These Lyrics I Know By Heart

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By. Jackie Leonard

The soundtrack for my body is a series of lyrics I didn’t write. 

The songwriters used these words to cause harm.

To humiliate.

To compliment.

To manipulate.

To gain power.

These lyrics I know by heart. Songs so catchy, I only have to hear them once. Top 40’s in my mind.

Sometimes, when I’m not even aware, they find themselves in my head. Stuck, on repeat. And I can’t get them out.

These songs are short. There are only a few different lines each, but they repeat and, I don’t know, I guess the beats make me pay attention.

That’s the most impressive part about all this. How effective they are at getting me to pay attention.

Ask me just months ago and I would say my body is the one thing that I haven’t picked apart. That I’ve never really dieted. That my figure, to date, is pretty effortless to maintain. That it’s the thing I get the most positive comments about. 

I say to myself, the thing that people praise me for must be the best thing about me. Right?

But when I really really think about it. When I’m forced to, while driving or in the shower, when my body is fixed but my mind is running, I remember the lyrics, and they aren’t all praiseworthy.

You’re not the prettiest girl in the world, but you’re the smartest. 

I was in the sixth grade. This was written in a note, from a boy I liked. This is how he asked me out. We were basically secret lovers without the love or the loving, just some affirmation that I was smart, the smartest. It was a secret because I was also not the prettiest. At this age, this is, like, probably the worst thing you can say. 

Do you still have your ass?

This was in 2009. I was 22 and single on Valentine’s Day. I drunkenly text an old fling from my hometown and that was his reply. 

She has, like, the perfect body. 

I was 19 and this was used as ammo against another woman from her baby daddy. He was my current paramour – what a catch. She had recently given birth and he delivered this one-liner when explaining what he sees in me. 

How do you even go out with that face? It’s disgusting. 

This was in eighth grade. The boy’s name: Jason Colon. I’ll never forget him or these words. My face was breaking out pretty badly at the time and I was doing my best to figure out how to use concealer when I’d go out of the house. My topical creams were drying my face out so bad, I was flaking. He said this in Algebra. Jason and I sat next to each other, assigned seats. My crush of two years sat in front of me. Jason turned to me and said this and I was convinced it was loud enough for my crush to hear. Crushed, indeed.

Did you know I think pregnant women are sexy?

Said to me by a family member of a family member right before we took a group picture. I’m not sure what reaction was captured in the photograph. All I do know is that, at 7 months pregnant, I was feeling pretty great all day before this. Dressed up, hair done, and wearing an outfit that didn’t wear me. The moment these words were spoken so confidently, and this person put his arms around me, I shrunk. 

There are more lyrics, you know. I know you know, because you may have lyrics like these yourself. The other lines are harder to come by. I really have to listen to the song for them to come back. But, these – the classics, I can’t forget. 

The lyrics don’t change. They can’t change. 

How I’m reading them? That’s where the change happens. The analysis. For so long, I thought my body was the one thing that didn’t need fixing. Now, I’m realizing it was the thing I used to hide behind, and that bred shame. I spent years trying to use my body as some sort of armor. I thought it protected me, that it would make me feel better. Really, I was just crafting and showcasing a body based on these lyrics. The ones I didn’t even write.

I’d wear a short skirt to take attention away from my face. I always felt like the face I saw and the face others saw wasn’t the same. If I dimmed the lights and looked in my eyes, I was proud. But, a captured photograph that I didn’t approve or an offensively-lit dressing room, reminded me what others saw. 

We forget that our face, our eyes, our smile are a part of our body. 

How do you even go out with that face?

Just like that, it always returned.

It’s disgusting. 

Praising my body meant ignoring my mind. I was nothing short of an imposter. My body was given to me. I didn’t make it. It didn’t even feel like my own. My mind, my brain was what I worked on, was what made me feel different, and special. It’s what would help lead me to greatness one day, as I’d also been told, by another man. 

We forget that our brain, our mind, the neurons that fire, are a part of our body.

You’re not the prettiest girl in the world, but you’re the smartest.

The perfect body. Somehow, I went from being not the prettiest, to so disgusting I shouldn’t leave my house, to having the perfect body and an unforgettable ass, and turning on a stranger with my pregnancy. The agency of these men over a body that didn’t ever belong to them.  

And by the way, the whole perfect body line, it wasn’t even true. 

Another boy affirmed this when he pulled out a life-sized cutout of Giselle Bündchen from his closet and declared that SHE was the perfect woman. 

Who have I let write my story? Coursing through my body are these lines, these lies, these beliefs. 

I think back to that boy, in 8th grade, Jason. He had crooked teeth that stuck out past his lips. He always seemed so angry. I remember thinking, when he spoke these words to me, that I couldn’t understand what it took for someone to say such awful words to another person. I couldn’t figure out what he gained from them.

I don’t know what he gained, but I know what I lost. 

I know that I am still trying to reach that 13-year-old and let her know that it wasn’t about her.

She’s hard to reach because the chorus is so damn catchy. Even though it’s the song we all hate.

We forget to write our own lyrics, and no one shows us how. 

Jackie Leonard created Motherscope, an online and print magazine that explores the intersections of motherhood and the stories of women who mother. The first issue, Oh Mama, is a collection of birth stories. Jackie has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked as editor for multiple college and literary publications. The things that make Jackie feel most powerful are the community of women who surround her, writing, and her son. Her garden, cooking, and husband bring her peace.

Megan FebuaryComment