Illustration by Isabel Ryan.

Illustration by Isabel Ryan.

Hello, and welcome to your bod. In another Rookie piece on bodies—specifically the chest parts—I once asked, “What even is a body?” and then answered: “It’s a fleshy suit that sustains our earthly consciousness. That’s pretty fucking weird, and yet totally normal.” Today marks the inaugural post of Body Talk, a monthly feature where we are going to figure out what we should know when it comes to our cute-as-hell/confusing-as-hell corporeal outfits.

Personally, my body and I have experienced a lot of interesting stuff: being comatose, pregnant, pierced 11 times in seven places over 10 years. Everyone relates to their body differently. Your bod allows you to experience such things as fried food, or Lawnmower Flying to Music. It goes indoors and outdoors, and you can adorn it as you desire. It almost certainly looks good in sunglasses. But just like “beauty” isn’t just one thing, “healthy” isn’t one thing, either. Even if your body can’t do something you want it to, there are plenty of things it does do just so you could wake up this morning. I owe a lot to the work of disability rights activists like Eli Clare, Stella Young, and Caitlin Wood. As they helped demonstrate to me: Your body is fundamentally deserving of acceptance, autonomy, and respect regardless of its form.

My party line used to be, everyone should love their body. I still believe that loving your body is an admirable goal–and if it is your goal, have you seen any of Rookie’s excellent coverage on the topic? Still, I want to add a caveat. You can feel any damn way about your body that you please. In the event that those feelings are negative, they shouldn’t be reasons to ignore it or be mean to your body; don’t put off taking care of it until some magical day where you look over at your body and suddenly realize, Oh my god, I LOVE you, and your body is like…looking at you carefully, as if for the first time, and it’s like, Oh my god, I LOVE YOU too! and you’re like, Body, I’m going to work you out, and put vegetables in you, and every moment from now on we’re going to be together—really together.

As a basic standard, maybe you can try thinking about your body as an assigned lab partner in a biology class. You don’t have to be best friends, but since your performance depends on how well you work together, it might help you both out to figure out how to do that most effectively. For a lot of bodies, “loving your body” is an achievement that requires daily work and is achieved only fleetingly, if at all. Some bodies are sources of pain, or have been traumatized by assault or abuse. Some bodies are denigrated, shamed, and dismissed because some aspect of their very existence falls outside of medical/cultural/social expectations. And if you can’t overcome negative past experiences or present influx of body-shaming messages/perceptions to feel love for your body…it’s your fault? As if.

So join me as we explore the following equation:

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This conundrum can be solved by adding knowledge, turning:

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(do you like my dress?) into:

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We’ll tour how different bodies can be–and how that’s actually a good thing–plus how to feed, clean, and otherwise take care of them (even if you kind of don’t like them). We’ll cover how they work, in all kinds of ways. Of course, we’re going to talk about:

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But we’ll cover the whole head-to-toe they-/he-/she-bang, too. (I have been waiting for so long to talk about how the kidney is an obnoxious overachiever—it filters out waste, controls water balance, blood pressure, vitamin D and red blood cell production, PLUS other stuff? And most people get TWO of them!)

We’ll also talk about mental wellness. As someone who has shared with concerned loved ones that life would be so much easier if she were a Futurama-style head in a jar, this is occasionally hard for me to accept, but your body drives your brain: A friend once ate a pound of gummy bears and found herself an hour later in the most profound sugar crash, sobbing inconsolably and writing about Sylvia Plath. Sometimes your brain drives your body, too: When my depression kicks in, it makes even the smallest task feel like rowboating through mud. Instead of punishing my body for being sleepy and sluggish, I take care of my brain—say, by reducing my stress levels and forgiving myself for having less stamina than when I’m not kicking it with the Big Sad.

Please send questions about anything brain and blood and guts to be covered in future columns to [email protected] with the subject line “Body Talk,” and I’ll meet you back here for new discussions based on these topics and so many others back to you each month. Ask me anything—and, as mentioned above, all questions about mental health–related curiosities are fair game—because no matter how seemingly insignificant or extreme your query, there are probably at least two other people who have the same one and only got halfway through writing an email about it before getting too nervous and deleting the draft. There’s nothing to be nervous about here! We can’t wait to listen to your Body Talk. ♦