Amy Schumer and The Art of Taking Up Space

One of the many facets that I appreciate about comedian Amy Schumer’s work is that she shines a light not only on the cultural conditioning that keeps women in restricted place, but also she exposes the misogyny that many of us have internalized from living in a patriarchal society. As some of her sketches intimate—women and girls have been known to do as good a job as anyone of objectifying, suppressing, or disempowering themselves.

Schumer’s sketch “I’m Sorry” from this latest season is one example. In it, a group of female experts at a conference spend an entire panel discussion apologizing for pretty much anything and everything. (Video could not be embedded, so please click on the New York Magazine link):

http://videos.nymag.com/video/Inside-Amy-Schumer-I-m-Sorry/player?layout=&title_height=24

It’s the expert, the one who sustains burns after someone accidentally spills hot coffee on her, who really got to me. She is writhing on the floor, blood and guts spurting out of her now severed legs. Yet none of that stops her from apologizing for the disruption. Meantime, the other female experts are uttering their own apologies for no reason, over and over.

The sketch made me think of the summer I interned at CBS News in Washington DC. As I stood with a camera crew outside the US Supreme Court in record temperatures and severe humidity, I started to faint.

My lips went clammy, I felt like I was being pulled into a wind tunnel, and it was all I could do not to lose consciousness. I dropped to my knees. “Sorry!” I exclaimed to the crew.

I’d been assigned the job of standing in front of the camera until the CBS reporter arrived. From the ground I raised my arms over my head so that at least my hands were still visible in the shot. “I’m so so so sorry!” I kept saying to anyone who would listen.

But it’s not just that one incident. I can think of hundreds of times in my life when I’ve apologized, either overtly or covertly—not even aware that was what I was doing—for doing nothing more than taking up time and space in this world.

Yet isn’t that what so many women have been taught? As feminist critic Soraya L. Chemaly wrote in an article for Role Reboot in 2013, girls are trained starting at a young age to “be as small as possible and we will love you more.” The title of her piece: Our Society Urges Girls To Take Up Less Space And Boys To Take Up More, And It Needs To Stop.

Be skinnier, weigh less, speak softer, don’t toot your own horn, the list of ways to minimize the self goes on—all acts of mea culpa for taking up space. (Full disclosure: I’ve tried many of those tactics and I’ve never found the “we will love you more” part to be the case. The only people who’ve appreciated my efforts are those who’ve also been taught to keep small—and assholes. )

Which is another reason I’ve officially become a Schumer fan. She allows herself to take up space. She would have to be willing. Otherwise, there is no way she could create a show named after her and star in it or write a screenplay for a movie, Trainwreck, and star in it.

Every time Schumer performs her feminist, owning-her-sexuality stand-up act, she is taking up space and permitting herself and her work to take center stage. As she said, when accepting the Trailblazer Award from Glamour magazine earlier this month, “I’m not going to apologize for who I am.” Allowing others to honor you for what you do also requires a willingness to take up space.

Watching Schumer’s show reminds me that eradicating misogyny from the world is as much an inside job as it is a fight to be won out there. And when we slowly but surely identify and kick out the sexist that lives within, we are freeing not just ourselves but also giving others permission to do the same.

With no more apologies, we take up space in the world—that is, until the next time we run into someone who pays us a compliment:

 


The Accidental Porn Pusher

 The other day I printed out a list of search words that people have used, landing them on my blog. Aside from the expected—find my sensuality, stories of women, big round belly, female breast stories, what happened to Barbie’s Skipper—some other interesting terms come up, including:

  • Forward facing vagina pics
  • Filipino girls for pleasure
  • Her face as she climaxes
  • Girl pleasures herself with her tummy out
  • Beautiful lady pushing beer bottle in vagina

Based on these terms I suspect that there are people searching for pornography who are finding Stories from the Belly instead.

This isn’t the first time my work has been mistaken on the surface for pornography. Several years ago I wrote a chapbook of poetry and prose that I gave to family and friends. When I asked an uncle what he thought of my work, he said, “I didn’t finish it because I don’t read porn.”

“X” marks the pornographic
Wikipedia Commons:
http://tinyurl.com/7nd8l

Porn? I thought. Could he and I be talking about the same chapbook?

The collection had come out of a writing class in which we were told to put together what we’d written into self-published form. As someone who suffered from writer’s block for years, I was thrilled to have generated anything at all.

My poems and short essays covered a range of topics—from a poem fantasizing about life as the real Laura Ingalls Wilder to one about how I always tried to be whatever the man in my life needed instead of just being myself. There are also references throughout alluding to sexual and sensual experiences. But did that instantly qualify my work as porn?

“Are you sure that you are referring to my chapbook?” I said.

“Yes.” He replied. “There is no way I will read the whole thing. It goes against my values.”

His response devastated me. Could my work be that offensive? And how could I be making porn and not even know it? I don’t even like pornography because of how it objectifies women and turns sex into exaggerated acts of performance.

If my uncle was right, then surely the world would be a better place without me as a writer pushing that type of material out into the planet.

