4. Body, Movement, & Dance

“What do you do for fun?” (Seeking pleasure, finding joy)

The top highlights of my winter vacation stemmed from opportunities to witness changes that are bringing joy to the lives of people I love. A new romance, a new apartment, a new school, a new baby…

Their lives are also complicated. They too have been deeply affected by the dumpster fire year of 2017. They too were breathing in and breathing out and figuring out how to keep fighting for our lives in 2018. They too were dealing with loss and grief and stress and fear and rage.

And they have joy. They have access to that spark. And I got to see it, which made me genuinely happy.

At dinner with family friends one night over the break, I was talking about my research on sexual violence prevention and my involvement in fighting white supremacist fascism in Charlottesville.

“What you do to put your mind on something that’s not so heavy?” … asked a 30-something physician who had just been describing the bicycle-built-for-two that she and her fiancé ride around their California home.

My dad laughed sarcastically. “Aha,” he exclaimed. “That is the question.”

My mom visited me in June, just a few weeks after the May 13 Nazi flash-mob torch-rally downtown. “But what do you do for pleasure?” she kept asking. Apparently I never provided a satisfactory response.

Pleasure. Fun. Joy.

It wasn’t until tea with an activist co-conspirator on one of my last days in Boston that I was truly convinced of it all. First, as another dear co-conspirator pointed out to me, it’s just different to hear it from folks who are also structuring their lives around activism. The rhetoric of self-care can be so easily coopted to justify complacency. And I do not intend complacency.

More so, I just didn’t know how my brain would hold up upon return to Charlottesville. As a psychology researcher, I know that emotions are real things that are really happening in the brain and body. And not only do I need to give my brain a break, but I also need to give my body ways to build positive associations with this place that has been so structured by racist terrorism. Offering myself some positive associations will not and should not undo the grief, the rage, the reality. It will however help me live my life, and it will also make me more grounded as a community activist.

So, what brings me joy? The ocean, my friends, and dancing.

We are relatively landlocked here in Central Virginia, and when I connect with friends I want to have space to hold the heaviness of what we are all living through together. So I’m going to find a dance class. Starting with once a week, more often if I need to. I want a class that happens regularly that I can put into my schedule and plan around. Something for fun – I don’t want to be practicing towards a performance or anything with pressure. I just want to move and experiment and not take myself so seriously (for an hour).

For my body, for my brain, for myself, for my work. With hope.

What do you do for fun? What will bring you pleasure this year, how will you find joy?

4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Safe Space REMIX: Ground Rules for Dance Parties

