Tag Archives: aging

Body Cartography: Mona Eltahawy Turns 56

Mona Eltahawy, bleached short hair. On the left, in a pink dres with a neck strap, blue sandals, orange bag. On the right, side view holding 10 lb. weights at her sides.
Credit: (L) Robert E. Rutledge; (R) Jeana Fanelli

Debbie says:

This blog often credits Mona Eltahawy’s Global Feminist Roundup for stories from around the world. This week, however, I was struck by her essay, Mild Whiplash, written on the occasion of her 56th birthday. Eltahawy is a radical, outspoken Egyptian-American feminist journalist, and this essay is one of her best.

One of the reasons I share pictures of myself is that I want to grow up publicly. The phrase “grow up” is more often used to describe children moving into adolescence and then adulthood. As if adulthood is one static place, and not the (r)evolving state that it is.

What if the growing up continues and we think of it as creating the map we need rather than following the maps of others? What if it can be a map as anarchist as my heart.

I am the cartographer of my being.

Like Lani Ka’ahumanu, whose poem “My Body Is a Map of My Life,” appears along with her picture in Laurie’s and my book Women En Large: Images of Fat Nudes, Eltahawy uses the map as her guiding metaphor for this extremely embodied essay. Here’s a bit of Ka’ahumanu’s poem:

All imperfections imposed, I claim the unique, distinctive markings,

making them perfect in the showing.

my body is a map of my life

it is a patchwork quilt

that is warm, and soft, and strong

Eltahawy’s map is different from Ka’ahumanu’s, which is — perhaps — the point. Here’s Eltahawy again:

Guiding my terrain from 55 to 56, pain was the flashing sign on the highway of my being, forcing it to narrow for construction work necessary for expansion. It slowed me down so that I could stop running away. For years, dissociation to disrepair was a straight line.

It takes strength to dig messily and to dig deep and it takes getting stronger to feel pain which, weakened by dissociation, I was not strong enough to feel 12 years ago.

Rumi said the wound is where the light enters, and to that I add: and the wound is where my rage exits. The pain is uncomfortable and there is no rushing from one lane to merging into three lanes of traffic.

She has been writing about menopause for some time, as she works on editing a collection called Bloody Hell and Other Stories: Adventures in Menopause from Across the Personal and Political Spectrum. She continues her thoughts about that transition here.

I have offered my blueprints for my menopause transition because there were so few available when the transition began me. 

I know what I wrote. It is not a typo. The menopause transition began me because it has forced me to unbecome, much like that map I must do over and over because life is not static.

And what do you know: the menopause trail does not have a hard stop.  i.e. once you’re postmenopausal like I am, the impacts of the transition do not suddenly stop. 

The essay goes into her historical trauma and her current exercise injury (“mild whiplash,” of course), and her unswerving dedication to telling her own truth and inspiring the rest of us to tell ours.

The more maps we create for ourselves, the freer we are to roam through our lives with the confidence and the certainty that we are whatever we are today, and in the words of June Jordan, that are tattooed on my right forearm next to Sekhmet, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

In honor of her birthday, which she celebrates for the five days between her birth and her birth registration, Eltahawy is offering discount subscriptions to her invaluable Substack newsletter, Feminist Giant (good through tomorrow, August 1).  You won’t regret reading Feminist Giant and if you can afford it, you won’t regret paying for it. Voices like Eltahawy’s help us all be the ones we have been waiting for.


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Going Gray While Black

photograph of Rebecca Carroll; no gray showing
Rebecca Carroll

Debbie says:

I’d be interested in an article about going gray by just about any Black woman, so finding  the awesome Rebecca Carroll is writing about just that (“Going Gray Is a Revelation,” published at TheZoeReport”) is a real treat. Carroll is 52, and her gray hair “has only just started to come in around my face over the past year or two, and I love it.”

after the recent loss of actor Michael K. Williams, I found myself deeply moved by a quote of his that resurfaced amid the myriad messages of appreciation and mourning that circulated on social media after his death. In an interview for Men’s Health, he said: “I spent a lot of my younger years not feeling beautiful. When I look back at my pictures now as a kid, I’m like, ‘Damn, you were actually beautiful.’ I couldn’t see it back then.”

I already knew I was going to write this piece before Williams died, but this quote reminded me of my context. Because there’s beauty, and then there’s us. By us, I mean Black folks — we who have never been factored into the “real” standard of beauty in America, the white standard of beauty. Many of us search for any reflection of ourselves in our surroundings, particularly during our youths, much less a reflection or representation of ourselves that is deemed beautiful. And for a lot of Black girls and gay Black boys (Williams was gay) this lack of reflection hits in an especially poignant way. In America, Black girls are too often hyper-sexualized, while gay Black boys are de-sexualized or erased altogether, when often all we want is to see ourselves presented as beautiful. We simultaneously ache for the validation, and feel ashamed for wanting it.

I am 100% clear that being fat is not being Black. That being said, this passage will likely strike a chord with adults of all races who were fat kids. I certainly have the experience of looking at pictures of my young self and seeing beauty I didn’t know was there, as well the experience of looking hopelessly for images of myself, let alone ones that spoke of beauty. I also know that the fat Black girls (and the fat Black boys) face a much higher barrier to finding their own beauty than I ever did.

Carroll’s short article continues in her lyrical, searingly truthful style:

I actually really like getting older. Although, doing so while also navigating the current generation’s insistence on one’s own hotness, in every way, on every possible media platform, is an increasingly ambitious endeavor. Still, along with the profound solace of mercifully depleted f*cks to give, comes a deeply intimate, unrestrained sense of beauty — your own, and all that is in and around you. It’s less a feeling of who or what is beautiful, and more of a revelation. Indeed, as the late Toni Morrison once said, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

On one level, I wish she had written more, and in the end, I deeply appreciate that she said what she wanted to say, said it clearly, invoked Michael K. Williams and Toni Morrison (both iconic figures) and then stopped when she was done.

This article is for everyone, and it is especially for Black women and gay Black men. I hope it gets in front of as many of those folks’ eyes as possible. Thank you, Ms. Carroll!


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