the body narratives


[Hana] When I first came across Jamilla Okubo’s work, I felt an instant joy. Bright, colourful and bold with the use of African prints, her pieces offer both a celebration and a reclamation of black bodies. Today Jamilla tells us more about what inspires her and the stories she wants to tell through her prints and illustrations. 

1.Tell us a little about your work?

I really enjoy working with an array of mediums such as painting, digital/hand-painted prints, garments, and collaging. Color is definitely a key element in my work as well as prints. My work mainly focuses on subjects of the Diaspora because I just love the beauty within our culture and people. I just feel as though it is my duty to remind people of color that we have such a rich culture, and that we should love ourselves and one another. So I strive for my work to have a balance of conceptuality and beauty. These are two quotes that I live by when it comes to creating artwork:

“The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If i love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”- James Baldwin

“The black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the “Negro’s” reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images.”- Sonia Sanchez

2. What inspires you and what is your process?

I am heavily inspired by my background culture and experiences in life. My work is heavily fired by my emotions as well. Whether I am passionate or really angry about something, I use those feelings as an advantage to create from the heart and express myself. I am also inspired by other cultures. Being able to interact with people from all over the world and experience other cultures is a blessing.

Depending on the project that I am working on, I may gather inspiration photos from the internet or books, and create a moodboard (it’s a habit that I got from school, specifically fashion). Majority of the time I will randomly get inspired, whether it is from a movie or an incident that I saw on the news, I immediately start creating. I have a very odd way of working because, a lot of people always tell me “you work so much”, “you’re always creating something”, or “how do you have so much time to create?” Honestly I don’t!. When an idea sparks I immediately stop whatever I am doing and create what I envisioned at that moment.

3. Textile prints seem to play a key part in your prints and illustrations. What does this mean to you and is it telling of your own journey?

While attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts I was to create a 15-painting themed series for my senior year. As I found myself searching for inspiration I came across Africa Fashion Week NY for the first time. The textiles, beautiful african models, and vibrant expression of a culture I had been long disconnected from - struck a chord in me. From this I began my wandering - an earnest exploration of my history and ancestors. Blessed by a teacher by the name of Stanley Squirewell, seeing the fire in me as a young person, introduced me to a host of artists that continue to inspire me today: Mickalene Thomas, Kara Walker, Wangenchi Mutu, Hank Willis Thomas, etc. I played with how to take these narratives of blackness and interpret them through my work, my craft.

4. As a designer, what does the body mean to you?

As a designer, the body is an external way to express oneself. Also, being able to interpret and express your inner self through clothing and accessories is a wonderful thing. It gives all people the opportunity to treat their body as a canvas and not have to worry about others perceptions or opinions. The body provides a landscape on which my aesthetic inevitable conclusions come to life.

5. What can we look out for in 2014?

Well hopefully if all goes as planned, I am working on having my second solo art show in June. But as of now I am focusing on school, so you will of course see what I am working on throughout the semester. I always find a way to link my school projects with my own work. I cannot speak of all that I am planning on doing because I don’t want to jinx myself. Just know that I am always working on something!

Aspiring Textile designer, Jamilla Okubo, is an 20-year old African-American/Kenyan native from Washington, D.C. She is currently studying Integrated Fashion Design at Parsons the New School for Design. Jamilla’s prints invoke a life and sophistication in them. Constantly utilizing the vibrancies of African textiles to her advantage with color ways that would put a smile to both the viewer and wearer. Where her work gains depth lays in the subject matter of the prints. The prints, fun as they may be, acknowledge a deeper struggle which is rooted in black culture. She acknowledges the history, but similar to an upbeat song about heartbreak decides to shine a different light on the situation by claiming the story back for herself.

Follow her on: 
Portfolio Site: 

I really believe that applying poetry, or language in general, to trauma is the ultimate act of reclaiming. Naming something gives you a sort of ownership over it (hey, colonialism did it all the time, haha), so choosing words that identify your experience makes it less of this looming unknown that has you at its mercy. It makes everything less ‘something that happened to me’ and more 'experience/story that belongs to me,’ you know?
—  Safia Elhillo, interviewed for The Body Narratives


The female body has been defined, translated and documented for centuries by a gaze other than our own. As we delve into different cultural and religious layers of our identity, the issue of ‘body ownership’ becomes more complex, and its easy to feel that as women of colour, we are losing the power and voice to express what our bodies mean to us.   