In sex education, we use ground rules to build safe space during structured conversations. A lot of these safe space rules can be useful guidelines in everyday life, as well. In response to certain experiences from this past weekend, I’ve decided to remix these ground rules to apply to a specific situation in which groups of people come together to make themselves vulnerable: dance parties. What are some simple guidelines that we can use if we want to build a safe space in which to dance together for an evening?
Please tell me what you think, and add your own ideas to this list, in the comments.
1. Consent.
·      Check for enthusiastic consent before dancing with someone.
·      When someone says “no” to dancing with you, you say “okay, thanks.”
·      Note that consent is specific: Yes to dancing is a yes to dancing, not to anything else. You need to ask again if you want something else. And they may or may not say yes again.
2. Respect.
·      Respect other people: their bodies, their dance moves, their clothes, their choices…
·      Respect the physical space: help keep it clean, watch where you put your things, clean up after yourself…
3. Sharing space.
·      Step out of the center of the dance floor to give other people and other circles a chance to fill it.
·      Watch where you fall and flail so you don’t hurt other people.
·      Be aware of which spaces are getting too crowded, and where there is more space available.
4. Drink responsibly (or not at all).
·      Know that “I’m drunk” is no excuse for violating any of the other safe space guidelines.
·      Stop drinking before you get sloppy.
·      Or on second thought, maybe “no drinking” is another option.
5. Sex-positivity.
·      Enjoy the ways in which dancing connects you to your own body; respect the ways in which other people are enjoying their own bodies.
·      Limit (or avoid) explicitly sexual behavior, for example, dance-floor make-out sessions.
6. Confidentiality.
·      The dance floor is a communal space and is not for public display.
·      Ask for consent before taking or posting pictures.
·      Avoid gossiping about people’s dance-floor behaviors after the party is over.
7. Self-care.
·      Go where you need to be: Dance alone when it feels good; dance with a dance partner when it feels good; join a group when it feels good.
·      Ask for help when you need it.
·      Speak up if someone hurts you or makes you uncomfortable, even if you think it’s by accident.
8. Accountability.
·      Building safe space is an ongoing process; be open to feedback about your behavior.
·      Be sensitive to and aware of other people’s boundaries and comfort levels.
·      Avoid making assumptions about other people.
9. Love your DJ.
·      Show appreciation that the DJ is an artist bringing you a gift.
·      Do not touch the DJ’s equipment.
·      Make meaningful requests that you think your fellow dancers would enjoy, too.
10. Celebrate.
·      Make your body feel good; make yourself feel good.
·      Include everyone in the celebration.
·      Encourage everyone to express themselves through dance.
My hope is that these guidelines would help people create a space together in which they could all really let loose and personally get the most out of their dancing experience while also connecting with each other through the process of dancing.
These are just my ideas, and I’m just getting started. I look forward to getting your feedback and working through this draft to produce something that can really be useful in future dance party situations. Please tell me what works for you, what feels unreasonable, what seems off, what you think is missing, etc. 

4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Gendering our bodies: Crossed Legs, Makeup, and other Good Girl Poses

“When I talk about embodiment,” she said, “I ask everyone to raise their hands if they are crossing their legs. All the hands raised are from women. Why is that? Because girls and women are taught to keep their legs closed, not to open their legs.”

As I listened to my academic hero, Dr. Deborah Tolman, I immediately became conscious of my legs tightly crossed under the table. Crossed because I was nervous. Because I wanted to make a good impression, to behave appropriately, to focus. Crossed because, as she explained, I was taught that the way to make a good impression is to keep my legs shut.

Taught? Well, no one told me that directly, but these are the messages girls (like me) receive about how to behave properly, how to be a good girl, to be ladylike.

I often purposefully uncross my legs. But I find it hardest to uncross my legs at restaurants, like the one in which I had the pleasure of eating lunch with Dr. Tolman. Mostly I have trouble at restaurants because the chairs are generally a little too high for me to sit with my feet squarely on the ground, and I cross my legs because, well, partly because I’m leaning forward anyway, and partly because that posture is quite ingrained.

Ah, ingrained. Ingrained does not mean innate. Sometimes, things that now feel like they come from within us, really came initially from outside us. We take these messages that we learn growing up and the ideas become part of us, part of how we hold ourselves. That’s part of the new concept of embodiment that I’m exploring in my work at Tufts and in my conversation and correspondence with Dr. Tolman, paraphrased above.

The ways in which we hold ourselves and how we feel right inside our own bodies are drastically shaped by the social and cultural influences that impact us from day one.

And feeling “right” does not always mean feeling “good,” especially with regards to the ways in which girls and women, and how we are socialized to “be” in our own bodies. I find, with my own body, that while I impulsively cross my legs, that position often does not actually feel good. It causes my lower back to hurt a lot. My IT band tightens (and it tightens so much and so often that I know now which part of the body is called the IT band). And yet, I keep returning again and again to that position, to that crossing. Why is that?

I was shy at that lunch. Nervous, eager, listening. Would I have uncrossed my legs if I felt more brave? Or, conversely, if I had purposefully uncrossed my legs, would I have then felt more brave as a consequence? Would I have opened up, so to speak?

Honestly, on a day to day basis at this point, I generally uncross my legs in an attempt at better posture and reduced back pain. But there are other choices that I am currently exploring, in an attempt to actively influence my own experiences of embodiment.

