Body Acceptance: A History Of The Woman Before You
By ADIBA NELSON
I cannot tell you about what my body IS without telling you about what my body has been.
You see, my body has been adorned in gold and rubies and sapphires, lavished upon by men, revered by women, and then consequently raped and betrayed by both. My body has carried children on its back, walking through the desert, to set up camp for my family, for my tribe. It has suckled my own children, as well as the children of my fellow tribeswomen, only to then be shoved, crushed, stacked into a ship. Uncomfortably entwined into, under and around other bodies like mine, sweat co-mingling with blood, blood co-mingling with urine, urine co-mingling with feces, feces co-mingling with that of the bodies below me, until eventually my body landed on a foreign land, to birth other men’s babies, and suckle other women’s children, until I had nothing left to give my own.
My body has been lashed to the point of being unrecognizable, but because my body was once the body of a queen, my back did not bend, my knees never gave way, and my head remained held high. Others despised my body, but my body knows to whom it belongs, and so it would never cower, much to their dismay, much to my blood-soaked rags. My body has jumped and jived with the very best of the best—jitterbugging and lindy hopping in the face of all the Sambo existing, refusing to be the black face in their blackface. Nooooo, not me. My body rebelled against the shuck and the jive. My body would not…. my body could not cooperate with the desires of the haves to see it as a have not, and because of that, my body faced fire hoses. My body became an afternoon snack for dogs that seemed to have been starved for days on end. Perhaps they had been. Perhaps they had been so starved for the sustenance my body held from years, and decades, and centuries of existing, that by the time they got to me they were salivating with the bloodthirst of their ancestors. Perhaps.I can't tell you what my body IS without telling you what my body has been. Click To Tweet
My body has worn down the flyest heels in all the land, marching for what you call FREEDOM, only to get to the other side of the bridge and be told “Go home, nigger.” My body has been the rod for my crown of glorious hair to rest on. Hair that kinks and curls and rests upon my scalp like the glowing light behind the Madonna in Botticelli’s “The Madonna of The Book,” except my body is Black. So, I guess that makes my body that of The Black Madonna. Yeah. The Black Madonna—enshrined. The Black Madonna Enshrined who landed on the shores of Puerto Rico, joined forces with Conquerors from Spain, made love to the native Indian bodies that already resided there, and became yet another ancestor of the body you see before you.
Oh yes, this body has held the name Queen in its African form—Malkia, as easily as it has held the name Queen in its Spanish form – Reina. This body, for all the rape and death and blood that has formed the very bones that has held it up, for all the loss, birth and rebirth that has passed through its womb, and all the milk from its heaving breasts that has fed all the babies and all the men and all the world over—this body has also climbed mango trees barefoot with reckless abandon, just to catch the sun setting over the white sands and blue waters of Puerto Rico. This body has spent hours chasing coquitos just to hear them sing— and days upon months upon years learning to make the island favorite—pasteles, just so it can watch the babies this body birthed gleam with pride, and giggle over the deliciousness dancing on their tongues. This body has also been pierced deep within its belly by the Bayonette of a Marine, one of many on the island who raped, beat, and killed women who held bodies like mine. Yes, this body has died a million deaths—from the deserts of Africa to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the town square in Vieques, Puerto Rico.This body can hypnotize under the rhythm of the timbales and summon rain with a djembe drum. Click To Tweet
This body holds hips that swerve and twist in ways unknown to the ordinary man. Un-human, some say because bodies surely don’t move like this on a regular basis. But this body does. This body can hypnotize under the constant rhythm of the timbales as easily as it can summon down rain with a djembe drum, or place a baby in your belly with just the incessant driving of a Boba, inching you closer and closer to the point of climaxing that by the time you leave its presence, you need a cigarette and a drink.
You see, my body has been so many things, in so many places, to so many people in so many ways—how could I possibly explain my body today, without taking you on a journey to my body’s past. You have to understand that both the putrid, stinking vilified hate, as well as the lavish adornment and uncontested adoration of the past, has formed the body you see before you today. You need to understand that the word coon holds no weight when put next to the word Queen. The words porch monkey is the numerical equivalent of -8 to 7, using 2’s complement when placed next to the crown that rests upon the head of this body. By the way, that number, -8 to 7 is 1000 to 0111, which is the biggest negative number known to man.
Now, I will not lie. The weapons that have been formed against this body, willing it to snap in half, have in fact created a visible arch in this “current” body a time or two, though you won’t find any remnants of it today. My seven-year-old body witnessed domestic violence. My 12-year-old body came home crying every day because it wasn’t aware of the jewels hidden behind the teeth of its gap-toothed grin. My 14-year-old body was too scared to push away the wandering hands of a grown up, but my 15-year-old body found enough voice to say “no.” Perhaps that was the beginning of my body discovering the history of the blood that runs through its veins. Perhaps. My 17-year-old body rebelled against itself and my 18-year-old body gained weight. My 19-year-old body gained weight. My 20-year-old body, my 21-year-old body, and my 22-year-old body—all gained weight. And I hurt that body. With words. With things. With food. With sex. With alcohol. With prayer. My 23-year-old body made a baby, and then my 23-year-old body lost a baby. My 28-year-old body was dragged through a house by a man who loved me enough to “save me from myself in the name of Christ.” My 31-year-old body made two babies, and lost one baby, but birthed the most beautiful baby these eyes (and the eyes of my ancestors) have ever seen.All those years in this body—I’ve learned some things. Click To Tweet
All those years in this body—I’ve learned some things. I learned that I cannot carve the love into my body, like a heart on a tree. I cannot stuff the love into my body like chocolate cake on a random Tuesday afternoon. I cannot fuck the love into my body, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I cannot drink the love into my body, although a slow gin fizz on a hot, sweaty night almost made me believe I could. A man cannot beat the love into my body, though Lord knows many have tried. And I cannot pray the love into my body because, well, it is already there. It has been there from day one. From Queen Nefertiti to Henrietta Lacks, to Ann Nelson and Celestina Rosario to my very own mother.
The body you see standing before you has been everywhere, and today, my body is here.
Not bent. Not broken. Still fighting. Still winning. Covered in jewels of beautiful redemption because perseverance and self-love are the way of the people that inhabited my body before me.
My body cannot, should not, and WILL NOT be denied.
My body is HERE.
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Adiba Nelson lives in Tucson, AZ ,with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, and two teenage stepsons. When she is not advocating for disability rights, body love/size acceptance, performing burlesque, or writing her face off, she is busy ironing her cape and looking for ways to fit more shoes in her closet. She is also the author of the children’s book Meet ClaraBelle Blue, and is currently working on her memoir. You can find Adiba at The Full Nelson.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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