Illustration by Esme.

Illustration by Esme.

There’s this show on Animal Planet called Monsters Inside Me that has always freaked me out beyond belief. Every episode documents the case of someone who has been attacked by harmful and horrifying parasites. The victims are interviewed about the tiny creatures who’ve made homes inside their bodies (the adult ones, anyway—which leaves out, for example, the baby whose brain was being devoured from the inside by a roundworm) and they tend to go into every gruesome detail for the viewer’s benefit. (Benefit! Ha!)

When the show first came out, I couldn’t even watch ads for it without feeling sick. The thought of an unknown and unseen creature living…inside my BODY (UGH) just froke me out. There could be an invisible (to me), insidious creature hitching a ride in my person RIGHT NOW. It makes me wonder what else is going on in my body that I have NO IDEA about.

I have always, from an early age, been in something of a panic about the state of my corporeal form. Any time something seemed weird or different—a new freckle, an unexplained pain—I would run to my mom crying, insisting she call a doctor, stat. Of course, looking up my symptoms on the internet only made things worse, convincing me that every cough or bump was a symptom of a painful, untreatable illness.

As I got older, I got better at hiding my freakouts, but believe me, they were still happening, especially when I hit puberty and my body went completely HAYWIRE. My mom gave me the American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You, which explained puberty and some other body-related stuff, accompanied by excruciatingly detailed, excruciatingly embarrassing illustrations. The book was supposed to reassure me, but it didn’t stand a chance against my almighty body-neurosis. Because, while it stressed the importance of hair care and dental hygiene, it didn’t touch on some the questions that were haunting me, like: Why do I suddenly have to wear more deodorant? Or: Why do my breasts suddenly hurt? And that old chestnut, Am I dying???

What will come as no surprise to you came as a BIG one to me: Everything that was going on with my bod was totally fine, normal, and par for the course. I just wish there had been someone around to tell me that. I went to a doctor once a year, but all they told me was that I was healthy and fine—none of them seemed like the right person to take my questions to. And een though my mom is a pretty cool person who gave me “the sex talk” at an appropriate age, it’s kind of embarrassing to ask your parents about every little weird thing going on with your bodée (and probably would be pretty exhausting for them), and I definitely didn’t feel OK asking them why my heart leapt in my chest around both boys and girls. And my friends, sadly, like many girls, were taught that talking about sex or masturbation or the fact that we were made of physical molecules that did weird, confusing things sometimes was not OK for girls. It was taboo! It was icky! For girls, in some circles, it’s almost “better” to not know anything about your own body and self. If romance novels have taught us anything, it’s that one day you will find a man who will teach you everything you need to know. Right? That’s how it’s supposed to be!

I have always found this idea puzzling, because we spend our whole lives inside these fleshbag we call our bodies, so shouldn’t we all be expected to understand its parts and what they do? What finally helped me figure out the inner workings of my own bag of flesh was (1) Tumblr (some good hashtags to search, with the caveat that sometimes people use these to push porn onto unsuspecting searchers!): sex positivity, sex education; (2) feminist books that deal with body image; (3) I made some new friends who were more open about talking about this stuff with me; and (4) I mean, honestly? I read Rookie! Particularly articles that fall under the “bodies” tag.

However, it kinda doesn’t matter how much you read about how bodies work—you’re gonna have to get in touch with your bod, quite literally, eventually. Otherwise it’s like exploring a new country by reading 10 books about it, but never actually setting foot on its soil! And, just like traveling to a totally new place, it can be a little scary, but I promise, the more you learn, the less freaked out you will be (because what’s scarier than the GREAT UNKNOWN, you know?).

I still don’t know everything about how to operate my corporeal spaceship, but I’m having a lot 0f fun learning about it, and it’s comforting to remember that any time I have a question or a worry or a doubt, there are places I can go to find solid, nonjudgmental, non-fear-mongering information. After all, there’s already so much scary stuff in the world—the last thing any of us needs is to be scared of ourselves! ♦