That night, I went online and got on Merriam Webster.com to look up the word:

Pornography “noun por·nog·ra·phy \-fē\: movies, pictures, magazines, etc., that show or describe naked people or sex in a very open and direct way in order to cause sexual excitement.

Is that what I had done? I went through every page of my chapbook looking for explicit descriptions of sex or naked people but couldn’t find any. Granted, in one poem there is a line about how I kissed a different boy every day my freshman year in college. In another poem, I write about having sex with a lover under a mango tree (although—full disclosure—that never happened. I just liked the imagery that the words evoked).

But were sentences like that enough to cause sexual excitement in anyone? And even if they did—was that my fault? And what would be wrong with that anyways? And If I were to ever describe a sexual experience in detail, would that automatically make it pornographic?

My uncle’s reaction to my work played on my fears that my writing was not fit for public consumption. I worried that he was right and I lacked the barometer for knowing the difference between the appropriate and the profane. I even considered placing an X-rated label on the cover of my chapbook as a warning.

In The Uses of the Erotic, feminist and author Audre Lorde wrote about how people often mistake the erotic for the pornographic: “The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, and plasticized sensation.” When in reality, she explained, the erotic is “the assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”

For me, that first chapbook was the re-accessing of my creative force that I’d stopped up for so long. One of the reasons that I had subconsciously blocked myself as a writer was because I was so afraid that if I did write from my depths, one particular story would come rising to the surface, forcing me to deal with its truth—and that is exactly what happened. It was the story about how I was sexually abused when I was a child. And so began the process of me taking back my voice, my creativity, my body, and my sexuality as my own as I exorcised what was not mine—in reclamation of my feminine erotic nature.

Years later, I have a stronger sense of what my work is and what it is not. But that isn’t to say that I sometimes still don’t get paranoid and worry.

When I first launched this blog, knowing some of the topics I was dying to tackle, the old fears came up. For about five minutes, I literally marked my site as X-rated to warn unsuspecting people away from its contents—and then I decided to do as Lorde suggested and stop misnaming the erotic. No more using it to shame women, including me.

Still, with all the confusion that exists between the erotic and the pornographic, I shouldn’t be surprised that when some people go searching for porn they wind up here. What must the reader searching for “girls allow snake to pass through the vagina” think about my posts? Or the reader wanting to see “boyfriend shrinks and goes into girlfriend’s womb.” I wonder.

Imagining the startled, WTF expression on their faces makes me smile.


The Goddess of Enough

With anything that’s alive and constantly evolving in the moment, it’s time to honor the need for this particular “belly” to expand by making make room for other kinds of stories I’d like to tell as well.

I love writing about women’s bodies and sharing my experiences of reclaiming my womanhood from the patriarchy—and there will be more stories about the feminine to come. But focusing just on the reclamation part of my voyage has started to feel like putting on a favorite pair of jeans that have become a little tight.

Growth is always a good sign, especially when there is the need to stretch old boundaries, including the self-imposed kind. Still, this is the type of unfurling that makes me feel scared and excited and vulnerable at the same time.

The deep-seated fear that comes up for me is: Am I enough? As in, in this case, if I change and start to deviate from what people have gotten used to expecting from me here, will I—just me—be enough for you, my blogging community, to keep coming back for more? There’s only one way to find out.

The other day, my friend Maria Badiei, who is both an artist and healer, gifted me with a painting she’d made several years ago. We call this artwork of hers “The Goddess of Enough.”

“The Goddess of Enough” by Maria Badiei

The female figure in the center looks very much like what I once imagined how a deity with that name might look. At the time, I desperately needed the reminder that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen in life, I, Diahann Reyes, am enough— as opposed to my lifelong, polar opposite worries of either being  “too much” or “not enough.” Both tend to stop me dead in my tracks.

I thought the Goddess of Enough only lived in my imagination until I saw Maria’s work and realized that she has seen her, too. The painting now hangs in my living room. To me, this image shows a woman birthing all sorts of possibilities in her life because she knows her own enoughness.

I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. These three words, which I say over and over to myself, have become my mantra.

So stay tuned for changes on this blog, which may happen sporadically or in waves—not unlike contractions—as Stories from the Belly slowly morphs into its next becoming.


A Night at the Movies, Part II: The Female Body On and Off Screen

The day after watching Cinderella (A Night at the Movies, Part I),  I went to see another film.  The Clouds of Sils Maria stars Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz. This wasn’t a film I particularly enjoyed in terms of plot, but the acting by all three women is wonderful work. (For a review from someone who did like the flick, click here.)

I especially couldn’t stop watching Binoche. Not only because her performances are always a master class in acting but it was so refreshing to see a female movie star past ingénue age looking so comfortable baring her body on the big screen. That’s not a sight one gets to witness often, especially in American cinema.

CG Cinéma/Pallas Film/CAB Productions/Vortex Sutra Arte France Cinéma/Orange Studio/Radio Télévision Suisse http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254/

CG Cinéma/Pallas Film/CAB Productions/Vortex Sutra
Arte France Cinéma/Orange Studio/Radio Télévision Suisse
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254/

Binoche didn’t look like she’d toned up at the gym first before letting us see her naked in all her 51-year-old softness.I doubt she was any less beautiful or sensual than if she’d been all muscle.