So…when we met up with photographer Sanaa Hamid last week, we were excited to hear about the new journey that the ladies behind The Body Narratives are planning! 

From documenting WoC concerns on their blog, the The Body Narratives team is now working towards holding workshops, educational events and their first exhibition to encourage a dialogue about body issues that inevitably affect us all as a community of women. 

External image

‘A Different Mirror’ is a three-day art exhibition by 9 artists in Brixton, London. Socially constructed ideas about race, gender and culture remain key in how Women of Colour perceive themselves. The exhibition will use art as the basis to capture and explore body image and perception, examining the effects of body image on who we are.

Supporting their kick-starter doesn’t only mean you’ll be funding their project, but also means that you’ve made an active step in helping to bring about body positivity.

Donate here, and make sure you don’t miss their first fundraising event (Seet and I are gutted we can’t make it!) if you’re around Brixton next Tuesday. 

- A x


Do people not realize Africa was rich just by existing? Diamonds, gold, silver, copper, salt, cocoa–and the list goes on. The continent was robbed by countries poorer than them so that their greedy asses could make millions and leave Africa to be treated like all it ever was since the beginning of time is flies, disease, starvation, and poverty.

Slavery alone, the exploitation of free labor, turned the United States into an economic force. I’m not talking about the indentured servitude of the Irish, or whatever moment in time you wish to denigrate the topic of this specific atrocity relevant to the black experience with by using another atrocity, because its only purpose would be to spew anti-black commentary instead of empathy. I’m talking about one thing here: the diaspora and enslavement of black bodies that provided the narrative for the continued discrimination against them today, as a race. The belief that black lives could be bought, sold, and mistreated like property turned into an enterprise that could be invested in, and I’m not referring to the actions of just slaveowners in the south, no. I’m talking WALL STREET. JPMorgan Chase, Brooks Brothers, Aetna, Wells Fargo… huge corporations that flourished off of the sweat and blood of many. Also, let’s not forget the ivy league schools whose students came from wealthy slave-owning families, paying for their tuition with the profit garnered from slave labor. That means Harvard, that means Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia…universities where the demographics are still predominantly white males.

This country (and specifically just this country, we’re not even talking about England, Spain, France, Netherlands, and Portugal’s paper trail) has seen trillions of dollars generated from slavery–plus interest–and not a penny returned. That means that money has only begot more money. It’s not gone. It’s not a thing of the past. It shaped this country into what it is now and so many whites (god bless the knowledgeable ones) act as if black people are supposed to see it as a good thing while simultaneously being told we should just “go back to Africa”, to the lands that have been ravaged by their forefathers, since we’re not always pleased with our environment. 

Those of us who are conscious of what went on and what’s still going on are not just crying over spilt milk. This shit goes too deep for that. And the worst part is, the only way to completely wipe the slate clean of the atrocities that POC in general have faced at the hands of European colonization is to wipe the face of the earth clean, then start over. But nobody wants to touch on the basis of these things. Not even in Jenga. It’s much easier to just keep going skyward because the consequence of getting too close to the foundation is watching everything you built come crashing down.


One important summer’s day I came across Qahera, the badass Muslim woman superhero, and felt a little more than good. Witty, empowering and politically perfect, Deena’s Webcomic has crucially been well received. I wanted to know more about the inspiration behind the Hijabi superhero that takes on misogynistic Muslim men and white-saviour-complex feminists.

Q. Who is Qahera and why is she important?

At this stage of her development, Qahera is a female, visibly Muslim superhero. She’s important (to me, I suppose) because I feel like there is a need for female Muslim superheroes who actually deal with the real-life issues we face instead of fictional supervillains (because let’s face it, half of the things Muslim women have to deal with feel like they’ve been concocted by supervillains.) But yeah, there’s a need for her. Both in comics and in real life.

