When Elizabeth Hall first suggested we edit an anthology on feminism and fitness, I was reluctant. We had discussed the ways we had moved and worked our bodies over the years. This kind of embodiment has, for me, always been an effort to counter some of the disembodiment that is often normalized not just by the pace of late capitalism, but also by writing and scholarly work. Still, my feelings about movement (exercise feels like such a dirty word) had never appeared in my writing. I knew that, despite my own very gendered and classed experiences of the body, I still worked my body from a position of privilege (a fact that recent events makes all too clear). I wanted us to acknowledge the capitalist exploitation of bodies, thinness/fatness, (dis)ability, class, and gender.
Talk about women’s bodies is messy because women’s bodies are messy.
I returned to Audre Lorde’s sentiments on self-care not as self-indulgence, but as self-preservation, a necessary practice of preparing oneself for political warfare. We experience our bodies too often as weapons that have been turned against us by others. As vessels that yoke us to unpaid care and affective labor. As a set of moving and permeable borders that somehow also distinctly and clearly outline our own vulnerability. Our bodies are in desperate need of care themselves.
These are bodies that, as Jessica Smith writes in her piece “13 December 2006/ Charlottesville”, need to be protected, walked home. That battle dysmorphia, and eating disorders. That are haunted by the specter of Gwyneth Paltrow and what Cheryl Quimba calls her “lifestyle goop.” As Natalie Eilbert writes in “Throwing Up Huevos Rancheros in a Motel Napa, 1pm”, “Misogyny wants us special, to walk in bold stencil outside the blur of girly superficial norms, so that we might satisfy a package deal.”
And yet, we were also reminded by the work in this collection of the bodies of mothers, writers, lovers, thinkers. Bodies that care, sometimes painfully, but also bodies that experience all sorts of pleasure. We saw what Amina Cain calls “writing not about sex, necessarily, but towards it, towards the energy of it (whether it is an energy that gets expressed or simply exists on its own).” We found women imagining, as Marisa Crawford does, Sylvia Plath on the elliptical.
This work often moves us beyond language, through and around that space of Acker’s, that wordless, mystical space outside language, where the body speaks. But it also returns us to those ongoing negotiations with the weight of language. A woman’s body is, after all, not simply either: not beyond, and not articulated by, the master’s tools. It is something always traveling, dragging, romping.
Amanda Montei holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, and is currently a PhD student at SUNY at Buffalo, where she is a Presidential Fellow. She has taught, performed or presented work in Los Angeles, New York, Uganda, Rwanda and Germany. She is currently the co-editor of Bon Aire Projects, a press that publishes collaborative poetry and connects otherwise divergent aesthetic communities. She also edits the literary journal P-QUEUE. Her poetry and fiction has appeared in P-QUEUE, Gigantic, Pinwheel, Joyland, Explosion Proof Magazine, Delirious Hem, PANK, Night Train and others. Her critical writing has appeared in American Book Review, Performing Ethos, Harriet: The Blog, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, and Ms. Magazine.Her short story “We Are All Animals” was a nominee for the 2010 Million Writers’ Award. Her poetry manuscript The Failure Age was a semi-finalist for the 11th annual Slope Editions Book Prize, and was published as a chapbook by Bloof Books in 2014. She is the co-author, with Jon Rutzmoser, of Dinner Poems. She is also a contributor to the Ms. Magazine blog.