“I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them.”

Last week I hit a teenage schoolboy in the face. Now, that’s a way to get your attention. Except what I was trying to do, at the point when this happened, was to not get any attention, to walk unnoticed through the streets of the city I live in. You wouldn’t think that’s too much to ask, but here in Cairo it is an impossibility.

Put your phone in your bag, grab your keys, one last check in the mirror to make sure you’ve not got toothpaste around your mouth again. As you walk out of the front door and lock it behind you, you feel your shoulders start to hunch, your eyes fix on the floor, lines and knots of tension spread down from your neck. Step out into the streets of Cairo; your body is no longer your own.

Harassment here is a well-documented phenomenon. There are even those who believe the increase in reports of harassment since the revolution is a positive sign, that it shows more openness and a willingness to talk about it. This means in theory that the problem might be one minuscule step along the way to being solved. Be that as it may (and for what it’s worth, from my three years of living here I don’t see any progress at all) – these reports and the articles and the discussions cannot cover what it feels like to walk down the street in this country.

Impossible to explain the effects of the staring, the nudging and pointing, the jeering, the honking of car horns. The way you shrink inside yourself. The depression or the incandescent rage, depending on your mood and how much sleep you’ve had. This overwhelming feeling of how DARE you. What makes these people think that my body is something to be commented on, shouted at, gawked at?

I have never felt so lacking in agency as I do out in public here, because clearly my agency doesn’t matter to them. It doesn’t matter that I am an actual person, with thoughts and feelings and a reason to be walking somewhere; all that is totally irrelevant. To them I am just a body. All-too visible while my ‘self’, for want of a better word, feels like it is fading. It wears you down, this assault on your sense of self-worth and self-esteem.

I cannot offer explanations, and to be honest by this point I can’t be bothered to. Unsympathetic as it might be to say it, I don’t care why it’s like this anymore. I just wish it wasn’t. I shout, when the effort isn’t too overwhelming, and give the finger a lot, just hoping that even among the laughter and jeers some part of the message that this behaviour is not OK goes in. I am not optimistic about attitudes so ingrained changing.

So this brings us back around to the teenage schoolboy, who I hit in the face because he grabbed me in the street. It was 8:30am and I was walking to the swimming pool, a half-hour walk in the early-morning cool which in another city would be a pleasant way to wake up. Not here, however. I always have to run the gauntlet of a group of 50 schoolboys hanging around on the street, and on this particular occasion one grabbed me. Pushed by a friend, dared, by accident, on purpose? Quite frankly, I don’t give a shit.

While writing this I was all too aware that it is perhaps not directly relevant to the message of this blog, but the experience of daily harassment has made me more aware than ever how our bodies can so often be viewed as detached from us as people, and how this treatment can affect how you see yourself, how you carry yourself, how you react in different situations. I never thought that my refrain would be ‘just leave me alone’, but now the ability to walk down the street, going peacefully about my dull daily life, seems a necessity to keep the relationship with my body secure.

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Living In

I was brought up in a culture and a house where looking in the mirror, liking your self was not okay. It was vanity. It was too close to sinning. Any child’s desire is to be loved, accepted and so I learnt to blend into the background. At the same time my family would remark on my weight seven or eight, and the concept of fat came from their words. So I didn’t live in my body, I looked at my body through their words, their eyes. I was called a highland cow, I was jeered. It wasn’t all bleak, summers free in Ireland, I forgot about the adult world and was building straw bail houses in fields, talking to contemplative cows and feral cats with kittens in the shed.

I hit puberty early with ignorance and shame. Covered up. Hid. Rolled down my shoulders, hunched my breasts. My grandmother poked me between the shoulder blades. Slouching makes you fat. Used toilet roll to block the blood from leaking. It wedged like a brick in my pants. The male gaze in our family wasn’t safe. Sexual awakening was accompanied with sexual assault. All of this meant loving my body wasn’t even a formed thought for me, let alone a feeling or simply just being in the world.

