Body by Mia Döring

My body is a real thing. It exists in the world. It takes up some space. The air parts around it as it
moves. It weighs ten and a half stone and it is five feet ten inches tall. It is 33 years old, nearly 34.
It has thick long brown hair which falls below the shoulders. It has two green eyes. The left eye is
slightly smaller than the right. It also has a slightly heavier eyelid overlap. The eyelashes are
different too – scarcer, patchier.

My body is covered in skin. The skin never stops, even all the way inside the places that open up –
mouth, throat, vagina, ears, nostrils – all constant skin. My skin ranges in colour from very pale
creamy peach neck and chest and belly to pink arms and hands to red blotches on my knees and
elbows to white where the skin has died on my fingers and face and heels. Some of the skin has
been pigmented by tattoo ink – wrists, arms, shoulder, back, stomach. There is scar tissue on the
left wrist, on the left eyebrow and on the left knee. Around my fingernails the skin is sometimes
jagged where I’ve torn it, or pricked it, or pulled it, or scratched at it. I am most uncomfortable with
skin. It is exactly where my body meets the outside. It is where I end and it is where I begin. The
presence of some bones is visible through my skin. My collar bone, the nub of bone at my wrist.
My jaw. All around my face. My elbows. I feel at my most self indulgent and wallowing when I
contemplate existing inside my body. Most of the time I try to avoid doing this. I regularly remind
myself that my skin cells regenerate every six weeks. This skin is not that skin.

I am most comfortable when contemplating my innards, or things we cannot see. Guts and organs.
My heart. Intestines. Things I don’t know the name for. Blood and fluid. When I was a child I
enjoyed slicing a thumb with a sharp blade and pulling the skin apart to see the inside. The raw
pinkness, warning spots of seeping blood. I’d nibble at the dead skin, gripping it between my teeth
and pulling until I’d painfully rip live skin, revealing redness underneath. I often had plasters on the
skin of several of my fingers at a time. My mother got so frustrated with my skin nibbling habit
that for a while she made me brush anti nail-biting fluid onto my finger tips.

My skin is covered with fur. Hair. I remove it from my legs and underarms and vulva daily in the
shower. I dont like how it feels against my clothes. It makes me feel unclean even though I know
that this is not true, not even slightly true. But I still feel it. The dirt of the day stuck to my hair and
being carried with me. My dirt and other people’s dirt and the world’s dirt.

I run my fingers over my skin and cup my jaw and try to relocate myself into the inside of my body.
I open my eyes very wide to feel the skin of my eyelids and eyerbrows stretch. I practice
mindfulnesss. I do body scans. Nothing makes it less weird to inhabit this body. It is a little like
accidentally overhearing yourself – an echo on the phone or Skype, hearing yourself on the radio,
watching yourself on TV. I refuse to watch. I refuse to listen. This is what I really sound like. This
is what I really am, and how can that be true if I don’t recognise any part – my inner experience and
what I see or hear of myself having so little to do with each other? I do not know myself. There are
things about me which are out of my control. The tone of my voice, the slant of my nose, the
growth of my nails, hair, the shape of my breasts, noises I make, when and for how long I shed

Around 2011 I decided to go to my local gym. I pretended to know how to use the machines
instead of asking for help from the staff for fear they would acknowledge my physical existence, for
fear their casual emodiment of their own bodies in comparison to my anguish with being would be
too painful. Yet as difficult, prickly, as it was to be among those so comfortable in their physical
form, I also absorbed some optimism from their energy, some acceptance of the fact. I thought, if
these people can walk around and do weights and all the rest, if they can do it without feeling like
they are made of glass and shattering, maybe I can get there. They are only as human as I am, and I
only as human as they. So I faked it until I sort of made it. I sat on different weight machines feeling
the stretch and pull and strain of various muscle groups. I closed my eyes to focus.

This is what your muscles feel like, I told myself. On one weight machine was a sign – do NOT
overextend your legs. I sat under it and pushed the weight up and down and toyed with the idea of
overextending my legs and what would happen and would my knees bend back and pop out. I lost
weight and was unmoved. My only consideration was reluctantly knowing I needed my physical
form to transport my mind around, that without it my mind would also not exist. This is its only
value. I wanted to be a ghost and I still want to be a ghost and I think it’s fair to say that I live my
life, slightly removed, like a ghost.

