Body Language is an anthology of essays from various writers on the ways that our bodies take up space in the world; in the ways that our identities are tied to our bodies, how we physically exist within the world, as well as how we are perceived by others.
Throughout this book, diverse narratives and multiple perspectives on the body provide an engrossing read, from Nina Riggs discussing the act of cremating her mother’s body, to Destiny Birdsong navigating the broken healthcare system as a Black woman with chronic illness, to Eloghosa Osunde reclaiming her body through dance and movement after being sexually assaulted. The book’s introduction states that the common factor in these writers’ stories is the authors writing their personal truths for their own bodies and identities, “as opposed to submitting to society’s expectations” on the ways that certain bodies must exist and conform in society.
As is true of any reader, I found different sections spoke to me more than others. Some I related to, some I found heartening, some I found left me feeling uneasy. I would recommend that the book offer trigger warnings for those sensitive to graphic content; while the stories within are powerful, personal, and meaningful, they also speak explicitly about trauma experienced by the body, such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, eating disorders, racial violence, medical procedures and other such triggering topics.
This book is important, especially in light of the last few years surviving the pandemic – and the particularly vulnerable Black and brown, disabled communities, and those who have immunocompromising conditions that have suffered and are continuing to suffer from COVID-19’s physical, mental, and economic impacts to their health and wellbeing.
As Gabrielle Bellot wrote in her section, The Year of Breath, “this viral pandemic will end, to be sure, but the other pandemic, the one targeting nonwhite bodies, has no ending in sight.” Though many of these stories expose and critique societal norms and discriminatory practices, many also highlight and uplift the stories of those who seek to take up space in the world and resist societal expectations.
Such stories, like that of Ross Showalter in his essay, Writing My Truth as a Deaf Queer Writer, where he discusses the importance of representation, as well as, learning to “look beyond abled people and their approval” in order to write his truths; like A. E. Osworth’s section, In Certain Contexts, Out of Certain Mouths, in which they discuss thirst traps, gender, and photography as they document their body while on testosterone during the pandemic, narrating that “by taking the photo(s), by taking the time, I am conferring value upon myself and my body-in-process… I affirm my thereness, my rightness.”
In these writings, the authors discuss the ways that they combat dominant norms narratives and affirm their right to live their truths outside of what is expected.
The writings in Body Language seek to represent and comment on the lives of the often disempowered and marginalized. They portray a multitude of experiences and perspectives through the writers’ own personal narratives and recollections. The essays in this book examine how our bodies exist in the world, but more importantly affirm our bodies’ right to take up space, to exist in a world that fundamentally works against those that are deemed “different.” And in the same way that our bodies have the right to take up space and be seen; so do the stories from these talented authors.