Our Body Project

Our body project is a collection of personal narratives written about bodies. They range from broad declarations of body and experience to small intricate pieces focusing on body parts or functions. Most importantly, they are written and shared here in an effort to create a community for positive body image and sexual experience. They are written and shared here to remind us that we are not alone with the pain of a distorted or negative self perception, but also to remind us, perhaps more importantly, perhaps not, that we are not alone when we feel good, really good, in a world where people are often unaccustomed to sharing expressions of joy about their bodies.

If you are interested in sharing anything that you’ve written, whether by name or anonymously, email me at hello@maraglatzel.com.

Untitled by The Duchess of Dork

When I was 19, I lost my virginity. I hated it. I was with a tall good looking guy who was very sweet, and despite the fact that I had convinced myself he would do anything for me, and that he worshipped me, the truth is that I was scared to make him stop. I said no, and he kept going. When he finally managed to “accidentally” take my virginity, I felt like a slut. I felt like I’d disgraced myself, I became just like everyone else. I wanted to save myself for marriage, and guilt plagued me. So after that first time, I tried to change.

I was in college, so it was normal for girls to be sexually active. We were supposed to be freaks in bed, and tell eachother about it. I tried. I tried to enjoy sex, but it felt like torture every time. I prayed every night that I would some day fall in love with the man I had sex with, so that I wouldn’t feel guilty. If I loved him, we could get married. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I thought it would be the end to all of my problems.

I never fell in love with him. He had a temper problem, and hit me. The second time he hit me, I said enough was enough, but I still couldn’t break up with him. He asked me to lose weight. I was 180lbs, and obese, but men still found me attractive and I was never really single. He told me I’d be sexier if I lost weight, so I did. I lost 50lbs in 6 months, and after I lost all that weight, I recieved so many compliments that I realized I had control. I had control over my body and my life, and I did not have to be unhappy if I didn’t want to. So, I found another guy I was attracted to, and I dumped the boy who took my virginity. He cried and I cried, but I cried knowing I gave up something precious that I could never get back. I’ve tried to forgive myself for letting him take that part of me, but I can’t.

Nowadays, I’m married, but it’s still hard to be touched. I know it frustrates my husband, but sometimes, when he touches me the wrong way, it all comes back.

Butch by j.a. prufrock

I was sixteen years old the first time I had sex, not unlike most my age. It seemed pretty average. I was a junior in high school, she was twenty-one. We’d only really known one another for a couple of weeks, though our lives eclipsed one another briefly a few times prior to that.

She knew this much: I was a lesbian and she was at least curious, so I was fair game.

And, at that point, I felt like a lesbian. I listened to the right music, wore the right clothes, had never slept with a man.

She was a classic stone femme, loved to be touched but never touched. I was her stone baby butch, if such a thing ever existed. I fucked her, and did it well– made her came but never knew I could really come from her touch or anyone else’s. I thought I was abnormal, sort of a freak.

Girlfriends came and went, and I became more immersed in my stone butch identity. I read the books and learned to play by those rules. I would never come unless I did it myself, and the whole matter made me feel very distanced from my body.

I hated my body and saw it as the source of the whole matter. I gained weight and was a sort of Gertrude Stein among the dykes I knew. My physical size must have made the thought of fucking me all the more intimidating. So, I tried fucking women who were closer to my size. That didn’t work, either. Nobody seemed too interested in making me come, listening to my needs.

I came close to meeting my match once, but I ran away, afraid of what sort of monster may be unleashed if I were to have my way. Some call it performance anxiety, I suppose.

I wanted to be fucked, I wanted a femme in high heels and fishnets to strap on a cock and make me her bottom bitch. I longed to be touched, to scream, to come. But I didn’t know how to say any of that.

Then, I met her.

She was closer to my age, more sexually-experienced than I was. She was rather femme, but wasn’t shy about touching me. At first, it seemed strange, having her inside of me. I couldn’t come, and by that point I was convinced I was defective. She was patient, careful, and soon enough, I came. I came enough for both of us and she loved it.

Something was still missing. I said she was careful, and at times it seemed too much so. She wouldn’t really take charge and fuck me. I think it scared her. So, we were relatively equal in our sex. I’d do her; she’d do me. It got boring. Then, she started sleeping with men.

At around that time I began questioning my own gender presentation. Was I that stone butch I tried to be when I was sixteen? Was I some sort of soft, you-do-me-I’ll-do-you vanilla dyke? I wanted to try adding a cock to my sex life. So, with one of my next girlfriends, I tried strapping it on and fucking her. Still, yet, it didn’t seem right. While I was fucking her– especially anally- I imagined myself in her position. By the time I got the nerve to tell her, our relationship was pretty much over.

