Ameema Saeed is an avid bookworm and writer. She spends her days overthinking emails, working customer service for a large book retailer, and spends her evenings managing retail partnerships and events for With/Out Pretend. She loves Beyoncé, bad puns, good food, and makeup. When she’s not reading books, she loves to talk about books (especially diverse books and books by marginalized authors) on her bookstagram: @readwithmeemz.
She will be speaking at Unruly Bodies II: A Night of Storytelling.
SDTC: Do you consider your body “unruly”?
AS: I definitely consider my body unruly. Fat, Brown, and Sick, I think every part of my body breaks the mould of what society expects, especially from its young women. When I look at the definition of unruly, the part that resonates with me the most is that unruly means hard to control. Living with a chronic illness (Lupus), mental illness, and chronic pain are all experiences that centre around the fact that my body is no longer under my control; that it’s no longer bound to any sort of rules or expectations.
How has your perception of your body changed in the past few years?
My relationship with my body has been complicated for a really long time, and my perception of [my body] changes a lot, maybe even day by day. When my family immigrated from Pakistan to Canada, that was my first experience seeing my Brown body as “other,” as well as my first experience wanting to change the way I looked.
As I grew older, and older, my fatness became a bigger and bigger (pun intended!) part of my identity. I was bullied about my weight for a few years, and even as my classmates and I grew up, and grew past it, that insecurity and shame stuck with me for a really long time.
As I grew older, I became more sure of myself and more confident in my body. I grew to appreciate it, love it, and see it as strong and beautiful again. Ironically, this was also the period in my life when I started regularly struggling with pain and exhaustion, with anxiety and depression, and for the first time, I started feeling scared of my body, my pain, and what it all meant.
After years of living in invisible pain, my Lupus diagnosis was almost a relief. I finally had answers, I was finally being believed! But it was also a huge betrayal from this body that I was finally beginning to accept. Since then, I’ve started to rediscover my body: my relationship to pain, and to pleasure, my strengths and my weaknesses. I no longer take my body and the seemingly simple things I used to be able to do for granted. Since my diagnosis, I’ve started embracing empathy, vulnerability, and honesty, both with myself and with others, more than I ever had before.
I’m nervous about speaking at this event, but I’m also really excited…I’m ready to start taking up space!
Who or what has shaped your view of your body the most?
Pain has changed the way I see myself more than anything else. It’s always there. Pain has changed my perception of my body, governing my decisions, big and small. Because of it, I’ve gone from thinking about what I wanted to do or be, to thinking about what I’m *able* to do or be, which has been really difficult. I’m not yet in a place where I’m at peace with my diagnosis or the fact that the rest of my life is shaping up to be a lot different than what I originally expected. I’m working on it, but it’s going to be a long journey.
I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that my body is not how it used to be, and maybe it’s a good thing? I’m in this really cool position where I have the opportunity to restructure my goals, re-evaluate my priorities, and reshape my relationship with my body and my relationship with the world. Despite the reasons for it, I have never been more attuned to my body, its limits, its possibilities, its needs and its desires, more than I am now. Pain adds a clarity that I never expected.
Is it possible to separate your sense of self from your body? Or do you see them as intertwined?
I often see myself as two different things: my self and my body, and sometimes, particularly when I’m in a bad place, separating my self and my body become a coping strategy. Ultimately though, I am not myself without my body. My Lupus, my fatness, my pain, and the colour of my skin do not define me, but they are inextricably linked to who I am now.
Why is it important for you to share your story at this event? What are your feelings going into this event?
When you’re a marginalized person: a woman of colour, a fat person, a person with a chronic illness or disability, a poor person, a queer person, a trans or non-binary person, systemically, socially, subtly and painfully, you are made to feel like you can’t (and shouldn’t) take up space.
Every day I am learning more and more about what it means to live in my Sick, Fat, Brown Body, and every day I’m unlearning years of societal expectations and pressures that told me how I should be. The whole concept of accessibility hinges on the fact that the world wasn’t built for me or for other unruly bodies like mine—we are only accommodated into it.
Now, instead of trying to fit myself into other people’s expectations, I want to create my own identity, and take up the space I need to. This is why spaces like Unruly Bodies are so important, and why so many people resonate with unruliness as a concept. I think we’re all searching for permission to be ourselves.
Unruly Bodies II is coming up on January 26 at Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave). Grab your tickets here.