Tag Archives: Mona Eltahawy

“My Goal – That You Are Found by Wonder”

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Laurie's photograph of Queen T'hisha, a dark-skinned naked Black woman lying face up on a couch with her breasts showing and her legs crossed
Queen T’hisha, by Laurie Toby Edison

Debbie says:

It’s sometimes easy for Laurie and me to forget that not everyone loves and celebrates the naked body the way we do. That’s why I was delighted that Mona Eltahawy, whose global news round-up we often cite here, wrote her own essay on the subject.

She recounts going to her first clothing-optional party in 2013:

When I was younger, my body was an afterthought. When I started my period at six months past 11, my body changed so much that I barely recognised it. I think that’s where my estrangement from my body and its wonder began.

That nudist party in Cairo, when I was 46, and, unbeknownst to me at the time, in the throes of perimenopause, was the start of a conversation that brought me back to that wonder of my body.

In the beginning was the word. And my eyes said “Look! Look now at these magnificent bodies around you.”

The human body is wonderful!

As I eased into being naked among others, I looked at more than my fellow nudist party goers’ eyes. I took in their bodies in all their wonder and knew that my body was adding to the communal wonder.

It’s a familiar trajectory: you start noticing how something in other people pleases you: their hair, their eyes,  their voice, whatever. And if you’re honest with yourself, you start realizing that that attribute in you probably gives them the same feeling, so you have to admit what you have to offer. I think this is especially true with the naked body, because — even in this frequently sex-friendly time (in many places) — most of us still have limited experience with nakedness outside of sexuality.

To be naked among others is to enter a community of vulnerability–disrobed, disarmed–and risk–will they judge my body; we are all naked in a conservative country that is under the dictatorship of a military-backed regime. …

Vulnerability and risk are the heart and mind of wonder and will fuck whatever preconceptions you brought with you to the party. When the woman who had been sitting directly across from me went into the room where we had all left our clothes and came out to say her goodbyes in hijab–only her face and hands showing–fuck me! What?!

Eltahawy captures what nakedness means to her, and thus makes it available to many people who may not have experienced it or thought it through–and the details of the hijab do the job of making her experience individual while also comprehensible to those of us not from Islamic cultures.

That nudist party, my first but not my last, that woman – hijabi by day, nudist by night – demolished that wall. I went home lighter and able to hear, at last, my body again.

Look at your body! Really look. Listen to it. Can you hear it?

My goal: that you are found by wonder.

My wish: that you intensely live.


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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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