor in the mind, which has a biological basis, you essentially have an entire world, from the abiotic basis of an ecosystem to a higher conscious, contained within one finite object. That’s incredible! I want more words than “incredible” because it is uncontainably cool, but staying focused. People simplify other people into words, labels, types, etc. as a way of dealing the terrifying complexity of each person ever. That being said, we as individuals cannot fathom the complexity of every person ever, but that inability is not evil. We’d probably go nuts if we could. It is sufficient to understand that the complexity is there and to respect its existence the same way you respect your own. This is really hard for some people though, and if no one is willing to challenge a person’s unwillingness to recognize another’s humanity, every fails to acknowledge it and then we get oppressive systems.

Bodies are important. Phrases like, “It’s just [fill in any body part],” or “It’s just sex,” or any other phrase that simplifies the interface of two people and their bodies makes me absolutely nuts. Your body is yours, and you can do what you want with it. Yes. Absolutely. However anyone who simplifies their emotional experience with their own bodies and those of others does themselves and the other person a massive disfavor. They’re just boobs? Yes. They have the same kinds of tissue as any other boobs, and probably a lot of the same as what’s in monkey boobs. What is completely unique and worthy of respect though is how the owner of those boobs feels about them. How do they work with the rest of my body? How do they affect me? My significant other? What if they were suddenly missing? How do they shape my self-image, visually and conceptually? And the same goes for every bit of your body. Some answers will be longer than others, but they are all important and worthy of respect. Breaking any body part down to just tissue is facilitating your body’s oppression.

The idea of bodies being uncontainable is a little paradoxical, in that it is essentially a container of sorts. I suppose a more accurate way of saying it is that your body is a vehicle for expressing the uncontainable. Speaking, listening, feeling, sharing, all of these things are bigger than our body yet would never happen without it. Controlling a person’s body not only physically limits them, but also acts as a symbolic restraint that over time will likely break their spirit. A broken spirit is a complacent one.

So to actually answer your question, as a woman one of my first forms of protest to the way popular culture sees my body is to believe that it and my relationship with it is complicated, important, and limitless. The next step is to understand myself biologically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, all of it. Agency comes with understanding, and as soon as you have that foundation of self-respect it becomes much easier to understand the flaws with our cultural understanding of bodies and be impervious to them, and then work to break them down.


This is Kissing by Alex Gray. A lot of his work explores the interface of bodies and spirituality.

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2 Responses to Bodies and Oppression

  1. bambushoe says:

    Very well put together. The human vehicle is an awe inspiring perfectly tuned instrument, and when given favorable conditions for it to thrive, has the capability of reaching states where one becomes conscious of that perfection that resides in all creation and beyond.
    I wanted to ask you also, I too wanted to use one of Alex Grey’s picture on an article I wrote about cosmic energy and chi in relation to the human body, but he never replied to my request (probably too busy). Did you ask him, or do you think it is ok to use one of his pieces of artwork?

    • mearaskye says:

      I actually just googled “Alex Gray art” and found the piece I had in mind. I didn’t even think of getting permission to use it, and figured citing him as the artist and linking to his website would be enough. It makes sense though to be more concerned with permission if your article is going to be in a more formal place than a personal blog.
      So in short, no, I never contacted him. I am no expert on copyright law, but as long as the piece you’re using is publicly available on his website, I don’t see the issue with using it as long as you cite it well.

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