Q. What does it mean for her to be a superhero?

I feel like it means she doesn’t have to be afraid. She can face the challenges all Muslim women face head-on and obliterate them. Superheroes have this remarkable ability of standing out in a crowd and getting their voices heard (admittedly, usually because they’re wearing skintight lycra and a cape) and I guess that’s what I want Qahera to do.

On an audience-receptive level, her being a superhero also means she can break past the barriers of constant arguing and the words we use over and over again, like “privilege” and “patriarchy” and “intersectional feminism” and just visually slap you with the reality of the words in simple, simple terms. People understand superheroes. Nothing is clearer than angry words in a speech bubble coming from a lady holding a sword.

Unfortunately this also has its drawbacks because angry words in a speech-bubble cannot fully describe or explain the intricacies behind the challenges we face. It can also lead to infantilising or over-simplifying an issue (particularly to those unfamiliar with them), but I guess that’s my own personal challenge to work on.

Q. How do you feel she challenges the stereotypes and tropes Muslim women face, particularly as they (and their bodies) are often spoken for, spoken at, and spoken against?

I guess she mostly challenges them just by existing. Even though there are already two veiled superheroes in the comic book world (Dust, Excalibur), the majority of the comments I’ve received have been “what a great concept!”

People are surprised by the idea of a Muslim woman as a superhero. Superheroes are Western concepts, even though every child in the world probably knows Superman. The idea that a Muslim woman would be a part of that (especially a Middle-Eastern based one, as Qahera is) is sort of different to them in itself. Apart from that I think she challenges the stereotypes head-on. Her entire existence is bent on being outspoken, independent and fierce.

The worst and most common stereotype Muslim women face is that of being helpless and controlled, lacking autonomy. A superhero is the opposite of that. Qahera is the opposite of that.

Q. Where did the concept come from for the comic?

My frustration with the world. Qahera came about because she was basically everything I longed to be. Additionally, I see so many strong and powerful women who constantly fight and strive for freedom, both politically and socially, and I feel like some of them are already superheroes. The two ideas - that I’d like superpowers, that women are superheroes - sort of collided into Qahera.

Q. Where can we get more of this badass superhero?

Ahhh my blog probably! I’ve received an incredible response, which makes me think I should probably make a separate place to post Qahera’s adventures, but until then she’s at Blog Like An Egyptian 

Deena is an Egyptian university student majoring in graphic design. She also works as a freelance illustrator. She currently resides in Egypt where she watches too many television shows. She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.
How Racism Creeps Into Medicine

The history of a medical instrument reveals the dubious science of racial difference.

“This is a problem not just with lung capacity measurements but with health inequality more generally. There’s vastly, vastly, vastly more research on genomics than on the social determinants of health. Part of the problem is the infrastructure of science. What kinds of questions are considered scientific?”


‘A Different Mirror’ is a three-day multidisciplinary art exhibition by 9 Women of Colour artists in Brixton, London. Socially constructed ideas about race, gender and culture remain key in how Women of Colour perceive themselves.

The exhibition will use art as the basis to capture and explore body image and perception, examining the effects of body image on who we are. In addition to supporting Women of Colour artists we want to create a programme that relates to, engages with and celebrates the experiences of Women of Colour in London where these discussions are often limited. 

We want to use this platform as a safe space and creative medium to discuss body image, body positivity and healing by creating accessible educational activities. 

For more information go to

It’s time for The Body Narratives to give you guys a heads up on exciting events coming up. This is one we can’t wait to attend and hope that some of you Londoners will be joining us! 

Led by a collective of four African Diaspora women artists, Janine Francois (Creative Producer/Director), Stella Odunlami (Curator), Zainab Adamu (Photographer/Filmmaker) and Belinda Zhawi (Writer and Griot), Re-introducing Oshun is an interdisciplinary exhibition that re-imagines black women’s bodies as sacred places of beauty, intimacy, and love through the Yoruba deity, Oshun. 

