body as machine // body as monster
Part of my recovery from disordered eating patterns and body dysmorphia was discovering a body positivity that helped me restructure how I saw food. Food became fuel. My body became a machine I lived in—helping to expose the idiosyncrasies of a culture that obsesses over the shape and size of something built to sustain and carry us; helping to uproot the self-hating seeds that had started to sprout in my own self-image. Function over aesthetic.
But when you start to feel like your machine-self has physical faults no mechanic can fix?
But when, despite all your efforts to untangle the wires of mechanical essentialism, you realise you’re in the wrong machine?
There is no coherence in this mess of a relationship, me and my body, my body and illness, my body and gender. Dysmorphia masking dysphoria, fixation with numbers collapsing under identity discomfort and muscle pain. Somewhere along the way, my obsessive thoughts stopped asking whether every person I passed in the street thought I was fat or ugly, and instead started whispering, girl, girl, girl. A few painful steps further and girl became crip girl.
Rae Earl, in My Mad Fat Diary, calls herself “a body dysmorphic without the dysmorphic.” When fat rolls and cellulite become second-priority to muscles that should carry you, but don’t—joints that should move without pain, but don’t—, are you experiencing the same thing? There is no disconnect between a broken thing and the image of a broken thing. Even if body positivity had succeeded in compelling me to dispel the image of myself as broken, it wouldn’t succeed in making my body stand without collapsing.
My body is not mine. Mirrors show us back-to-front, and the human eye sees upside-down; our brains reverse the light patterns our retinas receive. I think I got lost somewhere in all that reversal. I think I got lost trying to perceive in two dimensions.
Is there any point in beautifying my own existence in a broken world?
When I distance myself from activist communities, my hopelessness often turns inward. When I remember myself as a part of a whole, a body of movement, I can flip the mirrors and reflect my rage onto a hostile world. Susan Stryker identifies herself as a trans woman with Frankenstein’s monster: “Like the monster, I am too often perceived as less than fully human due to the means of my embodiment; like the monster’s as well, my exclusion from human community fuels a deep and abiding rage in me that I, like the monster, direct against the conditions in which I must struggle to exist.” I start carrying stones in my pocket to break mirrors with. What I face with fear alone, I face with anger on behalf of, in community with, freaks like me.
Body positivity is messy. It was born as a (more “palatable”) child of fat acceptance, a movement which aimed to to destroy norms of perception regarding “health” and beauty, to fight for material gains for people whose right to speak for their own bodies is denied through concern-trolling and fatphobic ableism. These days body positivity is often its own stand-in, void of meaning, co-opted by capitalistic individualism. According to plus-size fashion blogger Zoë Meers, who was “[it] feels cynical, it feels hollow, and it has taken the bite right out of what used to be a radical stance."
I am disabled, I am queer, I am trans, but I fit mostly into straight-size clothes and completely into whiteness and class privilege. If body positivity is a solo journey, I fail myself daily. But if I choose to centre only myself, I fail body positivity.
My body is not mine. Should it be? My body is not the body. Our bodies—queer, trans, disabled, fat, Black, brown—are the body, stitched together like Frankenstein from the scraps of an impossibility of existence. The body rampages, destroys, prowls gluttonous with revenge; the body steals through the streets at night, whispering, with the words of Stryker, "you are as constructed as me; the same anarchic womb has birthed us both."
The body is beautiful, the body is terrible, and the body is monstrous; and if the body is a machine, it is not one made to work on anyone’s terms but its own.
About the Author
EMRYS TRAVIS is a disabled writer and activist trying to queer a degree in Modern & Medieval Languages at the University of Camridge as much as is possibile. They also write with the Italian feminist collective F Come and work with the UK organisation Action for Trans Health.
Ospina, Marie Southard. "11 Influencers Discuss The Differences Between Body Positivity & Fat Acceptance." Bustle, 7 Jul. 2016, www.bustle.com/articles/170978-11-influencers-discuss-the-differences-between-body-positivity-fat-acceptance.
Stryker, Susan. "My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage." GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 1, 1994, pp. 237-254.