What Is Female Embodiment?

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Female Embodiment

Female embodiment is a concept that describes a woman’s sense of self as influenced by the experiences her body has with the world. These experiences can be negative or positive and affect her body image and identity.

A woman’s body is subject to disempowering cultural expectations that stem from her social interactions, environment, and the media. Some ideals that women try to meet include how she should do her make-up, what clothes she should wear when she should or should not have children, and what her body should look like.

Therefore, in an attempt to meet these ideals, women are more likely than men to pursue body transformation goals such as beauty routines to prevent the aging process and dieting to lose weight.

Female Embodiment Is Empowering

Practicing positive female embodiment can be empowering as it allows a woman to reclaim her body, cement her sense of self, release bottled emotions, fully express herself and live a life without worrying about social pressures. 

This article discusses the history of female embodiment, signs you are a positively embodied woman, and the effect the concept has on women. Lastly, it provides some tips on how to practice positive female embodiment.

History of the Term 'Female Embodiment'

The term embodiment is based on a philosophical construct that originates from Merleau-Ponty’s work.

He explains that everything we perceive of the world is mediated by the body and that it is impossible to understand who we are, and how we interact and behave with others and the environment without understanding our bodies.

In psychology, the term 'embodiment' is used to describe the effect the body has on how the mind is shaped.

The Developmental Theory of Embodiment

The Developmental Theory of Embodiment is a framework that aims to understand how embodiment experiences can be protective and disruptive to the lives of girls and women.

Core Pathways of Female Embodiment

The Developmental Theory of Embodiment explains the embodiment experiences can be divided into three core pathways:

  1. Physical domain: This includes feeling safe to participate in physical activities, having opportunities to take care of their bodies, and being validated for what their body desires.
  2. Mental domain: This includes not being exposed to and affected by gender stereotypes and not being pressured to behave in a feminine way such as being docile, submissive, or 'lady-like'
  3. Social power and relational connections domain: This includes having equitable access to resources, being part of unprejudiced communities, having empowering relationships, and being granted power regardless of how the body looks.

The Effects of Female Embodiment on Women

One study focused on how the embodied experiences of women are affected by social contexts. Specifically, it looked at the relationship between embodiment, eating disorders, body image issues, and positive aging amongst girls and women.

The study led to the development of the experience of embodiment construct which grouped embodiment experiences into five continuous dimensions, each with a positive and negative pole. The five dimensions include:

  1. Body connection and comfort
  2. Agency and functionality
  3. Experience and expression of desire
  4. Engagement in attuned self-care practices
  5. Resistance to self-objectification

Adopting Embodiment Practices Leads to Greater Life Satisfaction

Another study examined the associations between embodiment, body esteem, and life satisfaction in Swedish and Canadian men and women. It found that compared to Canadian women, Swedish women had more positive experiences of embodiment, lower levels of disordered eating, and lower thin-ideal internalization.

Overall, it showed strong associations between embodiment, body esteem, and life satisfaction. Specifically, embodiment was a better predictor of life satisfaction than body esteem for both men and women.

Signs of Female Embodiment

Embodied experiences can have a beneficial effect on a woman’s mental and emotional well-being. Some signs you are a positively embodied woman include:

  • You accept your body as it is: You may not love your body but you don’t hate it. You strive to accept your body as it is today and don’t focus on losing weight or changing your body size. You wear the clothes you want to wear and buy them based on fit and comfort. You don’t follow the latest diet or exercise trend and instead focus on what your body needs and what it tells you. You listen to your body’s hunger, thirst, and fullness cues. You move your body the way it wants to move. You dance whenever and however you want.
  • You instinctively know how to take care of yourself when you are unwell: You intuitively know what your body feels like when it is under the weather. You have a gut feeling when your body is about to get sick. You take the initiative to be informed of what it is and how to take care of yourself. You rest when your body needs to because you prioritize body healing.
  • You are comfortable with your sexuality and sensuality: You know what your sexual desires are and are open to sharing these with your partners. You are in tune with the erotic sensations that come through your body and aren’t bothered by them. You feel sexually awake and you live in a state where you can feel the energy flow in your body and the vibrations on your skin.
  • You naturally express your feelings without hesitation: You can easily identify and express your full range of emotions. You don’t suppress difficult feelings such as anger and fear. You embrace and feel them. You keep your heart open and do not numb your feelings. You regularly check in with yourself and how your body feels.

How to Practice Positive Female Embodiment

Striving for positive embodiment can help increase your woman’s confidence, self-worth, self-esteem, sense of purpose, sensuality, and power.

Here are some tips to practice positive female embodiment:

  • Conduct a social media audit: Review the social media accounts that you follow and see if there are any that promote disempowering messages about the female body. Unfollow those accounts and limit your exposure to sources that perpetuate gender and social stereotypes.
  • Ask yourself questions about your body: Take a moment and get curious about how your body is feeling and what it is sensing. Ask yourself questions like “What is my body currently touching? What do those textures feel like against my skin? What parts of my body can I feel and how does it feel to be in my body right now?”
  • Write down what your body is going through during the day: Start a journal and keep track of how your body feels at different times of the day. For instance, describe the sensation you have in the morning when you wake up, the feeling you have before eating a meal, how your body feels after exercise, and what your body is telling you before you go to sleep. This can help strengthen the body-mind connection.
  • Practice mindfulness: You can practice mindfulness whenever and wherever you want. Sit or stand in place and focus on what is going on in your surroundings. Connect how your body feels with the present moment. There are various methods to practice mindfulness including apps, videos, and guided imagery
  • Work with a female embodiment coach: Working with a female embodiment coach can help you understand how your experiences shape your current mindset and body perspective and gain clarity on how to move forward and set your feminine energy free. You can find female embodiment coaches through referrals from a therapist or healthcare professional, online communities, word of mouth or searching online.
6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. Her expertise in facilitating, storytelling, coaching, and promoting tough and honest conversations provides the foundation for her site, Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.