Not Just a Body, Not Yours To Take

“This is my body and you cannot have it. It is not yours to touch, to hold, to take from; it is not yours to do with as you please. I am no object.”

These words are a sentiment seared into my heart; it screams them as it pumps blood to my body, and often I wonder if the men around me can hear it beating out each word, a battle cry and a howl of sorrow. I am not theirs to take- never again.

I am more than a photograph of a girl’s body; I alone hold her female, feminine story. We have been to hell and back and we are here to share that truth, if only in fragmented pieces over much time.

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My body and I, we are often at odds with one another in ways I cannot fully communicate to people who don’t live with embodied pain of past traumas unspoken, who don’t know what it’s like to hide away unspeakable secrets for years too many. I continue to carry that in my bones- it wasn’t mine to contain but I carry it. That pain flows through me and out of me like the blood I shed from the lining of my uterus. But then, we’re not supposed to talk about such things, right?

Pain and periods. Blood and birth, death and decaying inside out. What it is to be a woman who has seen and experienced things we don’t quite know how to make sense of… to be a human being who suffers and thinks about it. Period blood; scary, dirty, forbidden. I raise you Toxic Masculinity; the most hideous thing that has ever touched me.

I refuse to be scared away by fragile male egos who cringe at the word “period” while they wail about blue balls and the dangers of getting a girl pregnant- the violent men who shame women without birth control, the misogynists who expect transactional sex. These men who would never consider a vasectomy, or hormones that invalidate their masculinity; meanwhile, so many women are far too often trapped on hormones and painful contraceptive devices-whether to prevent pregnancy, or to control our painful bleeding, or to help us conform to societal “norms” of how women should appear, with large breasts (and nipples we must never show) and no body hair- and uteruses to be considered valid in a heteronormative, transphobic, and patriarchal society that oppresses anything that can be “othered”.

The implication that women have true choice in the matter over our reproductive healthcare is insulting; show me where the choice truly exists other than inside the shackles of abstinence. And for every vote of abstinence, I ask you how many men are also willing to hold themselves to the same standard practice of “abstinence”- and to define their criteria for the construct. If it’s a pull-out method and a heteronormative ideology of sex that puts more power to the penis, I’m not here for it. And for all the men who say that this is radical, that this is “not all men”, who claim to know and practice better- go out and be the difference. Prove it.

And there will always be a fear in me of the men who do simply just take- without consent- from female bodies when it pleases them, especially from women who are most vulnerable- because society continuously teaches men that they are allowed to do so. Our present laws and language fail to provide them with much other example. Rape culture is rampant, often in the most insidious forms. I do not feel safe; so many of us do not feel safe.

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Being a virgin did not and has not kept many of us safe from rape, from assault, from abuse. Yet does the responsibility of contraception and abstinence continue to fall upon the shoulders of women, too? Must we tie our legs shut, cover ourselves in more layers of shame, hide away in our homes until it is time for us to be made whole by men?Or perhaps we initiate a radical sex strike instead, in a twisted effort to manipulate our oppressors, continuing to deny ourselves pleasure and freedom, all in the pursuit of basic safety and human rights that should have been safely granted to us long ago, without the threat of revocation? I ask, every day- will we EVER hold all men accountable and make it the STANDARD for men of the highest privilege to take responsibility for their actions, past and present? Will we insist upon a better, more equitable future where those with most power work to create and protect a reproductive healthcare system accessible to everyone?

This starts with the fight to ensure and protect basic human rights to bodily and spiritual autonomy, for all people with reproductive healthcare needs. In these times we must remember that our identities are made up of so much more than our hormones and genitals or whether or not we can reproduce- certainly there is more to womanhood, to personhood, than that. During Pride Month, more than EVER, let us not forget that key to our complex human identities.

When our female reproductive rights are weaponized and taken from us, and our bodies treated like objects to control and diminish, it’s hard to remember our worth unless we are fighting for every facet of our identities. With pride, and true allyship towards those in our community who need our support most, may we can continue to ground ourselves in our value- knowing that we deserve the right to choice and freedom.

I am more than a photograph of a woman’s body. This is my body; it will never be yours to take.