Janine Francois tells us a little more about the project:

“The exhibition is inspired by Oshun and  her "responsibilities” in the physical and metaphysical worlds which are,  diplomacy, love, beauty, seduction and sexuality. She is also associated with rivers and is akin to honey, hues of gold, peacock feathers, perfumes and seductive movements, all of whom are featured in the exhibition. We wanted our audience to emerge themselves in to another time, space and reality where black women’s bodies are worshiped as the beacon of beauty, as Oshun is. It is in this capacity we are re-introducing Oshun by connecting her powers to the beauty of black women’s bodies. 

I had the idea of wanting to produce an exhibition tackling the topic of black women’s bodies, I am very much influenced by Foucault and his notion of “biopolitics.”  I am also a Producer and not practising artist, so I went straight to my friends and other artists whom I have had the pleasure to work with and pitch the idea to them. Thankfully, they said yes. A big part of this was wanting to create an all female and all black collective and being quite unapologetic about it too. Thus, providing and facilitating a creative space where our disciplines could work together to produce aesthetically beautiful pieces of art loaded with meaning.”

’Re-Introducing Oshun,’  will be open from 10 - 17 October 2013 at Shinobare Studios.  Hosted by Guest Projects Africa and funded by the Arts Council, it culminates in an evening of live performances at the Lyric Hammersmith. Don’t miss out!

When I read the story of Jada, so many emotions took hold of me. Anger, disgust, frustration, and sadness…Once again, a young Black girl’s body had been violated in the worst of ways. Even worse, her assault went viral on social media. Her assault went viral (the fact that the words assault and viral are being used in the same sentence makes me view humanity with a new level of disgust). Jada is fighting against her attackers and she is reclaiming her narrative and body.

Rape culture is real. Sexual violence is real. Gender-based violence is real. The continuing legacy of sexual brutalization of Black girls and Black women in this country is real. The sooner we acknowledge these truths, the sooner we can begin to dismantle the systems that continue to perpetuate rape culture.

She is fighting. The least we can do is stand by her and fight with her.

#IAmJada #StandWithJada

Made with Instagram

things mad max: fury road have changed for me:

  • sharpened my critical eye for determining when the camera is forcibly sexualizing female bodies vs. when the narrative is subverting sexualization
  • reinforced my understanding that a movie can be sensational in some areas while still lacking and worth criticism in others (race representation, for instance)
  • deepened my appreciation for vehicles, especially customs
  • never been more aware of tom hardy’s lips
  • all trees are now “tree things”

‘Black British Feminism: Past, Present and Futures’ is a one-day conference on 14 March 2015 in Brixton in collaboration with the Black Cultural Archives and Chardine Taylor-Stone. It attempts to trace black feminist journeys and legacies into the present. Centred on intergenerational dialogue, the interactive programme encourages reflection, celebration and a return to an activist-centred movement.

Please note that the BCA part of the programme has a ticket fee of £15. Booking early is advisable as tickets are not guaranteed on the door. All events hosted at the Karibu Education Centre are free but you must register your place for both the Wisdom Circles and the evening discussion to confirm your place.

Black Cultural Archives: 12pm – 3:30pm Tickets £15: Book with the BCA!

The Cinema of Collective Black Resistance

A series of films throughout the day mapping the history and context of Black political struggle in Britain. These films give us an insight into the world from which a radical and active period of Black British Feminism developed and raises questions on how some of the issues touched upon in that era have developed our ideas of what it means to be Black and actively resist forms of oppression today.

Black British Feminism in the archives workshop

The Black Cultural Archive will be displaying ephemera from the OWAAD movement and other black feminist actions in the Learning Centre throughout the day.

Black British Feminist activists in Brixton walk

Kelly Foster will take visitors on a black feminist activist tour around Brixton, exploring the landmarks that are entrenched in collective histories of black resistance. At a time where Brixton is rapidly changing, this walk encourages visitors to think about race, space and place.

Karibu Education Centre: 4pm – 12am Free: Register your place here now!

