The Body Monologues: A Call for Radical Empathy

Photo Credit: EKG Technician Salary
Photo Credit: EKG Technician Salary

By E.C. Kelly

Brené Brown, a wacky woman with great hair, once said, “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” The cure? “Douse it with empathy it can’t survive.”

Brown has lots of science to back that claim up in her TED Talk, but I know she’s right. Because I’ve acted in The Vagina MonologuesYou wanna know what empathy looks like? Empathy is a group of people talking about their vaginas with courageous integrity. Shame can’t even go there. Shame gets laughed out of the room.

So we’ve got The Vagina Monologues for vaginas, and we’ve got The Penis Monologues for penises, but what about all the other body parts we feel shameful about? What about the toe hairs? The stretch marks? The tenacious and unkillable butt zits?

We need a body revolution, y’all, and it starts here.

So I’m going to tell you the story of my body, and I need you to do something for me.

I need you to hold space for my butt zits. I need you to hold space for my stretch marks.

And then I need you to do something radical. Brown says, “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: Me too.” Saying “me too” is exposing fierce vulnerability.

If you hold space for my stretch marks, I’ll hold space for your toe hairs. If you hold space for my butt zits, I’ll hold space for your scars. Do that, and we will laugh shame right the fuck out of this room.

My Body Monologue

I have three tenacious, unkillable butt zits. I’ve considered naming them. Vernon, Phyllis, and Andre are the current contenders.

I have two hairs that grow out of my chin. They’re the facial equivalent of wedding crashers: not invited, and not going anywhere.

I have stretch marks on my breasts, the insides of my butt cheeks, and the tippy tops of my thighs. I got them when I was 22. They were red, spidery, and terrifying. I googled “red lines on boobs,” and got back “CANCER.” My OB practically laughed me out of the room. “Those are stretch marks, and you’re not dying.”

I have jiggle. So much jiggle. My thighs, my stomach, my breasts, my back fat. Two-thirds of my wardrobe is dedicated to hiding the jiggle.

I have chin fat that makes me look toad-like.

I have a furry bottom—a nice way of saying “a hairy butt.” Once a triathlete used his opportunity for pillow talk to say to me, “I love your furry bottom.” His name was Volma. He was bald.

All the Same Kind of Vulnerable

For three months, I told my Body Monologue to a group of people in South Austin. We got together because we had this instinct that if we stood up and told our secrets out loud, we could be free of them.

It was there I learned that Byron* grew up with a six-pack that he never showed anyone; it exposed how he didn’t have enough to eat at home.

I learned that Vanessa has Crohn’s Disease, which robbed her of her full breasts and her Beyonce butt.

I learned that Susannah hates her wrinkles.

I learned that Karl is embarrassed when people notice that his hands shake. He’s 76 and has Parkinson’s.

We got up there, and we each told a secret. We exposed a vulnerability, and then we each expectently looked around, waiting for the room to explode.

It didn’t.

And that made us realize something: We are all the same kind of vulnerable.

Remember what I said about Brené Brown? We carefully laid our shame in petri dishes with a healthy dose of secrecy, silence, and judgment, and it grew. Standing up and telling each other about it was like putting bleach on mildew. It’s not totally gone yet, but it will be.

Radical empathy is immensely difficult, and we need as many voices in this conversation as we can get.

So I offer you my story and my voice, dear reader. And if you feel that standing up and telling me (or anyone!) your body monologue will free you of shame, I would be honored to hold space for your unkillable butt zits.

*All names of workshop participants have been changed

E.C. Kelly is a graduate student who is studying how to help students feel honored, excited, and alive. She acts, she sings, she dances, she notices. Because of this, she writes. If you’d like her to hold space for your unkillable butt zits, you can find her here.