Inside Anthea’s Head: bodies – What does it feel like to have a body?

This week I thought I’d involve you all in one of my ponder moments – it’s one I’ve already shared with those amongst you who follow my twitter feed. (Sidebar – you can see my twitter stream from the menu section on the blog or follow me @TCKFeminist). I’m currently being absolutely fascinated by how other people interact with their own bodies and whether this then has a knock on effect on how they interact with or feel comfortable interacting with other people’s bodies. I.e. whether or not a lack of strong attachment to one’s own body means that you were less likely to understand the importance of bodily autonomy and thus be comfortable with regulating other people’s bodies?

Bodily autonomy and bodily integrity are by and large used interchangeably to refer to the idea of having complete control over one’s body and total self-determination in terms of how it may or may not be used. It’s a concept that’s closely related to the idea of human dignity which underpins a lot of the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and it is clearly implicated in the right to live free from torture or inhuman treatment, the right to be free from the yoke of slavery, and the right to life. In terms of the women’s rights movement it forms a basic tenet that underpins the idea that women should be allowed to make their own choices when it comes to reproductive health.

My own full-blown (okay full-er blown) obsession with bodies all started this week. Monday started off with me feeling a bit…funny. I was having a mild case of dissociation that led to my body not feeling quite like my own. It made me realise that actually in my day-to-day living I felt very much in charge of, or in control of my own body, it very much so registered that it belonged to me and to no one else. It clearly fell within the scope of things I have dominium over. It was more than a working relationship or a partnership there was, to me, clear ownership. My body is mine. This translates to my taking exception to any and all control anyone attempts to exert over how I use my body, except where it may cause harm to others i.e. using my body to bite others. I used to like doing that a lot when I was a kid and was known to draw blood, but I digress.

Given how many arguments there are about the concept of bodily autonomy, I began to wonder whether other people have such fierce attachment to their bodies? Furthermore, if they do not feel attached to their bodies and as though they obviously own them, will this make it harder to process or to comprehend arguments that are based or rooted in bodily autonomy?

If you think about it, a lot of feminist arguments are rooted in the inter-related concepts of human dignity, bodily autonomy and self-determination. This means that if there are any hurdles or encumbrances experienced right at the basic level of attempting to explain any of these concepts, the arguments that use them as a foundation are likely to fall on deaf ears or seem particularly unconvincing. This is because the basic premise on which numerous complex arguments hinge has failed to be accepted. Furthermore, people often deal with abstracted concepts by inserting themselves into an issue to get more of a feel for it. They then use their own reactions to –insert tough issue here – and use it as the basis from which to extrapolate what the appropriate or ‘normal’ response should be. This is the sort of thing that leads to people attempting to dictate what sort of response you should have to people touching you and whether or not you have the right to be offended or hurt or to feel violated etc. The dynamics in play between individuals and their bodies clearly do matter somewhat. This has made me more determined than ever to understand bodies.

I haven’t yet come across any studies or articles that deal with how people experience their own bodies, probably because I don’t really know where to start looking. So far, I have Google on it. If anyone knows something that I should be reading on the topic then please do pass it along!


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