Saturday, March 04, 2006

bodies that speak different languages

My lower back hurts today - and I am sunburned. Today was my daughter's fourth birthday and we had her party - Luca's party - at a friend's sitio. That means little piece of land with a house upon it. Except this one doesn't really have a house but instead just a pool and a wide open covered only for shade kitchen kind of place with a bathroom and shower. In other words, this friend is wealthy and this is their third property. The closets and storage spaces are elsewhere.

The fact that my lower back hurts is, according to one of my teacher's, based on the fact of being an American feeeeeemale. It's because I walk all sway-backed. Not as extreme as a toddler, with their rounded belly and concave backs, but the American version of it. In other words, as a woman growing up in the States, I learned to emphasize my boobs and butt with special emphasis on the boob part. Even though all these years later, I don't walk for display as much as I did in my 20s and yes, early 30s, my body and in particular my spine formed around this cultural girl self.

When this teacher - who is an exercize/physical therapist person who comes to the building where I live once a week to do stretching classes with all of us middle aged mamas - works on my body, she is always surprised. "But look how much you bend here, " she says, as my thighs end up around my ears and my hips hinge back and forth like a swinging door. "And what is wrong here, why won't you move? Brazilian women always move here," when my lower back and hips won't swivel fully and my hips, while hinging back and forth, are frozen against making any grown up sized circles.

She believes that the United States fucks up women's lumbar region and that's why we always hurt "down there." Brazilian women, she says, don't have lots of lower back pains. They get it at the top, in their shoulders where they stoop. This teacher, her name is Leslie and I adore her, used to live in Japan. She did this same work in Japan for years before coming back to Brazil. In Japan, she says, because women (and men) sit on the floor so much rather than sitting unnaturally upright in tables and chairs, Japanese women have the kind of cores that only Pilates can give you. "They hold themselves up, all the time. They don't let the chairs do it for them. Japanese women rarely have back pain. They have other problems."

Don't even get her started on American men's and Japanese men's bodies versus Brazilian men's. She's pretty clear that Brazilian men are miles ahead. "They are allowed to move their hips without anyone thinking they're gay. American and Japanese men have to walk as though their penis is the only mobile part of their bodies between their torsos and their toes."

Since meeting Leslie, I spend much of my time walking around, trying to get my scapula to kiss in the middle of my back, my butt to tuck in a way that makes my spine longer, my belly to be fierce and tight and my breasts to just sit there in their quiet pacifist way.


Kristin said...

Does this mean we should all learn how to Samba?
Good Blog.

Jeffrey said...

From an email to Susan she suggested I bloggicize...

...I noticed here some time ago that I have been walking fairly stiffly, even though it wasn't a particularly high-stress time, even though I am exercising, etc., and because it wasn't attributable to any of the typical things that make me walk stiffly, I realized I was walking a bit like Germans do, in particular like German men. I used to have a klein bisschen of a swagger (I mean a hip-and-shoulders-communicating-with-one-another, I'm-just-a-wee-bit-dangerous-but-wouldn't-you-rather-fuck-me swagger, not a I-just-kicked-some-guys-ass, do-you-wanna-fight swagger) in the States, not a lot, just enough of one to be swagger-esque. German men do not swagger. They do not call attention to their bodies or physicality/strength unless they really do want to fight, and please right now (The skinheads are the only ones here that really swagger. You could write a whole book on that, I am sure.). Again, if I haven't mentioned, Germany is a very difficult country to be an immigrant in (myself not generally included.).

And now I am obviously becoming one (a German male). Swell. As I result, I have been re-visiting the thoughts I had on German masculinity when I first got here (Which wasn't much because I was totally perplexed about German masculinity.) and wondering what I have to do to define myself as different from that, but within a German context. Do you know what I mean?

I think on some level I am finally realizing that there is indeed a German macho. It was more difficult for me to recognize, because unlike the US (my US, whatever) it is not connected to (a) imminent, physical violence, (b) loud, in-your-face ego-showmanship or (c) overtly and/or aggressively focusing on women. Taken out of my concept of macho, well, this didn't leave me with much to go on to size-up Germans. I just wanted to hug everyone for being here, you know? But I have had a few revelations recently (Much like realizing that my own class was different from that of most Macalester students.) where I realized that many of these unassuming, courteous gentlemen were still pricks, but in their own unassuming (or was it un-accountable?), courteous way. So I am trying to figure this stuff out, and who I need to be here, so that I can continue to be myself, or more of myself, or whatever...

Susan Raffo said...

i love my brother. doesn't he rock?

Kristin said...

Your brother rocks. I concur.