Growth and Power
Edited by Elizabeth Rose
A letter to Her, with love
Hello, stranger. I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve reached out and talked to you. You make yourself known with the occasional pain from a stiff neck and back, or eyes twitching from tiredness. “Move, move, move, idiot,” I imagine you’d say, sensing that work and the minutiae of the day come before you, my dear Body. Sorry. You must be tired of my apologies, especially when I plead with you to end the agony of the sore throat and a blocked nose you had forewarned me of the very next day. Through the next night, your myriad of cells and antibodies would nurse me, restore me back to health, a network so complex and beyond my comprehension, and you– their supreme coordinator, their grand conductor. The next day, already feeling better, I’d congratulate myself and forget about yesterday’s lethargy and supplication to your wiser ways ever happened. I know slowing down won’t happen, and another series of sleepless nights comes, but I feel invincible – because I rely on you to get me through all ups and downs. I blindly take for granted that every morning I wake up, I will get on with my day, that a flu will pass, that I can push myself to unhealthy limits. I count on you to fix any ailment, every single time. Besides my mother’s love, I count on yours unconditionally.
Before writing this letter, I did not realise we have been together for 8,505 days. In this life, you will be my longest companion. In the thousands of days to come, you will carry me to all the places I want to see, and do a whole lot for the communities we came from. I will need your strength for that. As I mature, so will you. Our skin will lose its elasticity, and pores will darken…but I do not truly understand what it means to age, not just yet. I will have to be more gentle with you, when you stop working the overnight magic, and things take longer to fix themselves. I will utter a sincere thank you as you finally tire, with love, and appreciation, after thousands and thousands of days spent together. How odd. A human body, taken as an ordinary, a substitutable unit by our educational, health, and political institutions. All I can think of are the mini-universes contained within each and every one of the billions of bodies on Earth today, where soul and body constantly dance, battle and embrace – from first breath until the last.
We had our rough times, my darling. Adolescence was hard for me - and for you too I imagine. I must have been at times an unpleasant and impatient tenant in your evolving walls. You acted as a shield between my own authenticity and the unforgiving world out there. I was so impatient to see what you’d become. I wanted to be anyone else, and like an actress on a stage, remain in another’s shoes well-after the last of the audience left. Sometimes I’d look at my cats and dogs as they chase after one another or carelessly nap –would have I been better off as an animal? It took me a while, the restlessness and the desire to change had nothing to do with you, darling Body. Nothing to do with how you were extending, becoming taller, growing hair, morphing and simply, evolving. The problem lies in people’s ‘advertent’ and inadvertent attempts to police each other’s bodies, to make them conform to a single, uniform standard which they themselves probably despise. Body trends and body ideals, a shifting set of rules and purchases – that can easily slip underneath you, leaving you in a state of constant chase and dissatisfaction. I wonder if people are aware of the power invested in a body, or even if societal institutions are aware of it. Is this why they want to bend and diminish self-respect and self-love? What would happen if I hone the power already within me and you, dear Body? What will happen if my love for you becomes unshakeable?
There is a great absurdity in today’s world, where I am so much exposed and well acquainted with the bodies of nameless, and sometimes faceless models and actors, and yet I still barely understand my own. The other day, I let my fingers run through my hair and across the face with great attention, like a sculptor would examine their creation. Across the temple, down the sharp-edged nose. My shoulders scattered with spots, little constellations. I held myself in an embrace, each arm locked around the elbow. I used to dislike the hair on my arms, and felt shame for them. Now I find them comforting, calming. I associate my strength and independence with them. I would not know how to tell a story without them (many spilled drinks will attest to my unwavering gesticulation). Then, I lowered my hands to my belly. As I skate the fingers cyclically around the belly button, I can’t help but smile. It’s a whole landscape to discover, all that I put you through, Body. Birthmarks I never noticed before, stretch marks that weave across like a bifurcated river. It’s a strange sensation, to rediscover you, it brings me happiness, and deep sorrow. I feel guilt for diverting my look from you, from not holding you enough, from not loving you enough. But look at all of this. The skin, the muscles, and tissues, and bones.. You are an artefact of my life, Body. I am so sorry for wasted time. I will honour you for thousands of days we still have to share.
Lastly, I want to say that I know the journey ahead won’t be easy. On bad days, I sense the shame and doubt rising like a tide, hoping to break in again. I have a lot to learn, and even more to unlearn. One thing is for sure though, Body, I will strive to work in unison, soul and mind inextricably linked through each nerve, with you. Together we will work on caring for both mental and physical health, because I, we, am, are not invincible, and the mind cannot exist outside of its own boundaries. I will work on becoming a bit more gentle with myself, with You. I still don’t have the right words for how living in today’s times affects how I relate to myself, where each simple movement is microscopically examined, sexualised, or commodified and served right on the screen. The hurt I felt from friends, and those who were never really friends, and the words they called me as teenagers are still etched in my mind. I do not want to forget them, the words, because a lot of power comes from transforming and trying to overcome the hurt. Growing up in a small town, I know the policing of the body, the quickness of being sized-up and my worth determined based on a seconds-long glance. But I am not equipped to, nor would I ever do justice in telling the stories of the violence against the bodies of women, queer, trans, and non-binary folk. Nor to the experience of people living with disabilities, or to the experience of different races. I cannot tell the stories of many lives that were lost to the broken systems that teach us your own body is not enough or is deemed unacceptable to whatever ideal applies to the social and cultural context. It is a tragedy. The decades, centuries even, that societies have spent on bending and breaking people’s exploration of themselves, people’s acceptance of themselves; to diminish the fundamental aspects of human existence - knowing self-worth and self-love. So my darling, I will work on loving you, and respecting you, through better or worse. I can only hope each and every one of us finds exactly what they need, in their own inner-universe.
With all my love and gratitude,