What does it mean to be in my body?
By Grace Cuddihy
Being in my body means playing with my hands, twitching my fingers back and forth to keep myself distracted. A slight crack in my knuckles, my fingers clicking everytime I move them. It means a dull, throbbing headache in my temple that I can’t escape no matter how much water I drink or meds I down. A headache that starts from the base of my head and blooms forward across my brain. Headaches that cause white spots and flurries to dance around my eyes, meaning that I need to blink hard four times before I can read the writing in front of me.
Being in my body means tits, not particularly large ones but ones large for my frame and that developed quickly, leaving them always feeling like an external strange part of me that doesn’t belong. Tits that leave me with back pain. With faded, stretched out old bras that never fit right, and shirts I can’t wear because they leave me with weird looks from strangers. It means adult men that stare at me, gazing at me with a predatory glare from across the train car because I made the mistake of locking eyes with them. It means boys that harass me, sneering, telling me that I am leading them on by having boobs and being nice. Teasing me in front of friends, teachers. Snapping my bra strap because I started wearing bras before everyone else, leaving me with a stinging sensation on my back and a sense of shame.
Being in my body means walking around at night terrified, gripping keys between my fingers and looking behind me whenever someone gets too close or makes too much noise. It means wearing different clothes on the way to the party then when I get there, covering up on the train and on the sidewalk because if I get assaulted wearing something provocative it’ll be my fault. It means putting down my drink and not picking it back up again. It means not being able to trust anyone.
Being in my body means EEGs, EKGs, emergency IVs. Leads glued to my body, my head, my chest. Spending the night in the hospital. My mom doing an IV before my math test on a Tuesday morning. It means avoiding scheduling plans based on the weather, for fear that if it rains my head might explore. It means bringing a “makeup bag” everywhere I go that’s actually filled with medicine. A makeup bag that rattles when it’s shaken, one that people accidentally open and look in horror as piles of orange pill bottles spill out.
Being in my body means being beautiful. It means feeling the low grumble of my dog’s snores as he lays on my lap. It means smelling the scent of a brand new book when I open it for the first time. It means sucking in thin cold air while going for a run in the wintertime. It means licking cookie dough off of a spatula while baking. It means feeling sand under my toes while swimming in the ocean. It means being a lover, a caretaker, and a friend. It means being an older sister, a daughter. It means turning pain into art. It means being alive.
My mentor Caroline gave me the free-writing prompt, “What does it mean to be in my body?” I immediately began thinking of my own experiences being someone who is both female-bodied and chronically ill. My first draft was just the phrase, “being in my body means ___”, repeated over and over. Through editing, advice from my mentor and many drafts, the piece evolved a lot and arrived at the place it is now.
Grace Cuddihy is a writer, an activist, foster dog parent, baking enthusiast, and high school junior. She loves writing personal essays and writes frequently about her experience living with chronic illness. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching Survivor and phone banking. Grace’s favorite book is The Perks of Being a Wallflower and her favorite book series is Percy Jackson: Heroes of Olympus. Her favorite authors are James Baldwin and Toni Morrison.