4pm: Wisdom Circles: Black British Activism Past and Present

Breaking out of the traditional workshop format, five wisdom circles will take place around the room facilitated by cross-generational black feminist activists. Each circle will facilitate a dialogue on a different topic, encouraging participants to listen and contribute to a crosspollination of ideas in a fluid and safe space. Wisdom Circles are an ancient way in which indigenous peoples came together in sacred circles to learn from each other how to survive, hope and dream.

Topics: Grassroots organising, queer activism, violence against women, mental health, challenging anti-blackness in non-black People of Colour communities and wellness and healing in transformatory work.

Please note that the wisdom circles are only open to Women/QTI of Colour. Participants will choose three circles to participate in based on the topics above. You will be contacted once you have registered as to your preferences. Each circle will be capped at 10 people. Register now.

6pm: Moving Forward: A Collective Conversation on the Future of Black British Feminism

An open floor discussion on how the current wave of Black Feminism is defining its voice, its ideals and activism today. A panel will be present but incorporating a “Question Time” style format we strongly encourage discussion amongst all on the floor and on social media.

Chair: Nydia Swaby

Panelists: Liz Obi, Chardine Taylor-Stone, Ikamara Larasi and Dr Joan Anim-Addo (other panelists tbc).

Drinks, Music and Chatter: Dj’s from 10pm.


Art has always offered the opportunity to not only be honest and bold in order to make sense of the world around us, it has always nurtured a fundamental space to challenge and resist it. 

Jay Katelansky, the beautiful soul that created what has now come to be our banner, remains a woman who pushes through her art. In the bid to shift and navigate race, gender and sexuality in America, her work can often render audiences uncomfortable, forcing them to critically think about blackness, representation and the body in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society.

I was privileged enough to see her phenomenal BFA Thesis the need to ADORN  when i was in Philadelphia earlier this year and was moved by the necessity of her work. The Body Narratives looks forward to watching her closely and supporting her journey in continuing the dialogue and discourse through her art. 

Jay Katelansky is currently an MFA candidate at The University of Wisconsin Madison. She received her BFA from Moore College of Art and Design.

Her work has been exhibited in the Goldie Paley Gallery in 2012 and 2011, Society Hill gallery in 2012, Moore College of Art’s student show in both 2011 and 2012, and “We Make Art Part 2”, a group show of emerging artists. The summer of 2012 she completed an internship with Shani Peters a video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public artist and was the assistant to San Francisco based illustrator Hannah Stouffer in her solo show at Kinfolk Studios.  

You can follow her Tumblr Shifting Self.


“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ― Audre Lorde 

Aesthetics continues to be an essential basis by which we are judged, looked at, and ultimately defined as women. This space is an attempt to curate and document all the ways in which as Women of Colour we navigate, understand and own the embodiment of our narratives and experiences. At the heart of this journey, we seek to uncover how our bodies belong to ourselves.

In collecting a diverse range of women of colour’s voices (across race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, geographic location, able-bodiedness and gender queer identities) and mediums, we hope to create a restorative body of work spiritually, emotionally, physically, and intellectually that heals. 

Using articles, interviews, essays, love notes, poetry, prose, art, photography, film, and discussion both online and offline we attempt to map these journeys.

Follow us! Support us! Get in touch if you would like to get more involved or have something you’d like to share/contribute either by the Submission or Ask box or email us: 

P.S. check out Jay Katelansky’s work she’s contributed to make our banner and part of our logo  - doesn’t that get you excited?

Comparing literature to anime because why not? YGO Protagonist

Fandom opinions:

Side A: Atem is the protagonist! It’s his story and his quest for his identity that drives the story arcs! He’s the title character - what more do you need?

Side B: Yugi is the protagonist! The story is really about his growth - that’s where the message of the series lies!

Me: *overthinks*

I was thinking about this, and I think I can add something to the discussion. 

What if I told you both points were true?

OK, I’ll give you a minute to put yourselves back together. 

Let me put it this way: that YuGiOh! is Atem’s story, but Yugi is the protagonist are not actually mutually exclusive. Both things can be true at the same time. 

To demonstrate my point, we have to look at a classic work of literature, The Great Gatsby. 

Looking at the title, you might assume that Gatsby was the protagonist. 

