This week we discussed the importance of hope, spirit, and care in the processes of healing and recovering bodies from violence, rape, annihilation, humiliation, and denigration, and we considered the potential submissive dimensions of hope, spirit, and care in those precise same processes.
On Monday we discussed Greenwood and Delgado’s article on fitness and spirituality, as well as the videos by Beyoncé and Cardi B. On Wednesday we expanded our discussion of ‘recovering bodies’ and the readings and concepts we addressed on Monday, this time after hearing an audio recording by Professor Teresa Delgado.
For this week’s post, write up any questions, comments, or thoughts you had as we read and discussed “‘This Is Your Body’…” I will collect all your posts and share them with Dr. Delgado, and she will respond to them later in the semester. Post your thoughts or questions or comments by Sunday at midnight.
I was really struck by your phrasing when referring to aesthetics you describe it as displacing the value of the woman to the male gaze. It is a form of disembodiment against the woman’s body which inevitably is not her own. When thinking about this it striked me to think about colorism in the United States and in Africa. In the United States colorism is all about looking the lightest possible and having “pretty” curly hair. This is also similar in Africa. However, in Africa colorism and beauty is tied to survival. In order to be provided for you have to be the most appealing to a man, and if you do not appeal to a man you are going to have harder circumstances and potentially continue to live in poverty. In a documentary I watched about colorism in Africa many of the women discuss bleaching their skin, and how much “happier” they are. What was particularly striking to me was how a woman said it is up to her man what she looks like. If her man wants her darker she will stop bleaching her skin, and if he wants her lighter she will continue. She said she needs to appeal to whatever her man wants for the sake of him not leaving her. I found this particularly interesting, and I think it resonantes a lot to what Dr. Delgado talked about in class. Specifically, the colorism in Africa is a form of disembodiment to the woman, and her body is again not her own but it is whatever the man wants it to be.
As I read “This Is Your Body…,” I enjoyed learning about the connections between the body, soul, and embodiment. Previously, I never thought about the spiritual fitness aspects of physical exercise and how exercise can help us connect with God. I believe that embodiment is the goal since we live in a world that seems to encourage the disembodiment of women through objectification and sexualization.
Our lecture encouraged me to consider how the male or external gaze can be harmful to women because many women are seeking to meet the ever-changing standard of beauty. Our discussion about the male gaze makes me wonder whether disembodiment is a result of the male gaze or if we are more likely to fall victim to the male gaze if we are experiencing disembodiment. I do not think that many people are happy with their appearance regularly. It may be that you are content with your body and the male/ external gaze tears you down. For instance, it has been a process for me to feel happy with my appearance regularly. However, I have noticed that I have felt a bit sad and self-conscious when my family makes comments about how I need to lose or gain weight. Sometimes, it seems like “being thick” is a good thing in certain spaces, while “being media flaquita” or “sort of thin” is preferred in others. At the end of the day, I have realized that we all need to work on being happy with ourselves and our bodies to achieve a state of happiness and embodiment. I feel hopeful that physical exercise is a component of achieving this connection between the body and soul. The standard of beauty regularly changes, but we need to ensure that we view ourselves through a lens of love.
While reading the article for this week, I couldn’t help but feel personally attacked a little bit. I would consider myself as living a pretty sedentary lifestyle, and I am very ok with that. I think the ideas presented in the article of the connection between exercise and spirituality are very interesting, but I do not believe this should apply to every person. Exercise is not the only way to take care of your body and to imply that everyone who does not do exercise is disembodied from themselves does more harm than good. Some people, myself included, do not enjoy exercising, and a lot of the time are forced to do it because of the societal pressures mentioned in the article. An important phrase from the abstract I would like to focus on is “if done with the right intention” in reference to the relationship between exercise and spiritual health.
Many people, especially men, always have the most to say about a woman’s body. Latino families always feel the need to comment on women’s bodies as well, even if they don’t mean it in a derogatory way. These societal pressures often lead to the disembodiment talked about in the article. However, I believe that the first step in overcoming these issues is to accept your body as it is, then maybe decide to start exercising and lose weight; not for other people, but for yourself. If these decisions are made the other way around, exercise can actually be more harmful to one’s relationship with their body and further these body image issues.
