Our culture doesn’t make it easy to exist in a body that is othered. What I mean by ‘othered’ is a body that is seen to be outside of the norm, different from the dominant body, and/ or a body that is seen to be undesirable in some way.
An othered body could be stigmatised due to size, gender identity, sexuality, skin colour/ ethnicity, ability, age, other physical differences like height, scarring, injuries, hair (‘too much’ or ‘too little’ in the ‘wrong places’) and so on.
Why do we human beings do this? Young children notice differences and don’t like it. Is it innate or learned?
One of our primary needs is to belong. Without belonging, we die. This is hard wired into us. Bottom line: it’s about survival.
So who do we belong to?
In her book, The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor talks about ‘in-group out-group bias.’ This is a psychosocial phenomenon whereby people prefer those in their group (to which they were randomly assigned in the study) and then find reasons to justify not liking people from the other group 🤯😨! While this might blow you away, it makes sense if you remember that our brains are wired for our survival. If resources are unreliable, people outside of your group might be a threat to your own survival. In this way, the other can be seen as dangerous.
Add capitalism-run-amok into the mix and we have even more trouble.
Companies profit off our need to belong.
The message we’re given is: ‘buy this new shiny toy and you’ll belong.’ Or ‘look like this (by buying this new shiny product) so that you’ll belong.’ ‘Hang out with these sorts of cool people (and you’ll need to buy this or look like this) to belong.’
While our need to belong is innate, we are also conditioned and primed to prefer certain things through the industrial marketing complex.
People spend so much time, money, effort, energy and mental capacity trying to belong that they often lose connection with their authenticity.
They find they don’t really know who they are or what they like. They’ve spent so long thinking they need to be a certain thing or look a certain way or have certain things, that they’ve completely lost touch with their own interests, preferences and what lights them up.
Even those who DO actually fit the dominant beauty and body ideal are wracked with anxiety about how they look. This is because they see how people in othered bodies are treated and what they have to put up with. They don’t want to lose the social currency their body affords them – and are constantly on the lookout for how their body might be falling short.
This is hard for the human spirit: to be so disconnected, so alienated from our essential selves, so fearful of rejection. Everyone loses.
It seems to me we have a choice to make.
Either we fall over backwards trying to belong (and when is it ever enough – the goal posts are always shifting!), or we choose to be our authentic selves, risking not belonging – while also trusting that we DO belong.
Because we do. We belong to humanity. We belong to nature. There is room enough for everyone to be themselves. There is room for all the diversity that makes up the magic of this world.
In truth, we have to belong to ourselves first and foremost. And the route to self-belonging is self-acceptance. We cannot reject and belong at the same time.
Perhaps we don’t have to choose after all. Perhaps we can be both authentic and belong.
Imagine if the world made it easy for all bodies, in all shapes, sizes and manifestations to feel welcome, not just tolerated, WELCOME.
As Kelly Diels (feminist marketer) says, we are culture makers.
Every decision we make, every dollar or pound we spend, every word we utter is building the culture.
If what we want is a world in which everyone is welcomed, we have to start by welcoming our full selves.