What does it mean to live downstream?

Hey! Check out some work from the woman that inspired the title of this blog: livingdownstream.com/essays

If you’re more into videos, this is the trailer for the movie that is coming out based on her story.  I just think that this is really important to be aware of.  Before hearing about the Sandra Steingraber and people with stories like hers, I hadn’t even stopped to wonder: what if it’s not just genetics and personal decisions that determine one’s health?

Of course, we are aware of “the environment” having an impact on our health.  Yet, to really start wondering about how intentional the creation of our environment is, or what kind of policies dictate what can and cannot enter our bodies through the environment, is really potent.  Reading about her helped me to start asking these questions.

Even if the connections she is making are not true in our own lives, it’s still so important to ask them in the first place.  This connects quite well with why this blog is called Duty to Inquire.  Whether or not the problem exists because of this thing or that thing, we all have a duty to inquire, especially when not everyone has the resources, the education, and ultimately the privilege to ask the questions I am asking now.


Beauty is in the eye of…

Last Monday the first year students from my college put on an open house showcasing the work they did for their writing class this semester.  I was especially drawn to this one woman’s project whose main focus seemed to be body image.  At the top of a huge canvas was written the question “When was the last time someone told you that were beautiful and you believed it?”  In front of this blank canvas were a series of images.  Each one was a photo of a young woman, stark naked all but for her underwear.  The picture was taken from her neck to her upper knees.  As a side thought, remembering the images, I believe they were all pretty young looking and mostly Caucasian and only one woman was what some might consider “fat” or “obese.”

Anyhow, above each image there was a set of questions and answers I took to be answered by the women portrayed below in the photographs.  They looked a little like this image except the photographs went on down further to show what the women’s breasts, stomachs, etc.

The project reminded me somewhat of this post I read a while ago in the society pages.  These projects also seemed related to this idea of exposing the bodies of normal women.  Warning, the links contain images of naked people.  End warning.

Honestly, it was kind of enlightening.  Rarely do we get to see images of real women naked.  In my own experience, the only times this has happened was fleetingly in the college gym locker rooms, a spattering of times throughout my life with close friends, and most recently in blog posts and articles I’ve stumbled on as I’ve been learning about this whole external internal environment idea and our relationship with our bodies.

As I was looking at these pictures, I found I was rather disappointed in myself.  At each curve, dimple, or fold, I kept thinking how funny they looked, at least in comparison to the sleek images I’d seen plastered across billboards or tv screens barely hidden beneath tiny bits of cloth.  I was also wondering if my own tummy would match up to these more normal women.  How did my hips or breasts compare?  I couldn’t help but bring my own body into question (as I have done consciously or subconsciously  in the face skinny women ads).  I have been taught to think of certain traits and body builds as “beautiful.”  Thinking back, it seems so backward that I should even ask these things given the exposed setting and the provocative message.

At the same time, I was also thinking that the women in these pictures didn’t seem all that pretty from the onset.  I was struck with how normal these women must be, but I also had to reckon with the forces in my head telling me that these women needed some kind of diet, lotion, exercise, or lift.  And then wondered about a possible progression.  If the images in this woman’s project are what normal women look like, and somehow we’ve managed to make these “real” woman into something not beautiful, then what happens after the body is indeed real and goes on to develop a disease of some sort?  I would think that a body we learn to despise from our earliest social education then becomes something that much more atrocious, something fatal, ugly, and atrocious.

When I start thinking about this idea of beautiful and then I think of what “natural” is  when it comes to the body.  Beautiful and natural would seem to ideally have some kind of overlap, yet a natural body is often more what the normal women looked like before dieting, make-up, and Photoshop.

So, when was the last time someone told you that you were beautiful and you believed them?

Einstein & our delusion of consciousness


In a section of Grace Lee Boggs‘ book The Next American Revolution, Boggs quotes Einstein as she explains why now is the time to grow our souls

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest–a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”

Beyond this simply being a very powerful statement for me personally (as a vegetarian and pending pacifistic), I’m also curious as to how it relates to people’s relationships with each other or even with themselves.  Can we live our lives in a bubble, believing that our own actions only affect ourselves a select few?

When it comes to our own bodies there are so many images out there telling us how we can save our bodies.  Eat dark chocolate and fish and drink wine to live longer.  Eat flax seeds, have children early, and avoid alcohol to prevent breast cancer.  The list goes on…

As I read about all these things that could save my life, I get really excited about what I should go out and buy during my next grocery trip or what sorts of New Years resolutions I should come up with to implement a new exercise regimen or diet into my already busy lifestyle.  But I want to take a step back and ask, are these things that I decide the only influences on my body?  Of course choosing a healthy lifestyle and taking charge of my body by being more aware of what goes in and how I treat it are very important, but what about how I connect with the rest of my external environment?  If I am in fact a “part of the whole,” there must be more to my body than me.

What is natural?

People are fascinating.  I think that the way we act, react, and interact are all part of a huge puzzle that I’m slowly unraveling.  Yet every time I fit a piece into the bigger picture, another dozen pieces seem to magically appear.  Or…the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.

I’m hoping to begin my exploration into the world of blogging with some thoughts on the environment.  Not your typical understanding of the word “environment” but rather what I’m thinking of could be labeled as an “internal environment”: our bodies.

What is a natural body?
How do intersections of nature and culture define this concept?
Where does the biological body and cultural understanding intersect?  More simply put, I want to know how the things we learn (anywhere from first-grade classrooms to facebook wall posts) influence how we understand our bodies and why.

I would like to bring to light some of the social perceptions that inform our understanding of instances in which bodies become “unnatural” especially pertaining to cancer.  One way to learn more about this is to recognize the importance of people’s individual voices.  Anyone can engage in the conversation at hand.   This being one reason it would be great if you offered your stories, insight, and thoughts.

What do these pictures tell you?  What’s natural about our bodies?  Are there instances in which a body is unnatural?  When?

I think that it is important to consider both the external and the internal environment.  Where does my body end and the outside world begin?  And how do the things that happen “out there” influence what happens “in here”?  There are some great individuals out there that have looked at both of these environments such as Rachel CarsonSandra Steingraber, and Jim Tarter.  These people speak about the environment and its influences on people, bringing home this idea that our environment is the space in which we live work and play.  Nature, as part of that environment, doesn’t have to remain confined to pristine lakes, mountaintops, and national forests (see images below).  Nature can be the community garden down the street, the flower in that girl’s hair, or the Christmas tree in my living room.  How far can we push this idea of nature and natural?

When I google “nature” the first three image results are:

Or could nature be:

Being a woman and perceiving that women’s bodies are often under much more scrutiny than men’s, I find the subject of natural bodies much more relevant for women.  Back to the internal/external environment, by looking at how we, especially us women, view our environment, we might be able to learn more about how we view ourselves.  Is this crazy talk?  Or are there indeed connections between our external world and our internal world?  If your city is full of air pollution, fast food restaurants, and concrete landscapes, does that influence how you see your body or how you treat your body?  Does the local community park or farmers market influence how you treat your body?  And if you don’t have any of those, would it?

Feel free to share your two cents on what you feel/think/know related to all this!