He’s not. It’s actually Nick Carraway, who narrates the story. 

This is because author F Scott Fitzgerald was using a literary device called a framing narrative or frame story. A quick definition:

A framed narrative is a story or set of stories included within the framework of a larger story. Typically, the larger framework involves someone relating the main story to another character, showing both the power of the original narrative and how it affects characters in the present.


Simply put, a framing narrative is when a story is contained within another story, or presented from another character’s perspective. But it’s more than this. In the case of The Great Gatsby: 

…narrator Nick Carraway tells Gatsby’s story retrospectively to show readers how Nick became disenchanted with the American dream.

While Nick might appear to be peripheral to the main story that is being told - that of doomed lovers Gatsby and Daisy - he actually has a greater purpose in the narrative. 

Nick himself is changed by the story. He’s very clearly affected by what happens to Gatsby, telling him that ‘he’s worth the whole lot put together!’ when comparing the man to his other friends. 

But Fitzgerald has a greater purpose, as mentioned above. By using Nick, he can make a point about the corrupt nature of society and how those born poor will always be seen as poor, no matter how rich they become. 

Through his involvement in Gatsby’s story, Nick grows as a character in the following ways:

  • He realises the American Dream is corrupt - poor people like Gatsby can never truly enter the world of rich people like Daisy, because old money will always look down on new money as inferior;
  • He realises that the old money culture shucks responsibility and is devoid of emotional connection. By the end of the novel, several people are dead but the old money crowd - Daisy, Tom and Jordan - take no responsibility for this and simply don’t care. Nick becomes more decisive and morally upright in cutting all ties with Daisy, Tom and Jordan;
  • He realises that his own love affair with rich girl Jordan is hopeless, and in a direct parallel to Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy, Nick breaks it off before the relationship can hurt him.

This message couldn’t be so clearly delivered if Gatsby was the narrator. Gatsby sees Daisy with rose tinted glasses, and he doesn’t realise it’s the difference in their class keeping her away. He is a true tragic hero in his insistence that he can go back to his childhood romance with Daisy: 

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can." 

When his life is essentially ruined because of his attempts to regain Daisy’s love, it falls to Nick, the more level headed and less idealistic of the two, to realise the destructive nature of Tom and Daisy’s ‘old money’ upbringing and culture. 

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made… .

(…Sposed to be talking about YGO not wonderful Fitzgerald)

How does this relate to YuGiOh? Same principle. 

Yugi -> Nick Carraway

Atem -> Gatsby

The story is really about Atem, as Side A said in that hypothetical point so long ago. In the original manga, after the story settled down into a more arc-based format, all of the arcs were related to Atem in some way. Shadi wants to test Atem’s power. Kaiba wants revenge on Atem. Bakura and Atem foreshadow their eventual RPG by playing a practice round. Pegasus steals Grandpa’s soul because he also wants the Puzzle’s power. Atem goes on a quest to get the god cards for his memories back. And finally, he actually does get his memories back. The final arc, of course, revolves around sending him home. 

The story is really about Atem, just as The Great Gatsby is, unsurprisingly, the story of Gatsby. Both are the title characters, and both are the centre of the narrative and the cause of most of the drama. 

But the point of view character is Yugi. And just like Nick, Yugi grows as he’s affected by his involvement in Atem’s story. Yugi wants to get stronger, partially as a result of watching his counterpart’s fights and struggles. 

And just like Nick communicates Fitzgerald’s message to the reader, so too does Yugi communicate Takahashi’s message - that a kind heart can also win the day (remember Side B?). We couldn’t expect that message to be adequately delivered by Atem who, while a kind and compassionate character, is more used to relying on strength to get by. 

And part of the reason Atem going through with attacking Kaiba in the Duelist Kingdom duel is so shocking because it’s framed through Yugi’s reaction - and he shows the audience that even with a loved one on the line, you can try another way, without having to actively cause harm yourself. 

Yugi provides the frame story, the outer shell of the story, and the context that keeps the story grounded - he’s a modern kid, like the audience is, and provides reactions that we can relate to when the story follows a 3 millennia old Pharaoh and the continuation of his ancient skirmishes. 

