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Davis, California

Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: Feed me!

Manolo Blahnik heels and a strappy black dress. What would your vagina wear? That red, fleshy, soft part of the female body – if it had a voice, what would it say in two words?

The Vagina Monologues have inspired me. Everything from orgasmic wonders to the horrors of Japan’s “comfort women” to female genital mutilation in Africa, each monologue evokes strong emotion. The Vagina Monologues are a part of the national V-Day movement. V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina; it seeks to educate the public about the reality of violence against women and raise funds to help local and national charities like the Imani Clinic and My Sister’s House.

The marks of abuse left on women who have experienced and who currently experience violence never fade. Women encounter gonorrhea, malaria, a piece of the vaginal lip falling off and the clitoris being cut off.

For these women the body has transformed into a machine-like tool used for male sexual pleasure and oppression of female sexual pleasure. The body is no longer something you can take care of, feed, take pleasure in or even look at. It becomes part of a statistic.

In America, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be a victim of sexual assault in their lifetime. What really boggles my mind is this next statistic: 15 percent of sexual assault and rape victims were under the age of 12 in 2004 in the U.S., according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

If there is one thing I remember from my high school self-defense classes it’s this: the victim is always a victim and is never at fault for what happens to him or her. Obviously the violence and sexual abuse of women in Japan during World War II and the children walking home from school was uncalled for.

There are a handful of women I know who have been sexually abused and/or raped. For the men out there who also have such experiences, fewer of them report or even talk it. The experience can be one isolated event or in some cases, in smaller doses but over a long period time. Either way, recovering from the physical and psychological trauma is a process.

Of course counseling, psychology and therapy are essential first steps to address such atrocities. For someone treading this path, body awareness and body image become central. Is it ever possible to re-gain that confidence and comfort in your body?

And these issues are not limited to victims of sexual violence, but those (male and female) that have had major surgeries, disabilities, limited mobility, eating disorders, etc. I always get really happy when I see someone in a wheelchair at the gym. That may sound weird, but to have the courage to wheel oneself into a testosterone-filled weight room, push oneself in and out of a wheelchair and lift weights – that takes balls. So, yes, I see you in your wheelchair. Hats off to you.

For others, staying healthy and in shape may be a distant goal. Some people are just trying to figure out how to accept their bodies again, or for the first time.

Bottom line, underlying all the fantastic forms of fitness out there, nothing really matters if you do not feel comfortable with your body. This week is a great time to begin that journey. The UC Davis Association of Body Image and Disordered Eating, ABIDE, is hosting Celebrate Your Body Week this week.

There are a bunch of free events, classes and workshops starting Tuesday. On Wednesday there is an event called “Rock What Your Momma Gave Ya” at 5:10 p.m. in the Student Health and Wellness Center, Conference Room 1. And of course, the favorite “Love Your Body Yoga” is on Friday at noon in the ARC dance studio.

Of course, peeling back the layers of suppressed memories and deep wounds take time. After both men and women experience violence, how the body heals is crucial. And talking about it is even more important.

Women at the Vagina Monologues talked about the love, anger, passion and resentment their vaginas feel. There was no emotion left unturned for these women. They addressed everything from rape, self-acceptance, forced sex, genital mutilation, orgasms, being lesbian and just being embarrassed about sex.

To me, that is kind of like the core of our body crying out for peace and acceptance. Ripe and ready flesh waiting to be heard, waiting to be fed.

MEGHA BHATT will be gettin’ her downward-facing-dog on this week at Celebrate Your Body. You might be able to reach her at mybhatt@ucdavis.edu.

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