Some months ago, I completed a 5-day vlog series (for my Whatsapp status audience) underscoring women’s journey to reclaiming bodily integrity; a conversation that is becoming increasingly crucial in feminine and feminist circles. Two days before I started, I had commented on my experience reading The Vagina Monologue and how that narrative disrupts the normative thought processes and attitudes that underpin conversations about the woman’s body. Shortly after my comment, a friend had sent me a message on how only after decades of being sexually abused (a term I think grossly underrepresents the grievousness of the breach of bodily autonomy and integrity women are subjected to and the multiple burdens imposed on them as survivors) has she found courage to stand the sight of her own naked body which had been reduced to a horrific site of terror. The frightening reality that the safety of the female race is fast becoming a myth should be an issue of urgent global intervention.
We live in a global culture that preys on the female body. Conditioned by patriarchal and capitalist greed and entitlement, our culture constantly subjects the female body to control, commodification and brutality. It is becoming increasingly apparent that neither age, “naivety” nor ANY “protective measure” will ever sufficiently immune or exempt women and girls from the calculated, repetitive, and reinvented acts of terror executed against their bodies. Shamefully, in spite our exaggerated claims of humanity, female’s bodies often become crime scenes before their 10th birthdays. And like millions of survivors, #MeToo!
My intention with this piece of writing, as was with the vlog series, is not to vent my legitimate anger toward humanity’s crimes against female bodies, equally perpetrated by men and also women who have internalized woeful patriarchal and capitalist ideals and its nuances of physical, emotional and psychological treacheries and torture. My goal is to provide survivors, simply, every woman, with ways to navigate the murky waters of violation however subtle, build resistance and commence the journey to reclaiming their bodily integrity. While I must admit that this approach won’t undo dark memories, it holds hope of a gradual restoration of one’s sense of ownership; increase of one’s knowledge and acceptance of one’s body and; introduce one to new depths of intrapersonal intimacy with and within one’ self by engaging the senses of sight, touch and smell.
1. Lovingly behold
Like my friend has begun to do, you must become intentional in beholding your naked body however uneasy it may be at first. Before and after you take a shower, take a good look at your body. Let the sight of your nakedness thrill you. Many women are often quick to cover up with clothes in a bid to escape the sight of their own bodies because in some cases it triggers undesirable memories and other times because they’ve internalized unrealistic images of ”ideal” female bodies daily marketed through new media technologies. However, you must refuse to let the pretensions sold by greed-driven capitalist media force you down the journey of self-hate. The worst level of disloyalty is the one you do to your body. While it is within your right of ownership to seek improvements to parts of your body, it is important that you do so from a place of self-acceptance and genuine commitment to your well being and not merely conforming to an externally-driven ideal.
While many females are familiar with their faces, it is crucial to begin to behold those areas that are often tucked away. Your breasts and vagina are beautiful sights to behold regardless of the shape and size they come in. In fact, it is important that you begin to behold those areas so much so that you can describe them like you do other parts of your body. It’s perfectly normal and within your rights to look at and admire your body. You don’t need any permission to do so. As you behold, your knowledge and admiration of increases and you gradually become at peace with and within your own body.
2. Curiously Engage
How familiar are your hands with your body? Maybe not familiar enough. You have to create moments to feel yourself; to touch your own body parts. Why? Because it is yours! And because you need to understand what is yours. Engaging your body parts through touch helps you to know what normal is for you. It also brings you comfort within and builds intimacy with yourself. It is important that your hands become so familiar with your body that by touch, you can easily detect any unusual development. Note however that your touch may reveal different information depending on biological and psychological realities like your monthly cycle, pregnancy, stress level etc.
3. Take a whiff
It is a beautiful thing to be familiar with one’s smell. Everything has its smell. In fact, terror has a distinctive smell that is difficult to undo. While we love sweet scents, sometimes musky and earthy perfumes, we’ve got to come out of hiding behind created fragrances and simply get to know what our personal scent is. Periodically take a tissue to your vagina to see what it smells like. Under normal circumstances it will have its own unique (not foul) smell. Sometimes, take deodorant breaks (especially when indoors) and just relish a day smelling like the authentic you with no apologies.
As a woman, bodily integrity speaks to the sacred and exclusive right you have over your body; a right that should not be violated in any way. It is important that you disabuse your mind of narratives that attempt to control how you relate with and experience life in your body. Bodily integrity is not up for negotiation, it is a right that must be insisted upon. Your body, your rules. You must invoke and operationalize the rhetoric of self-love in resisting the systemically engineered self-hating and “other” craving mindset empowered by the global media. Intentional self-knowledge and self-acceptance of your body is crucial step to the reclamation of your bodily integrity. Personally, I also find it important that women not only reclaim their right to live freely in their bodies without violation, but also unmute their voices and reclaim conversations about institutionalized subjectivity of the female body is long overdue.
Deborah Adeojo is a writer and doctoral candidate in Gender Studies, passionate about feminist conversations and women’s leadership advancement. She is the Founder and Executive Director of ALLY Afrik Initiative. Deborah writes on a range of topics and shares a collection of some of her writings on www.deborahadeojo.com.