Several years ago I came across a memoir of a European woman who spent several months living with a Bedouin tribe in the desert. For the life of me, I can’t remember the title or the author, but I do remember a moment that struck me where the Bedouin women refused to believe that the author was 40 years old because she had all of her teeth. She offered to teach them how to care for their teeth but they declined saying, “We will have no respect in the tribe if we do that. Our teeth are markers of our age and points to our wisdom.” It was one of the first examples of someone looking at the aging body as something valuable, as carrying markers of it’s journey with wisdom written on its surface, that I had come across. Later, I attended a play called “The Vagina Monologues” by Eva Ensler who had interviewed 200 women about their perspectives of sex, relationships and violence against women. I was moved by the beauty of the stories and the way the play honoured the stories of pain, of awkwardness, of delight and of fears with humour and compassion and was inspired to write about my own body as a sort of personal exploration. (Check out the Wikipedia article for more about the Vagina Monologues, including various critiques and perspectives on it).
I wrote a play called “Scars” after giving birth for the second time. In this play, I travelled across my body from head to toe writing a scene about each scar on my body.
It was an attempt to note and honour each mark on my body, embracing the story it told on my skin.
I started with the nose ring in my right nostril which I had had pierced at the age of 19. I wrote it with two voices. One was the voice of an instructional video which was describing the psychological stages of change model beginning at denial and working it’s way through contemplation, preparation and action. After the description of each stage, I spoke about my decision making process about getting my nose pierced including my hesitations based on social norms at the time, my desire to be “intriguing,” etc. until I actually went ahead with it.
The second scene is called “The Earlobes” where I described getting my ears pierced by the pastor’s wife at the age of 10 and how grown up I felt. This scene ends with the woman offering to show me pictures of the birth of her daughter. I remembered seeing images of her daughter crowning, and being born, followed by a picture of a placenta being held over a garbage can. That was pretty shocking to me at that time, but after re-reading this, I was reminded me that there were people in my life, even at that early age, who felt that the body was a pretty amazing thing.
Next was “The Chin” about a scar I got at the age of 5. I wrote it from the perspective of myself at that age. Here’s a clip…
I’m big you know. I don’t even have training wheels anymore. I’m brave too. I got two stitches in my chin and I hardly cried at all. Mommy says that they will be better in time for the wedding. I hope not because I want to show them off. I’m going to be the flower girl. Bill is going to marry my mom. He was babysitting me when I fell off my bike. I was cutting a corner and my bike tipped over when I got on the grass part. I fell on the sidewalk and landed on my chin. There was lots of blood. Bill took me to get my stitches at the hospital. Mom says I should start calling him dad because he’s going to be my dad soon…
Then I wrote about stretch marks. One scene was a letter to my breasts. Here’s a snippet of that:
We’ve come a long ways together, you and I. We’ve grown up together. Well, I’ve grown generally up and you’ve grown generally out. I guess we’ve all gains and lost a little through the years, as I can see by your stretch marks… Lately, I’ve been been amazed at how you’ve matured and filled out. You’ve gotten a new job and have been working so hard at it. Life is no longer only about looks. I’ve been more than astoundated at the formula you’ve developed and produced. No science has never been able to replicate its ability to adapt as needed to environmental changes. Where did you learn this stuff? I don’t remember you taking any training; the only training we ever got was to sit up straight.
I moved on to the scar I got on my left wrist from a cut I sustained when I intervened in a street fight between two women, one of whom was mute, the other who was at least eight months pregnant. This I told as if it were a news story.
The following scene was about the stretch marks on my belly from my first pregnancy, which ended in a still birth, this was written as journal entries.
A scene called “The Perineum” spoke about the still birth of my first child and the stitches I got as a result of that labour. As I wrote that scene I was able to put it into words, only by focusing on the facts of the event. The emotions were too strong. There was no way for my mind to create a persona, or even to think in terms of symbols. I could only observe, as if from a distance, that traumatic time. But it was enough to put it down on paper so that others could witness it along side of me.
A burn mark on my right thigh was written from the perspective of my mother at the age of 15. She’s telling an unknown audience about what happened when she brought me home from the foster home and took me camping with the youth group from the church. An oil lamp fell over and burned my legs while I was asleep. My imagination of how she might have felt, her fears of being a parent and her love for me resonate throughout that piece.
Scene 10 was “The Right Shin,” told from the perspective of my shin, who spoke like an old vet telling a battle story with lots of bluster, about the time it got scraped it on a piece of metal at a tree planting camp In it I’m mocking myself as it was such a visible scar but obtained in such an uncool and silly way.
The last scene was about the scar on one of my toes. It is a letter to myself as a baby. I got that scar in the foster home I was in for three months, when my mother assumed that she’d have to give me up, before her parents agreed to help her out so that she could keep me.
Scene 12 was “The Conclusion” it reads as follows:
These are the scars of my body. They are mine and I cherish the markers that prove that I lived here, on this planet, for a time. I will not hide my scars, they speak of experience and of wisdom. They are beautiful to me, each with their story of pain, whether chosen or inflicted. I have no scars of war of torture or disease or of poverty. I will not take scars to hide my scars, or speak negatively about the beauty marks I bear. My scars have become part of me: they tell a story, a story worth sharing, a story that invites a story. This is my story.
As I read through the play now, I see a lot of things that I hoped to grow within myself. By trying on various perspectives, by gently mocking at times and showing great compassion at others, I feel like this exercise was planting the seeds of self love that still struggle to grow as I continue to age and add new markers of time to my body.
I am sharing this with you, as an invitation to notice, honour and protect the signs of life on your body.
Imagine talking to your body parts lovingly, imagine them talking to you. Imagine them from the perspective of a child, imagine the perspective of others’ involved. Love them, cry over them, and laugh about them. These are your treasures, signs of your wisdom and the journey that you have been on. Embrace them.
Also check out Learning to Love My Younger Self: Re-storying a Life