One such area is makeup. A while back, a friend of mine shared an article that said that women who wear makeup are judged as more competent, and she asked me what I thought. My response was to decide to stop wearing makeup to the office. Not because I want to be judged as less competent, but rather because I wondered if the reason I wore makeup was that I, too, had received messages that women who wear makeup will be judged as more competent. To be honest, it feels weird on some days, and natural and easy on others, to show up at work without any makeup. I’m not committing to no makeup as a permanent lifestyle choice, but I am trying it for now. For this semester, let’s say. Because for me, knowing that I am not wearing makeup and still being able to feel present and competent really matters. I need to know for myself that I’m not dependent on a cultural standard of beauty with which I disagree. Please note, I have nothing against people who choose to wear makeup, and I often choose to wear makeup, I just need to get to the place where I feel that makeup is a choice rather than an obligation. Towards this end, I have undertaken this exploration of my own embodied experiences.

Perhaps, as a result of not wearing makeup, I am crossing my legs less often. Perhaps not.

4. Body, Movement, & Dance

All Dressed Up and Nowhere Safe to Party


Dear Eve,
I know what you mean. I know, and it breaks my heart. I know because I once studied, slept and partied on a college campus, and I know because I have read about other college campuses. I know that college can be a time of extreme empowerment and extreme disempowerment.
I know because this morning I got an email from my university with news that a sexual assault taking place in a fraternity house was reported this weekend.
The Golf Pros/ Tennis Hos party theme is clearly sexist and objectifying of women. However, when the fraternity advertises a party by saying, “Everyone makes mistakes, but not all mistakes are bad,” that is evidence of rape culture. That is part of a culture in which unwanted sex is actively expected of girls and then dismissed as a “mistake” and promoted as “good.”
I know that evidence of rape culture is ubiquitous on college campuses.
What I don’t know is how, why, and what can we do about it?
I apologize for my silence since you posted on my blog one month ago. Your post upset me and moved me from the moment I read it, and I have thought about you and your words regularly since then. i am sorry that I have been silent. We cannot be silent.
How did you feel when you saw the advertisement for that party? What do you think went through the minds of girls who had friends in that fraternity, who were looking forward to that party, who talked for hours with their friends about what tennis ho outfits they could wear, but who noticed their friends made no comments about whether or not mistakes would be made that night, and what makes a mistake good or bad, and how to choose for yourself what mistakes to make.
It’s hard to be a woman on a college campus these days. It’s hard to find sexual agency and to feel safe. I don’t feel we are safe when I see those posters. I don’t feel safe, and I don’t feel that any woman who attends that party is safe. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that woman should not attend those parties. Because we should dance and drink with the best of them, and make great friends and great memories. But we should be able to go to parties and still have our bodies and decisions respected…
we should, but that is not yet the case for most women at most parties.
Eve- what can I do for you and your friends? What can the health services staff and the women’s center staff and other people on campus who want to help you feel safe and help you access empowerment–what can they do for you? What can I do for the girls at fraternity parties at my own university, to help them?
Furthermore, what can we say to the frat boys who made those posters and hosted that party?
Thank you, Eve, for sharing. I encourage you to share more.
4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Body Positivity: What Does it Really Mean?

On my way to work yesterday, I was thinking about the meaning of sex-positivity.
To be sex-positive means to have an active sexual ethic that counters the dominant sex-negative, patriarchal, rape culture. In contrast, sex-positivity involves values such as knowledge, consent, agency, pleasure, and queerness.
As I thought about this conception of sex-positivity, I asked myself what, specifically, are the parallel values of body-positivity. What values do we want to promote in the place of body-negative, thin-obsessed, food-obsessed, fat phobia?
I realized that during my Body Positive Challenge (see past blog posts with this tag), I was doing something every day that felt like a positive step in caring for and enjoying my body. I knew I needed to do something active rather than just have a thought or feeling about it. However, now I’m thinking about it, and I’m looking for more of a theory, a conceptual goal for the process.
What are body-positive values? Can you name some? What knowledge, skills and attitudes to we need in order to effectively lead body-positive lives?
For years I proceeded with the goal of avoiding body-negativity by avoiding the topic of bodies. I clearly reversed that approach when I started the Body Positive Challenge! But now that I’ve entered the conversation, often I still don’t know quite what to say.
In sex-positivity I have found not only values, but a whole language that allows me to discuss the pleasures, pains and challenges of sex and sexuality. I’m yearning for an analogous—and overlapping, definitely—set of words and values to use to talk about both our own and others’ bodies: how we feel about them, how we think about them, and how we treat them.
I’m eager to hear your thoughts and suggestions, and I look forward to sharing more with you as I ponder this key realm of sexuality.
4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Blogging for International Women’s Day