As such, YuGiOh! is the story of Atem, told through the eyes of Yugi, who grows through his involvement in that story and allows Takahashi to transmit his message more easily to the audience. 

This is a theory into how we can consider both Side A and Side B to be true, and how YuGiOh! wikia can list them both as protagonists

unpopular opinion but i think, or at least hope, that the popularity of Butler in trans communities will go the way of the “born in the wrong body” narrative in a few years.

i think Judith Butler’s current popularity is attributable to the same things that caused many trans people to actively perpetuate the notion that we were “born in the wrong body” – we’re desperate for a language that describes our experiences and this seems to be the only one available.

but much like the conception of being “born in the wrong body” i think there are far too many truly fundamental problems with Butler’s approach that render it of very little use to us in the long run, and i think we’ll eventually realize that. What i would hope is that when we do, we don’t just latch onto someone else’s framework just because it’s the nearest thing again.

Dear binary trans and cis people,

You don’t get to decide that Ruby Rose’s experience as a genderfluid person is “suspicious”, a “publicity stunt”, or otherwise not valid.

Same rule applies to every single agender, genderfluid, non binary, genderqueer, polygender, etc. etc., person you know or know of.

Guess what, we don’t need an “I’ve known since forever” narrative, or a “trapped in the wrong body” narrative for our experiences to be valid.

[Personal Narrative] Unlearning the Phantom by Giselle Buchanan

Numerous studies show that by the age of six or seven, girls already dislike their bodies. This hate that is learned so early, so quickly renders so many of us at war with ourselves. The process and journey to finally unlearn what has been falsely taught about our inadequacy in being who we are is no easy feat. In this piece Giselle Buchanan bravely identifies the moments and memories that are rooted in her feelings of unworthiness, and the daily rituals she puts in place in the attempts to love and own herself. 

It didn’t take long for my body to swell into a thing beyond my control. I was 7 or 8 when it started. When I learned what ‘fat’ meant as it spat itself out of someones mouth and rolled its girth in my direction. I remember the Summer well. My mom and step father were arguing every day. My mom decided to send me to Palm Bay, Florida so she could focus her attention fully on the home in flames before her. It was then I experienced my first bout of depression and learned quickly how to gorge through that sadness. I arrived home at the end of August, plump with all my grief. By 11, I towered over all of my peers. Stood last on the girls’ line each morning. My skin erupted in angry signs of puberty across my forehead and cheeks. I learned what it meant to carry yourself in a body that had to be guarded. One people felt you should apologize for.

When you are young and people replace words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘enough’ with ‘potential’ and ‘good reader,’ it is a long trek towards learning what was not taught. You sit in front of many mirrors. You straighten your back. You take deep breaths and sigh and squeeze and tug and swell and poke. Afterwards, you are a hot air balloon post flight. The whole of you curled into yourself. Your body in need of a warmth you only ever had when someone gave it to you.

I spent many days in school bathroom stalls alone, my face burning with the cruelty of children. I came to expect the howls of laughter. The feet sticking out to trip me. I learned to mouth the words to their recess songs. Began singing them to myself. I learned how to become small in ways my body could not be for me while enclosed in my uniform of pleated skirts and wool sweaters. I slouched my shoulders. Bended my spine. Made my voice softer, smaller, higher pitched. Hoped like a dog whistle, humans would not hear it. I morphed into something subhuman. Here, but not quite. Sat so still, I felt like a phantom.

I carried these feelings of unworthiness everywhere. Fell into the arms of lesser men because they were open. Because I never thought arms would be there for me to pick from. The images of women found lovable or desirable did not look like me. Did not fill their dresses the way I filled mine. Did not tower up, sturdy in the way I was sturdy. I had never heard the words pretty and sexy in reference to bodies soft in the ways I was soft.

