Dear Woroni

Dear Woroni: Living in your body, do you feel liberated, restricted, or both?

As a kid, I used to run around nude, without a care in the world. When I was about 10, however, that all changed. I can almost pinpoint the moment when my body became something to be ashamed of – something to hide away.

As a kid, I used to run around nude, without a care in the world. When I was about 10, however, that all changed. I can almost pinpoint the moment when my body became something to be ashamed of – something to hide away.

I was at the creek near my family’s farmhouse with my mum and three younger siblings. They all waded into the water with nothing on, urging me to join them. All of a sudden I was embarrassed to take my clothes off, and I retreated to the car.

At the time, I wasn’t sure why I felt different. In retrospect, I realise that my emerging adolescent female body had become something to look at – something to be assessed. At school a week before, I overheard classmates teasing another girl behind her back for having large breasts and wearing a ‘crop top’. Three years later, that same girl who teased her was subject to comments about her lack of breast size.

From the moment I was 10, my body, and the bodies of my friends have been criticised, analysed and judged, by both men and women. From my personal experience, however, the harshest criticism I hear about women’s bodies, come from other women.

We call each other sluts, hoes and worse. Aren’t we all supposed to be on each other’s side, helping each other liberate our bodies?

In a world where the odds are against us already, why are we not uniting forces and liberating each other? To answer the question, my body feels liberated when the women around me ensure that it does.

For Harriet Ling, however, her body is characterised by so much more than this.

Dear Harriet: Living in your body, do you feel liberated, restricted, or both?

It would be fair to say that I have, fundamentally, been restricted by my body. I have body issues – but not the type you might expect from a woman of my age. I am happy with my body shape and size; it wobbles in both the right and wrong places and it generally responds well to vegetables and fruit, and badly to chocolate and pasta. When summer comes around, however, it doesn’t really matter if I have been eating carbs or carrots for the last three months – I still face ever-averted gazes. At first glimpse, my body looks like it has been attacked by a small knife-wielding maniac with a penchant for disfigurement. Big, bad and bold bikini scars stand raised to attention against my skin.

These knife-wielding maniacs in my life are all incredibly dear to me – despite their worrying God complexes – as each surgeon and doctor has played a pivotal role in curing the aggressive bone cancer I have had since adolescence. I am in remission now and am generally incredibly happy, but certain recent events have changed how I have felt living in my body.

2016 was the year I discovered that I cannot have children. Despite the fact that I really should have seen it coming, it sent me into crisis. Ifosfamide, etopiside, doxyrubicin, cyclophosphamide and other poisonous concoctions have been my toxic vices for years. Not only did they make my hair desert me, but they also pushed my womb and ovaries past the point of no return.

Logically speaking, I don’t think this is altogether a bad thing. Clearly my genetic make-up has not enjoyed much success, and perhaps this is exactly what Darwin had in mind with his theory of natural selection. Emotionally, however, there is a whole womanly mountain of feelings to deal with when you are a 22-year-old who has gone through menopause before her own mother.

Whilst I love to joke that I am not suitable for motherhood – I barely remember to clothe and feed myself at the right times – I am in love with the idea of having my own children. As part of treatment I even tried IVF, but somehow during the process I was turned into a low-key psychopath who habitually cried into her mashed potato over dinner. While many dread wedding season, I dread the days of baby fever. While I am certain any child I adopt will generate the same feelings of love, it is the physical and emotional experience of pregnancy I crave. Of birthing life from my loins.

I will never see my mother’s face or grandfather’s nose in that child, and neither will my hypothetical future partner. I dread the moment I will have to tell this misguided boyfriend that should he stay with me, he will never bear his own natural children. I am the oldest child and view the likelihood of the pregnancy of my sisters with both elation and desperate envy. Being able to give birth is not how I defined my womanhood, but it is how I defined my future.

I must sound supremely ungrateful. I am alive. I am surrounded by beautiful friends and family, and I have had constant validation of love. But the same agents that have saved me, have also deprived me.

In answer to this question, yes – in many ways 2016 has left me feeling restricted by my body. We are in a day and age where we are for the most part free to make our own choices regarding children and birth, and yet I am not allowed this option. I am not less of a person for this, but I’m still figuring out what kind of a woman it makes me.