Judith Butler wrote about the imperative to recognize all bodies as human. Today, for International Women’s Day and as a new installment of my body positive series, I write about the need to recognize all bodies as deserving.

What does “equal rights for all” mean to you? To me, having equal rights means deserving. To have a right to something means to deserve it without having to prove yourself or earn it or live up to some set standard.

Among other things, all people deserve pleasure. During the body positive challenge, I have discovered how important it is to find healthy ways to act on my body’s desire for pleasure. But I’m not always able to perceive myself as deserving of such pleasure, and neither are many people I know.

Often we use pleasure as a reward for children. As a teacher, I know it’s useful, and I’m guilty of this trap myself. Students earn candy, extra snacks, a party, or a chance to listen to music. We teach children that pleasure is a reward for hard work and success.

The media continues this lesson when it comes to gender or sexual dynamics. Men deserve pleasure if they’re rich, if they’re assertive, if they’re convincing. Women, well, women rarely deserve pleasure, but at the very least she must be thin and buxom if she wants a chance.

Equal rights for all means we all deserve pleasure, no matter how much money, weight, or homework we may have. The pursuit of equal rights for all means that we must empower each other to pursue pleasure. We must validate desire as important and informative. We must want and seek more, together.

To conclude, I return to my students — to adolescents. Instead of teaching them that pleasure is a reward doled out by others, how about teaching that pleasure is something they deserve to ask for?

Learning and teaching sexuality education has helped me connect to myself as a person among all people deserving of equal rights. Furthermore, I see sexuality education as a potential site for teaching adolescents to exercise agency — to identify how they feel and what they want, and to communicate their desires effectively. Such education includes learning to ask explicitly for consent and understanding that yes means yes and is just as valid a response as no, which means no.

In order to counter the ways in which the psychology of sexism and patriarchy prevent us from feeling deserving and accessing or equal rights, we need to turn to conversation and education amongst ourselves, with our neighbors, and especially with teenagers. Let’s empower the next generation to get theirs.

4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Week Seven: And On to the Next Stage

Sunday: had a conversation checking-in about physical boundaries
Monday: chose to stay in and continue to help my injury heal
Tuesday: ate a home-cooked lunch; felt it energize me at work
Wednesday: took a risk trying a new restaurant
Thursday: rolled out a yoga mat to lie on the floor in the office
Friday: lay down to sleep on the train without shame
Saturday: greeted and complemented new people without judging their appearance

I have now filled one poster on my wall with seven weeks of daily body positive acts, and I hereby pronounce the first stage of the body positive challenge to be complete!

Doing something different every day provided me with lots of ideas and allowed me to explore many facets of a body positive lifestyle. What I need next is not to do a different thing every day no but rather to do the same things every day, to learn a routine through which to honor my body. I need to feel more centered in my own life and in my own physical space.

Perhaps a future post will describe how these all fit together, but for now let me just list the gems of the seven-week experiment that was stage one, gems which I now hope to integrate into my daily life:

• get plenty of sleep
• enjoy moderate exercise
• meditate
• drink tea in the morning
• focus on fruits and vegetables
• wear the clothes I most enjoy
• dance

Since I still have many new body positive acts I would like to try, I will write about one new act per week, as well as how I’m doing with maintaining the seven daily processes above.