Living in my body meant living with shame, guilt and fear. Lumpen heavy dragged down. A source of shame to my family. Not pretty, sylph-like and adored but shy and bookish. I felt a quiet defiance though. Then they called me a bull. It’s your star sign they said. More names. I said nothing. My mind was the way out.

I was happy being an outsider – not with the popular crowd who tottered up town on a Friday night to feel grown up dating older men. I was one of the lads, still hiding my body, and I learnt boy language. Safer than trying to be a girl. I was the one they practised on till they moved onto the real thing. I didn’t mind. My body wasn’t there. I wasn’t really there, I observed. I couldn’t feel anything – but then I had stopped living in years ago. Clitoris? Orgasms? Masturbation? No idea. Our sex education in a catholic school was a creaky video of a woman giving birth. We watched it in the school library amidst posters of grey looming tombstones engraved with AIDS KILLS, and embarrassed passers by. More shame.

Curious at 17, I went to the public library and hired the proper sex education video to watch in one of their study booths – I couldn’t take it home. Mid throws of ‘the sex scene’ with mild murmurs from the woman I actually felt tingles, there was a knock at the door my poor studious neighbour -turn it down I’m trying to work. Oh the burning redness on my face.

I left home for polytechnic and never moved back. I had relationships. Had sex. Felt little. The first time I did a friend showed me where my clitoris was and an orgasm (courtesy of his ex-girlfriend—thank you Alison!). The joy. I struggled to share it with the boys I had relationships with all the same. I was still ashamed of my body.

Twenty years on, interspersed with 10 years of two relationships littered with sexual, physical and emotional abuse and I left my body for much longer, I am here. Living in. I have learnt that loving my self is the only place to start with love. How can I ask any one to love me or expect to be able to love them fully if I don’t love me? If I don’t love my heavy loose breasts, my scars, my crinkles, my smile, my belly that gives me my laugh and furrowed brow? Our culture teaches us an arrogance, some cringe factor about these sentences even, let alone the actuality of it. Poetry, writing, music and art have kept me alive, been my backbone.

This image was taken by my lover who I feel emotionally safe with, who I can fuck with abandon, happiness and can cry with. In the fells outside naked with the sun on my topographic stretch marks and white skin, I am free like those summers in Ireland as a child. My nerve cells and I have reconnected. I am a woman with my feet firmly planted, my shoulders level with a quiet defiance that got me through, my stride is one I love and I can dream a future of my own making. My eyes are bright and open, my heart is whole, beating, I can love with my head up and most of all I feel alive.

living in

Michelle Blog – donkey

Learning to love our bodies

Bodies are funny things. Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with mine – this doesn’t just affect women! I grew up in a family of three girls. My good-looking mother modelled clothes for a local fashion store, and was known to say “you can never be too thin”. She often reminded us that she was only 6stone 10lbs (42.6kg) after having three babies. She ‘watched her weight’ (an interesting term, isn’t it?) throughout her life, and remained petite, though never as thin as she had been as a young mother. She smoked cigarettes (as all the trendy young women did after the Second World War), and died some years ago of a smoking-related cancer.

I was a much loved, ‘plump’ child – a mass of blond curls, chubby cheeks, legs, arms; mum called me her “sugar plum fairy”. Today people would describe me as ‘slim’. I wear size 8 to 10 clothes, but have a predictable tummy, thanks to giving birth to two good-sized, wonderful sons. I don’t like my body very much without any clothes on – lying down helps! – but I am healthy and, on the whole, grateful that I can still climb hills, make love, write books, and enjoy a glass of wine or good food with friends. I let my hair go grey when I was 60 last year – this was a big step after years of dyeing it. It is now cut very short, and I have some funky glasses that suit how I like to think about myself – a bit quirky, but also someone who wants to be taken seriously!

My challenge over the years ahead is going to be learning to love my body as bits start to go wrong, as they inevitably will. I have cataracts in my eyes, and these will get worse and require surgery. It sometimes takes me a while to remember a very ordinary name for something – so far, I can still do academic stuff quite well, thank goodness. I don’t sleep as well as I used to, and I get tired more quickly. I cannot have more than two glasses of wine without getting a hangover the next day. These are all tiny signs of decay – and things can only get worse. I have been to too many funerals already of friends of my age and slightly older. It’s all down-hill from now on, and that’s going to be my biggest challenge… Wish me luck!

