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'The Body Papers' Is A Stunning Memoir About Immigration, Family, And Trauma

Books

Grace Talusan is honest and elegant about some of life's most difficult moments

Every single human being alive has a body. Its needs and desires help define and shape our days, its internal workings affect our moods and expressions and energy, and its outward appearance—whether we like it or not—becomes a text to be read by those around us. In The Body Papers, winner of the 2017 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, Grace Talusan's new memoir-in-essays, the body is a central theme that the author approaches crablike, edging towards it sideways. Rather than addressing her own sense of embodiment, Talusan examines the body through how it is read by others, how it has been harmed, how it has been cut up and put together. Prize judges Anjali Singh and Ilan Stavan write that Talusan here presents "the concept of 'the body' as a concentric circle that expands outward: the female body, the body of the family, the body of the Philippines, the body of a writer's work." There is good reason for this distancing approach: It mirrors Talusan's relationship to these bodies.

Born in the Philippines to parents of very different socioeconomic backgrounds, Talusan and her older sister were soon uprooted from their home and taken to the U.S., where their father, Totoy, had begun a medical residency program before sending for them and his wife, Norma. Talusan soon lost her first language, Tagalog, as well as many memories of her place of birth. It's her return to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines on the island Luzon, on a six-month Fulbright trip that frames her narrative. But the body of this city is unfamiliar to Talusan, and the bodies that crowd its bustling streets, while more similar to her own en masse than the majority she's lived amongst in the U.S., are foreign to her as well.

This manifests in many ways, but one of the most visceral is the fear that she experiences crossing streets in the city, where traffic is so bad that it takes practice to be a pedestrian. "Physically," Talusan writes, "I don't stand out from the locals, but as soon as I step onto a Manila crosswalk, I distinguish myself by losing my cool: I wave my arms; I raise both hands; I shout, 'Stop!'"

It isn't easy to return to this place that shaped her parents and thus her, but Talusan confronts her own discomfort head-on, acknowledging the complexity of her identity: on the one hand, she is Filipina, raised on her parents' favorite foods like lengua (cow tongue) in tomato sauce, or the dinuguan which she thought was chocolate stew until she learned the soup's rich dark brown was "the color blood turns when it's cooked." On the other hand, she writes, "Every day in Manila, something upsets my expectations, which is a feeble way of saying what I fear makes me ungrateful, ugly, and so American: every day here, I am offended. I am appalled by the rotting inequality, greed, corruption, and lawlessness." And while she is aware that what she sees in Manila exists in the U.S. as well, the fact is that "living in this overcrowded city of 10 million, it's harder to look away from the bodies at my feet."

Between the first few chapters and the final one, Talusan moves, sometimes with an associative quality that renders the individual essays surprising, through themes of immigration, abuse, and illness—all of which are a kind of inheritance, a linking to or severing from the past. She writes about the erasure brought about by assimilation, the loss of her first language, the way she learned to be disgusted by the food she so loved. But Talusan doesn't find fault alone in the American way of living—she is grateful for it, too, for when her mother "learned that you were not supposed to hit small children with slippers and belts and rolled-up magazines, she stopped. She was only repeating what had been done to her." And, more, she is jealous of her nieces and nephews who've gotten to experience her own parents' affection, because she doesn't "remember hugging [her] parents or exchanging 'I love you's with them until later in life."

The importance and comfort that physical affection can provide children is well-documented in various scientific studies, but for Talusan, this isn't a matter of cold facts but rather a facet of her own embodiment, or lack thereof. Instead of safe physical affection from her parents, Talusan spent years experiencing physical harm, in secret. Though Talusan references childhood abuse in the first chapter of the memoir, it takes almost half the book before she shares the details of what occurred to her. Here, too, the structure of The Body Papers mimics the way Talusan relates to the body, for the sexual abuse she suffered remains central to her understanding of self, the trust and self-esteem lost through the years-long ordeal, and the way she has lived more fully in her brain than in her body since then.

