Illustration by Isabel Ryan.

Illustration by Isabel Ryan.

I find my body very embarrassing and weird—all sweaty and gross and noisy and painful sometimes, and it gets more of all these things the more self-conscious I am. How do I embrace the weird/gross? —Anna, 19, York

I’m so in love with your letter, Anna, that I could spit, and maybe I did, and maybe now my keyboard is all covered in spit, and even though that’s gross, it’s also an important and exciting part of being alive (spoiler lesson for later!!). I’m so honored to assist your glorious quest to embrace the weird/gross aspects of existence; it’s the most meaningful work you can do with your body, in my opinion.

Let’s start with this Kathy Acker quote that lives atop my monitor so I can think about it every day:

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OK, I can barely read my handwriting either. It says: “I am looking for the body, my body, which exists outside its patriarchal definitions. Of course that is not possible. But who is any longer interested in the possible?”

Not this internet advice columnist!!!! And I suspect not you, Anna, either.

No human asks to be born; but we are, and at that time, we meet our body as strangers. We can try to get to know our bodies and their full range of capabilities, but the patriarchy (all haters) deems certain things that our body does as “extreme” and gross and too much, and that’s dangerous. According to this line of the patriarchy’s, you are supposed to minimize who can see and smell and hear your body; make it smaller, and less scented, and more sterile. You write that your body is “sweaty and gross and noisy and painful sometimes.” Bodies sweat, but being “sweaty” is “too much.” Bodies make sounds, but being “noisy” is a “too-loud” body. You’ve found the limits of Kathy Acker’s “patriarchal definitions;” time to find the impossible that exists outside of them.

These moments of overwhelming body horror are the closest we get to breaking through to knowing the body. Ambushing your grossout recoil will bust through the “patriarchal definitions” of your bod into a gleeful corporeal consciousness. Take the “too much” into your brain and stare at it until “too much” is opulence or abundance. That “too” is the place to throw your arms around. The “too” is what you motherfucking embrace.

You wrote that your body “gets more of all these things the more self-conscious” you get. I haven’t met your body, but maybe the importance of this ~journey~ is why it can’t stand being ignored. Pretend that your body gets in your face, like “Hi. Hi. Hi. Hi.” Sounds like the body in Marilyn Krisl’s poem “My Body“:

“When it doesn’t get its way it throws a tantrum. Once it kicked a wall and broke three toes. In winter it sulks because it can’t fly. And some days it won’t put on its clothes no matter where we’re going. It gets oily and sweats and sits in its mess, breathing, and I have to wash and comb it patiently and sing it little songs.”

As for your body being “painful sometimes,” I’m not going to stick up for pain until a little later (generally, though: down with pain!), but here’s a related idea: The OB/GYN part of my medical training introduced me to the concept of considering labor contractions as “power surges” instead of “contractions.” Instead of being “world-renowned top painful thing one can experience,” they become “intense sensations that require all one’s attention.” What if we think of occasionally intense sensations as coming into control of our bodies, instead of losing control of them?

I have some experience here. When I was 27 (I’m 30 now), I had my natal chart read, and the astrologer told me that because of Taurus in some house or another, my life was about seeking knowledge through intensity: experiences that were either extremely pleasurable or extremely painful. I’ve written about it elsewhere on Rookie, but I have spent a lot of time pushing past the normal boundaries of what I assumed my body voluntarily experienced to make myself feel awake, and alive, and proud of what I could withstand. But these experiences–from self-harm to sex to sleep deprivation–often came at a physical or emotional cost. The astrologer suggested that I instead obtain intensity in non-destructive ways: hot yoga, meditation, getting massages, et cetera.

Similarly, I want you to go to embrace the weird/gross, and I’ll do it, too. Let’s get positively woke with some purification through safe and intentional intense experiences, such as:

  • Throwing back to Amy Rose’s story of elevating the art of queefing.
  • #Glitterpits. (You did say “SWEATY.”) “Glitter pits can’t be unseen,” said a lot of boring people. But that’s good. I want you to see them and not unsee them.
  • Performance. Contemporary performance artists have some good get-in-your body exercises. A quick, at-home solo performance of Bruce Nauman’s “Body Pressure” piece may be the shortcut to what I’m talking about. I’m going to do it right now, brb. OK, I’m back. I was pressing up against a wall, and it was kind of cold and then my body was super gross. The coldness of the wall made me hyper-conscious and reassured, grounded, no longer floating in space. Can recommend. Marina Abramović is another one of the champions (champions!) of this realm. Her art is about the endurance of the body: “It’s very complicated with this body thing,” she starts this interview on why she chose her body as her medium. I admire the fierce spirit of anyone with a Wikipedia entry that contains the sentence, “Prompted by her loss of consciousness during Rhythm 5, Abramović devised the two-part Rhythm 2 to incorporate a state of unconsciousness in a performance.” Her “Rhythm” series of performances included knives, fire, paralyzing medications, and other devices that should inspire you to do something…much safer. (Plus, otherwise, it’s just copying.)
  • Getting sensual. The body-positive lover and artist Majestic’s “obese lifestyle protip” is basically my favorite one-off image of what the human body is capable of in sensuality-as-resistance: “1. eat a bowl of ice cream while soaking your ornery spirit in the bathtub 2. congratulate yourself on your superior levels of intelligence”
  • Getting sensual (Part Two). Pleasure is categorically denied to young people: Teens are “too horny” or “all hormones.” This is a bullshit situation. Marie’s “Horny Girl’s Guide to Life” is here to help.
  • Reveling in doing something “gross” on purpose. Pop blackheads, like my friend Jamie is wont to do. Anna finds ear wax removal very satisfying: “Every time it’s like…ohhhh baby.” Another friend with heavy periods started using menstrual cups and enjoys an intense sense of accomplishment when emptying them out. What unites these poking/prodding practices is viewing the body as an active motion machine, creating and discarding tangible materials. Similarly and personally! When I recently tried this wild foot peel called Baby Foot, I enjoyed a week of not being able to go anywhere without socks on because my feet were actively shedding large, sunburn-like pieces of skin. Talking with Estelle got me to the root of what is so good about Baby Foot: “It is a really interesting experience I would recommend not just for the beauty benefits but for the total reconceptualisation of your body––once you have experienced a (thankfully) safe and controlled decoupling of your skin from your body it’s like, Oh, OK. I don’t understand what my body can do, and that’s OK. Yes, very safe feeling, well done beauty science.” I loved the writer Hannah Giorgis’s closing lines from her essay at Amy Rose’s site, Enormous Eye:

“Reapplying my black cherry lipstick in the middle of the dance floor, I’m quite literally feelin’ myself. It makes me want to text someone I’ve been thinking about dancing on. My thighs are sore from the squats I did this morning, but the burn is almost erotic. It reminds me what my body is capable of. I am stubborn, so I know that pushing past the soreness to wine on him will make me feel triumphant, smug, sexy. I lose myself in a Vybz Kartel song, thankful for all my body has survived and all the ways it can celebrate.”

All of this fills my heart with love and excitement and What can we do? Let’s check in on the next edition of Body Talk: You report back on what you did, and I’ll let you know how putting my body in a Temple Grandin hug machine worked out. ♦

You got a body? Us too. Does yours occasionally perplex the heck out of ya? Same. Let’s talk about it! Please send questions for Lola/Body Talk to [email protected] with the subject line “Body Talk,” and include your first name, last initial, age, and city/state.