Viv Cree

“When I engage in kinky sex, I am not being oppressed. I’m not “letting” a man do anything to me – I’m participating, consciously and actively, in something I want to do.”

Content warning for explicit descriptions of kinky sex, including spanking, play piercing, and blood play. Includes mention of misogynistic slurs, but used in a consensual context.

The other night I had one of those one night stands that was totally worth the effort. Sitting at home on a Saturday night after a busy shift at work, I got a booty call from someone I used to fuck a while ago. Initially I said no – perhaps out of a reluctance to revisit the past, perhaps out of internalised slut-shaming; I don’t know – but I changed my mind pretty much immediately and said yes, out of desire for some purely uncomplicated sex, and walked over to his at 1am.

His company was easy, despite the time which had elapsed since we last saw each other, and we ended up having the kind of dirty, sweaty sex that I’d almost forgotten I even needed in my life. Hair-pulling, dirty-talking, arse-smacking sex. He fucked me while calling me a slut, and I left in the morning feeling powerful, sexy, and totally respected.

Some people – still, in 2014 – see some kind of conflict between enjoying this sort of sex and identifying as a feminist. Some particularly misogynistic men see it as somehow “proving” that women don’t really want respect. But, for me, there is no conflict at all. Woebetide any man who sees fit to call me a slut or smack me on the arse in my everyday life – but in bed, with my consent? Bring it on!

When I was twenty, I was with my first proper boyfriend. Although neither of us was having our first sexual relationship, the relationship we had together was one with a lot of space for experimenting with various kinks. We explored many things which interested both of us, and by most standards it was a sexually adventurous relationship. I called him Sir when we fucked, and he called me his dirty little whore. We did a lot of bondage and playing with pain, and I loved looking at the welts the riding crop left on my backside, admiring them in the mirror and tracing them with my fingertips, feeling proud of my pain tolerance. We made our own porn, and experimented with play piercing (the practice of piercing yourself or someone else for the sensation, rather than to have a permanent piercing – I hope it goes without saying that sterile needles should always be used, and that you should either wear gloves or be with a trusted and tested fluid-sharing partner if you’re going to give this a go, but you can never give too much sexual health advice!) Perhaps the hottest sex I’ve ever had in my life was the time that Sir tied me up in the shower and spanked me before piercing his own cock and covering every inch of me in his blood while he called me a whore. Penises bleed a lot, by the way. The bathroom was covered in bloody handprints and droplets and bumprints just from two thin needles through his glans, and it was immensely sexy and satisfying.

I did these things and more not because I secretly long to be subservient to men, but because they gave me pleasure. Engaging in consensual violence and humiliation was never, for one moment, about hating myself or losing my autonomy. Quite the opposite. I love the freedom and escapism of choosing to surrender aspects of control, while retaining the ability to make it stop at any time. I find the transgression of it erotic, and would never want anyone to call me a whore if I believed that’s what they truly thought – about me or about any woman.

That escapism is something I need in my sex life. Not every time I have sex, but some of the time. Surrendering to the pleasure of sensation and losing myself in this fantasy world are absolutely feminist acts for me. I feel no shame about enjoying being consensually degraded by a man during sex. As long as the situation is emotionally healthy for you – whatever that means in the context of your life right now – and the acts are consensual, go ahead and have whatever kind of sex you enjoy, whether it’s kinky and rough or sweet and loving (and it may surprise some people to know that sex can be all of those things at once).

Bodily autonomy is a central tenet of feminism. The right to contraception, and to an abortion. The right to have sex on your terms – and the equally important right to NOT have sex, whether that means right now or always. The right to dress as you please without fear of attack, and without being judged in the awful event that you are attacked. The right to control what happens to your body is hugely important for everyone, but especially for women, whose bodies in our society – in all societies – are so often seen as the property of men.

