Tag Archives: Mona Eltahawy

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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