There is a much needed healing of an old wound that happens when I see images of women that are more expansive than the limited ideas of beauty that I grew up with and surround me still—just like it feels like a balm for me when I see people of color playing significant parts on the big screen or as lead characters in literature. But it wasn’t just how Binoche looked. As I said, she would have been just as beautiful if she’d been all sculpted too. It was more that I felt coming from her body a sense of pleasure and shamelessness in fully inhabiting her own skin… much the way she fully embodies the parts she plays.

I used to think that I was at my best-looking, sexiest self when I managed to get my stomach to go flatter or the number on the scale went down. People’s reactions to me would affirm that—“You look so good! You lost weight!”

Lately, I can’t help but think that their responses were not necessarily because of how I looked but more because those were the times when I’d give myself permission to enjoy being in my body. The way I would carry myself, walk into a room, and interact with people changed, reflecting my own pleasure.

In her blog, Londin Angel Winters, the creator of Metaphysical Fitness and the Mindful Sculpt workout series writes, “Confidence, elegance, sexiness, grace, playfulness… these are all energies that any of us can embody in any moment we choose. Nothing needs to change about our bodies except that we need to stop dragging them behind us like forgotten luggage… we “come home” to them and a world of expression and beauty opens up to us immediately.”

There is a lot that has been written, by myself included, about how the unrealistic standards of beauty thrust at us by society, not to mention the barrage of photoshopped images in the media, make it hard to love our bodies or the way we look. But I doubt that these standards and images are going to go away until we make like Gandhi and “be the change that {we} wish to see in the world.”

Several years ago a friend of mine and I talked about starting a belly revolution. We were going to set up a website calling on women, including ourselves, to love the female belly in all its shapes and forms—round, lean, sculpted, stretch marked…. For me, my challenge has always been learning to love my stomach in its natural round shape and not just when its muscles are toned. (The latter has  happened once for six months in 44 years.) Yet the next day, while browsing through a bookstore, I bought a book on how to lose tummy fat.

I called my friend to back out of our new venture. There was no way I could lead any kind of body revolution unless I learned to love my own first. ” I think I’ll just wait until the rest of the world is on board and then join up,” I told her. “Maybe Madonna will start their own belly loving movement!”

There are definitely plenty of reasons to cheer when female celebrities act as role models by refusing to succumb to the pressures imposed by made up standards of female beauty. I too was inspired when, a few weeks ago, both Kelly Clarkson and Pink refused to let negative comments about their weight get them down.  I loved it when singer Janelle Monae told a fan, who had Tweeted that she needed to focus more on being sexy, less on being soulful: “I’m not for male consumption.” 

Yet ultimately, liberating ourselves from culture’s limiting standards is an inside job. I can find inspiration, courage even in others’ examples. But what I do with my body and how I choose to feel in it, show up in it out in the world, is up to me.


What Lives in the Female Belly

I decided to name my blog “Stories from the Belly” for a few reasons. The first was that I wanted to tell the kinds of stories about being a woman that aren’t often shared out loud—true tales that might feel too shameful or painful or embarassing to tell anyone. Instead, a woman might store these stories deep within, locking them inside her body and forgetting they are even there.

I’d buried these types of stories in my belly for years. I didn’t even know that’s where I put them until I took a writing class with poet Jack Grapes more than ten years ago. Jack teaches students how to access the memories that we’ve buried in our gut, right in the belly.

I grew up having very strong feelings about this part of my body. My belly, like the earth, has always been round, never flat. Even when I’ve placed myself on a restrictive diet or felt motivated enough to work out five times a week, my belly is full and soft.

Read the rest of this entry »


Owning My Voice

For years, I was terrified to show the world any of my own writing. I found ways to avoid professional work that would require a byline with my name attached to it. I was stymied by a number of fears: What if my writing isn’t good enough or what if it’s “too much?” Worse yet what if what I say offends, turns off, or upsets anyone, possibly everyone—rendering me undateable, unhireable, or, even, unfit to be part of society?

Stories from the Belly has been up and running for eight months. This post marks my 17th one. While the blog is fairly new, for me working as a blogger is not. I’ve been ghost blogging for eight years and written thousands of posts—only you would never know that any of them were written by me.

I’d even started other personal blogs in the past—four, to be exact (one of them I’d forgotten ever existed until I stumbled upon the URL in my bookmark folder the other day). I never made any of these sites available to the public.

Author Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own, “I would venture to guess that Anonymous, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” For a long time, I might as well have been this “Anonymous.”

Read the rest of this entry »


The Female Body in Pleasure

The more I learn how to open to pleasure, the more I discover that involving my body fully in the experience is an absolute must.  When I give my senses permission to let any kind of yumminess seep into my pores, the  word “pleasure” expands into so much more than its dictionary definition.
 
KISS….
Your lover
Drink him in with your lips
like nectar being sucked by a Goddess
Soft lips
know their way around the flesh of ripe fruit
Sweetness must be devoured
Taste first
then swallow.

Read the rest of this entry »