"On the physical and emotional shocks of truly inhabiting our bodies."
August 9, 2016 1:14 PM   Subscribe

Break My Body: "What I’m trying to unravel is the difference between merely existing in a body and truly inhabiting it—to untangle passivity from receptivity. My woman-body has never been as easy for me to love, with its big breasts and disorienting cycles, as the girl-body that hurled me so beautifully through the air. To be sure, the woman-body has been good for sex, for attracting my husband’s touch, but sex is just one aspect of the whole—one that for me has never felt like a primary purpose. And as I find myself choosing not to use the body to create a child, it now seems that the one act its whole design evolved toward will be one it never performs. I’m looking for a new working definition." -- an essay by Marin Sardy [CW: suicide, mental illness]
posted by Room 641-A (11 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, Sardy is brilliant. How have I not heard of her before?

I mean, this:

As for madness: While my mother’s illness was often the origin of the chaos or rage or confusion that plagued my family, I could see that it had a way of continuing on without her, propagating itself by making us agents of its propagation. And sometimes her actions weren’t even a part of it.

Yeah. Yes. Wow.

And this:

What put us at odds with womanhood was broader and deeper than sport. It had something to do with the outsized significance non-gymnasts placed on parts of our bodies—breasts, hips—that did not, for us, have the meanings they insisted on.
They thought she ought to have a different kind of body, the kind of body that could not do what she had just done.

That puts the finger on what I have always thought was missing not only from the normal-guy opinions whereby Audiences murmured uncomfortably about her mannish features - opinions like that are so ignorant that they're easy to dismiss - but from every feminist essay I ever read that complained about how awful it is that girls do gymnastics and how terrible that girls do ballet. I get that there are legit critiques of the institutions that raise and train these girls but in the end, they just want to fly. And they can. Who am I to say a word against that?
posted by tel3path at 2:29 PM on August 9, 2016 [13 favorites]

I haven't even made it all the way through, but I'm already blown away by this essay.

When did that other thing creep in? That shift to seeing yourself through others’ eyes? Men’s eyes? It comes when they start telling you what they make of you. It comes when you discover that the things they say you are have nothing to do with the things you always thought you were. Was it the day my father tugged at my shirt and turned to a friend and said, Look at that, she’s got a waist!

This. Very much this.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:13 PM on August 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Still the periods stayed away for years. In high school, a doctor examined me and assured me nothing was wrong. But I couldn’t help feeling like this bloodless state wasn’t the right way to be female. It seemed a kind of physical naiveté, a way of not being in on the secret. Then I became that kind of female and it felt like capitulation. I still don’t know how to feel about this. There are so many levels of betrayal at play in the way a woman sees her body that parsing them seems impossible.

And this too. I also got my period very late, and I felt wrong for not having it and then it felt wrong when I finally did get it.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:21 PM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thank you, Room 641-A, for posting this FPP! I have a feeling I'll be re-reading this many times over, and I can't imagine I would have come across it if it weren't for this post. I'm not familiar with Marin Sandy, but I'm glad to have heard about her now.

And from the second link in the FPP:

My mother’s mental illness certainly comes with positive elements, not least of which is the beauty of the world she inhabits and, for me, the beauty of our conversations. But when you tally that up beside everything she has to cope with and everything she’s lost as a result of her illness, it’s staggeringly uneven. So when people romanticize mental illness for its contributions to creativity, I just think about all the supremely gifted mentally ill people whose illnesses destroyed their ability to make use of those gifts. Having incredible talent and creative ideas doesn’t get you anywhere if you don’t have the energy, focus, and psychological stamina to turn that into art. And all of those things are real challenges for someone with a serious mental illness. Let’s not forget that DFW lost his battles against those challenges.

Absolutely this.
posted by litera scripta manet at 5:25 PM on August 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

Such a beautiful and heartbreaking piece of writing. I too will be rereading this.
posted by opsin at 5:27 PM on August 9, 2016

My wife, who expressed many of these same feelings, used a shorthand: "I always felt I was somehow born on the wrong planet."

By her standards, we probably all were.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:48 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jesus. This was so good, so reminiscient of the grief I felt 20 years ago. It's refreshing to hear a story of someone who had a dream and realized that they wouldn't capture it, and also has perspective on others - Keri Strug in this case. Great article!
posted by bendy at 10:37 PM on August 9, 2016

These are wonderful. Thank you.

I went looking for the essay on experiencing PTSD that has a broken link in the interview, and came across Disintegration, Loops, another two excellent pieces. She has a fearless, direct way of seeing things that, as a fellow survivor of a mentally ill mother and a childhood surrounded by wilderness, I find relatable and refreshing. There's an early loss of innocence and the realization you have to accept it in order to live fully, which irrevocably sets you apart from others... in a way you later come to see is how othering is done by society. You wouldn't have been othered if that weren't the case. The othering then becomes relatable; another basis for empathy and connection. She does this so well.
posted by fraula at 3:10 AM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

I echo what others said earlier - that I haven't heard of Marin Sardy before this, that the first essay (I haven't followed the second link in the FPP yet) is amazing.

And as I find myself choosing not to use the body to create a child, it now seems that the one act its whole design evolved toward will be one it never performs. I’m looking for a new working definition.

Oof. Yeah. That hit me pretty hard, as I'm trying to navigate that in my own life, and that tied with all of the thoughts about grief (mine is coming from a different direction than hers, but there are overlaps) is enough for me to think about for the rest of this month, if not the rest of my life.

Thanks for posting, Room 641-A.
posted by minsies at 3:38 AM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fraula - thank you for posting the link to Disintegration Loops. Her story gave words to things in my life that I have trouble speaking about.

Room 641-A - great post. Thank you.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:15 AM on August 10, 2016

These are great - thank you.

If anyone else is looking for that PTSD essay, I found it in the Wayback Machine.
posted by Stacey at 7:33 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

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