Egg Whites and Embodied Subjectivity

I think it’s probably fair to say that I think about my embodied subjectivity more than the average person. I was thinking about my embodied subjectivity the other day while sifting flour endlessly in the service of creating a lime pistachio angel food cake for my mom’s birthday. As the egg whites whipped in the KitchenAid, I pondered the challenge of moving body love discourse beyond the mirror image – and loving one’s body when it isn’t doing what it’s “supposed” to do – even when it looks like it is or should be.

Body image, you could argue, has become somewhat of a buzzword; many of us are concerned with how bodies are framed in society – objectified, denied access, confined to certain spaces, etc. A glance at Instagram or other social media sites reveals thousands of posts about body image, body positivity, body love. I know that I surround myself with a rare set of humans who consider these issues on a deep and systemic level, moving beyond the rhetoric of “just love yourself! Love your curves! But be sure to eat Special K!” brand of body positivity that co-opts the terms of a movement to sell products and peddles discontent in the name of fixing it.

I also know that it is easier to love my body than it is for some to love their bodies. I do not face the same kind of scrutiny that people in marginalized bodies do when I walk down the street. I hide behind my averageness, as averageness easily slides into “normalcy.” I’ve written about this ad nauseum, but it bears repeating. While owning my body privilege does not a) exempt me from experiencing its impact or b) solve anything, it’s still an important part of participating in the communities I participate in. Further, and as others have more convincingly argued, the body positivity – or fat acceptance – movement is not really my movement.

Sometimes when I give talks about eating disorder recovery, I cringe at the questions about how long it took me to love my body, because I fear that my “timeline” will impose a set of criteria. I also fear that my answer will perpetuate the idea that everyone in eating disorder recovery needs to be able to shout that they love their bodies from the rooftop, or that they somehow need to rise above the “average person’s” experience of body insecurity, body shame, or body struggles.

I get frustrated when talk of body love only touches the surface of the body, too. This is not a discussion of form versus function; I’m not saying “we need to focus on what our bodies can do, not just what they look like!” – after all, the function argument can easily veer into ableist territory by asking people to celebrate normative movement. Both an aesthetic body love (i.e., realizing that fat is beautiful) and functional body love (i.e., focusing on the joy of movement) can ignore the reality of loving a body that doesn’t always function the way we want it to. They can leave alone the question of: how do I love this rebellious instrument that aches, that breaks out, that stops moving as I am telling it to? How do I love this woman-body that’s not acting as I’m told a woman-body should? The theory behind body love is, of course, that all bodies are loveable, no matter what they do or look like. But in practice, the words often end up being hollow, accompanied as they so often are by images of normative, privileged bodies.

If you follow me on social media or know me in person, you probably know more about my hormones than regular friends know about each other. Hello, my name is Andrea, and I share my whole life online. Over the past 8 or so years I’ve struggled with extreme hormone fluctuations often resulting in lots of pain, nausea and other unpleasant symptoms. As a result of the out-of-control-ness of my body, I have often found myself fighting it. The more I fight it – like overworked dough – the more it resists me.

On my way home from Toronto (to deliver said cake) yesterday, I listened to a podcast that discussed body love in the context of chronic illness and PCOS. While I don’t have PCOS (my hormonal issues bear no name besides “I have no idea what’s wrong with you,” if you ask a doctor), the podcast really got me thinking. It made me think about whether I really enact body love, or whether I only love my body when it’s doing what I want. It made me consider how maybe the time I need to offer my body love the most is when it isn’t doing what I’m told it’s supposed to do.

I hesitate to co-opt this discourse either, as most of the time my body still abides by the ableist requirements set by society. I also wonder about the invisibility of hormonal issues, among other chronic conditions, and what it means to have a body that looks normative but rebels inwardly. As per usual, I have no solid answers, but it felt like a thought worth sharing, this working on my relationship with my body in times when it isn’t convenient. And while those who ate my cake might not be pleased to hear that my thoughts about my hormones infused the cake, it’s the truth. If only enacting this were as easy as making a lime glaze and sprinkling on some pistachios.

Lime Pistachio Angel Food Cake - recipe from Bon Appetit