Today is publication day for My Body Keeps Your Secrets, the first full length book written by acclaimed essayist and journalist Lucia Osborne-Crowley. Her previous works include I Choose Elena, an essay on trauma and survival which drew praise from fellow writers and helped connect Lucia to many readers as she gives a voice to those who have experienced trauma and shame, something which is explored in a lot of detail in this book.
When I first heard about this book, I knew it was one that I needed to read, and that it would prove to be an important book for me. In recent years I have sought out more non-fiction, and have particularly found myself drawn to memoirs which explore issues faced concerning our relationships with our bodies, and the way in which we respond to trauma, and shame. In the process of writing My Body Keeps Your Secrets, Osborne-Crowley spoke to hundreds of women and non-binary people from around the world, assembling a memoir comprising of the stories of people of different ages and backgrounds who all have something in common – they have all experienced some form of shame in relation to their bodies. This ranges from the struggles we face with body image from a young age as we struggle to conform to societal pressure and ideals, to the pain we experience as a consequence of emotional and sexual assault. And alongside her own harrowing testimony, Osborne-Crowley begins to explore the intricacies of shame and trauma in a way which doesn’t shy away from the true extent of the impact that this trauma can have on an individual, but at the same time approaches the issues with sensitivity, and with a feeling of hope that we can overcome feelings of shame, and reclaim our bodies.
It goes without saying for a book that focuses on such difficult and emotive topics that it is not a book that is always comfortable to read, but it is certainly an important one. Through the voices in this collective memoir, we build a picture of the different stories and lives and those moments which have a lasting impact, the feeling of shame that ensues which is often all consuming, and the desperate need to have someone see you, and help heal your pain, even when the pain is something you have tried to hide even from yourself. I am sure there are elements of the stories that will resonate with a lot of readers. Whether it is something that has happened to us, or someone close to us. Perhaps something we didn’t think much of at the time, but has been lingering in the mind, the feelings of doubt that you can’t quite shake off. I am sure I am not alone in that as a teenager growing up I had a very specific idea of what it was to be a victim of emotional or sexual abuse – it was something that happened at the hands of a stranger on a dark night. It was only years later, more so in recent years with the rise of the #MeToo movement, that you realise that it is also something that commonly happens closer to home, amongst people you love and trust, resulting in this immense feeling of pain and shame, emotions which are not always easy to process, and as we hear in some of the stories, not always easy to be heard. This makes the very existence of this book all the more crucial, as it helps give a voice to anyone who has been through these experiences.
Whilst there were a lot of testimonies in this book that made for difficult reading, I also experienced some feeling of relief and validation in the process of reading these stories. I think one reason I was drawn to this book was for me to seek some validation of my own experiences, and there was a particular moment where I had to pause because I was so struck by how similar this voice was to my own, the sentences on the page could well have been plucked from my own mind. And in that moment I felt understood. And I was reminded that whilst these memories have left their mark, they are something that can be overcome in time. And I hope that this book finds itself in the hands of readers who may feel the same, and help us all to overcome feelings of shame, and have a greater understanding of ourselves and our bodies, in all their complexity.
My Body Keeps Your Secrets was published on 2nd September 2021 by Indigo Press, with thanks to Indigo Press and Jordan Taylor-Jones for providing a copy for review.