Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body – Sara Pascoe

I want to say it is a feminist book, but then in a way, it really isn’t because feminism is not the focus here, and writing about half of the population doesn’t make a book feminist. But then it is just in a quirky way. It is, as the subtitle announces, an autobiography of a female body. And the female body clearly has a lot of sense of humor and distance to itself. A fun way to explore yourself from a different angle.

I bought this book in one of my book-buying splurges on Bookshop.org. I do love this website, it has a great way of browsing that takes you in various unexpected directions and it makes you feel better because you support local bookshops. Two things that Amazon can only dream of. I think I already complained about their algorithms constantly pushing crappy books to the front, or always pushing only the bestsellers trying to make us all uniform in what we read. It is shocking that a company that started as a bookshop is so bad at this. I’m getting wound up again, sorry! Anyway, if you haven’t yet, visit Bookshop.org, they have amazing curated shelves and you can support a bookshop near you, they need it.

Back to the book, Sara Pascoe is a stand-up comedian. And it seems like every stand-up comedian feels like they should write a book, so I was a bit hesitant about this one, as the idea does not always work well. This time it worked. Pascoe writes about women’s bodies in a very refreshing way. Our bodies are always on display everywhere you turn and looked at all the time, but rarely spoken of in a non-judgemental way. And this is what she does in this book.

She writes about the origin of many of our features. Obviously they stem from the time when we were far from creating any form of civilization, hence the title. I almost wrote ‘they stem from the time when we were animals’, but this would not be true, would it? We are still animals, and that’s what Pascoe is trying to bring to the front. That maybe if we understand our animal side and the circumstances that formed it better we may be more at peace with everything that is annoying and surprising about our bodies. Everything that the civilization is trying to pretend is not happening, that it was banished by us denying to be animals. 

Pascoe divides her book into parts about love, body, and consent. Love focuses very much on brain chemistry and hormones. But also how love, in a very unromantic way, is a mechanism that was originally created to assure successful procreation. And how very different it is now when civilization suddenly gave us other options than just focusing on perpetuating the species. How the goals of nature and civilization are at odds and if we don’t understand that it can create confusion and unnecessary pain. That said Pascoe is definitely not a proponent of going back to focusing on procreation, what she is trying to do in this book is to understand how our bodies became the way they are. 

The part about the body is obviously a lot more physical. I loved the realization that our body fat is future babies’ brains, made me laugh so much. But also made me a tiny bit less critical about myself, yes I have fat and finally, I acknowledged it has a function. I may not deploy it this way, but it is there for a reason, not just because of me eating too much.

The part about consent is probably the most serious. What I liked is the honesty with which Pascoe writes. She is open about her experiences and opinions. She freely shows her distress, shares mistakes and bad things that happened, but also sets them in a broader context. It is probably the most feminist part of the book, but instead of approaching it from the point of principle, she chooses the path of compassion. 

The book reads really well. Pascoe is funny, but also serious when the topic demands it. She constantly includes her internal monologue, though, with the number of voices she produces, one must wonder if it is still a monologue. She is also unapologetically emotional. By which I mean she gets angry, a lot. And that is very liberating. It’s a feminist act in and of its own, to be openly angry about things in a world that really does not appreciate women getting angry. This mix of hilarious humor, raw emotions and straightforward and honest language is great.

It made me think about a lot of things, but mostly it made me more at ease with myself. I was already getting to a point of deciding to stop beating myself about my inability to lose weight, and this book made it easier. I exercise a lot and eat pretty healthily, and if that doesn’t make me lose weight then I decided to be fine with being a fit fatty. I will not starve myself to conform to some imaginary physical form and so far my health is perfectly in order. 

The book made me feel lighter in some way. Free from some of the subconscious baggage. It surfaced the judgments I was making about myself and showed how petty they are when brought into the light. How meaningless and often how harsh and unfair. And it allowed me to just stop doing that to myself. At the same time, it was really good entertainment and I learned a few new things, what more can one ask of a book?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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