As Emily Bronte wrote, we are very thoroughly connected to our ‘clay’ – physical forms that make us and surround us and in particular, our own bodies. But so many girls struggle because we are told to disconnect.

From postmodern philosophy, to Christian theology, to the latest diet product being promoted on social media, so many of the messages we’re getting tell us that our bodies are constructed, lesser, and wrong.

For centuries, much of Western thought has been influenced by a particular moralistic twist on Greek philosophy… that is to say, St Paul made things difficult. According to the New International Version, in his letter to the Galatians (5.17) he wrote that, ‘the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh’. The possible translations of Paul’s Greek are disputed, but, ‘flesh’ has dominated English translations. This binary view of our ‘flesh’ as the devil on our shoulders, thwarting the efforts of our spirit, has shaped our view of morality. It is due to this that we so often see bodily impulses and even basic bodily functions as inferior to mental processes and efforts. We see this even in the simple daily phrases we still use, like “mind over matter”!

Then, with the rise of postmodern philosophy in academia and wider culture, the Western world has examined the ways in which we construct our perceptions of the physical. Certainly, the way many of us perceive our own bodies is constructed, formed by adverts for weight loss pills, shakes and lollipops and bearing little resemblance to how other people around us might see our bodies.

What remains, though, beneath all of this confusion of thought, is a physical body, an embodied experience. Regardless of our thoughts, we are yet to reach a stage where any human being doesn’t experience life from within their own body, whatever that may be like.

I’ve struggled all my adult life with body positivity and health. I’ve found that my experience is much like many other women’s. Research shows plainly that women’s pain is repeatedly dismissed, women’s health issues are under-researched and although in many countries women are more likely than men to talk to medical professionals, we are also more likely to be disbelieved. I and many other women have been made to question whether it’s “all in my head”, whether my own experience of living in my body is invalid.

This needs to change. More investment is needed for more research and more awareness is needed so that women and girls are not made to feel this way. We can only tackle this challenge if we discuss these issues, reconsider our thinking and value our connections with our ‘clay’.

The truth is: our bodies are powerful. Cultivating strong connections with our bodies can make us stronger – physically, mentally and politically.

-Sophie Small
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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