You inhabit a body, you inhabit its politics. We’re all living commodities, someone else’s currency. I’ve always felt I didn’t really own my body, that I was somehow renting a space that was a public possession. There is a fine line that separates the self from the entity, and it when it comes to sex, when it comes to my body, I sometimes seize up with the fear that lovers can’t tell the two apart. Too often, too easily, I can’t tell them apart, either.
Do I call it luck that I was born into a conventionally attractive body? Is any body lucky to be born into, female especially? I live in a white body, a lithe body, and, perhaps most significantly, a small body. I am not even five feet tall, and a little over a hundred pounds. My body is notably without hair, partially by choice and partially because my skin just never really started to produce it in any significant volume. I’ve never wished for a body other than my own. I have never wanted to be taller. The only thing I’ve ever really wanted was to be blonde, but that’s a different hang-up, a different story.
The men I’ve dated often have teams of ex-girlfriends who look like me, who are small and youthful and brunette. I think the wiring of our brains is odd and endearing, for the most part. Some people like brown eyes and some people like legs. I have a fondness for the fairest of fair, men who could resemble Vikings or even just Nordic fishermen. We could all sit around and unpack our proclivities, find the exact moment in our childhood where a memory turned sexual and made that crucial lasting impression—but what’s the point? It’s all harmless, irrelevant.
But there are some attractions that come with baggage. As a petite woman, I’ve been pushed up against the expectations that come with my body: to be a coquette, to be demure, to be the most feminine of the feminine. Anger and brassiness in a small woman is not feared or even frowned upon, but it is met with a patronizing bemusement. A small body is unthreatening. A small body is an easy target. I have been picked up, literally, more times than I can count. I have never granted that permission.
I have had more luck, more love than I think I deserve. Most of the men I’ve been with have been kind men. With them, I never felt like a theory, but a very specific, very truthfully inhabited body. But there have been other times, fortunately rare times, when the way someone interacts with my body feels like something else. In those moments, my collarbone ached and my back felt cold. That is how I feel fear.
When I was twelve years old, my mother took me aside and told me that I would need to be careful when I got older. She told me that I had a body that would always look a little like a child’s body. She made me afraid, I think, because she had once been afraid. Sometimes we inherit the body politic.
Later in my life, I would meet a man who liked women to call him “daddy.” He liked to call women “princess.” He liked his women small, he liked them a little young.
But the thing that terrifies me most, that makes my heart pound the first time I enter a man’s apartment, is that my body makes me unsafe. No matter what, despite the miles I run and the krav maga and the years of sports, my body simply doesn’t have the force necessary to move large objects. Sometimes in my life, that object has been a man. Barely two years ago, I was in a room with a man who I should not have been in a room with. I raised my voice, and before I knew what was happening, one hand was over my mouth and the other was on my throat. I’ll never forget what I thought in that moment, the voice in my head as clear as if I had said it out loud: oh, this is what he does.
When I’ve been afraid, it hasn’t been of big men. In fact, it has been the opposite. I wonder if men who are the smaller side of average focus in on me, live out some kind of repressed anger, like a child kicking a dog. We can talk all we want about teaching men not to hit, not to think of force as an acceptable tool. It’s what needs to be done. But I will also say that I have never seen it coming, that force. In that act of blindsiding, I do nothing but curse my body, my bones.
I love the house I live in, this frame of muscles and skin and spleen. But I am always aware that my weakness, my literal absence of physical strength, is permanently on display. It’s like wearing a target of your own creation, knowing that there is no way to shed it. Being small does not make you invisible, but rather, it can make you feel powerless. This is the thing we are not supposed to say.
Written by Jenna Clark Embrey
Jenna Clark Embrey is a writer living in Brooklyn. Boston-born, she received an MFA in Theater Dramaturgy from Harvard. Before making the inevitable switch to nonfiction, her curiously autobiographical plays were produced at such places as the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and Boston Playwrights Theatre. During the month of February, she is giving up makeup and Facebook and writing about it at saltandumbrellas.tumblr.com. Follow her on Twitter @IamJennaClark or visit www.jennaclarkembrey.com.