This part of the body positive challenge is about balance. I will focus on these behaviors to go to every day to remind myself of this commitment I am making to health and a positive, loving attitude towards my body.

What am I missing, and what would you add? What do you try to integrate on a daily or weekly basis to keep yourself feeling physically centered and confident? What suggestions do you have for me as I try to maintain rhythm and balance?

4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Week Six: Strength and Weakness

Sunday: took a walk to enjoy the outdoors
Monday: attended a Pilates class
Tuesday: chose to write in my journal instead of a trip to the gym
Wednesday: purchased new exercise sneakers
Thursday: wore comfortable, casual clothes to work
Friday: cared for my foot injury
Saturday: received a lower back massage from a friend

I want to get stronger. I want to build strength in my core muscles because I believe it will lessen my back pain and because I believe it is important to be strong. I’ve read several feminist books that encourage women to build up their physical strength as an expression of personal power and ability. Valuing our capacity for strength is a feminist move.

Valuing our capacity for weakness is a feminist move as well. Although excited by my return to yoga and Pilates classes, I had quite a busy week last week in which my eagerness to attend extra classes dissipated in my concern over getting things done and the raw fact that I felt I needed to put off exercise until the weekend.

Then, I woke up Friday morning as my right foot pounded in pain. I could barely walk, let alone exercise, and I had to cope with my body’s propensity for pain and inflammation as I figured out how to be body positive in this unexpected period of weakness.

Pause for a story about a person I dated briefly my sophomore year of college. This person said that he liked me for my strength: my independence, my confidence, my ability to take care of myself.

But I didn’t feel so strong all the time. I especially didn’t feel strong that spring as Take Back the Night approached, an event on my college campus which includes a speak out by survivors of sexual violence. I had been to the event the year before, and I anticipated a flood of so-called weak feelings including fear and vulnerability. I tried to picture what it would mean to let this guy who liked me for my strength see me in such weakness.

In looking at this tension between strength and weakness, I learned to see strength more as a skill set than as a state of being. The feelings of fear and vulnerability didn’t disprove my confidence and ability to care for myself. In fact, my ability to express those negative emotions and participate actively in a caring community came from that very place of strength that my dating partner so admired.

To bring it back to the topic at hand: physical strength would be great, but taking on the challenge of building physical strength will be most holistically effective and healthy if I simultaneously prioritize that other kind of strength, strength that comes from a body positive attitude, strength that comes from confidence and self-awareness, strength that comes from a balanced perspective.

I’m not there yet. I still have my weakness, and I’m trying to face that weakness in talking about it and writing about it. Holding that weakness, carrying it, accepting it is the process of training my emotional muscles. I want to get stronger.

4. Body, Movement, & Dance

Week Five: Getting Beyond my Body

Sunday: finished reading Locker Room Diaries by Leslie Goodman
Monday: granted myself permission to relax (watched Glee)
Tuesday: voted in favor of my reproductive health
Wednesday: actually got things done on my to-do list
Thursday: attended a yoga class
Friday: meditated
Saturday: went to my parents’ house for family dinner

Sometimes, it’s just not about the body. Sometimes, other things are just more important. In the past, I’ve taken those more important things as opportunities to use and abuse my body, such as not exercising, sleeping, or eating while as I completed a major project or other task.

But this week I tried to take a different approach. What if those more important things helped me mediate my various physical needs and find balance in my body? I took a step back and thought about why I am doing this challenge in the first place.

I have clearly taken on this challenge because I want to develop stronger positive feelings about my body. Having positive feelings about my body is important not just because I like feeling good about myself but also because feeling and being healthy helps me do the things that I care about, for example, teaching, blogging, developing relationships, etc.

That’s why staying in on Wednesday night to work on my to do list was a body positive act. I spent a couple hours sitting at my computer, celebrating the physical and creative energy I have and getting to spend that energy on what matters to me.

Do you ever find yourself misusing your body as you stress about other things? What helps you find perspective and balance between your body and other life tasks? What motivates you to be body positive?