By Hannah Amini
“Pain, rape, and violence are universal,” said author Loren Kleinman, co-editor of My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing) in a recent interview at The New School in Greenwich Village. “Telling our stories and listening is the start of breaking off from the silence, and entry into healing.”
Born into a Jewish family, Kleinman began writing dark poetry to cope with illness throughout her childhood in New Jersey. Whether in her own work or through her editing and guidance, her main goal is to portray raw stories of love, loss, and life through the work she puts out. She received a B.A. in English Literature from Drew University and an M.A. in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex and began publishing poetry soon after. She is now 37 and married, busy with exciting and provocative projects like My Body, My Words.
Kleinman’s fascinating new anthology opens up the body image conversation through a curation of personal essays from 61 diverse new voices of cis- and transgender women and men, along with familiar writers like Beverly Donofrio, Martha Frankel, Abigail Thomas, Brian Fanelli, Susan Shapiro and Project Runway winner Ashley Tipton. The discussions range from gender dysphoria to eating disorders to sexual abuse, yet none are less engaging than the other. As idiosyncratic as each story is, they all have an honesty and intimacy that makes a reader of any size, gender, or demographic able to relate.
E.R. Zhang’s story about gender identity struggles, “Mostly Female,” contains vulnerable thoughts with which any reader will resonate: “This body is like the lock that sticks at random, even when I oil it. It refuses to open on some days and slides open on others. It’s not causing enough trouble that I want a new one. I wish it would behave for a bit. And when I think I’ve oiled it enough and it hasn’t stuck for months, I find it inoperable when it’s pouring; I’m wet and stuck outside.” Zhang’s poetic and metaphorical writing style allows readers to unveil deeper feelings about their bodies by explaining them in a way that they never have been.
Other submissions are told in a more anecdotal form. In her essay, “My Husband’s Habit”, writer and professor Susan Shapiro shares a story of the relationship between her body in parallel to her actual relationships. After moving to New York from the Midwest, Shapiro reinvented herself with a strict diet-and-workout regimen, and her fixation with looks crept into her romantic relationships. When Shapiro was introduced to her now-husband, she described still being hung up on her ex-boyfriend. A serial cheating, “WASPy Ralph Lauren ad,” her ex-boyfriend made up for the love he did not give with the way she felt they looked to others. With him, she was able to shed her past of being a “chubby nerd” and be a part of a duet that strangers on the street envied. Even when she finally gave this up to enter a relationship with a man who truly cared for her, she was still bothered by their different thoughts about food and body image. When the roles reversed years later, after Shapiro had gained weight and her husband adopted a new diet, she felt a completely different kind of discomfort. Despite this, his love was strong and consistent, and she ends the piece with her realization that “the size of our love was all that mattered.”
Currently Kleinman is working on a new book with her co-editor Amye Archer that aims to highlight the voices of people affected by school shootings. This historical preservation project, “If I Don’t Make It, I Love You,” will include contributions from survivors, parents, advocates, lawmakers, and first-responders. Once published and distributed, the proceeds will go directly to survivor networks and organizations that help victims of gun violence.
MY BODY, MY WORDS is now available. 50% of all proceeds from its sale will go to benefit the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media; learn more at mybodymywords.com. Follow the body image conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using #MyBodyMyWords.
Hannah Amini is a New York-based writer. She studies journalism and design at The New School and recently became a Fashion Editorial intern at Vogue. For more about her work, visit hannahamini.com or follow her on Instagram at @hannahamini.