Sexual, Sensual, and Natural
Generational and Individual Traumas Complicate My Relationship with My Body
Like many of my thoughts, the idea of “sexual, sensual, and natural” dawned on me during my morning yoga session at home. Having a yoga video in the background, while moving or not moving my body, my brain often gets filled with thoughts. I call it a symptom of anxiety, but often it serves as a well of ideas for my future creations.
Although I wanted to talk about my body in a sexual, sensual, and natural way, I was not sure of what each of these words meant to me. I quickly opened a tab and delved into Oxford Learners Dictionary and Urban Dictionary but decided to close them. I thought I should come up with my own definitions rather than use ones from scholars or dedicated strangers on the internet.
sexual: related to a desire for making love with myself or other people; feelings tingle along the skin of my body; whirling swamp of ecstasy caused by visualizing attractive faces and bodies; focused on how the body feels instead of how it looks; a flow of hot blood throughout the torso
sensual: caring for each emotion that arises; paying attention to slight or strong sensations against my skin; noticing sounds, smells, temperature, and movement; opening up or closing in based on the amount of surrounding light
natural: looking at and moving my body about without any judgment; for example, when I look at my thighs in a bend-over position, I label them as “thighs,” not as “big thighs” or “fat thighs”; noticing the minute or stark changes of skin color from one area to the other; realizing that my fingernails and toenails have gotten long again; sniffing the smell of my hair and getting reminded of the walk in the park yesterday
Once in a while, I end up doing yoga just in underwear, mostly because I get warm with all the movements. A close friend told me about what he does in order to work on his body image issues: doing yoga naked (alone at home). I attempted doing it a few times after his suggestion, but I did not continue. The main reason was that I felt uncomfortable being naked, which is exactly the point of the exercise.
Growing up in a girl’s body and living in a woman’s body makes it hard for me to see my body as it is. It is the aggregate of all the experiences it has gone through: being beaten in childhood, being bullied in middle school, being put through various dieting methods—by my mother in my early years and then later by myself, getting injured from car accidents, having unprotected sex, and enduring painful intercourses.
Besides, there is an addition of generational trauma. Whenever I think of my deceased grandmother, I picture her sitting alone in the semi-basement room on her floor mattress with legs sprawled in front and shoulders hunched over. The picture soon overlaps with my mother’s body and my own. How can I view my body as an independent stand-alone natural, neutral, clean slate?
Two movies have tapped my head while thinking on the topic of “sexual, sensual, and natural”: Showgirls and My Neighbor Totoro. (It feels wrong even to put them together in one sentence.) Showgirls, directed by Paul Verhoeven, was released in 1995. I watched it in a dark living room by myself after school when my parents were out for work. I must have been 15. I shouldn’t have seen it not only because it was rated NC-17, but also because it had quite a damaging effect on my relationship with my body.
After all these years, I still remember the scene where Nomi, the new arrival at Las Vegas, auditions for a topless show on the stage along with other women dancers. The show director immediately yells at her for not having erect nipples. He tells her to rub ice on them to make them hard. The fact that women’s nipples must look a certain way to please the audience shocked me and made a lasting impression on my young brain.
In contrast, two sisters Satsuke (10) and Mei (4) in the Japanese anime My Neighbor Totoro (1988) by Hayao Miyazaki live in the countryside. They spend their days running around and exploring nature in colorful dresses with white bloomer shorts. Constant showing of their bloomers while jumping and rolling made me think of what it means to me as a viewer in 2023. As I reflected on how I felt during the movie, I doubted that Satsuke and Mei were portrayed in any sexual way. In fact, bloomers became a symbol of women’s rights as the activist Amelia Bloomer started wearing them long enough to show below her dress (hence the name “bloomers”).
How you see other people’s bodies (real or fictional) and your own would vary by moment and context. Sometimes sexual, sometimes sensual, and sometimes natural. The intricate web of our views on and relationships with our bodies fascinates me and keeps me thinking. What are your thoughts?
Other letters where I talked about my body:
Also, check out Studio Ghibli Fest in the theater near you! They show a different film at the end of each month.