So when I engage in kinky sex, I am not being oppressed. I’m not “letting” a man do anything to me – I’m participating, consciously and actively, in something I want to do. It is only an illusion of losing control, and consent is key. My body is my own, and remains absolutely my own through every second of choosing to submit during sex.

There is nothing unfeminist about enjoying whatever kind of consensual sexual relationship you like. There is nothing unfeminist in choosing to surrender control within the fantasy. It is my body, and that can be my choice.

“Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks.”

My name is Rachel and I blog over at College on Crutches. I have a chronic pain disorder called CRPS, so I’ve been on crutches for over 2 years. I am also an Anorexia survivor, and my relationship with my body has not always been great. I recently wrote a post about my change in perspective in regards to my body while dealing with my pain/crutches.

Mirror, Mirror…

When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Well, first I might casually notice the untimely blemish that has appeared on my face. Or maybe the way my stomach poofs out a bit, evidence of a meal that was just enjoyed. On some days, I see dark brown eyes gazing back at me in the glass. If it’s a bathroom mirror, I look like your average person. Putting my crutches aside, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong. But when I go into my room and see my reflection in my full-length mirror, that’s when it hits me.

“Oh. Yeah. That happened.”

There are some days when it hits harder than others. The days when I stop to look, rather than simply rushing to get ready. I see my compression stocking as fluid leaks through, a reminder that my foot is currently home to multiple ulcers and wounds. I see my calf, thinner than my arm from the muscle that has gone to waste. I see my foot, the size of a football, and wonder if perhaps that’s where the name of the sport came from. I see my lopsided hips, unbalanced from only using one leg. I see my weak muscles, my bent knee, my disfigured limb, and I am once again reminded that I am different.

But then…something changes. There’s a shift in focus as I push the damaged limb aside.

Getting over the reminders of my right leg, I take a glance over to the left one, standing tall. I see the bulging muscle in my calf, making up for the loss in the other leg. I see my thin, bony foot and I am reminded of the weight that it carries each day. I see my thigh, which certainly isn’t “skinny,” but it is built for the task that it is given. Simply looking at my left leg, I look strong. I feel strong. This leg is my saving grace; it is the part of my body that allows me to remain mobile on crutches. It is working double time to make sure I can do what I want.

I then look back up at my arms, ignoring my lower half altogether. I flex my biceps, thinking about the effort that is required of my arms each day. I think about the days when all I wanted was to be able to grasp my hand entirely around my upper arm, desperate to be thinner, searching for control. I ponder how useless they would be if that were the case today. My small, fragile arms would not have held up to the daily beating that they go through on crutches. No, instead, I have strong arms. Muscular arms, something I never wanted but never realized I’d need so badly. I think about my arms, and I am grateful. Who cares if they don’t look perfectly slim in pictures, or if they don’t fit delicately into my hand? They serve an important purpose, one that trumps any desires for the ideal body.

A few years ago, you couldn’t get me to even glance in the mirror without having a complete breakdown. I hated everything about my body, which, in turn, made my life miserable. I used to have an obsession with achieving a certain weight, specific measurement, or tiny clothing size. I thought that if I were smaller, things would be better. But now…well, that just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks. I care about using the pieces of my body that do work as much as I can.

When I look in the mirror, I do see the bad leg. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss. I see the struggle that is still happening on the right side of my body, and it is a bit disheartening, I can’t lie. But more importantly, I see what I have overcome. I see the shift in perspective, in priorities. The bitter reminder of what has happened is softened by the strength of my two arms and one working leg. Instead of crying over that puffy stomach, I smile at the fact that I was able to eat without fear. Rather than hurting myself for having a larger thigh than I “should,” I give myself a high-five for allowing myself to have a muscular left leg.So what if I’m not a size zero? If my body works, then it’s a good day.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. We might just become friends after all.

“This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly.”

Comparing yourself to others is not a right thing to do when it comes to achieving a sense of freedom within the framework of your body. That is what I would do quite often, and it still happens to me sometimes. Like it or not, there will always be someone who is in a better shape and condition, of smoother skin, bigger eyes and sexier moves. Similarly, there will always be someone who is less attractive or of less capabilities than you.

