“Muscles are coded as masculine; bruises and sore spots and combat sports in general are not signifying femininity to most people. But I liked my body this way because it was a by-product of doing what I love…” – from my post: Sarah Conner & My Egg Donation: The “Sacrifice” of Body For Muay Thai
Sylvie’s quote about physical acceptance has stuck with me since I first read it. To me , it’s a dynamic way to embracing one’s own body and being able to transcend an image that has been created outside of oneself. By using Sylvie’s quote as a guide, it allows one to take ownership of their body because it begins with the question “What do I love to do?” Once someone has found that and understands their body is a consequence of this choice, it can make it easier to dismantle any other body image that is presented to them as the ideal.
As someone who has struggled with body image, my brain has changed since I read Sylvie’s quote. I used to look at actor’s portraying super heroes in movies and felt inadequate in size and muscularity. Now, I look at myself in the mirror after I perform and practice music and tell myself “This is how my body is molding and responding to how I enjoy spending my time.” Though my insecurities are not completely gone I have started on a path to accepting myself in a way that I hadn’t before I read Sylvie’s quote.
I wanted to create a video conceptualized around this quote in the hopes of inspiring someone in the way Sylvie has inspired me. All the fighters in this video have the love of Muay Thai in common. Despite the common thread of Muay Thai between them, all of their bodies are visually different. I’m hoping the video illustrates two things: 1. Everyone’s body has their own way of adapting 2. All the fighter’s bodies are beautiful not because they adhere to a particular standard but because the practice of what they love is woven throughout their being.
– Paul Payabyab-Cruz | Member of Punskription and Director of “Three Words” Video
Growing up as a cis woman in America, I’ve always been very conscious of my body and how it looks. Less so how it works, but definitely how it looks. I’ve always been very active, playing soccer as a kid and growing up a very “outdoor” childhood, but in youth it’s very easy to take for granted that your body allows you to take part in these kinds of activities and it never occurred to me that I was fast because I was small, or strong for my size; it just mattered that I wasn’t the qualities that were widely appealing: tall, willowy… whatever.
In my 20’s I discovered and started training in Muay Thai. It gradually took over my life and in the 8 years I’ve been dedicating myself to the art form and the sport, my consciousness of both my body and my self have shifted dramatically. As a woman, the expectations for how I should look or my responsibility to be sexually appealing to a hetero- male gaze is the same as it’s always been, but my giving two shits about those expectations have changed. I live in a culture that isn’t the one I was raised in (Thailand now) and where the physical attractiveness of young women is unabashedly linked to their value, so I’m very aware of all the ways in which I don’t fit those expectations. Happily, because I spend so much time in my sport, my interest in having the body that suits my love for performing this art outweighs my interest in any moment spent outside of that context. In the same ethic of Aristotle’s quote that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” the way I look is the direct result of doing what I love, repeatedly. My muscles may be flagged as masculine and unappealing to the expected feminine forms, but they do something, they are for something, and that something is for me. That means a lot to me.
above, music video for the Punskription song “Three Words”
A few months before the video debuted, I was alerted by the group Punscription that a music video for a song called “Three Words” was inspired by a quote from one of my blog posts on this very subject. When I finally saw the video I was delighted by the aggressive hook in the lyrics, but it was also inspiring to see the video, in which women who train in Muay Thai threw punches, kicks and knees in shadow (mostly) with intention. Their bodies are beautiful and strong but they’re not shot with a focus on spread-leg high kicks or knees; the bodies are doing what these women love to do. Far more often we see female athletes’ bodies sexualized by taking those bodies out of context, stripping them down and oiling them up to get a nice gleam off the muscle but making sure to keep everything real soft. A fish, gleaming with its silver scales, is quite appetizing on a plate; but when you let it loose in water you see what all that smooth form is actually for. And that’s far more interesting, more beautiful, more inspiring. The women in this video aren’t de-sexualized, but there’s a balance of things which could be manipulated to be purely sexual: focus on the mouth, focus on limbs and proximity to other bodies – and they are sexual because people are sexual, rather than being fetishized. And quite frankly, those three words are pretty awesome, and a political reversal.
The video was filmed at Chok Sabai gym, a NY gym which is owned by Kru Natalie Fuz and has a mission of inclusion and LGBTQ celebration.