Bodies, a podcast about our physicality and what goes beyond

Every single day we are flooded with hundreds of podcasts and sometimes, it gets hard to choose. As I am interested in a diverse range of topics, from science to mythology, from fictional stories to politics and history, it is becoming increasingly hard for me to pick an interesting podcast. The fact that my time is quite limited to about 20 or 30 minutes every time I take my dog out for a walk narrows down the list of podcasts to those with medium-length episodes.

While browsing for podcasts related to anthropology and, more specifically to body image and the relationship humans have with their own bodies, I came across ‘Bodies’. What an eye-opening and excellent find! The podcast was created and hosted by Allison Behringer, who, marked by her own experience and connection to her body, decided to share her story and the accounts of various people who struggled with and inside their bodies.

Allison starts by recounting her case and shares with the audience her profound mental, emotional and physical reactions to escalatingly painful sexual acts. Whilst trying to research and figure out what exactly caused unbearable sex, her relationship with her boyfriend degraded and she discovered that gynecologists are poorly equipped to care for or to advise women in regards to their sexual lives. A sine qua non condition for engaging in sexual acts is pleasure. The question is, why weren’t some gynecologists able to address this simple and basic ailment that Allison was going through? One of the reasons why painful sexual experiences in women were not researched or deemed important enough is the fact that sexual pleasure was regarded and documented by male doctors, whose interest, in the past, has been on male pleasure.

In the end, Allison learnt that her painful sex life was actually caused by contraceptives, which thinned out the muscles and tissues at the entrance to the vagina. Surprinsingly enough, pain during sex was not on the list of side effects caused by contraceptives. Obviously, contraceptives were revolutionary in that they freed females from having sex as only a means of reproduction, but was it really so? Isn’t this a narrative created by the same men who researched and introduced these contraceptives on the marketplace? The idea was that women would be able to enjoy sex without the stress associated with the ‘pull-out method’ and that they could delve into the pleasure of the act without worrying about baring children. In spite of this apparent freedom research does show that contraceptives can cause painful sex for women. This bothersome side effect should be listed on the package leaflet of contraceptives and both women and men, starting with gynecologists, should deem women’s sexual health and pleasure as important for research, science and general knowledge as men’s sexuality.

Another savvy episode of “Bodies” narrated KalaLea’s tale, a young African-American woman who went through debilitating menstrual periods. Every time she was on her period she lost enormous quantities of blood and was torn by the excruciating pain. It disrupted her life and she was embarrassed by the stains and often by the pools of blood she literally left behind. She believed it was normal and her friends and family reinforced that. When she finally got diagnosed, she discovered that she had fibroma. She also found out that, statistically, fibroma is more common in black women. Why is it so? As it turns out, the amount of stress and insecurity that black women face in societies that were and still are dominated by white supremacy, can lead to higher chances of developing fibroma. Off topic, in one of my courses during my master in anthropology, I read an article that researched spontaneous abortions. It seems that the same stress, insecurity and distrust in a medical system where African-American people were never a priority, higher rates of spontaneous abortions occur in women of colour. 

Quite a few episodes of ‘Bodies’ tackle the relationship that women have with their bodies and that appeals to my feminist side. On the other side, there are plenty of episodes that talk about mixed groups of men and women, but also about individual men. The topics vary quite a lot, but each episode is unique and insightful. I have eagerly listened to stories about protecting communities of drug users from STDs and to the account of a man born without testicles and his confrontation with the societal definition of normality. Allison also presents aspects of the lives of people who were born with dwarfism and the business success of a transgender men and his personal search for suitable prosthetic penises.

I absolutely loved this podcast. I feel that it enriched me and it revealed medical facts and unique problems that people face daily in relationship to their own bodies. Even though some of us might not have these specific problems, we certainly encounter complex bodily issues in the course of our lives. This podcast is both a wake up call and a wise resource that points out to the actuality that the medical system or society at large might not be equipped to help us. We need to be resilient, listen to our bodies and find ways of changing the perspective we have of our own bodies.

Ashes, ashes…

Note to self: The more I age, the more I feel lost and unequipped to live in the world. When I was a kid I ran around and chased after butterflies. I used to be idealistic and I think that is what was exceptionally beautiful about myself and about the imaginary world in which I have lived for a considerable period of time.

The universe that I have been inhabiting for the past 5 years has completely vanished: a strong relationship, that in my mind was a future marriage, a possible career start, a country of my choice for settling down. All of a sudden, I found myself without a relationship, in a country I wanted to escape from and with no career. Where am I now? In my home country, Romania, a place I keep coming back to as a refuge, but maybe I should start considering it as part of the solution and as a possible key to moving on. I am lonely and alone because my spirit has been murdered. My inner child has forgotten how to feel happiness, enthusiasm, bursts of energy and passion. I feel vulnerable, dependent, immature, malfunctioning, unequiped to live in a world of adults, in a society that demands only reasonable acts and logical, smart decisions….In the past, I made choices by following my heart and I was deceived. I chose to bounce from domain to domain in my career and from study to study. It was a rewarding and an intellectually challenging experience, but one that delayed or entirely interfered with the evolution of my career. And while I pour my heart out as in a personal diary, I am trying to take a baby step to heal, because I am hurt.