I thoroughly enjoyed the class’s discussions this week, especially Wednesday’s discussions which incorporated the recorded audio from Dr. Delgado. I found Dr. Delgado’s commentary interesting, for she discussed the importance of exercise to her life and spirituality, and I find that being in college makes me realize more often than not that I value what my body is able to do (even if I push it past its limits for the sake of my academic, social, and job obligations). Regarding embodiment and latinidad, I am excited to expound upon the thoughts I had towards the end of class. I want to revisit my questions concerning exercise, embodiment, and the Olympics. The Olympics is a global spectacle that, while offering some positive opportunities for individuals to perform their body’s abilities, is a problem site for questions of bodily expression when one considers those bodies who do not fit hegemonic and normative standards. If one also takes into account the underlying ethnographic issues, the Olympics appears less like an equalizing platform. In the past decade or so, topics concerning LGBTQ+ and personal politics have surfaced to expose areas that need to be addressed. One individual who has experienced a significant amount of global backlash is Caster Semenya, an athlete from South Africa whose body is intersex. Because Semenya doesn’t adhere to the Olympics gender-binary enforced rules, many of the Olympics’ officials have called in tests to be performed to determine if Semenya’s body is “male” or “female,” despite how Semenya identifies gender-spectrally speaking. For Semenya, to experience such consistent and constant ridicule, it is nigh impossible to fully embody the talents, gifts, and blessings inherent to their athleticism (I use they/them for Semenya here, as I am unaware of Semenya’s pronouns). What’s more, since the Olympics are a global spectacle with each person who has access to news and media seeing some portion(s) of the games, the Olympics, therefore, makes Semenya’s body a target for anyone of any race, nationality, culture, or religion to critique. This holds their body in a state of disconnection, diminishing their ability to fully embody their body. Indeed, Semenya has stated numerous times that this global backlash has urged them to find new respect and admiration for their intersex identity, but the issue remains: Semenya’s body is no longer fully theirs, for they now to an extent represent South Africa, intersex people, Blackness, conceptions of African sexualities and gender expressions, resistance to constructed, and a contest to socialized notions of gender binarism. In this case, though Semenya is not a Latinx person, it is easy to see how embodiment and exercise of one’s own spirit are difficult to achieve when paradigmatic thought inhibits the freedom to express who one is essentially. For Latinx people, how do normative (White, cishet-constructed) perceptions of “Latinidad” and true Latinidad clash? Is it possible for a Latinx person to fully embody their person if all of these constructs, stereotypes, and expectations permeate social thought? How does embodiment become stronger when faced with these same challenges? I think there are a lot of really interesting ways that Latinx people may express themselves, and in the realm of sports and athletics, it is easier to spot how these societal norms regulate Latinx, non-white, and non-cishet bodies.
I had mixed feelings about Delgado and Greenwood’s article.
I question the hyper-emphasis on exercise as a path to embodiment. Exercise can mean many different things, of course, but in the article, it was exclusively presented as strenuous and with the intent of building physical strength or maintaining an ideal weight. There are many other forms of physical activity that can serve to strengthen the connection between spirit and body. Even outside of activities that are only sometimes seen as exercise (like taking a walk), simply the act of taking space, of being fully present in one’s environment, can be a meditative and spiritual act that grounds one in their flesh and environment.
I also perceive traces of ableism in the writing. I think of lines like “[t]he Judeo-Christian tradition affirms that God created the human body so that it could move and be physically active.” This line suggests to me that bodies that are incapable or less capable of movement are flawed replications of the image of God. I feel like, outside of a brief mention of the fact that embodied brokenness stems from social conditioning, the article reaffirmed rather than refuted the idea that the disabled are at fault for their own disconnection. It implicitly placed the responsibility of accessibility and embodiment on the disabled instead of the society that defines ability and delimits the accessible. I do believe in the healing and spiritual power of exercise, but I find the framing just a bit problematic.