There were a certain stages in my life when I would rediscover my body. One of them was, of course, my first sexual relationship. How important it was to hear that I was sexy, smelled nice and had amazing boobs. 14 years and a few relationships later I already know that the beauty is not as obvious as pleasing facial features and flat belly.
One of the breakthroughs in befriending my body was when I met a theatre group from Norway. After their performance, we had a walk around the old town and one of the actresses started to pet her arms and legs saying: “thank you for being strong and enabling me to perform today”. Then she explained: “I try to do that every day, cause I am grateful for my body being fit and the fact that I can do so many things thanks to it”.
“That is so true!” – I thought. We rarely notice when our body works perfectly fine (unless we use our bodies as a tool for work – as in dance or sport). We tend to realise how important it is when our condition worsens.

Now I see how lucky I am to live in my body. I call it my home and I try to take care of it as If it was my shelter. I want it to be healthy, strong and also, good looking. However, I am not obsessed with how I look and I don’t compare myself to others anymore (as often as before). There are some things I can change about my body to make it more flexible, fresh and healthy, so I do that. But there are many things I can’t change, so it is better to accept it.

It wasn’t always the case, though. Until my mid-twenties, I was very unhappy about my look and overall condition. I looked much better than I do now, though. First of all – I was younger, my skin was softer, boobs firmer and I was more energetic in general. But the only thing I could think of was my scars and how to get rid of them. When I think about it now and how it kept me away from sunny beaches, wearing dresses and being spontaneous, I feel pity for this pretty teenage girl hiding under tonnes of layers, ashamed of her body. I wanted to protect others from looking at my ugly parts and this way, to protect myself from being judged and rejected. It took me ages to realise that what others think is their business, not mine. I shouldn’t be sorry for something I can’t control and, more importantly, doesn’t cause any harm to anyone. This is how I look. Others may not like it, but I doubt they will spend their lives thinking about how unattractive the person they passed on the street was.

Another breakthrough was when I was given a laser treatment for my scars and it didn’t help at all. The doctor insisted I carried on with sessions (and spend more money in his clinic). He also said: “You will be back in a few years for wrinkles treatment.” I was raging. For him my body was something to be constantly improved. Ageing was something to deny and fight against. I decided to see another doctor just to have a second opinion. Luckily, he was the opposite. “Are your scars something that stops you from being in relationships or enjoying your social life?” – he asked. “We can of course try different treatment that would, in my opinion, help. However, why not spend money on something else and just ignore these unimportant details which your scars are?”

Boy did I want to hear that!

This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly. What I can do now is to appreciate it as it is, support it, nourish it, listen to it, and thank it for being still strong and responsive.

What I would like my relationship with my body be like in the nearest future is to love it even when it is ill, stiff and in pain. To understand its limits and accept changes. That is the challenge and it is not easy, but I will give it a try.

– a 32-year-old woman

Your Body

Many thanks to Mythili for sending us this great poem. Mythili recounts her experience of growing up in the South Indian state of Kerala. Even after moving away from what she calls her first home, some scars remain deep. They are given voice through this poem about the Indian woman’s body.


your body

your body is not your own,
when it is owned, it is owned.
not by you, by your patronymic name
and when you grow up, by your wedded name.

your body is not your own,
when it belongs, it belongs
not to you, to your husband when he plays
and when you give birth, to your birth helper.

your body is not your own,
when it pains, it pains
not because of you, by the glaring gaze
and when you dress, by your invitation to play.

your body is not your own,
when it bleeds, it bleeds
not because of you, by the masked vigilante
and when you cry, by the misery of your doom.

your body is not your own,
when it satiates, it satiates
not you, the hungry passersby
and when you crumble, by the masochist ego.

your body is not your own,
when it breaks, it breaks
not because of you, by the Suleiman’s hand
and when you fall, by the megalomaniac.

your body is not your own,
when it is chained, it is chained
not because of you, by history
and when you die, by the daughter you leave behind.

We love when you send us things! You can always reach us at projectnaked@gmail.com or tweet us @project_naked. Art, poems, writing – however you want to tell the story of your body, we want to hear it.