My body is a weapon. Sometimes, I am in control. I wield it, aim, take my shot, and feel the satisfaction that comes with being so physically, violently authoritarian. Other times, you are in control. You use it against me and I am trapped inside. I cannot escape and am left helpless.
I was helpless when I was fourteen and learned that I could get things I wanted in exchange for my body. I thought I was in control, giving only what I chose to, but I soon learned that, at times, my body is anyone’s to take. I learned that eyes are just as invasive as hands. I learned that words can be as heavy as arms. I learned that my body should only be mine.
I have since always been conscious of my body. I am aware of the way I treat it. I restrict my meals, exercise at least six times a week, and prioritize sleep over work.
But I am also aware of the way my body is received; I notice when I am being noticed.
Men often tell me that I am “exotic”, like a bird. They are surprised when I speak English as well as I do, even though it is my first language. They expect me to know very little, and to get a thrill from the idea that they can show me a whole new world: their American world of freedom, greasy food, and Green Cards.
They sometimes ask me which caste I am from and if my parents would allow me to go out with a White man. They ask me if I can belly dance and teach them Kama Sutra. They yell arbitrary words in Arabic and Hindi at me across the sidewalk, hoping that this will persuade me of how worldly they are.
And sometimes, they don’t say anything at all.
Instead, they grab my ass when I am trying to open the door to my apartment late on a Monday night, when the streets are empty. They come up to me at a bar, when my date turns away, and slide me a business card and a bag of cocaine. They surround me when I am trying to hail a cab, standing close enough to touch and asking if I need help.
In response, I want to ask them,
Is it because I’m Brown?
Is it because you don’t expect me to be independent, or aware, or resistant?
I am not Lady Lazarus, man-eater.
I left the Dinner Party, Judy.
Georgia cannot draw me into her flowers.
My pieces do not cut away like Yoko’s.
My body is colored pink, red, brown; I am woman, I am emotional, I am ethnic. My skin is an invitation for you to explore the colors of my body, peel away my paint until all that is left is the chipped pride that holds my bones together. My clothes can protect me from sun and rain and wind, but they cannot protect me from you.
You told me I was a long-haired temptress, so I cut it all off.
Then, I gave you the power to control my body.
Now, I’m growing it back out again.
Tanvi Malik is a writer, designer, and artist based in New York City, raised in Dubai, and of Indian origin. She constructs narratives, garments, and yoga sequences. Through her work she explores what it means to live outside the confines of a designated identity. Currently, she is in her final undergraduate semester pursuing a dual-degree program at Parsons the New School for Design and at Eugene Lang College, for a BFA in Integrated Studies/Fashion, and a BA in Literary Studies/Non-fiction Writing, respectively.