Dear Olamina, your critical observations are very important. Experiencing your body in a spiritual manner does not need to be restricted to kinds of activities with “exercise” as measure. I find your comment about “the act of taking space” very insightful about the ability to connect mind and body, and that can take many different forms for people for everyone has a different body and a different spiritual connection. I think you would like Tatiana’s description of dancing vs. exercise commented above 🙂
One of the key terms Dr. Delgado spoke about was the ‘external gaze’. The external gaze put onto woman is the defining weapon for body insecurities. I thought the external gaze was multiple gazes: male, family, industrial. As the topic was delve into deeper, they all result to one that is expressed through all other areas: the male gaze. Almost every woman has a difficult time shopping as they try to fit into the shape decided for them. We now experiencing a revolution within the fashion industry where the question of “who is making these clothes and for who” is finally being answered. Stores, like Victoria Secret, who have been extremely influential in determining what a woman should wear and look like are now facing a decision: evolve with the new trend of “inclusivity” or continue business as is. Victoria Secret is well known as the epitome of a male deciding what a woman is to wear. A male built a business designed for the most intimate clothing a woman could wear and surrounded himself with woman to his liking while creating not only a hostile environment for these women but also for woman who watched the ‘epic show’, posters and had to live in pre-determined sizes. What is more interesting is what is looking at how the male gaze and the family gaze interact. When my external family, in particular, comment on my body, I never thought it was in response to the male gaze. When thought about like this, it seems very “old fashion”. My family never specifically said a comment so that I could secure a good husband, I guess it was always implied so that when you left your house, you would always be ready for your future husband. What was powerful and relatable to me, was Dr. Delgado’s experience with weight lifting. When I had weight lifting as a priority in my life, I felt so good about what my body could do (like lifting my heavy carryon into the overhead compartment with so much ease!!). At that point in my life, for the first time, I had felt in control of my weight but also my strength. When I pulled up to the weight section of the gym and ‘boys’ would stare me down, I felt so much confidence in the fact that I probably knew my body and its strength way more than their little egos could ever realize for their body (I had to, sorry!).
I think it was interesting that this week the topic is “Recovering Bodies” and lately, more bodies have gone missing and been found dismembered and worse. In my African American studies course, we discussed “missing white girl syndrome,” in which when a white girl or woman goes missing, suddenly the entire world is concerned. Particularly, a white woman who is thin and petite. But, when a woman of color goes missing, they do not receive nearly as much coverage. Arises the questions, whose bodies should be recovered? Whose bodies are worthy and holy in the eyes of dominant culture? Do some people not believe bodies of color are made in the image of God? It is very interesting to me because even the seemingly most devout Christians still are racist or colorist. At this point in time, is the word “holy” subjective?
I was also thinking about our conversation surrounding blood a few weeks ago and how cardio gets one’s blood running. When we talk about blood, we get squeamish and uncomfortable. But, to do cardio and increase blood flow seems to be an accomplishment. Cardio is a part of health that affects all genders, so there is no stigma around it. But, for periods there is a stigma even though menstruating individuals have no control over it. There is a disconnect and sometimes hatred for one’s body as they endure the agony each month. It reminds me of the “embodied brokenness” mentioned in the reading because while we have our bodies, we still do not feel whole in them.
Dr. Delgado’s speech on fitness and spirituality resonated a lot with me. I too struggled a lot with my body in the past and had tried for years to get into sports. I forced myself into volleyball and lacrosse, but nothing ever felt right to me until one day I starting lifting weights. It wasn’t until I started powerlifting that I was able to actually enjoy exercising. I absolutely love the feeling of being and getting stronger. I began going to the gym everyday and even trained to compete in powerlifting competitions. In just over a year, my body and mental health changed significantly. However, as a female lifting weights and not only that but lifting heavy there comes a lot of backlash. My mother hated that I started to lifting weights and when I would come home with bruises from the dumbbells at the gym and she would get so mad at me. Many people have this notion that women shouldn’t lift. There is also the idea of the “male gaze.” I couldn’t tell you how many times men have come up to me in the gym and hit on me or stared from a far. Similarly, other women in the gym have looked at me weird for lifting heavy and my favorite is when men get insecure around me because I am lifting more than them and they feel the need to compete by adding more weight as I do. I think our discussion regarding the harm of the “male gaze” and how harmful small comments from family members can affect a women is super important. This is something a lot of people don’t talk about enough. Particularly in Hispanic families these comments can be so detrimental for a female to hear. I know myself, I feel like my mother always has something to say about me whenever she sees me. Even though I have told her countless times she shouldn’t point stuff out, she will never stop doing it. No matter how bad it makes me feel, she just doesn’t understand. In addition to the male gaze, I wanted to ask about how maybe other females could also participate in the ‘male gaze’ or maybe it would have another name, but I wanted to touch on how the judgment of other females can affect women. I feel that other women stare, judge, and comment more than anyone else whether it be good or bad.