Morgan

Continuing Conversations Surrounding Sexual Assault Awareness

Every April, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month incites an all-too-necessary conversation about many topics surrounding sex, notably including the nature of sexual assault, abuse, and rape- and what obtaining and communicating consent might look like in a modern and more ethical society. This movement is not even yet two decades old.

Many of us who have survived sexual trauma are still pushing to create a more inclusive, expansive definition of consent that is enforced in both law and society- one which upholds the value and dignity of all human individuals and recognizes complex systems of oppression still at work today. I believe we have a long way to go before that definition is recognized in general society.

The conversation SAAPM  naturally instigates quickly becomes broader than that surrounding sexual assault alone; it’s a social justice issue through and through. Conversations about consent are about fair treatment and human rights: at its core, oppression and failure to obtain consent are forms of abuse by nature. Failing to obtain freely given, informed, enthusiastic, and sober consent before engaging in sexual intercourse is not only sexual assault, it is also sexual abuse- it is impossible to untangle the two. Intent does not affect impact.

I believe only when we begin to consider how “sexual assault” and consent exist in relation to oppression and, most specifically, abuse dynamics, can we start to facilitate truly meaningful conversations surrounding sexual assault and rape- among other forms of sexual abuse that are inexcusable in an ethical, just society. In such a society, everyone is treated with dignity, compassion, and fairness. 

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When we talk about equality or equity (terms not to be used interchangeably!) this is, I believe, what lies at the heart of the matter. The oppressor and the oppressed; the underlying abuse dynamics beneath action and inaction; the humanity or lack thereof. And so we must keep asking how such great abuse and oppression continue to pervade our “woke” modern society- because they do, if we are to believe survivors. We do not live in a world where everyone is given equal opportunity, equal say, equal safety. And not only is that unfair, it’s an inhuman injustice.  

Our society today is very scared of the words “oppression” and “abuse”. When we talk about them conceptually, each of us must almost inevitably hold a mirror up to our own individual behaviors- and we are likely to find some of them unappealing. No one is perfect, no one is an exemplary human all of the time. We are likely to wonder, at some point: “What I am the monster the “other” is screaming about?” That can’t be, can it? How could we live with ourselves? But I believe it’s so much more complicated than that. What if we just began these scary conversations starting with the most simple ways in which we hurt one another- and considered looking at “hurt” on a spectrum, first and foremost? What if we contextualized it all and put it into a sort of palatable human systems theory?  

Every year, I find myself ever more frustrated with the state of the world and wanting more from it. But in a world where we continue to grapple with basic concepts of boundaries, of consent before sex, of the humanity within every individual even as we all wrestle with “good” and “bad”, it’s awfully hard to have more productive conversations. I always find April and SAAM painful; I’m glad they are over. Incremental change is so important, but it’s hard to sit through. Here’s hoping that there are many sitting with me, hoping for a more compassionate process as time passes.

Love,

Morgan Michelle

 

HELPFUL LINKS:

https://www.nsvrc.org/saam/history

https://www.nsvrc.org/get-involved

https://www.nsvrc.org/find-help

https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-online-hotline

The Burdens We Carry- NEDA 2019

“You must be a dancer.”

“Are you a ballerina?”

“You’re so tiny I could just pick you up!”

Those words stayed with me for years, and I remember them every time I look in the mirror. These were things frequently told to me while I was at my “smallest” size and weight- when I felt I took up the least physical space, and numbers on a scale and a clothing tag reflected that.

The pictures in this post were taken this past weekend as my own artistic way of reflecting upon National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and what recovery has meant to me. This is my body- it is a body not fully recovered, but no longer in pieces. It is the body I inhabit today, after years spent negotiating my relationship with my female figure and with this life.  At 24 years old, I have mostly maintained my “weight-restored” set point. I still struggle, I still survive, and often I even thrive. But I carry the weight of years gone by and pain witnessed deep in my bones. It doesn’t leave.

