Lesson No. 3: The Social Body



(More of this amazing “bodyscape” photography found HERE)





If the body, as Marya Hornbacher writes about, is something we wear, then what becomes of these body costumes when we try to write about them? How can we capture something so unique and complex into an assortment into a language with only 26 letters? And if we do write about our bodies, what type of writing do we bring to them? Are we writing reviews of our bodies? An instruction manual? Perhaps a recipe card of what we are made of—both physically and historically?

Basically, how do we adorn or construct our bodies through writing?

Specifically, how do we understand our gender, senses, and our ownership of our bodies through writing?

We may recognize our bodies as who we are, as a key part to ourselves, but those parts of us—the whole of us—are not separated from the rest of the world. Yes, our skin creates a type of boundary, but that boundary is permeable. Porous. In other words, we weave into one another’s lives through interactions that create our physical and verbal communication with each other. Our bodies are a part of the world and the larger conversations about life we navigate each day, and we cannot change the ways in which others see or read us. We are all, inevitably, part of a larger system in which we become a type of social body. Whether in regards to gender, age, or race (or any other-ism), it is through our bodies that we communicate. This can make writing difficult. How do we write about something that has its own language? How do we bring the ways in which we are viewed and understood (perhaps even judged) by others into our literary and linguistic conceptions of our bodies?


Whether it’s Marya Hornbacher describing bodies as a type of costume, or Margaret Atwood considering our bodies as topics (among many other metaphors), both of these essays build on the idea that our bodies do have a type of narrative, and that the best and most successful way for us to hear them is through comparison. Through metaphor.

Because we are gliding pens claiming ourselves, establishing who we are and what our bodies do through words, through phases, as well as what our bodies have become and how we will continue to be who we are, be our bodies, be in our bodies. We find ourselves on the page. And metaphor is there waiting for us, ready to be our guide.

Metaphors are essential to creative writing, but they are also essential to our identities and our bodies. By looking at the metaphors we use in order to explain and address our physical selves, we are able to use multiple types of language and concepts about who and what our bodies are. We begin to understand ourselves and our bodies as we continue to look at ourselves as if we were made of poetry. We bring ourselves to the page and continue to think of ourselves creatively, uniquely, and through discovery.




  1. What are some examples of metaphors that Hornbacher uses? What about Attwood? And how successful (or not) do you think these writers are in regards to creating a poetic narrative of their bodies?
  2. Told in segments, Hornbacher’s essay hits on a lot of key points about the ways in which we understand our bodies. What does using this sort of structure do for the essay?
  3. Can we write about the body without writing about shame? (Can we un-socialize the body? Can we separate it from the cultural standards of health and beauty?)
  4. Do or can we ever successfully write our bodies into existence? And what does that look like?


Writing Exercises

  1. Think about your body—what it looks and feels like—and write about the ways in which you feel comfortable or not in your own conception of who you are.
  2. Now go back to the previous exercise and change the point of view to second person.
  3. Make a list of 5 different objects that shed some light on who you are, or objects that tell fundamental stories of who we, as humans, have been so far.
  4. Take your body apart bit by bit, and then give directions for how to put it back together.