One thing I wanted to ask Dr. Delgado was how to avoid letting the male gaze obstruct/taint one’s embodiment through physical fitness. I appreciate hearing her thoughts of connecting to the soul through taking care of the body, but I think having and maintaining the right intention for exercise can be difficult. Exercise and health standards are often advertised with fatphobic undertones that make dealing with one’s fat something mental. Especially because women’s bodies are constantly being sexualized and objectified, standards for women’s health get skewed to be something appealing. Even when we can acknowledge the harm that these opinions cause, they are incredibly difficult to let go of and that can get in the way of spiritual connection with the self.
A theme that’s been running throughout this course is on the strength of Latinas, and that involves acknowledging the strength in bending yourself into the role put on you. Latinas are expected to be so many things that cause them so much pain, but they continue to try their best to be valued within the limited space of recognition offered. One where they are either mothers or objects of desire or both.
Someone, I believe Adiela, commented about family members and their tendency to point out your weight as an internalization of the male gaze. We then asked if the family members knew how harmful they were being would they continue. I think they may not know how to stop. Once they’ve forced themselves to fit into this gaze and value themselves within it, its disorienting to exit. Instead, we get held to the same standards they’ve internalized. Then without meaning to, we (I’ve) internalized them too. For me, the only time I’ve actually been able to enjoy exercise and feel connected to my body and spirit is brief moments when I’m dancing. If I try to exercise in a more standard way, I always find myself measuring my progress through metrics that disconnect me from my experience. If I’m dancing I get a moment where I realize I love how I feel and I love how I’m moving and then I feel it. But that’s never been to be physically fit.
Dear Tatiana, your description of dancing, as opposed to “standard exercise,” highlights the importance of self-presence and embodiment. What you are describing is precisely the ability to be in a moment without an instrumental or “useful” standard for it (in this case as you point to be physically fit). To measure our activity and time by what it might produce in the future by cumulative practice is very much classic labor alienation. Perhaps you might be onto something when suggesting dance as allowing for a spiritual experience better than regular exercise. It could be that physical activities that are not oriented to fitness but rather to the activity itself would be more suited for the kind of goal Dr. Delgado had in mind.
Reading “This Is Your Body…,” was an inspirational exercise for me because I cherished learning about the connections between the mind, body, soul, and spirit, and also because I did not realize that physical exercise is a component of spiritual fitness, and thus, aids us in connecting with God. It is important to note that embodiment includes human emotion and physicality, in addition to nature. The healthy embodiment of women, thus, is vital in order to empower women, and to yield an expression and representation of the powerful female emotions, feelings, and forms of physicality that are often suppressed in, and oppressed by our patriarchal societies and communities. Particularly, the statement “Physical fitness expressed through exercise can be, if done with the right intention, a form of spiritual discipline that reflects the relational love of humanity to God as well as an expression of a healthy love of the embodied” (Delgado and Greenwood, 941) greatly resonated with me. Being fit, and remaining physically active is almost a meditative practice, since it helps one become more in touch with his or her physical, psychological, and emotional self, and thus, become more attuned with their spiritual pursuits. The ever-elusive question that we discussed in class, and that we ubiquitously ponder is “Is yoga a religious or physical activity?” I believe that whether yoga is considered a religious or physical activity depends on the intention of the person engaging in it. However, regardless on whether one practices yoga for its physical benefits, or for religious reasons, it provides a spiritual experience because it allows one to synergize his or her physical and psychological self.
