Written by Kara Hildebrand.
Graphic by Quynhmai Tran.
TW: allusions to sexual assault and body image insecurity
I am many things; none of them constant, none of them tangible enough for me to grasp: a price tag, a dying flower, a mannequin. I belong to the ads that redirect me to clothes that don’t fit right that redirect me to fitness plans that redirect me to diet plans that redirect me to supplements I cannot afford. I belong to men that wrestle to possess me and acquaintances that trample over my words like they’re as brittle as my ceramic bones.
Do you love me? Even though my waist doesn’t flair like a runway model and my skin doesn’t spill over my skeleton like buttery caramel. A skeleton that supports more than my muscles, but the weight of this inner anarchy as well; who am I when I’m not defined through your eyes? To me, the caverns beneath my hips seem enormous, but to another just a spot to rest their thumbs.
Is this all I have? Inky handprints smeared between the folds of my skin and foreign symbols branded into my chest? If I present you with myself on a crystal platter, adorned with fresh strawberries and a sprig of mint, will you devour me whole or savor me sparingly?
The mirror is unworthy of such a name. It presents no such mirror image.
The image of me behind the glass holds all authority over where I may go, who I may see. I was granted permission to meet you, under the condition that I’d accept you wouldn’t stay for long.
I witness in my reflection a crack in my upper lip, where it splits apart and realigns before I can blink to refocus my eyes.
My skin flares up when you touch me, forcing you to retract your fingers like I’m a hot stovetop.
When I turn to look away, my rib cage seems to momentarily jut out of place like a teetering stack of books. When I look back, it’s pristinely straight.
My flesh contorts out of your grasp as if pulled by an invisible force, one that’s both a shard of me and not me at all.
I witness a lot of glitches such as these, and I’m unsure what to make of them.
I want to let you see me but I no longer possess my body enough to give it away. The burden of loving you is taking up the burden of loving myself: a burden I don’t accept.
A flower is pressed between pages of an old novel for its essence to be immortalized, but it becomes as irrelevant as a book you close and never remember to open again. One wrong slip of the hand and a careful arrangement of petals dissolves into wisps like blushing, marked-up drafts of love letters. My body is such a flower, kept alive by the fountain of youth that waters her, slowly fading and slowly dying.
When she chokes on their jewel-toned poisons, I’m the one left to crush empty glass vials beneath my heels. And I do. I’m the one that hauls her into the shower to scrub away the night tucked between rifts in her skin, that spoons pumpkin bisque into her mouth when she would rather wither and starve, that dusts the everyday objects she emptied her pockets for while she dreams of cauldrons brimming with princess cut diamonds. This body is mine: this body that a million entities can claim authority over, but none can accept the responsibility of caring for.
I do not belong to men who dismantle and reconstruct me at their whim.
I do not belong to corporations that interpret me through ones and zeroes.
I do not belong to a mirror that carries no perceptions of its own.
I am many things; none of them constant, none of them caged by the parasites bleeding me dry: a bohemian, an orchid, a diaphanous wood sprite.
I do not belong to you.
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