Review: My Body, My Words: A Collection of Bodies, edited by Loren Kleinman and Amye Archer

My body my words coverMy closet is full of clothes I worked hard to fit into; now those size 12 shorts and cute sundresses are annoying reminders of the inches around my waist and thighs caused by health issues over the winter. All I want to do is throw on yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a bulky cardigan and call it a day. If you’ve been in this place, too, where you feel your body has betrayed you, My Body, My Words is for you.

My Body, My Words: A Collection of Bodies (Big Table Publishing Company, February 2018) is an anthology of 61 short essays and poems focused on the authors’ relationships with their corporeal selves. From the expected self-consciousness of sex to the unexpected implications of a slap, the writers wrestle with their thighs, sweat, hair, and, in one essay, what a mermaid tattoo thinks. One of the genius aspects of this anthology is the editors’ have clearly selected short pieces by design. This offers voice to more experiences, along with a satisfyingly quick pace. In social justice circles, the word amplify is used to describe the act of sharing the words, music, art, and ideas of others. It’s clear Kleinman and Archer mindfully chose contributors to represent different genders, races, cultures, ages, and more, offering the readers page after page of fresh perspective to amplify different experiences.

One of my favorite pieces is by Monique Antonette Lewis, who writes about her decision to cut off her hair and wear it naturally. Lewis, from the point of view of her hair, writes, “A new priestess has emerged. She takes your hand in hers and prepares me for cleansing. She understands my nature and you trust her when she thrusts the spear and I am born again.” It is a holy celebration of Black culture and, simultaneously, a call to anyone who goes to painful lengths to meet standards of beauty.

The amplification of men’s voices can be tricky because, well, men’s voices are always amplified in our society. Kleinman and Archer chose male writers who bump up against our culture of toxic masculinity, which makes them feel less like invaders in this mostly female space and more like commiserators. For example, Brian Fanelli cleverly takes memories of bonding over horror movies with his father and analyzes how The Thing shaped his definition of manhood. It certainly reminded me that men face pressures to conform as much as women do.

Sometimes a book finds you when you need it most and this was one of those times. The morning after I finished My Body, My Words, I ran my hands over my jiggly belly with 263 pages of affirmation behind me. Then, I opened my closet and took out all of the clothes that are too small. I folded them and put them in a plastic tote, to be opened when they fit again. That evening, I bought myself a gorgeous green sundress in my current size. Thanks to this book, instead of thinking about the impossible, I am thinking about what is possible with my body.

 

Heather harlenHeather Harlen is a writer, teacher, and activist. Her newest novel, SHAME, SHAME, I KNOW YOUR NAME (Northampton House Press, March 2017) is the second book in the Marina Konyeshna thriller trilogy. She earned her master’s in creative writing from Wilkes University. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband where she enjoys planning her ideal zombie apocalypse team and practicing yoga.

 

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