Unitarian Universalist Hysterical Society
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Bodies belong to those who are in them

Dear new guy in aerobics class,

I see you way at the back, cheeks red with humiliation, occasionally wincing into the mirror when you catch sight of yourself. Trying desperately to follow the perfectly synchronized flailing of limbs that is the rest of the class.

Remember, it took us YEARS to learn these steps.

Keep coming. You belong here. Your body doesn’t know if you moved “right”, it just knows that you moved. If you are sweating, you win.  

And the self consciousness? It makes you one of us.

The woman second from the right who looks like an olympian has JUST learned to go without the leg warmers she hates but still wore year round. She feels that her ankles are “not her best feature”. The woman who punches her fist into the air with confident joy as her underarms ripple like a pond on a windy day used to arrive to class in a scooter and for the first six months, the arm movements were all she could do. She belongs here, now. And she belonged here when she was in the scooter, too. The woman way on the right who jumps super high on the kicks is doing that because she is so excited to be able do it. She’s finally decided that, kegels and coolness be damned, she was going to wear those liners that catch the dribbles that started to happen after her third kid’s birth. The immigrant women in the third row who is moving her hips in those exuberant graceful circles used to self consciously try to imitate the tidier, jerkier movements of the white women with the flat butts. Now, she’s gonna dance like she did at home. The way her body loves to dance. 

You belong here, flailing in wild confusion and trying to figure out how to make manly jazz hands and working through the bullshit you were taught about “sissies”. You belong here because decisions about what you do with your body—whether they involve cheeseburgers or leotards, are YOUR DAMN DECISIONS to make. Your body cannot fail to qualify you to occupy space. Qualifying is not what bodies are for. Living is what bodies are for.

It took us years to learn these steps.

Sharing space is not easy. Sharing space while flailing about and trying to get stronger is even harder. We have made the mistake of eating beans before yoga class, and jazz hands-ed each other in the eye in step class, and upper cutted ourselves in the jaw in boxercise.

We looked down our noses at each other in grade seven, and shared diet pills and puking tips in college. We said shitty things to each other, on purpose and by accident. We learned to live outside our bodies and encouraged others to do the same.  

And then we reclaimed ground, slowly. We learned to be kind to one another and ourselves. Not girly flowery kind, either. Kind like warriors. 

Step forward, forward, back, step touch jazz hands. Back, down, and then up again. Bodies belong to the people who inhabit them. 

It took us years to learn these steps.  

And now, we owe nobody an apology, we will dance with wild abandon. We will move our bodies in whatever jiggly or stiff or sloppy way feels like joy and strength to us. And if you want to do manly jazz hands or girly jazz hands or no jazz hands at all, rock on. You belong with us.

We welcome you into our sisterhood. Our “sister/brotherhood”. Our "people-hood". Our “humans-with-beating-hearts-that-want-to-beat-stronger-hood”.

It took us years to learn these steps.

By Liz James. You’re welcome to use this for anything, with or without modification, ideally crediting and linking back to original work.

Liz James