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PopAnth — Hot Buttered Humanity
Popular anthropology for everyone.

What is your body story?

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The author in a forest. Photo courtesy of Abby Baker.
The author in a forest. Photo courtesy of Abby Baker.

For as long as long as I can remember I've been obsessed with the body. What it means to have a body, to be in your body, to get in touch with your body, to know someone else's body, to lose control of your body, to love your body, to hate your body… This preoccupation of mine also comes with a desire to capture and share with others ephemeral experiences I've felt through my body.

Writing from an embodied standpoint is both personal and political—after all, no one else embodies your body. The intersections of race, class, gender, socioeconomics, and ability affect our bodies. Having access to health care, to fresh food, to outdoor spaces, to exercise, etc., all play a part in creating embodied experiences. So does having a body deemed "normal," "able," or read as a certain gender.

As the new Human Body section editor of PopAnth, I want to propel body-centric writing forward by opening up a space for dialogue from (and for) bodies of all shapes and kinds. How does it feel to be human and have a body? What are your material realities and how does that affect you?

Experiencing our bodies is one thing, putting our experiences into words is another.

Rather than having an explicit political conversation, I'd like this to be an open space where we can learn from each other's different realities by sharing our own and hopefully recognize our commonalities as living, breathing, creatures.

Recently, valuing what's often called the lived experience is coming back into focus. Historically, though, anthropological literature on the body has focused on forensics and biology. While both of these subfields are hugely important contributors to the field of anthropology, neither traditionally concerns itself with how people live in everyday life.

Paul Stoller, though, advocates for what he calls "sensuous scholarship"—scholarship that involves and captures the senses of both the ethnographer and the reader, and which views the body as more than just a text to be analyzed.

Anthropologist Frederique Apffel-Marglin writes beautifully about humans' entanglement with the non-visible (spirit) world and nature, and its effect on mind, body, and spirit in the book Subversive Spiritualties: How Rituals Enact the World.

Outside of academia, "The Body Journey" asks women to draw, illustrate, label, and talk about their bodies as

"a first step in creating dialogue and open conversation about women's body image and health."

Their mission, as stated on the site, is to "serve as a time capsule, showing society how women feel about their bodies right now in the year 2015" [emphasis added].

All that being said, I'll start by sharing some of my own embodied memories.

I remember everyone wanting to pick me up when I was younger since I was short. I remember deeply resenting this and asking myself if it would be this way the rest of my life.

I remember feeling curvier (read: fatter) than all the girls at my dance studio but smaller than all my other friends. I remember dancing on stage and adjusting my costume so that my belly wouldn't show.

I remember feeling angry at myself for being so hungry after getting home from school.

I remember forcing myself to wake up at 6 a.m. to go running in high school and seeing my breath.

I remember hearing older women confess to past affairs and almost-affairs while huffing and puffing and avoiding roots and branches on the running trail.

I remember doing Cindy Crawford workout videotapes in my attic while staring at games of MASH written on the wall from sleepovers. I remember wondering if other girls who crushed on my crushes did Cindy Crawford workouts.

I remember feeling lethargic, stiff, and pale for most of my junior year of high school. Sophomore year of college, too.

I remember when the doctor told me my growth plates had closed up and I'd only be 5'1" (on a good day). I remember this as a moment where my body felt reminded of the finitude of life.

I remember looking at my body and wondering how long my body would look like this.

I remember month-long camping trips with no mirrors where I was told by one of my trip leaders that once we got back to civilization we would all likely think we looked like each other since we'd been staring at each other and not ourselves for so long. I remember reflecting on who I most (and least) would want to look like.

I remember falling in love for the first time and losing my appetite, losing five pounds, and not remembering anything I ever ate during that time.

I remember eating cheerios with sour milk the morning after I lost my virginity.

I remember gaining weight while living in Mali, being told I looked "sexier," and feeling a strange combination of pride, shame, and disgust.

I remember my body leaping out of bed on a regular basis between the years of 2011-2014 in episodes that I call "night terrors." My body knew there was another entity in the room.

I remember the last time I hugged my grandma—three weeks before her death—and feeling mostly bone. I remember my grandma whimsically lifting up her shirt during that same visit, exclaiming, "At least I still have these!"

I remember looking at my own later that night in the mirror for a few minutes longer than usual.

When I write and reflect on how memories are stored in my body, I wonder, like scholar Malidoma Somé, how it is fully possible to share or relay an experience to someone when it happened in a different language. And when I say "a different language," I mean, what if the experience happened non-verbally, what if the way you remember it is how it happened in your body?

"Human words cannot encode meaning" Somé writes, "because human language has access only to the shadow of meaning" (Somé, 222). Experiencing our bodies is one thing, putting our experiences into words is another.

So again, I invite you, PopAnth readers and writers, to get personal. What grabs you? What takes your breath away? How do you use your senses in whatever kind of work you do? How do you feel when you digest certain foods?

How does your body react to happiness and success and how does it react to disappointments and tragedy? How does your body make you feel and how does this influence any or all of what you do?

What is your body story?


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