Bodily autonomy can be defined as “having the control over whom or what uses their body, for what, and for how long” and “the right to self-governance over one’s own body without external influence”. This is a sensitive subject for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.
Last weekend I got my first tattoo (surprise mum!). This was my choice for my body. I have a lot of different reasons, why I got it, what it means, what it means to me, etc. I don’t have to explain any of them to anyone. I don’t have to justify something I chose to do. I will say this though: I know that it body modification can also be called “mutilation”. I chose to get this tattoo, I chose this mutilation. Three years ago in January I fell and smashed up my face. That was not my choice, that was because of my medical condition. That mutilation was certainly not me having control over my body. This tattoo was my choice.
Next: My appearance. I weigh more than I did last year at this time, but I have a lower body fat percentage. So I kind of look skinny, if you don’t look at my thighs. It is my choice in my life to be a runner. It is my choice to not lift weights and not have super toned arms. Over the years, I’ve heard from a fair number of people that I need to eat more or lift weights or that I’m too skinny (or, a long time ago, that I was too fat). That is both subjective and unfair. It is my choice to focus on cardiovascular activities and less on strength training. Being athletic does not mean that I need to be involved in everything “active”. Nor does it mean that I can’t choose to take a month off from any kind of serious training.
Lastly, it’s Christmas or whichever holiday you may choose to celebrate at this time of year. While I generally think this is a fabulous time of year, it’s also the time when we get together with people we either don’t know or don’t necessarily see regularly. It’s hours of eating, drinking, gift exchanges and awkward conversation. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s not. I get running advice from non-runners. I get asked why I don’t have kids yet. I get commentary on how much more I should be eating (see: above) or how much less I should be drinking. Hopefully I will hear most of this before I start drinking and thus can nod politely into my eggnog and keep my thoughts to myself.
The point about bodily autonomy and why I’m bringing this up around the holidays: People will inevitably ask about my medical condition. I am very open about it (see: this blog). Most people who bring it up are asking politely with genuine interest. However, there is always someone who is just being a killjoy and trying to ask about something that is none of their damn business. Sometimes the line is hard to tell. They might be someone I just met. They may be asking something that I don’t disclose. There are things that I do not discuss about my epilepsy and it is not their right to know. Even if I have a blog and talk about all sorts of things, no one can ask me any question and feel entitled to get an answer (and subsequently feel slighted if I don’t tell them). In my experience, the person asking an uncomfortable question usually follows up with uncomfortable advice. It goes nowhere positive.
This applies to everyone. Medical condition or not. Your body is your body. Your choices are your choices. You do not have to answer to anyone about the tattoo you got. You do not have to explain why you gained/lost weight. You do not have to explain why you aren’t having children or why you prefer running to sitting on the couch (or vice versa). You do not have to tell anyone about your medical condition that you don’t want to share. If you want to tell them, by all means, pour another mug of mulled cider and settle into it. Under no circumstances though, is anyone entitled to know about your personal business, the choices you make for yourself or when the last time was that you had a tonic-clonic seizure. If that individual chooses to feel slighted because you don’t want to share something with them (because you can share information with one person and not another person – again, choice), that’s their problem.
Your body is your body. Do not let anyone make you feel like you need to give them more than you are comfortable to give. You have the autonomy, the right, to make the decisions that are best for you and your body and you don’t have to justify that to anyone over a turkey dinner.
P.S. I did actually tell my mum about the tattoo before this blog entry. She just doesn’t know that it covers my whole torso and face (kidding… or am I?)