Additionally, Dr. Delgado’s lecture also reminded me of a book titled “Beauty Sick” by Renee Engeln, which delves into how women are literally making themselves physically and psychologically sick by constantly worrying about how their physical appearance is percieved and judged by the outside world, particularly males. This is incredibly troubling and disheartening to realize, especially since most women, if not all, have grappled with insecurities about their looks at some point or another in their lives. Furthermore, since beauty is a very subjective notion, and is constantly changing with the times, with geography, and with new consumerism trends, it is incredibly unrealistic and unhealthy for women to strive to achieve a ‘perfect’ standard of beauty, especially in order to satisfy male desire, or to attract the male gaze. For example, being fair is considered ideal in many Asian countries, however, in many Western countries, having a tan or olive skin tone is considered desirable. Interestingly, disembodiment is not only the consequence of attempting to captivate the male gaze, it is also intensified by the expectations of female beauty that males have, and that get ingrained in the minds of females from incredibly young, impressionable, and tender ages. Ultimately, it is imperative to learn to love ourselves, no matter what size, shape, complexion, weight, and color we are, because not doing so yields disembodiment, as well as unnatural, harmful, and perilous tactics to artificially enhance one’s appearance including cosmetic surgeries like nose jobs, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, and unsustainable diets such as Atkins and Keto.
I would like to ask Professor Delgados her thoughts on exercise as a form of self-harm. “This Is Your Body” explains the use of exercise to connect with the body and mind but sometimes people over exercise to reach their desired weight and end up harming their body to a point of no return. Last week we discussed how Latinas are silenced and how this form of violence can be detrimental to our lives. We discussed how family members have internalized the male gaze and feel entitled to make comments about our bodies as if it were an object for their viewing pleasure. This brought me back to the conversations we had last week because when a small comment is made, Latinas are told to take the comment. I remember when I was growing up, I would get those comments all the time and if I were to get upset walk to my room and starve myself for the rest of the night, my family members would say que malcriada. That I don’t know how to take a “joke” who raised her that way? These comments really affected me when I was little and that’s why exercise is ruined for me. I used exercise to fit into the male gaze and the thing is that you’re not supposed to tell anyone that. You’re supposed to exercise to be healthy and to be a better you. You’re not supposed to exercise for a man, do it for yourself. So, you pretend to do that when you’re slowly getting worse, your mental health is deteriorating, and you want to ask for help but you have no one to ask. I remember during covid summer I was going through a really hard time with my relationship with food and my body and I hadn’t seen my grandma in a long time and when I saw her, she said “You look so pretty. So skinny.” She tied beauty with how thin I was, and I didn’t say a word about how much I hated what I saw in the mirror or how hungry I was. So where do we draw the line? When does exercise become harmful and how do we continue to have the right intentions when we exercise? How can exercise aid in disconnecting us from our body and our mind?
First of all, I was very impressed by Progressor Delgado’s story as she shows us her own unique journey of reconnecting with her body and spiritually reclaiming it as her own and its value not contingent on the pleasure that it provides those around her. The idea of embodiment and disembodiment tied back to the notion of the “flesh” that we learned about earlier this semester. I was most fascinated to understand the concept of the “male gaze” and how pervasive it is in the lives of particularly Latinas, as we learned from the lived experience of those in our class how their bodies are always subject to evaluation and critique from others. There is a distinct sense of ownership and entitled irritation that overlies these critical remarks from both men and women alike that is reflective of the “male gaze” concept. The male gaze figuratively refers to a collective sum of many misogynistic gazes at the female body that treat it like an abstraction. The male gaze harshly evaluates the female body based on their abstract and unrealistic standards about whether or not it can serve its “purpose” either for casual sex, a socially and sexually submissive partner, or simply to be subject of ridicule.