I seemed butch enough, but in the bedroom I was a regular faggot. It’s not enough to say I am a butch bottom. When my girlfriend fucks me today, in fishnets and high heels, cock strapped on– she treats me like her boyfriend. I am her little fag, and she’s great in bed.

My sex life– and current relationship– is constantly evolving. I am finally beginning to come to terms with the butch-dyke-fag skin I’m in.

Untitled By Phoebe Butler

So, my vagina really doesn’t want tot talk to any of you. Strangers aren’t the first people she warms up to, if you know what I mean. I suppose, if she was going to talk to you, she might say, “Mind your own fucking business”; not trying to be rude or anything, but just being blunt. Basically, I guess she would be comfortable with one of those signs, “Private Property”. I don’t mean one of those nice, forest green ones with the white carved letters, mounted on a nice pole. I mean one of those black stick ones with the letters printed extra big and extra bright orange so no chance to misinterpret the message of “Stay Away!” I guess now I’ve made her sound unfriendly, unwelcoming, and uninviting, but that’s just it. She’s not uninviting, but, as with all of the best of the best doctors, like hell your getting in without and appointment. It’s sort of like a zero tolerance policy most colleges have. No room for bullshit WHATSOEVER. One slip-up, one broken rule, and your game is over. Pack up your bags and go back to Mommy and Daddy, ’cause here is not the pace for you. She’s what you call a tough cookie. Strong, but still sweet and delicious. And don’t think she came that way either. As with all others, her strength, and confidence, her doubts and fears are what they are because of experiences she’s had and the way they were handled. Of course there were good times she had. In fact, there were incredible times. Maturing into a woman, discovering her beauty, and loving someone.

She was loved, and she loved back. Oh yeah, I remember that feeling. It started in my hands, then to my face, and into my chest. With my heart pounding faster than I ever thought possible it went through my stomach, and when she finally felt it, everything felt complete. She was happy everyday, hell, she was happy every morning and every night. But seriously, it was like that missing piece in the 500 piece jigsaw puzzle. If you look really hard, and sort of hold that piece down, it feels right and the puzzle looks done. Until the edges of that piece fly up and disappear off the coffee table the puzzle has been safely on for years. That love felt like the right piece, but when reality showed her it wasn’t, she was shocked. She was sad, and she was lonely.

There was that unforgettable, and absolutely inexcusable time where she was robbed. He took all of her dignity, comfort, and privacy away quicker than he could have stolen my T.V. And we aren’t talking about some appointment gone awry. This was some prick, pardon the pun, who broke in. Armed robbery. All because this ignorant mother fucker obviously never truly understood the word “NO” in his little, pathetic, scum of a life. So when I shouted and fought for “No” to really mean “No”, she was violated, she was hurt, and she lost almost all hope of ever trusting anyone again. Don’t take this as one of those sappy, poor me, pity stories. If you do, you are positively wrong. These stories are about her growing into the smart and beautiful piece of power that only I could ever own. And don’t think that just because I use the word “own” means anything could ever buy her. This isn’t like EBay, where the best offer that comes along in the next 45 minutes wins. She is in no rush to feel complete with that extra puzzle piece, in fact, she loves feeling that missing piece, because it’s who she is. If you asked her, she would tell you there is no missing piece. She would tell you she is more happy and confident then she has been in awhile. And don’t think that armed robbery declared her bankrupt and made her close-up shop. She still has visitors, and yes they still need an appointment, they just need a referral from me and my friends before even getting the number of the office. She’s not playing hard to get, she’s playing it safe and loving every minute. She really just is content with how everything is at the moment and if another puzzle ever swings by, one that also feels as though there isn’t a missing piece, she will cross that bridge then, and maybe again, and again, and again. She’s not scared of the future, and neither am I. I feel empowered and ready to take on the world as the woman I am, was, and will become. In retrospect of this vagina monologue, I must say that if my vagina wore clothes she would wear a big, tough, sexy pair of knee-high combat boots and a crown full of all the rarest jewels and gems around, because she deserves it. Because I deserve it.

Hip to The Hips by Anonymous

“Flaca.” That was the name my aunt gave me. It was such an ugly sounding word. But at the same time I was happy to be skinny because I felt unassuming. People didn’t notice my boobs or my butt like they notice the developed girls in my class. And I liked it that way. Dangly and child-like was the form that I could hide under.

