The Body Is Unruly
I wrote a book, Hunger, about my body. I wrote about being fat. I wrote the story of my body, of how trauma irrevocably shaped that story, of what it means to live in an unruly body in a world that is always trying to control, discipline, and punish women’s bodies.
Making myself so vulnerable was terrifying. It was difficult, telling the truth of my body, subjecting myself to the opinions others would inevitably form about my body if they didn’t have them already.
As I promoted Hunger, many interviewers asked me intrusive, often terrible questions about my body. Articles made a point of featuring the number of my highest weight, exploiting what was simply a truth of my body. There was an incident involving an Australian blog that is too painful and frustrating to detail.
Strangers offered all manner of unsolicited advice about my body. A man from Washington, D.C., emailed me and told me, just in case I didn’t know, that walking three times a week is healthy and contributes to weight loss as if such a thing had never occurred to me. A Canadian woman told me that if I became a vegan for three months and lost weight, she would send me a gift worth $100, but if I didn’t lose weight, I had to send her $150. I received suggestions to try yoga, Weight Watchers, a ketogenic diet, a high protein, no carb diet, macrobiotics, vegetarianism, eating only Lean Cuisine, Medi-fast, bariatric surgery, Contrave, working with a personal trainer, eating every other day, not eating after 2 p.m., examining my gut health, Jenny Craig, EMDR therapy, chewing my food anywhere from 40 to a hundred times before swallowing every bite, exercising daily, focusing on mind over matter, and, of course, I often received the suggestion to, “just stop eating fat ass.”
Countless people told me I am going to die, at any moment. They told me they want me to die, to have a heart attack, to keel over, to stop taking up space I don’t deserve. They told me I was disgusting, hideous, ugly, and repulsive; and then others told me to ignore the haters or not feed the trolls as if there is any way to gracefully withstand a constant barrage of cruelty and harassment about your body.
I wrote about my body and strangers, with both good and bad intentions, generally missed the point of what I had to say. They viewed my body as a problem to be solved, as something they could discuss and debate. But I put myself out there. I wrote the story of my body so what could I do but grit my teeth and get through it?
To take control of the public narrative of my body was also gratifying. In writing Hunger, I took a hard look at the behaviors I’ve fostered over the past twenty or thirty years. I was forced to be honest with myself in a way I had long avoided. I have, since writing this book, been able to imagine having a better relationship with my body. I feel like that better relationship is actually possible. I’ve heard from all kinds of people, with stories both different from and similar to mine, who have shared the stories of their own bodies. And in hearing those stories, I was reminded that all of us live in unruly bodies that we’re all trying to take care of as best we can.
I first began thinking of the body as unruly after reading Hanne Blank’s collection Unruly Appetites. It was such a provocative, honest phrasing, this acknowledgment that the things we most want and crave are rarely easily ruled or disciplined. The bodies harboring our unruly appetites are unruly in and of themselves — they are as weak and fallible as they are strong. In many ways, our bodies are completely unknowable, but oh, how we try to master our unruly bodies, nonetheless.
When Medium approached me to curate a pop-up magazine, I knew exactly what I wanted to do — to create a space for writers I respect and admire to contribute to the ongoing conversation about unruly bodies and what it means to be human. I asked twenty-four talented writers to respond to the same prompt: what does it mean to live in an unruly body? Each writer interpreted this prompt in a unique way and offered up a small wonder. Over the next four weeks, I will be sharing those small wonders with you.
Check back every Tuesday to read new, exciting work from Randa Jarrar, S. Bear Bergman, Matthew Salesses, Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, Keah Brown, Mary Anne Mohanraj, chelsea g. summers, Kaveh Akbar, Terese Mailhot, Casey Hannan, Samantha Irby, Tracy Lynne Oliver, Kelly Davio, Brian Oliu, Mike Copperman, Danielle Evans, Jennine Capó Crucet, Megan Carpentier, Kima Jones, the writer known as Your Fat Friend, Gabrielle Bellot, Mensah Demary, and larissa pham. These writers, like all of us, live in unruly bodies and the stories they share of negotiating that unruliness are moving, memorable, and necessary.