A Latina’s body demanded to unquestioningly perform a wide number of roles at the beck and call of the men around them. For the pleasure of her partner in the security of her own home, she is expected to carefully tread the line through her clothing, appearance, and behavior between being a “whore” and “frigid”. In public, she is expected to maintain a different appearance and behavior to make her spouse look successful. The idea of the flesh or the feeling of human adequacy and self acceptance/worth for Latinas is therefore traditionally dependent on their ability to pleasure the lustful and cold male gaze. An inability to do so therefore leave them in a painful state of true disembodiment. Even further, the disembodied status of Latinas denies them the authority to declare their own sense of innate dignity/worth outside of traditional structures without being the subject of ridicule and ostracization.
Professor Delgado makes a powerful point when she describes how her fitness journey allowed her to escape the disembodiment of her younger years. Bodybuilding helped Delgado to change in her internal dialogue away from one of deprivation and ignoring her own needs by encouraging her, through rigorous exercise, to turn away from external evaluation and pay more attention to her physical and emotional state in the present. I feel as though the essence of any means to reclaim one’s body, even beyond the realm of exercise, is centered around providing oneself a safe place to pay full attention to their internal needs/state that is free from external evaluation. Any practices that helps Latinas to reach this state of embodiment is therefore also a radical act of resistance.
I really enjoyed listening to Professor Delgado speak to us about her childhood and experiences as young girl trying to navigate through familial pressures and societal gazes. A lot of the points she touched on resonated with me deeply because I feel that body image is something that many assume is specific to adolescence and puberty. The reality, though, is that body image is something that many women grapple with throughout their lives and it is often perpetuated and projected generationally as Professor Delgado mentioned in the lecture. Growing up in an all girls school, I realized that there were many ways of self-harming so others would notice. When the root of the issues were related to body image and disembodiment of young girls, the harm was commonly done by over exercising, under eating, binge eating, and dieting. This concern for how one’s body looked was deeply rooted in the culture. Especially because there was an all boys school associated with our school, disembodiment presented itself there as well in any of the collaborations our schools hosted. The girls would go out of their way wear shorter skirts, or unbutton their polo shirts a little more than usual. I think seeing this for so many years really normalized this behavior, so it was not until after high school that I was forced to reckon with the ways women alter themselves to fit in and appease this gaze that is consistently upon them.
Similarly, in the home, I think negative criticism of women’s bodies became extremely common, but the pain that accompanied was never to be shared or voiced. It was something to be felt and fixed. I think it is definitely important to allow young women and girls the space to voice this particular pain and these concerns, even when they may not recognize it as disembodiment in order to end this cycle of women feeling that they have to push their bodies to its limits to achieve a certain look that is not their own.
As a marketer and a person who wants to work with Social Media, especially in regards to women and beauty, the discussions in class led me to reflect upon the current scenario and how women deal with the pressures of the media and beauty standards imposed by the industry. One of the biggest trends right now is the BBL, or the Brazilian Butt Lift, which is a surgery to add volume to the backside and also taking fat out of the stomach area. This trend, first of all shouldn’t be a trend as plastic surgery is extremely invasive and could cause thousands of long-lasting medical issues, but also fetishizes the bodies of black women. Black women are known for having a curvier body, and that was not the beauty standard when TV and the internet was being popularized, as a matter of fact in the 1990s , the trend was “heroin chic,” a very skinny pale model, dark circles under the eyes and emaciated features. Imagine having to go from that ideal standard of beauty, to one that is the opposite of it. What are the lengths women are supposed to go through to achieve these standards? And why are women subjecting themselves to risky surgeries and months of recovery? Dr. Delgado’s piece has a strong argument about disembodiment through the male gaze, but with a focus on exercise and how that is able to connect one to the divine. So, if exercise is important to build strength/having a fit body and connect one with the divine, where does plastic surgery come in this case? One is going to achieve a slimmer body, but how does that affect their connection to the divine? Another reflection I had, especially because of the extremity of a plastic surgery, is how that is able to cause a permanent disembodiment, not only with yourself, but also with the community you belong, which often has physical characteristics.
Additionally, many of the current trends within beauty were things that I and a number of friends grew up being bullied about. Whether it is having bigger lips and fuller eyebrows of having “foxy eyes” (new terminology for the elongated eye shape seen majorly within the Asian and indigenous communities).