After puberty struck, curves were everywhere. They took over my body. I no longer owned it. It was totally unfamiliar to me. My aunt would constantly remind me that my butt was bigger and my hips were wider. I couldn’t hide my body. The clothes only accentuated what was there for everyone to see. She said, “Damn girl, you got them Puente hips”. I knew what she was talking about, she meant I wasn’t just a white girl afterall. I had some her and my mom in me too. — I could now be like all those girls I watched salsa dancing at my cousin’s Quincerea — So maybe I can be part of this club. But a club I don’t even understand. Yeah sure, I’ve got the hips for the club, but my pale face would confuse the other members.

Soon other people began to notice them. But I couldn’t bare the unsolicited attention.

“Hey. Hey you. Nice hips.”

I was just trying to shift from one class to another, dragging my feet so that they didn’t ever lift off the ground, past the lockers on the second floor. What? What did that boy just say to me? I’m just trying to get to my next class. Just trying to get through the day. Just trying to get through high school. Why I am being noticed? Why did that mean? How could one even have nice hips? Does that mean I’m fat? I just wanted to hide–or better yet melt away–be invisible. But I just had to keep on walking down the hallway, embarrassed and confused.

That night I called Raul – a close friend who I was beginning to hope could be more than just a friend. I told him about the incident. But that night he told me that the boy at school was trying to compliment me.

“Face it, men like womanly figures,” he said

“But I’m not a woman and this boy was a boy, an annoying little boy”, I protested.

Months after this and months after our friendship transformed, we were hanging out at his house. I was sprawled out on a couch and he sat a chair next me. He was trying to be cool, playing the role of artist, taking pictures of his hands and feet with a Polaroid camera. I fidgeted on the couch and stretched my arms out, which made the bottom of my t-shirt climb up a little, revealing a part of my hips and stomach. He noticed and said something about my cute midriff. I really wanted to see what he see saw. I told him to take a picture of my side. Snap. He held in his hands, shaking it, waiting for it to reveal itself. After a few moments, he examined it, smiled, and then placed it right in front my face so that I couldn’t avoid looking at it. There it was right in front of me — one curvy hip. Sloping crevices, a little bone protruding, a mole, lots of skin — all right in front of me. I didn’t turn my face away from the picture nor did I feel like hiding. I didn’t want to be invisible to him or nor I want to hide from myself. I was comfortable, but couldn’t summarize all this to him. I just said “Hmm, not bad.”

Untitled by Alana Cuellar

The chair is designed for dying people. It’s been engineered for bodies so frail, that the slightest jolt might cause them to shatter to splinters. Old people, who look as light and delicate as hummingbirds. Dark camel in hue and apparently unused, the chair has an air of ironic sophistication. It looks VIP. But I think of all the dying bodies it will cradle in its pillowy sections during the years to come, the weeks to come. Next to it, the IV pole looks anorexic. A clear glandular sac of mysterious fluid dangles from it like a strange, exposed organ.

I shuffle towards the chair in the awkward gait I’ve adopted since my feet and ankles swelled up like water balloons. The skin around my calves is sliced with purple stretch marks. Souvenirs. The chair isn’t as comfortable as it looks, although once it mechanically leans into a recline, I can put my feet up. It smells like illness in this chair. Completely sterile, but with a lingering tinge of human secretions, blood and feces and urine. I feel nauseated by the scent, but the chatty nurse is pretending there’s nothing wrong with me, so I pretend back. Cheerily, she sticks the needle into my skin and digs around in search of the vein. I have finicky veins.

I get the feeling that I am at a salon instead of a hospital. This dose of cytoxan is my cut and color. She asks the usual hairdresser questions. Boys? No, I say, blushing and letting her think shyness is my only impediment. Hollowing insecurity makes me wonder who on earth would ever see anything in this train wreck of a body. I wish the nurse would shut up. My wrist grows colder as the fluid from the IV sac begins to seep into my finicky vein. A chemical army, here to save my body from itself.

“Take it easy tomorrow,” she says, in a fleeting moment of sincerity. “It’s a strong drug. Most people don’t feel well the next day.”

*

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I can’t move.

Sprawled on my couch the following morning, I can’t move. The sun has migrated onto my face and it feels like a hot iron. But I can’t move. I’ll puke again. My abdomen is a churning chemical plant. Every muscle feels saturated with toxic debris. Lolling between sleeping and awake, reality becomes eerie, distorted and frightening. Anxiety and depression rage in my mind just as the Cytoxan rages in my body.