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So often, I want to turn my back and retreat somewhere still deeper inside myself where I can pretend that burdens don’t exist- that we don’t all carry painful stories that weigh upon our souls. I find myself desperately wanting to empty myself of that encumbering weight, to abandon it through any means necessary. I strive to be minimalist, to leave no trace; I wish to do no harm, be no one’s burden. And to never, ever be full- that old, poisonous rule still haunts me. Because to be full once meant to become a human container- to feel, and quite simply “to be” too much. Eating just felt like too much. I challenge these feelings and cognitions every day. It’s okay to take up space; it’s okay to be here. Everyone has a right to show up.

Today, I find thinking about that time to be deeply disturbing: Simply because I was “small” and appeared to fit a specific societal standard of beauty, people mistook me for being one of the strongest, most athletic kinds of performers; in reality my body was essentially falling to pieces as I slowly starved to death. My bones had grown brittle from lack of calcium, and I needed iron infusions to replenish my low blood counts. I was nowhere near capable of performing pirouettes or grand jetes. I developed a heart murmur from the stress on my heart that came with losing large amounts of weight and the purging that followed most meals, when I bothered to eat at all. And after enough time caught in a cycle of purging and restricting food, eating had grown to hurt so much that I often rationalized away my need to eat: “Why do something that causes you real, physical pain?” I would ask myself. (I later learned that painful sensation was the process of my stomach shrinking)

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But so long as I was still visually thin, young, female, white, and able-bodied- in other words, in possession of qualities the patriarchy has conditioned us to believe to be some sort of gold standard- I was both implicitly and explicitly praised by society and encouraged to maintain that very specific body type. Because any deviation from that standard is, through those patriarchal standards, implicated to be “less than”- and those toxic constructs continue to be reinforced through so many things we consume in our culture today. After all, our society usually teaches us that athletes and performers are the opposite of “less than”. They are the idols we aspire towards, they exist as our cultural symbols. So when society told me I looked like a ballerina, they were- perhaps unknowingly- praising my dying body.

I was objectified and praised for fitting into a box that created so much pressure for me to stay caught in my sick cycle, to keep hurting myself. Because if I tried to stop out of my own volition, what would the societal implication have been? My disorder always felt like a double-edged sword I had no choice but to fall down upon; my shame ran deep into my core. Eventually, it became a serious fight to survive.

By the time loved ones and medical professionals actually began to ask questions, I had become a master of deception. I was indeed performing; just not as a ballerina. I had learned to manipulate, to hide my eating, hide my purging, make up an excuse for every behavior. My disordered eating had taken over my life, my sense of morality and identity. And my disordered behaviors did affect my real performing art of choice: singing. As I continued to shed more pounds I also lost critical muscle mass, and I developed vocal dysphonia; my voice changed, and it constantly hurt to speak. As my eating disorder ate away at my voice, I felt my sense of agency slipping away with it.

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The more harm I inflicted upon my body, the more “scars” there were to heal. At my worst, I found myself scared to eat in public and, more often than not, scared to be around food at all. In my mind, almost no food was “allowed”; it was all “bad”. I felt so uncomfortable and trapped in my own skin, in my own body. I had entered a life-threatening starvation mode that depleted me of all energy, warmth, and joy. But the pain ran so much deeper than that. At the end of the day, my “disorder” was never just about how many calories I ate in a day, or if I was on the right diet and if I was being a good vegan, or even if my body conformed to social standard into which I never felt I could fit- unlike a seemingly benign dress size. It was about so much more than that.

My eating disorder had grown out of all the pain and emotions I had cast aside- the feelings I had been carrying with me for years and years and been too afraid to touch. My “disorder” was my dad dying- it was my lost friends, it was growing up as a sick kid with a disease no one could label. It was grieving over and over again and the universal emotions of loss and loneliness; it was feeling misunderstood and out of control; it was struggling to cope with all of it. Because those feelings can become so unbearably heavy if we neglect to carry them with the dignity they deserve. And sometimes we throw them into a metaphoric basket and label it “weight”.

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Emotions, the pain of the past and present- they can feel like such burdens. But we can’t allow ourselves to confuse their complex nature with physical weight and space, those things which we agree to quantify with more measurable numbers and statistics. We must accept that so often, we can’t see the burdens carried by those around us at first glance, if at all. Some things just run too deep. But we will all inevitably have our own baskets with their own unique labels, our own burdens to carry. And we are never, ever able to be encompassed through metric means and diagnostic criteria alone that can merely skim the surface of the human lifespan- of our unique human essence. I believe we would do well to remember this when considering every individual’s body and outer presentation.

