Shreya Sen-Handley On Writing About Her Body And Its Imperfections
A former broadcast journalist and a video producer, Shreya Sen-Handley was all of five when she was published for the first time. From writing that Bengali poem which made it to her school magazine to contributing to the likes of The Statesman, The Hindu, National Geographic and The Guardian in the UK, she has even written short stories along the way which were published by several illustrious publications. The author who also likes dabbling in art and illustrations, recently published her book Memoirs Of My Body, a personal account of her body, its varied experiences, and its reflection on her sexual, reproductive and emotional life.
The book takes on from her popular column with CNN IBN which was “a tongue-in-cheek look at gender parity through the prism of sexuality/physical processes, etc.” She adds, “When I was encouraged to put it together as a book, however, it became obvious it would require a strong narrative thread to bind it into one good story… one which was also about everyone who’d been through these things that most of us have in common: menstruation, masturbation, relationships, growing up, growing old, and more.
“While I was writing about my own body, what struck me, again and again, was how many stories it had to tell, and how everyone else’s would have too, and many of them would be undoubtedly relatable.”
So, while I was writing about my own body, what struck me, again and again, was how many stories it had to tell, and how everyone else’s would have too, and many of them would be undoubtedly relatable. The other thing I realized was how much more comfortable I am in my skin now than I was before, to the extent that I could write about all its imperfections without too much embarrassment.”
Popular media and its hackneyed representation of women especially have a negative reaction on young girls and women who feel that if their body doesn’t look a certain way, they are not attractive enough.
Handley admits that she still has tons of insecurities about her body, but she hopes her book will make her readers see that “they are not alone in being who they are and not air-brushed and picture-perfect.”
She says, “It will give them confidence that not only are they not alone but they have been misled and for very mercenary reasons (by the fashion industry, cosmetics companies, etc.) and finally, by laughing about my bodily experiences, and my bodily “imperfections” with me (because, hopefully, humour is one of the defining facets of the book), they are able to dispel commonly held illusions and make peace with their physical selves.”
Although writing this memoir was a pleasure but it was also emotionally difficult for the author to re-open old wounds like the violence within her first marriage.
It was back-breaking work as well at points where she put in long nights finishing her book after writing columns, teaching creative writing, and looking after her kids and home all day. But having wanted the best for the book, she is proud of the work she has put in.
She admits, “Another element that caused me anxiety was the reception I imagined it would get. I hoped it would be good but I also knew I was laying myself open to abuse and criticism by opening up to such a degree. But this only struck me at a much later stage. For most of the time I wrote it, I wrote it without inhibitions… I loved the mischief and fun the story allowed me to inject into it, and I hope readers do too!”
Handley refers to her book as “auto-fiction” (in the author’s note), because she wanted to both tell a good story and talk about the absurdities and injustices of our lives as women, “So, there is research and anecdotes and a real person at the heart of it but I have tried and hopefully succeeded in telling an engaging, funny, moving and well-paced story too.”
Like many women, the author wears many hats at the same time. She is a mom and housekeeper, and dog sitter, with all of which her husband provides stalwart support. Also, she is a journalist, a teacher, an erstwhile UNESCO city of literature ambassador and literary festival director, a commentator for TV and radio, and so on. She says that it is tough because it is a round-the-clock job a lot of the time, but also a great deal of fun.
“I just throw myself into everything and burn the candle at both ends… I’m living my dream and thrilled to have all these wonderful opportunities.”
“I just throw myself into everything and burn the candle at both ends. There’s never any time to sit back and savour though, not till the kids grow up, or I retire (but writing is an addiction and writers rarely retire), so, I can’t recommend it but I can enjoy much of it and do. I’m living my dream and thrilled to have all these wonderful opportunities.”
Handley hopes that her book encourages people, both young and old to stop feeling embarrassed and speak up about their experiences. She wants them to realize that their bodily processes are not dirty, criminal or shameful. Even when it comes to relationships, “we all get it right and wrong in equal measures.”
She concludes, “Nothing or no-one is perfect, nor should have to be, but every experience is attended by something that redeems it. Some things make us stronger, others make us laugh in retrospect, others teach us and equip us for challenges going forward. Other things are just wonderful as they are and let’s not see them in a negative light… If we all start talking about things we are told are “taboo”, we can make a difference. Oh and I want the world to treat women better on the whole, so I hope I can change a few misogynistic minds too (and these don’t always necessarily belong to men).”
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