I wish that my heart would stop beating, lungs would stop breathing, and that I could stop existing and slip into a simple, quiet nothing,

*

Most people see illness as an invasion, a dangerous foreign organism or substance. They forget that not all disease comes from villainous viruses, like the ones we saw as children in educational cartoons. Some disease is a behavior, a kind of masochism on a cellular level. My illness is me.; a part of my body, like a thigh or an eyelash. Chemotherapeutics kill regular cells as well as problematic ones. I actually envision defenseless Iraqi villages bustling with innocent civilians being firebombed, and fat-necked American soldiers talking about breaking eggs and making expensive omelettes.

Untitled by Bonnie Shingleton

I stood in the shower yesterday looking down at my body. I always hated this body. I had a friend in high school with a pool. She was one of my best friends. I hated going to her house in the summer because it meant I had to go swimming. The friends that would be at her house were all so skinny and pretty. Everyone wore two-piece, triangle-top bikinis. I wore a one-piece. “Why don’t you borrow one of my bikinis?” they would say. “You are so skinny!” I never felt skinny. I have a sister that is five years older than me. She is skinny and beautiful. We are the same height but she is much skinnier than me. She always has been. I would always try to borrow her clothes when I was in high school, but they never fit. She would always tell me that I was so skinny and pretty. I never felt skinny… or pretty. I look down at my body in the shower and realized now that I still don’t feel skinny or pretty. But now I look at my body and see that my body is beautiful. I have carried two children with this squishy, stretch-marked stomach. I have been able to nurse two babies with these big, saggy breasts. I can kiss my girls and husband with my plain lips. I may not like the way I look, and I don’t think I ever will… but I do love my body.

Femme by Mara Glatzel

I like the insides of wrists, where the skin is pulled thin over veins and tendons. The place where bones and cartilage bulge, connecting hand to arm. Because of the veins, my wrists are often blue here, delicate and royal in comparison to the red rough of my hands or forearms.

This is the only delicate part of my body.

This is a place that looks fragile to the point of breaking. Here the thinness of my wrists causes the veins to sometimes stick between the bones creating an experience that I then have to work through, rotating my hand through the pain.

My wrists are made for a tea party, an intricate, white-collar body part, requiring insurance and doctor’s recommendations because they are unable to sustain their own weight.

My wrists are like my mother’s, so thin that they almost seem that they will turn in on themselves, fainting under the pressure of their vitality. My mother’s wrists are small, like a bird’s, but the rest of her body follows in suit. Her frame is slight against mine.

Because I was fat I played the man in all of our games. You, of course, were skinny, your body sliding perfectly into the outfits for the teenage daughter/ actress/ princess/ mermaid. My body was difficult. I was awkward and clumsy. I didn’t look like any of the beautiful women that I knew. I had a decent face, you admitted one day. That face. People have always told me that I have a beautiful face. This is either said in an appreciative tone, you have such a beautiful face, or in a disparaging tone, oh, but you have such a beautiful face, as if I am wasting my potential with my body below my neck. As if the beauty ends there. As if I am a work in progress.

Because I was fat I wore baggy pants until the eight grade, carpenter jeans, wide legs, and army pants with draw strings, all glorified sweatpants. I looked like a man from the waist down, but allowed myself my face and hair to experiment with. I learned to French braid in the first grade. I fell in love with glitter in sixth. I had a: curler, crimper, straightener. My face was pretty. My hair was well attended to.

I was also obsessed with narratives of typical girlhoods, as documented in such reliable sources as Sweet Valley Twins, The Baby Sitter’s Club, and subsequently Seventeen and CosmoGirl. I was obsessed with images of girls who were beautiful and perfect, the kinds of girls who had best girl-friends and boys who wanted to walk them home from school. These were the kinds of girls who went to high school and became the prom queen and the MVP of the basketball team simultaneously. They were perfect.

Now, at twenty-two, I am still trying to figure out where I fit. The problem is this body. This body which isn’t feminine.

Before femme I was just a girl with too much to say and fat hips. I was a girl who fucked boys and hated my body. I was a girl who was too fat for the frat parties but went anyways. I was the friend. But then I’m queer and that’s different too. Before femme I didn’t know how to be queer. I was queer, but didn’t feel it. My mother is femme. She is beautiful. She has always been beautiful. But, despite those thin wrists and slight frame, there is strength in her beauty, a strength that I have always envied. I wanted to be that tough with red lipstick on, brassy and bold. I wanted lace under harness. I wanted the power to top you with high heels on.

I have always been given a hard time for passing. In Amsterdam my home-stay mother said, well how does it feel to not really be gay? Or, well I just don’t understand how you get girls if you look so straight all the time? Now understand that in her mind, this is because I couldn’t be gay and wear gold earrings. Because I couldn’t be gay and have my hair tossed up in a prom style, my curls held up by 50 bobby pins. Because you looked at me and I didn’t have I fuck girls tattooed across my forehead.

