Our Body of Work

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


I was browsing through one of my books on writing (specifically, The Writer’s Workout: 366 Tips, Tasks & Techniques from Your Writing Career Coach by Christina Katz) and a tip regarding writing about the body caught my eye. The author spoke of how we have so many memories stored inside our bodies. This led me to thinking that if I brainstormed creative nonfiction essay ideas or journal entries about my own body, what would I write about? 

I’ve already written about the bump in the middle of my nose, and how I received it after falling off a pogo ball my stepfather bought me in the 1980s. I can still remember the taste of blood as it poured from my nose and onto the concrete sidewalk, and how by the end of the evening I could barely breathe from all the swelling and I lay huddled under the comforter on my bed, wondering why my parents hadn’t taken me to the hospital and vowing not to go to school until the bruises faded. (I didn’t know back then that my parents didn’t have health or dental insurance throughout much of my childhood.) 

I could write about the scar I have on the inside of my right calf, the result of me locking myself in the bathroom in middle school determined to finally shave my legs. I was tired of people making fun of the long black hairs that were so evident when I put on my regulation tiny gym shorts, and the mother who didn’t understand. I can still remember her pounding on the door because she heard me crying after I sliced open the skin on the inside of my leg with a disposable Gillette razor. How many of these body stories could we share from adolescence? 

But when writing about our bodies there should be balance of painful memories and good insights, right? I can also write about how I recently stopped recording what I eat every day in my online food diary, because I’m just exhausted. I can’t do it anymore. I’m 44 years old and I have curves. I work out almost every single day and eat healthy 85 percent of the time. I’m not going to weigh what I did in my early 20s, and to be honest, I wasn’t a healthy person back then, mentally or physically. I also don’t have much of a problem with my stretch marks—the daughter who gave them to me because she was more than eight pounds when she was born is beautiful, brilliant and my best friend and about to turn 18. I could also write about my skin, how important it is to protect it, and the connection I have with my ancestors who also had skin that turned a beautiful brown color in the sun.

Our bodies have so many stories. Think about your hands, feet, skin, hair, bruises, scars, bumps, muscles and tissue. What could you write about if you let yourself explore? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer, editor and podcaster. Visit her website at FinishedPages.com.

8 comments:

Theresa Boedeker said...

So good. You gave me so many ideas. And yes to looking at both the good and bad.

Angela said...

Great post, Renee, and I LOVE writing about the body! It's an endless source of material to spark stories. It's funny you should mention shaving your legs in middle school. I recently wrote about the first time I shaved my legs, but since I didn't have a mom to guide me, I didn't know you had to shave the back of your legs, too; and how the entire class made fun of me for it. Lol! It was a small part of a larger piece on workplace hazing and I included a lot of childhood embarrassments.

I've written about acne, a self-tanner incident, breaking my ankle, anorexia, my breasts, fertility issues, and so much more. I'm still shopping around a piece about my body that I tied to not being a daughter or mother. One benefit of writing about the body is your work becomes visceral for the reader, like they're wrapping themselves up in your skin.

One of my favorite WOW classes is Chelsey Clammer's "What Our Bodies Have to Say: Writing About, Writing with the Body." It has so many great exercises, essay structures, and craft techniques that use the body to enhance larger narratives and themes. It's awesome! She already ran one this year, but usually runs one once a year.

I also hear you about curves, and it took a long time for me to realize it. When I was 43, I was so fit, I remember taking a photo of the scale to prove I'd gotten down to a buck ten. But now, even though it's only six years (and many pounds) later, I can find better things to spend my time on than starving myself or working out for hours a day just to maintain a number on the scale.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Hmm. Some food for thought here. What I have learned in yoga and in doing yoga in 2020 (at home). Me and my cousins and are two "looks." There's the red-haired group and the dark group and, depending who is outnumbered, bystanders tend to assume someone is adopted. Someone is but they NEVER get it right.

Will definitely have to keep thinking about this.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Renee I've often written essays about my body, especially those parts of my body that took years to lovingly embrace. Thanks for this post and the reminder to explore the many stories about our bodies.

Marilyn BG said...

Great post, and excellent move to stop the food diary! Your body is healthy and that's all that matters. With time and experience we change, and that includes our physique: our bodies don't stay in pudgy baby phase or bigfooted adolescent phase, so why should we expect them to be as they were in our twenties in middle age?

Renee Roberson said...

Theresa--Happy to hear this post sparked some inspiration!

Ang--There are so many things we go through in adolescence that we could probably fill up a book, right? Chelsey's class sounds amazing, and I love hearing about all the ways you've used the body in your own writing. I too was proud when I got back down to 115 again a few years ago, but it's just not realistic for me to stay there and I *think* I'm finally coming to terms with that. I'm sure I could write two or three more essays on the topic of hunger, weight and body image, though.

Sue--That definitely sounds like a topic for a CNF piece! I feel like my two kids don't look that much alike (Noah has dark hair and olive skin like me, and Mia has fair skin, dark blonde hair and blue eyes) and it's made for some awkward moments when they are out in public together and people assume they're a couple!

Jeanine--Thank you for the encouragement, and I hope being able to explore the observations about your own body have been helpful. It's definitely a work in progress!

Marilyn--Thank you! I feel like as long as I'm exercising, eating fairly healthy and taking care of myself, I cannot let what I write in my food journal make me feel bad about myself. There are so many other things in life to worry about.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Renee,
I cannot imagine that either one of the kids is thrilled with that mistake. Wow. People really should just shhhhhhhh.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I, too, have written about my body over the years, mostly funny essays. I mean, it WAS pretty funny when the strap of my bathing suit popped off and I was on the shoulders of one of the guys in my class, playing "chicken" in the pool. Funny because I didn't realize it; mortifying when I did.

LOTS of stories like that one, Renee. I was the Queen of Embarrassing Body Moments. Come to think of it, I still am. :-)

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