Body of Work

“I hardly remember not hating my body. I got most of my seven arm tattoos when I was nineteen. I wanted to be able to look at my body and see something I didn’t loathe, that was part of my body by my choosing entirely. Really, that’s all I ever wanted,” explains Roxane Gay in Pen and Ink: Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them. Women’s bodies are constantly being dissected, reimagined, violated, or defined as a limitation, and this trauma – the violence of everyday life – becomes a part of their narratives.

  This monthly column will examine the relationship between women writers and their bodies with a focus on both the internal – how these writers navigate their personal geographies of hopes, dreams, and insecurities –and the external: how they represent themselves and tell stories.

 

Essays in Body of Work will focus on how women redefine the narrative about their own perceived limitations. They will explore questions such as: to what extent are our bodies ever our own? How do the stories written on our flesh, such as tattoos and scars, inform our identity and storytelling? When are our bodies barriers to storytelling, and when do they get us access to untold stories?

 

This is a collaborative space for writers, photographers, multimedia storytellers, and women from different disciplines to share stories about their identities.

Half Light

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The first and only haircut I have given was to my mother, and because we were both nervous I took my time setting up a single-seat beauty parlor in her room at the hospital in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

The Mule Deer

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When my oldest son is the size of an apple, my belly begins to push out against my overalls. It is late summer, and the monsoons have brought a week of night rain in the Arizona desert.

Nerve

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When I was 21 and working as a camp counselor, I was assigned to mentor a girl named Sylvie. “You both have epilepsy, see?” the camp director said. “It’ll be perfect.”

The People This Body Has Housed

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Growing up in my parents’ seventies-era ranch house, my body was a misshapen thing. During playtime it became an imagined monster on the waterbed as my brothers hid inside a spaceship made out of my mother’s comforter.

Her Hair

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While riding my university shuttle, I used to stare at women’s hair. They were mostly young white women like me, who would sit in rows facing each other at the front of the bus, compulsively checking their phones.

The Jagged, Gilded Script of Scars

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I am drawing at the kitchen table, tracing the outlines of a dinosaur, when I find that my hand, in defiance of the vision in my mind, makes a line that ruins the dinosaur. There will be no dinosaur. I begin to cry. My mom, who is a weaver and works from home, comes over to see what I am crying about.