I have a certain amount of guilt about this. I do pass. Every day. The hilarious part is that maybe I pass but my fat keeps me from doing it well. At best, I am a fat straight girl and therefore undesirable anyways. At best, I walk into those parties in my most hopeful shirts with my hair pin straight and my liquid eyeliner perfect. I pass right under the dyke radar, but get called Fattie immediately upon entrance.

Instead, femme means I’m powerful. It means that I am attractive in my jeans and done up hair. It means that I can wear make-up or not and my jewelry is just right. It means that I am queer, but I am feminine. It means that I attract people who value the power of that lipstick or hair. It means that I like butch girls, but not exclusively. It doesn’t mean high-femme. My make-up isn’t bright, or my heels six inches tall. I am a femme in flip-flops. I am femme because I feel feminine, but it hasn’t been easy to get here. I was always too fat, my chubby body outside of the bounds of delicate, dainty womanly nature. Femme means that fat can be feminine. Femme means that my tits and hips curve appropriately, even if they aren’t slight. Femme means that I my body is saying fuck you. Femme means I have sexual agency where before I had none. It means that I am not lying on my back on old couches under the weight of someone I didn’t know how to say no to. It means that I don’t walk out of the room and promise myself, next time, I’ll ask for what I want. Femme means that you will fuck me until I come, thank you.

Because I was fat I played the man, but I wasn’t the man. I was a little girl who desperately wanted to play your games with my tea-party wrists jangling with colorful bracelets, wearing a pink party dress and my mother’s high heels. I have endured you, because there was no label to stick on my forehead. There was nothing to be proud of. I was a girl who had no name and didn’t exist for twenty-one years, but that’s done now. Because I have these wrists and I have these hips, and I’ll have a tea party if I want to. Because I am safe here.

Apology by Dakota Shepard

You’ve got six blocks to walk without him.
Be at least that – at least six blocks strong,
know you are lightning in someone’s eyes.
How can you do this to yourself? You’re so smart.
Weren’t you the one who watched a Mitchum movie and cracked,
“look at her, she just walked a whole eight yards without a man.”
Now you marvel at how your stomach tightens like a faucet,
giving up hunger like it is nothing.
Are you delighted, are you hoping someone will be?
The connections you have with your body are so light.
The angles of your elbows sharp on the bed,
comforting somehow,
like a gun can be.

All About My Ego by Mara Glatzel

The blooming broken of blood vessels beneath my eyes

Revealing to you my most vulnerable moments

That cannot be covered up quickly

By a careful swab of concealer in the morning

The late night hours when I am painfully reminded

That what began with the ego

Lent itself to the tightness in my chest

Warding away sleep

While I attempt to convince my body

That you didn’t toss me aside because

Of my imperfections

The damage becomes the careful swell of my thighs,

or the pain of a stomach that has outgrown its welcome

or the close tightness of skin that restricts the motion of a body

Bound tight between sheets

The ego is manifested, then, in my deepest physical insecurities

Flowering into a natural spurning of

My fingers, my calves, my arms

The softest most fragile flesh where the physical response

To the ego is felt

Trapped deep within the fat cells

Which do no relinquish their hold

Like a bruise held close

Months after skin connected with fist

Containing within them my genetic make-up

My predisposition to a failed version

And recording the pain of my imperfect body, there

You are done with me

Forgetting the casual remarks which will brand my body

Months after, years after, our interaction,

No matter how insignificant it may have seemed, then.

And while my mind moves on

The hurt of my ego is buried deep

Within the flesh that I cannot own

And the ego becomes the physical pain I feel upon waking

Knowing that my body did not sleep

Punishing itself, it ran instead, it cried instead,

For losing you

For failing

For being ugly

For being too much

But deep in the memory of those cells

My body is working to overcome,

To reinforce its fragile flesh, building

Layers of skin to deflect these attempts

Which break its spirit

And tear its surface

Crying tears of jungle red

A visible marker for you

To judge your impact upon me

The skin will heal

Smoothing over the surface of those cells

Which retain knowledge of the events

I soon become too embarrassed to name

Because we just don’t talk about those things

The skin will heal

But the ego will not,

Only continuing its quest to convince itself otherwise

So that it won’t make the same mistakes again

And I am caught in a conversation with my body

Singing myself to sleep with promises

That next time I’ll protect it better

Next time, I won’t leave it so vulnerable

Sleep now,

So that it you won’t be able to read it upon my waking

Sleep now,

So that my insecurities won’t be

Etched heavily in lines beneath my eyes.

Sleep now,

Because next time it will be different.