I remember my first boyfriend. His name was Khy. I remember him kissing me for the first time. I remember spitting into a flower pot afterwards when his head wad turned. I remember him cheating on me. I remember scattered experiences I mistook for intimacy. My body in a few beds. On a few couches. Against a few walls. Being touched by hands that would not hold me up even on my brightest day.I don’t think I began to believe I was beautiful until I left high school. Throughout the years I had days, of course. I would stretch my legs into the right pair of jeans or drape a silk dress over my head and see a glimmer of the kind of beautiful I could be. It was only when I retired the life long catholic school uniform for good and gained permanent autonomy over my body that things began to shift in my life. I started being able to decide what it was I wanted to put on my body. How I wanted to navigate through life. What I wanted the image reflecting my inner world to be. I claimed my body for good and in doing so, released the reins people once used to tether it into place.

It started slowly. Oxblood lipstick spread carefully over my pout. Spikes. Neon. Prints. Then one day I took the scissors and cut off the final bit of safety blanket I had left. In this freedom, I bloomed.

If we use units outside ourselves to quantify our worth, how will we ever be enough? Instead I learned to be compassionate. I did what felt good. Now, I wear lavender oil because it makes me feel beautiful. I cover my body in lush, printed fabrics. I avoid wearing anything that does not feel good beneath my hands. I soothe myself with spiced teas and fill my plate with vegetables in a myriad of colors. I light candles at night and burn nag champa in the morning. I wash my hair with mint and twist it with shea butter. I make it to yoga when I can. Extend and stretch the limbs I once cursed for being so long.

I will not say there aren’t days when I don’t wish myself something better. Sometimes, I fall into old patterns; Into the wrong arms. But this is no longer a default space to live in. Now, it is a crevice I know I can crawl out of. And I do. A few days ago my mom was at the lady’s house next door and when she came home said, “the neighbour’s daughter is so sweet. She sees you every morning and thinks you look so cool.” I laughed because this journey is one in which we are given many names, none of which matter but the ones we choose for ourselves.

Giselle is an artist and writer based in the Bronx, NY. She believes in adornment by way of printed fabrics and ornate jewellry, and indulgence in the form of lavender baths and rooibos chai tea. She has facilitated various workshops using poetry and art as tools for empowerment with Harlem Textile Works and has published poems in the magazine, Hanging Loose Press. Giselle is currently studying Textile and Surface design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and has been told she gives good hugs.

Follow her on Twitter  @vishuddhaa.

this little cutie is Sonia, a nine year old from a village in Punjab. A few years back my mum’s sister found her, her two baby brothers and mother sleeping in the streets near where she lives. my aunt (a doctor whose practice is entirely focused on treating poor folk and in particular women/children, with a lot of activism centred on womens/childrens rights) took them temporarily in and kept them for a little while. Sonia’s father had kicked them out after marrying another woman, her mother having nothing came to Karachi to try and stay with her brother. He too left them on the streets which is not uncommon if you know a Karachi - a city difficult extreme inequality, where women often bare the brunt of poverty and violence. Whilst my aunt couldn’t keep them all permanently she offered to take care of Sonia. A few months in Sonia’s father reappeared on the scene and forced them all back to the village where he gave Sonia to his grandmother and was made to hard labour in the fields with the donkeys and to look after her brothers all the while. She was forced to sleep outside. She made her way back to Karachi eventually and came back to my aunts. Not a day goes by she isn’t laughing, smiling, and is so bright with so much personality. It never ceases to amaze me how such a young girl can be not only so resilient but filled with so much joy, gladness and playfulness despite the strife and cruelty she has faced. Truly humbling and inspiring.

Made with Instagram
You watch as she pinches the fat on her stomach, hips, thighs–disapproval written all over her face. “If only I wasn’t so fat,” she says. “I’ve gained so much weight lately.”
And you don’t know what to say. Nothing comes out right. You tell her “you’re not fat,” and “curvy is in these days,” but that’s not what you mean to say, and she knows that you are lying. What you mean is “yes, you are fat, and yes, you are beautiful, because the two are not mutually exclusive.” What you mean is “fat” is not an insult, it is not a swear word, it is an adjective, and the fact that it can be applied to her does not mean that she is lesser. What you mean is “you are beautiful no matter what your body looks like.” But nothing comes out right.
—  Nothing ever comes out right.