Getting My Body Back

As I step outside into the light, the sun’s rays trigger an intense physical memory. It is the summer of 2010, and I am on a warmly fragrant train headed toward Montpellier. Exhausted after touring the medieval fortress in Carcassonne, I slump into a rare empty seat, noticing that my partner, across the aisle and four rows ahead of me, has already fallen asleep. Smiling, I listen for the familiar sound of his snoring, but am distracted by the scent of wet dog mixed with unwashed scalp. A roughly dressed tattooed man and his placid canine have paused in the aisle beside me, evading the ticket-punching conductor. When the train unexpectedly comes to a complete stop, I turn to look out the window. Instead of a station, my eyes perceive a glowing expanse of French countryside filled with grape vines and poppies. To my amazement, two white horses suddenly cross the tracks a few feet from my car. I inhale sharply and hold my breath, as if my movements could startle them. Unperturbed by either the train or its contents, the wild, magnificent creatures toss their manes and slowly trot away. Over the intercom, a male voice hesitates as it apologetically explains that a delay has been ’caused by … horses.’ I now use this excuse whenever I am late for meetings. At the time, however, this unforgettable experience was imprinted on my body. Its sensory overload can be summoned by any number of smells and sounds. That is why, when I remembered les chevaux again last week, I knew that I was finally getting my body back.

It has been three full months since my figure competition, and I am just starting to be comfortable in my own skin as my body returns to some of its former patterns. I can now eat reasonable amounts of clean and not-so-clean food, feeling both satisfied and fortified afterwards. For most of the summer, my appetite control signals were haywire, indicating that I was hungry immediately after having eaten a large meal, or encouraging me to crave foods even as I was actually consuming them. Simultaneously intrigued and perturbed by these new developments, my body was like a foreign land. Not that it had ever really been knowable or known. Among other things, becoming a figure girl has taught me that the human body is unpredictable and always in flux. The notion of getting one’s body back—as if it had been temporarily stolen by kidnappers—is typically related to pregnancy and childbirth. Women like Jessica Alba describe the strenuous diet and exercise regimes they began mere weeks after having given birth, portraying pregnancy as a body-sublet gone awry; the unruly tenant has damaged the property and it now requires an extreme makeover. Women who fail to perform this corporeal housework are accused of ‘letting themselves go,’ sacrificing their bodies for children in a way that is first praised, and then punished by western culture. Despite this mythology of return, there is really no going back to the Garden of Eden, pre-fall from grace, pre-baby body. The body learns and the body remembers. After having had a rather different experience of labour, I can now lift heavier and grow bigger, but also realize that some things are beyond my control. For instance, I have recently got my period again, after having it go AWOL for over a year. I turned 44 this week—check out the birthday cake buffet recipes under menus/recipes!—but was more like a 12-year-old girl, bloating and craving carbs while wondering: what in the hell is going on? Oh yeah. That. Then wishing I had helped myself to a purse full of those free tampons so delightfully arranged at the fancy downtown gym where I took my personal training course. 

I am pretty sure that you want to hear more about feminine hygiene products. Luckily I am only too happy to deliver. Well that’s not quite true. I hesitated before writing about this subject, despite having already disclosed my encounters with rubber fetish wear, laser bit-zapping, and Lelo, my favourite vibrator. [Aside: I love the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode in which the bumbling lead character’s shaky car provides female passengers with ecstatic orgasms: ‘No man can compete with a machine, Larry!’] Back to the monthly visitor: I was concerned that certain male readers—oh how I treasure each and every one of you!—would not enjoy this topic. After all, one lady friend told me that her former boyfriend was nauseated by the mere sight of tampon wrappers, forcing her to hide the boxes. His fundamental disgust for the female body would be a deal breaker for me. Is that really the person you want to be having sex with? Obviously not. It’s bad enough hearing those two most dreaded words in bed: ‘My turn!’ Don’t get me wrong; I am not one of those goddess worshipping types, nattering on about ‘moon blood.’ I won’t go all Judy Chicago Red Flag on you. I might go all early modern though. Historically speaking, menstruation was understood as a necessary expulsion of corrupted blood, providing women with health benefits that men sadly lacked. The bodies of those poor guys had to resort to random nose bleeds or swollen hemorrhoids to achieve cleanliness. Suffice to say that the overwhelmingly negative connotations of les règles are modern. During a recent physical, I reluctantly told my spunky sensible-shoes doctor that I had not had a period in quite some time. ‘If I have already gone through menopause,’ I exclaimed  ‘it’s the bomb and I say bring it!’ ‘Oh no,’ she chuckled, ‘most of my athletic female patients no longer menstruate. Plus, you are only 44 and can probably squeeze out a few more eggs.’  Horrified by this news I cried out: ‘No, no more eggs!’ You see, I had been hoping to wear the glorious crown of sterility for the rest of my life. Alas, it was not to be.

It goes without saying that my thoughts quickly turned to the shifting historical relationship between fertility and sexual desire. In her fascinating analysis of seventeenth-century English pornography, historian Sarah Toulalan argues that sex was viewed as pleasurable only when conception could or actually did result. Toulalan’s research reveals a striking change of attitude because contemporary pornography typically features sexual bodies severed from their reproductive capacities. But maybe some traces of fertility veneration remain embedded in western culture? After all, several negative online newspaper comments about my figure body stated that I likely did not have enough fat to menstruate, while others criticized me for pursing a career rather than committing myself to childrearing. This group found my lack of maternal attributes to be hideously unnatural. It is still standard to associate womanliness with the possession of a fully functiong womb complete with hormonal instability. Cultural critic Pamela Moore contends that when the female bodybuilder flexes her rippling chest muscles, revealing taut skin and pulsing veins, she dispels this longstanding association of women’s bodies with mysterious interiority. There are no secrets to be uncovered here, so move it along folks. In contrast, the decision to reproduce is often associated with gender conformity and an acceptance of the status quo, an assumption that pisses off my feminist friends with children. Well, the fact is that I do refuse to reproduce, but I am simply doing the world a favour by limiting the spread of my gene pool. Consider it my gift to you.

Speaking of gifts, my birthday party this past Friday was lots of fun, reminding me of  how lucky I am to have such wonderful friends. PDDs bought me an apple pie from M and M meats. I did not bother to hump it. I did indulge in my favourite drink. I think Anchor Man has described it best: ‘I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly.’ How can this movie  get funnier every time I watch it? ‘Mr Burgundy, you have a massive erection. Oh, uh, it’s the pleats… the pleats in the pants. It’s an optical illusion. I was just about to take them back… to the pants store. Oh this is embarrassing. … Don’t pretend you’re not impressed.’ Well, you didn’t think I could write an entire post about lady days and not mention man parts, did you? No chance.

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About feministfiguregirl

I am a 51-year-old professor named Lianne McTavish who receives as much satisfaction from working out at the gym as from publishing my academic research. About eight years ago, I decided to combine my two primary identities (scholar/gym rat) to create "Feminist Figure Girl," a fictional character who both analyzes and participates in bodybuilding. I competed in my first figure show in June of 2011, and then wrote a book inspired by the process, published by SUNY Press in February 2015. In this blog I will write about and consider my ongoing research on the body, while regularly making fun of myself. I recommend that you start reading my first post from August 2010 (available on the home page), instead of backwards from the most recent one, in order to get the full FFG effect.

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