Do you ever suddenly get an overwhelming awareness of your existence that lasts a mere few
seconds? Like you are in touch with something much bigger than yourself – the universe, all of us,
something otherworldly? Like seeing yourself from beyond yourself. A profound and
confronting realisation of something impossible to put into words that, although accurate, doesn’t
feel as ridiculous and childish as: I am me. It is not just the realisation that I am alive, that I exist,
but it’s the realisation that I am myself.

I’ve had these moments since I was small. I would run to wherever my mother was in the house and inform her: I AM ME. To urgently tell her this vital fact, which never lessened in importance every
time it happened. It never became normal. One time I remember her busying herself in her
bathroom mirror when I came racing around the corner to inform her of my existence. She was not
surprised or even bemused, in the slightest, cheerfully responding: yes you are! Still today, I feel the
same urgency to inform someone else, impossible to keep to myself this profound truth, this
Unknown Existential Truth. These are my hands, these are my fingernails, this is my skin. This is
apparently who I am.

The gym helped me to physically feel. I started running. I toned up, as they say. I liked this, truly
liked it, appreciated it. I was, at last, accepting my existence in physical form and even moving
towards the more superficial aspects of it – how it looked to me, how it looked to others. I didn’t
like that it was becoming a source of validation for me but I liked that I had moved on from being
absorbed wholly and completely by excruciating feelings and thoughts of existing, to a more normal and lighter sense of being.

Back when things were really weird, I used to watch people walking, eating, chewing, waiting for
the bus. I said things to myself like look at that person walking, totally at ease with her existence.
Look at those people talking together as if it’s a totally nothing thing to do. Look at that woman
moving down the road and not being mesmerised by leg muscles contracting and releasing and
shoulder joint rotating as she swings her child’s arm. Awareness and realisations happened silently,
merged, without my knowledge. How the world looked and felt kept shifting. I became obsessed
with jaws and places where the bone is very near the surface of the skin. I have no discomfort with
upper arms, for example, where the bone is bedded deep within skin tissue and fat – epidermis,
dermis and hypodermis – but jaw and skull and hip bones were sites of deep discomfort. Trauma sits
in the bones, I believe. It sits and waits. In the marrow of the bones, in the most inside place. It
weighs them down. I canot feel my bones because they have no nerve endings. Trauma lives in here
in the non feeling insulated place. Trauma can be a look, or a gesture, or neglect, as well as an
outrageous act of violence. We sensationalise trauma but actually its seepage into marrow is silent
and invisible, the consequences of it everyday in nature, nearly boring, tedious. It takes nine
generations for trauma to leave the body. It is difficult to dig it out from inside bones. You have to
be as patient and considered as an archaeologist.

I had, and still have the leftover taste of, a painful awareness of jaws, gums, teeth. Pink wet gums
covering lower parts of teeth. Teeth embedded in gums. Teeth are the hardest human material,
harder than bone. Only a temperature of 537 degrees celcius can destroy them, and even then, this is rare. They are well protected by gums and cheek and nestled into jaw bone.

I watched people chewing and found it repulsive. I found the mindless action of jaws going around
and around and thick red tongues slipping out and bits of spit on lips and specks of food taking
flight devastating. As if these people were flaunting their existence, flaunting their absolute comfort
with their existence! Eating in company, in front of people, was next to impossible. But only in the
company of those who knew what has happened to this body. Eating with those who were unaware
was fine – an escape – their ignorance a cloak of safety around me, allowing me permission to
experience normalcy, to expose my teeth and swallow and accidentally spit and get coffee on my
lips and lick it off and put lipstick on and not mind people seeing the insides of me. We’re all in this
gross existing thing together. There is nothing profoundly different about me. I can belong with you.
As long as they didn’t know. When around those who did know, I became paralysed. They knew the
places of me meant for love which have been filled with hate. Eating affirmed that I needed
sustenance to survive like any other animal, that I was an animal, just an animal. And that I could
not escape being physical in form and therefore could not get away from the fact that I carry these
places within me, that I cannot remove them. If they were gone I might feel less jagged about this
living in a body thing. I want to scrape them out. The places of me meant for love that were filled
with hate.

Mia’s short stories have been published in Litro Magazine and Headstuff. Her non fiction has been published in The Journal, Headstuff and Huffington Post. Her novel Falling was long listed for the Mercier book deal competition in 2017 and her poetry has been published in the Vias Poetry journal.

Image Source:  Rosalind Chang