RESOURCES: George Russell on gender and body image

My friend George Russell, an extraordinarily skilled chiropractor, bodyworker, and former dancer, recently wrote a blog post that I thought was so smart and thoughtful that I’d like to share it:

A good way to start that cultural revolution you’ve had on your bucket list ever since you bought the White Album, try starting with the body, your own and others’.

In our culture, women tend to think they’re too heavy, and men tend to think they’re not strong enough.  This tendency is physical as well as emotional.  My college dance professor Cheryl Cutler told me this 30 years ago and what’s amazing is that it’s as true now as then.

                 george blog pic

I taught “Alignment for Actors” for several years at NYU’s Atlantic Theater Company conservatory.  On the first day, I would have 16 freshman actors in front of me, 2/3 girls, 1/3 boys, dressed for movement.  The vast majority of the girls were dressed carefully, and moved in a way that was neat, self-aware, and used a small amount of personal space, like they were dancing in an airplane aisle.  An equal proportion of the boys could hardly tell what their bodies were doing, how they were shaped, or even what they were wearing, but they ate up space, spoke more than the girls, and moved boisterously and in front, like they themselves were the airplanes.  The girls were focused on how they were being seen.  The boys were focused on what they could do.  I found myself intrigued and concerned about how that would play out in their lives.  And I tried my best to make it a problem and project for them.

Now I turn my attention to you.  Let’s start with a couple of experiments.  First,

1.        Take off your clothes.
2.        Stand naked in front of the mirror.

What you tell yourself about your body may not surprise you (after all, you’ve been hearing it all your life), but it may surprise you (especially if you’re a man) to know how much what you think of yourself in private is culturally determined.  Are we having fun yet?  Great.  Then get dressed and come with me.

Go to a public place.  Observe a group of men and women you don’t know who are having a conversation.  See who takes more space, and who takes less.  See who is careful to smile and retreat in their shoulders or chest, and who pushes their body forward, dominating the conversation and the space with gesture and words.  See who ends statements with an inflection that sounds like a question.  When two people speak simultaneously, see who apologizes and yields the floor.  If a woman is interrupting, and/or speaking more than others, what do you think of her?  What are the habits and characteristics of the people you attracted to in the group?  Whom do you consider successful or likeable?

If any of these ideas sound right to you, keep your eye on them.  Track what you think, and it will change.

If these ideas don’t sound right to you, you’re probably not especially gender-normative.  This is neither good nor bad, but you might ask yourself how you got that way and how you feel about it.

You might think I’m saying that the way we hold our bodies, how we regard ourselves physically, and how bodies interact in public situations is political. But what I’m saying is actually far MORE radical than that. What our bodies are to us, and what our bodies do IS our politics.  The body enacts what we really believe about ourselves in relation to others, and those beliefs are different, and often opposite, to our “political beliefs.”

YIKES.  Let me know what you discover.

You can find out more about George and his work on his website here.

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