Body autonomy: the concept that my body is my own.
“Of course it’s my own”, you may be thinking (or maybe you’re thinking, nope it belongs to my baby/kids, but that’s a different article😉). But maybe, like me just a few years ago, you’ve never stopped to consider all the pervasive ways we have been conditioned to believe our bodies are public domain.
How many of these ideas (and sometimes conflicting stereotypes) have you been subjected to in your life:
- women shouldn’t look like men (have muscle etc),
- women should not take up space,
- women should have curves,
- women should be thin,
- women should be toned but not too muscular,
- women should wear makeup but not too much, and never at the gym
- women are selfish for taking time away from our children for self-care,
- women should “bounce back” after pregnancy,
- women’s pregnant bodies are up for constant commentary and touch
- women “deserve” to wear a swimsuit or shorts or tank tops, or we don’t
- we should hide our bodies or we should flaunt them
- our stretchmarks should be covered
- our bodies and our worth are judged on whether or not we are found attractive to the opposite sex (a common insult against women is “wouldn’t sleep with her” or a “compliment” is “I’d do her)
And while I can tell you to love your body and practice body positivity until my face turns blue, that can be pointless if you’ve never examined where the negative self-talk is growing it’s roots.
Chances are, it’s from one of these societal stereotypes making you feel as though you don’t fit in or you aren’t good enough.
Your true power starts the day you decide that you are going to figure out exactly what it is that YOU want from your body, based on your own likes, preferences, and happiness rather than what is expected of you.
This concept is known as body autonomy.
How do I know what I want and not what the world wants from me?
There is an exercise I follow when I am getting to the root of what I want for myself and my body, and it’s simply to ask this question:
“If I were the only person in the world and my objective was enjoyment, fulfillment, and health, what would I choose?”
For ME, this means I wouldn’t be putting myself on strict diets to try and lean out, and I wouldn’t be counting any calories. I would still eat healthy food the majority of the time, because my health is one of my main goals and affects the quality of my life, but I’d enjoy fun food too.
I’d still be strength training and running because I love how both make me feel.
Whatever my body looked like as a result of these habits would be fine with me.
I’d wear makeup sometimes because I do enjoy the artistry of it, but those occasions would be rare.
I’d wear a bikini to the ocean, even though my stomach has stretchmarks and loose skin from pregnancy, because I hate the feeling of a one piece in the water.
I’d wear the most comfortable clothes, and I’d dress up sometimes for fun.
Of course, there are going to be some choices that you *can’t* make because it may have negative effects on your career, etc. For example, you may feel your best wearing sweats everyday, but that isn’t acceptable in your workplace, so you have to balance your own autonomy with the greater good of your career.
But if you can ask yourself this question, and then make a soul-searching, honest comparison of your answers to the way you are living your life, you can have the chance to find alignment. This alignment will be the beginning of a peaceful, happier way of living in which you only seek your OWN validation and don’t have to wait for someone else to do that for you.
This can also help you with negative self-talk. Ask yourself, where did this idea come from? Is this what I want for myself, or what I think is expected of me? Once you identify it, this takes so much of the power away over you.
What does it look like to achieve body autonomy?
- you start to choose exercise based on the joy, the health benefits, and feeling it brings you rather than the amount of calories it burns
- you might decide you want to have big strong muscles and get into Olympic powerlifting because it makes you feel empowered, even though you’ve always been afraid to “bulk up”
- you might enjoy more desserts without any guilt
- you might eat more healthy food just because it feels good
- you may choose to just leisure walk for your first year postpartum because it’s all your body can handle
- you may choose to run a marathon your first year postpartum because the feeling excites you
- you may choose to wear a bikini to the beach because you like how it feels
- you may choose to cover completely up at the beach because you prefer the privacy
- you wear lots of makeup because you enjoy it and the artistry of it
- you wear no makeup because you like the feeling of a bare face or you just don’t care
- you choose your clothes based on what you like. Whether or not it’s attractive to your partner or others is either a bonus or a non-issue (their issue).
- you let others touch your pregnant belly because you don’t mind it, or you don’t because you do mind it.
- you cover up while you’re breastfeeding because that’s what make you comfortable, or you don’t because covering makes you or your baby uncomfortable.
- you call your co-worker out when they comment on the size of your pregnant body.
Best of all, you begin to cheer for other women when they make their own choices, even if they are different from yours, because you recognize their own #bodyautonomy in motion.
How does this feel to you? Can you imagine throwing out the ideals of the world and practicing autonomy? I want to hear your thoughts.