The Trauma and Resilience of Rebellious Bodies

Several months ago, I attended an incredibly informative and worthwhile certification to become a Trauma-Informed Fitness Professional.

The certification itself was wonderful, as it connected a lot of the work that I already do in regards to providing a safe space for my clients to move mindfully, safely, and with full bodily autonomy with the current understanding of how traumatic events impact the brain and the body… and, furthermore, how movement can be a catalyst for healing, especially when it is combined with therapeutic work with a trauma specialist.

But, to be honest, the certification itself isn’t going to be the focus of this post… instead, I want to write a bit about a conversation that I had with some friends the week before the certification.

The Questions That Need to Be Asked

I was hanging out in the backyard of two of my dear friends, who were kindly hosting a backyard gathering around their fire pit, complete with s’mores that were made with all of the traditional fixin’s… PLUS GIRL SCOUT COOKIES. This is an important side note: next summer, add a Girl Scout cookie of your choice in with your toasted marshmallow and chocolate bar squares for an extra-special treat.

But that’s not the point. The point is that this lovely social gathering was attending by folks who were PoC, queer, trans, and/or fat. Every single person there had a body that was visibly and proudly outside of the privileges granted by the dominant paradigm of 21st-century America.

And so it was that, when I mentioned the upcoming Trauma-Informed Fitness Professional certification, I was asked whether or not the facility and the material would be fat positive and trans positive… and, based on the information I had thus far, I answered that I didn’t know, but that if my experience in previous fitness-related certifications was any indication, it probably wouldn’t be.

(At this point, I can add that it was ultimately much better than most other fitness-related certifications I’ve attended. I wouldn’t give it the Fat Liberation Gold Star Award, but there was absolutely acknowledgement of the importance of body positivity for any healthy movement practice, as well as awareness of eating disorders and exercise addiction, neither of which typically are acknowledged in any significant way at such events. And in regards to trans positivity? It is not an exaggeration to state that the majority of the attendees were trans!)

The conversation then took an interesting turn, as one of my friends pointed out how important it is for all trauma-informed individuals to become informed about body liberation activism. This isn’t just because it’s a nice thing for everyone to know about… but it’s because to move through the world in a body that is visibly outside of the dominant  social contract is to expose oneself to trauma simply by existing. 

When Your Body Itself Is a Rebellion, There Will Be Those Who Try to Keep It Down

This is not an exaggeration. The social contract is designed to honor and cater to those who are thin, young, cisgender, white, and living without either physical disabilities and/or mental illnesses.

Those who do not fit into these categories often face severe, pervasive levels of discrimination and bullying and have decreased expectations of accessibility in regards to physical and social spaces. So much so, in fact, that it has a cumulative effect not unlike the criteria that can lead to C-PTSD: “Complex trauma is described by psychologist and trauma expert Dr. Christine Courtois as ‘a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly and cumulatively, usually over a period of time and within specific relationships and contexts.'” (Source: “Recognizing Complex Trauma: Educating ourselves on the after-effects of repetitive or cumulative trauma” by Lisa Firestone Ph.D.)

As Lindy West has pointed out, anti-fat campaigns are anti-people campaigns that ultimately only cause suffering.

The powerful and heart-wrenching final chapter of Fat-Talk Nation: The Human Costs of America’s War on Fat (a chapter titled “Social Justice and the End of the War on Fat”) directly calls out anti-fatness programs targeted towards children as a source of trauma that can last a lifetime: “The ethnographies suggest that children are particularly vulnerable because the emotional wounds from being labeled ‘fat’ at a tender age can last a lifetime. So much trauma accumulates around the fat person identity that… the fear of looking fat or of getting fat again haunts them.” The long-term effects of child-focused weight loss programs are horrific in their impact on both physical and mental health.

Collegiate programs such as the one offered by Mt. Holyoke as well as research and information being shared by organizations such as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network are finally recognizing the need to respond to the racial and cultural trauma that is experienced by BIPoC.

I know that many trans people (including myself) try to limit our time online on the Trans Day of Remembrance due to the relentless and triggering reminders of what being openly trans can mean.

One of my Deaf friends has acknowledged to me that she often preemptively assumes based upon countless past experiences that spaces and programs that could offer opportunities for personal and professional advancement will not be accessible spaces.

There are countless other examples of ways that people with bodies that fall outside of the social contract of 21st-century America are faced with barriers, traumas, and isolation… but I don’t want to dwell on that much further beyond making the point that we are moving through a world that is populated by survivors of countless traumas.

Through It All, Resilience and Action

What I want instead is to come back to two main points.

The first of these points is fairly quick: it is simply a reaffirmation that anyone who is doing trauma-informed work needs to be knowledgeable about activism in the realm of radical body liberation. These two areas of work are so much more profoundly intertwined than we typically acknowledge.

Or, to phrase it another way: our society will be the source and cause of widespread trauma until the structural social dynamics that preserve body hierarchy and social privilege based on race, size, gender, orientation, class, and ability are dismantled. This societal-level activism must occur concurrently with the process of individual-focused recovery in order for lasting healing to be achieved.

The second of these points is a combined expression of gratitude and call to action for all of the folks who have been impacted by racism, sexism, cissexism, heteronormativity, sizism, classism, and ableism.

I am grateful to us all for the ways we keep surviving—not in a patronizing, inspiration porn sort of way, but rather in a roar-of-great-resistance, refusal-to-be-silenced sort of way.

Not everyone who faces the slings and arrows of traumatic events ultimately develops PTSD or C-PTSD… but all of them are, nevertheless, survivors. All of them are people who are, one day at a time, one action at a time, choosing to manifest the strength that it takes to care for themselves in a world that doesn’t honor their worth.

And, as Audre Lorde has famously written, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” I am heartbroken that so many of us are engaged in the act of self-preservation, but so honored to do it alongside such wonderful and powerful people.

This is one significant reason why I do what I do.

I believe that the degree to which people who face oppression, discrimination, and prejudice honor their strength and health is profoundly important. When we consciously build ourselves up and make ourselves stronger, refusing to shame or devalue our bodies, we are committing acts of rebellion against a system that is invested in breaking us down. 

If you are interested in learning how I can help use movement as one of their tools for personal and political empowerment, please feel free to contact me… and don’t hesitate to leave any questions in the comments below!

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