by Sophia de Mello Breyner
Body serenely built
For a life that afterwards wrecks itself
In rage and disappointment turned
Against the total pureness of your shoulders.
If only I could hold you in the mirror
Absent and mute to all other companions
Keep the bright knot of your knees
That shatter through the glass of mirrors.
If only I could keep you in those afternoons
That drew the line of your flanks
The grateful air enclosed.
Brilliant body of vivid nudity
Built by recurring waves
Into a temple resting on its columns.
We've started a new unit on this Portuguese poet, Sophia de Mello Breyner, for my Modern European Women Writer's Class. We haven't met with the professor yet, so I don't actually know anything about this woman except that she lived in and was influenced by Greece and Portugal. I've read about 40 of her poems so far. But this is the one that's stuck with me.
"Body serenely built, for a life that afterwards wrecks itself." "If only I could hold you in the mirror, absent and mute to all other companions."
It's sad that a thing so precious as our bodies has become so objectified, that even we ourselves dislike it. The topic of body image has weighed (so ironically) and so heavily on my mind the last year and a half. I worked so hard to lose so much weight (90 lbs, that's like a middle schooler). But with the surgeries and steroids, the crutches and careful walking, I gained some of it back. And while I try to be grateful for my hip, it doesn't change the fact that I hate the new curves in my body, borne of days when it hurt too much to walk. This softness isn't something I want. So instead I make rules about hours when I can eat and when I can't eat. And later get so angry at myself when I break those rules. And I just miss the days when I did yoga just because it made my spirit feel good. The other day, I looked into a full-length mirror on campus, and I thought to myself, "Really Rebekah? Who were you trying to kid with this outfit? You are not skinny enough to pull this off."
This kills me because I know my attitude is not an isolated thing. A friend once told me that a reason her boyfriend broke up with her was because it always bothered him how uncomfortable she was with her body. We both kind of chuckled in that moment because, has he ever met any girls? Seriously? I don't think I've ever met any woman that's entirely comfortable with her body.
It's Domestic Violence Awareness month. So I've been studying the topic in a few of my classes. I learned that rape was declared a weapon of war by the UN in 2008, that there's this thing called secondary victimization. I've been listening to TED talks and reading blogs about how to stop violence against women, about how it starts with the way we educate men, about how we change our attitudes as bystanders. We talk about gender roles and resources available. It's an overwhelming topic for someone who's never truly given it much thought.
But I'd like to add my voice to the dialogue. Just one idea, only to be added to all the others, about how we can end this. Before we can stop others from committing violent acts against us, we have to stop committing violent acts against ourselves. The slashing of the thighs here, the cutting of the stomach there, the pinching, the poking, the mental and emotional abuse; it has to stop with us. Believe me, I know a simple declaration won't make things different, but what I really believe is this:
We have to stop fighting our bodies before we can begin fighting for our bodies.
And I think that statement alone is a good enough place for me to start.