I am 30 years old and up until this moment I felt like I have nothing, no job, no career, no relationship, no material possessions, no clue about my future path. I am still a child who doesn’t know, where and when, her most valuable posession, her spirit, has been lost…and more importantly I don’t know how to listen to myself, how to recover from the pile of ashes I have become.

As the nursery song ‘Ring around the rosie’ might actually come from the terrible period of the Black Death in London in 1665, I also feel like me and all my possible selves, might all fall down. Apparently, this soft-sounding nursery song should calm babies and put them to sleep. On the surface, I have a shred of hope or belief that I might fall asleep peacefully when listening to ‘Ring around the rosie’, but deep down, the dark undertones of the song comfort my extinguished soul…I see myself in the ashes, in the darkness, in the fog, reaching out for other miserable souls…misery loves company, after all.

The fault in our relationships

Today’s topic of reflection is relationships. Relationships are basic components of our lives as highly social beings. Probably most of us are part of several relationships at the same time, but it can often be hard to glimpse behind their thick layers. Frequently, relationships are extremely complex and can easily become a source of great pain. I was wondering how people unconsciously cross this invisible bridge between happiness and the point where their relationships are mostly filled with heavy feelings of sadness, anger, frustration and shame. Any kind of relationship, either with family members, friends or with a partner can, at any given moment in life, seem like an inescapable labyrinth that weighs down on you. You can, all of a sudden, find yourself in a relationship that seems absolutely broken, in a lonely place where the person who used to bring the most joy to you is now floating on the parallel bank of the same river. If in the past you used to walk hand in hand, in the same direction, reaching for the same goals, now you feel alone and misunderstood. Or worse still, you feel like you are not being cared for or listened to attentively. It is a strange situation dominated by feelings of isolation and disconnection even though you might be sitting right next to other people. At this point, any attempt at communication is a complete failure because you and the other person in the relationship are on different frequencies. It is almost like you both want to transmit a message and receive a message and you do your best to put together a concise message that can communicate your feelings. However, you fail because you are using distinct communication mediums. Say, it is similar to one using a phone and the other using an email. It ends in a connection error.

I started to brood over relationships after watching a few Romanian short films (available on http://www.cinepub.ro with English subtitles, if you are interested). These shorts portrayed exactly a tangled spiderweb of painful and damaged relationships that suddenly explode and discharge cruel words and agonizing sounds. We can all agree that this type of extreme communication is damaging, but once in a while it sweeps over us, almost like a cold taking us by surprise each autumn. Sometimes, humans reach their limits and they need to release all the anger, the frustration, the anxiety, the shame, the bitterness, the despair, the jealousy, all the feelings that have been piling up inside of them. When we arrive at the point of utter fragility and desperation, our relationships become so dramatic that the tiniest of things can set us on fire. It is not about what has been said or what has been done, it is just the last blow, the icing on the cake or a mere raindrop added to a violent inner storm.

Dramatic portrayals of characters and relationships in the short films: a woman choosing solitude over attending a New Year’s Eve party because her friends invited her in the last moment and she felt betrayed (ask: what are your expectations of a friendship?; what is your conception of friendship?); a couple blaming each other for tiny mistakes or sudden actions during tense external occurrences; siblings fighting because of an unequal distribution of responsibilities in the family; an overprotective father and his daughter keeping secrets and fighting for her freedom; disagreements and shouts between spouses on how to treat their child; a man expressing his anger over the fact that he feels unsupported by his wife, daughter, brother and parents; a woman being ignored by a husband who is so taken with reading a newspaper and feeling invisible in her own house , etc. All these intense portrayals of relationships and the feelings that arise inside them illustrate examples of thwarted communication. We could argue that they are intensified or dramatized in order to create more artistic films. However, I suspect that the shorts can have such a strong impact on the viewers exactly because they feel so real. I can identify the intricate details inside my own relationships and in the relationships of people that surround me. The ultimate feeling that arguments, fights and miscommunication bring to an individual is that of isolation. Imagine being in a dark cave, completely alone! You are withdrawn from the world at that moment. It is as if your partner, friend or family member is not concerned with your feelings at all. You feel as if no one listens to you, or rather that they appear to be listening, but your words do not reach them.

Each of us have been, are or will be at some point in a situation where the way we communicate is not functional anymore. Our desires, needs, wants, goals, feelings and thoughts dissipate in the air and the person near to us seems so distant, so removed from ourselves. Maybe communication is not the problem, but rather our connection. The fact is that maybe we need more time to look within ourselves to find solutions, to listen more attentively to our feelings  instead of looking to the other person for solutions and advice. In a way, we are very self-absorbed and everything is about we, we, we…how we feel, how we suffer, how overwhelming the feeling of loneliness is, how bad was our day, our week, our entire year. Maybe it is better to start taking small steps for improving the connection in the relationship by doing pleasurable things together and by actively listening to the other. I believe that we have, in general, become so selfish that we don’t really know how to actively listen to people with an open mind and heart. We listen in order to reply and to advance our points of view. Let’s direct our attention towards our inner selves! Let’s listen and understand more!Let’s identify our painful feelings at the incipient stages and express them in a thoughtful and loving way! Let’s try to deal effectively with the fault in our relationships!