I wish to make it abundantly clear at this point that eating disorders are not a choice- they are real and serious illnesses. But to an extent, we do have the option to choose recovery through our own self-determination and strength. And finding the road to recovery is different for everyone.

Recovery means doing your best to show up for yourself, if no one else, every single day- it means challenging even the smallest of things as you work to hold the good with the bad. It is frequently painful and raw, and it requires honesty. To choose recovery is to choose one of the most complicated, confusing, and scary paths one can take- that may also lead to great freedom. Recovery is healing, and it’s an ongoing process. I believe with all my heart that healing is possible. And I’m so glad, because our world has a lot of healing to do.

I’m starting with working on healing myself. How about you?

Lots of Love,

Morgan Michelle

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NEDA Resources

 

On Ethical Loneliness: Moving Forwards in Times of Social Injustice

“Ethical loneliness is the experience of being abandoned by humanity, compounded by the cruelty of wrongs not being acknowledged. It is the result of multiple lapses on the part of human beings and political institutions that, in failing to listen well to survivors, deny them redress by negating their testimony and thwarting their claims for justice.”

So defines Jill Stauffer, associate professor of philosophy and director of the concentration in peace, justice, and human rights at Haverford College. (Stauffer, 2015)

September and October of 2018 have marked a tremendously tumultuous time for the country in which I hold citizenship. We are a nation divided; a nation fraying at its seams.

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Like far too many people who live in my country, I do not feel safe here. Every day, I am afraid— for myself, and for so many of those around me. Because right now the people in power have forgotten how to listen; they abuse their positions of authority and privilege and they perpetuate the suffering of those who are marginalized and neglected- of those who need their voices amplified the most.

This week, I have once again experienced what it is to feel abandoned. My old wounds have been torn open, and blood is running; my heart is exposed, beating wildly as my body and mind ready me to run. But freezing is no longer an option. I feel an obligation, a moral duty, to be near other survivors, other sisters at this time.

This past pivotal week in American politics, I do not believe it is unfair to say that American women- American survivors- have been all but forsaken by the mighty powers that be who govern our nation; we have been dehumanized, degraded, and treated as less than by our oppressors and their complicit sympathizers.

And yet we now find ourselves moving forwards. But how? Abandonment and its ensuing loneliness, the overwhelming sensations of isolation and sorrow that follow in its trail, are emotions that most every survivor will know all too well; and they are nothing short of traumatizing.

I believe it is at times such as these when we must consider what is truly right and what is unconditionally wrong. We must ask ourselves what it is we value most, and if our values are in alignment with our actions.

Do you trust yourself? Do you believe yourself? Survivors, advocates, friends and allies, please: believe in yourselves. Believe in your causes, your voices, and in what you are fighting for. Ensure that you are living in a way that honors what you stand for. In my experience, sometimes life becomes a little less lonely when our values are in alignment with our voices. 

Survivors: Now is the time to surround yourselves with allies, with people who love and know you. They don’t have to know your pain, they just have to be able to hear it.

And truly, that’s something we all need to learn to do. How I wish we could all learn to better hear one another’s pain, and truly listen and respond to it as compassionate human beings! This is something I am challenging myself to do each and every day- simply listen to the people around me and hear what they are communicating. 

And then finally, perhaps we can consider what it is we need the most right now, in a world where we don’t get everything we need and want. Do we need retribution? Do we need justice? Do we need accountability? How do these concepts differ? (And I believe they do) Can we start healing by simply listening to one another and being heard?

And most importantly: How can we start making the world around us a better, safer place even while violence actively ensues? What can we do today to help one another recover from trauma and the scars it leaves behind so that we may each continue the journey to tomorrow?

Let’s stand together- let us start healing, together.

Thank you for listening.

Reference:

Stauffer, J.Ethical loneliness: The injustice of not being heard. Retrieved from https://cup.columbia.edu/book/ethical-loneliness/9780231171502