For more than six months I’ve been ingesting and digesting thoughts from many disparate sources, regarding shame, body image, addiction and fat stigma. Chewing and pondering these various bits of information and insight, sometimes semi-publicly on the blog and also in private writing, has helped me move toward shame reduction. At moments when I feel most ‘out of body’ (which is a hysterical turn of phrase when talking about body size), I feel ‘shame-less’ or shame free.
This reminds me of my desire to re-frame the words self-ish and self-less, which desperately need to have their connotations expanded. To be self-less is actually not always positive. It can mean not acknowledging or valuing the self. In fact, it can indicate blatantly negating the existence and value of self, as if others – people & things – are of greater importance, to the point where there is no room for self. Oh yes, there are positive meanings of self-less, but for women, I dare to say that being without self, as part of serving others, is far too common and self-destructive. Of course, destroying the self implies having a self and, to speak for my self, the insubstantial and mightily distorted sense of self with which I came of age didn’t require much effort to destruct. Addiction is a speedy tool of destruction.
Selfish, of course, has virtually nothing but a negative connotation. Greedy, not caring for others… It is thus a perfect word to use when accusing a woman of not taking sufficient care of others. In fact, any lapse in care taking, of spouse, children, parents, friends, colleagues, who-ever, is a spot-lit, glaring event. Over the course of centuries, patriarchy has inscribed the edict quite deeply, (like the Harry Potter character writing, scarring his own skin, as punishment), that females exist to service males.
This invisible writing, the tattoos of the established female role, has been diluted bit by bit, over the last century or so. And there were always exceptional women, (the exceptions) who were not, for whatever reason – and I would love to understand the hows and whys – fully oppressed by the code, the cultural norms. But for a woman to elevate self-care, even to the level of other-care is still a radical notion.
Mothers, particularly, speak of needing ‘me time’. It is a commodity, marketed now, of course. (I think of those intensely sexual television ads for chocolate, where a woman swoons while nibbling a small square of chocolate while in the background a man stirs & pours sensuous vats of molten chocolate…) ‘Me time’ for a woman is promoted as if it is something apart from ‘normal’ life. On the other hand, with the exception of ads showing men driving cars or drinking alcohol and watching sports (since cigarette ads have been banned for many years), one rarely sees males yearning for ‘me time’. They freely ‘indulge’ in these pastimes as a matter of course, every day.
It is the ‘norm’.
Okay, I went off on a bit of a tangent. I drifted into this diatribe on self-less and self-ish (behavior) due to their similarity to the expression shame-less. Another generally negative expression, with the implication that some wrong is being done and one ought to ‘be ashamed’ of the behavior. In fact, this connotation is not inaccurate for some situations. When I think of particularly obscene avarice or bigoted behavior, I wonder:
‘Do they have no shame?”
But this is a far cry from the shame of which I have been writing: the inlaid shame which hobbled me for so many years. I feel tremendous gratitude that I walk comparatively unencumbered today.