the socialization of stretching

Several weeks ago, I hurt my back. I had been experiencing some minor pain in one particular place in my back for most of the summer, but I just got out of the shower one day and was suddenly immobile.

The source is still mostly unknown. I suffered for a few days (aided by a leftover bottle of Vicodin) until I was rescued by a friend of mine who teaches pilates. She identified the reason for my pain as basically an unfortunate consequence of how I use my shoulders. I was hoping for something more specific. 

While I was at the pilates studio, my friend put my whole body, not just my back (it turns out it’s all connected), through a rigorous and weird series of exercises that involved balls large and small, a foam roller, and finally a contraption that looked like it belongs in a circus. Seriously, I laid on my back and put my legs on this swinging bar and then moved it back and forth.

At nearly every turn, my body kept saying, “This isn’t natural; I’m not supposed to move this way.” I was uncomfortable and self-conscious, but I was feeling muscles I didn’t know were there, muscles that exist beneath the muscles of my everyday life.

The whole thing only took an hour, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t feel nearly completely better when it was over.

Weeks later, I began wondering what is up with pilates? How does it work? Why do I feel better even though my body didn’t really like it?

And then, suddenly, I was all, “Oh my gosh. It’s just like gender.”

You see, gender isn’t biological. Girls aren’t born liking pink. Boys aren’t born being better at math. That stuff comes from culture, from socialization, from the ways we’re used to connecting genitalia to behavior, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

And that’s how this body movement thing works.

What feels natural for my body is just habit. It’s not from nature or biology. That means it can be undone. The business of undoing gender makes sense to me. The business of undoing poor movement habits comes less easily. I’m starting to realize it’s worthwhile, though, if for no other reason than to avoid mysterious back pain.

It’s all connected, guys. It’s all connected.