In the chapter titled "Monsters," Talusan makes clear that the man who sexually abused her was her grandfather, but despite the chapter title, she takes great lengths to contextualize him for her readers before exposing the brunt of his monstrosity, explaining how he let her burn worms and caterpillars, indulged her desire to set green potatoes on fire and watch them explode, built her a pink bookcase and side table and bed, like the kind she'd coveted in storybooks. But, of course, no amount of grandfatherly attention could make up for the kind that wasn't, and in one stark moment, Talusan breaks her pattern of meaty paragraphs in order to bear witness to her own pain, asking the reader to do the same:

This is what happened and happened and happened.
I was seven and he was seventy.
I was eight and he was seventy-one.
I was nine and he was seventy-two.
I was ten and he was seventy-three.
I was eleven and he was seventy-four.
I was twelve and he was seventy-five.
I was thirteen and he was seventy-six.

There is never a moment of self-indulgence in Talusan's memoir. While she rarely, if ever, judges those around her—even as she notices, and gently notes, their privilege, careless language, or violence—there is the occasional hint of self-recrimination, marking just how difficult it is for her to tell this story. The book examines many more facets of Talusan's life and observations than those I've focused on here, which are only the outermost and innermost sections, and it isn't only her own story, as she writes in her author's note: "While everyone has the right to report their own lives, I know that telling my secrets impacts other people." Yet ultimately, she concludes that she wrote the book for herself, "and for you, the living, and for those who come after [her]." For that, we the living are grateful.

The Body Papers is available for purchase here.

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Photo by Handout / Getty Images.

From selling probiotic supplements to picture frames and umbrellas

A Kardashian-level of success doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly doesn't happen without proper planning. Kim Kardashian West clearly knows this because, according to TMZ, she has already filed for trademark protection on the name of her two-week-old baby, Psalm West. From personal appearances and entertainment services to probiotic supplements and scrunchies, she is leaving no stone unturned in terms of possible business opportunities.

Apparently, all of the Kardashian parents file these kinds of trademark protections for their kids even if the businesses never come to fruition. It's done as a precautionary measure to keep others from profiting off of their name and to make sure that, should they ever want to start a business, they don't have to worry about someone else getting to it first. The sheer length of this list speaks to the huge earning potential of baby Psalm, who can't even control his own neck muscles yet, let alone go into business. Still, this brings a whole new meaning to "securing the bag."

Below, a list of all the things Kardashian West is seeking usage rights for.

Hair accessories

Barrettes

Bands

Bows

Clips

Ties

Ornaments

Pins

Scrunchies

Chopsticks

Twisters

Wrap

Hair extensions

Ornamental novelty pins

Entertainment services

Personal appearances

Skin care

Probiotic supplements

Toy figures

Doll accessories

Computer software

Clothing

Baby bottles

Furniture

Strollers

Beverageware

Swaddling

Blankets

Skin moisturizers

Lotions

Creams

Bubble bath

Fragrances

Body powders

Shower gels

Body oils

Skin serums

Nail polish

Nail polish remover

Nail care preparations

Puppets

Puzzles

Toy jewelry

Toy cameras

Toy food

Bath toys

Baby gyms

Playground balls

Electronic action toys

Baby bouncers

Baby changing tables

Baby walkers

Pillows

Mirrors

Cushions

Picture frames

Playpens

Baby carriers

Cosmetic bags

Toiletry cases

Duffle bags

Umbrellas

Clocks

Watches

Key chains

Calendars

Books

photo albums

Stationery

Stickers

Writing utensils

Collectible trading cards

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FROM THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Well, actually it's crocodile, but she looks out of this world so...

Winnie Harlow walked the Cannes red carpet on Wednesday on her way to a screening of Oh Mercy!, wearing a showstopping gown.

The sheer black dress featured green embroidery on the front and back, which Ralph and Russo confirmed was in the shape of a crocodile. She belted the dress with a black crocodile skin-like belt and finished the look off with some strappy heels. She didn't leave it at just that. For beauty, Harlow packed on full lids of sparkly purple eyeshadow. She kept her hair sleek and simple.

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Though the brand says otherwise, as Game of Thrones fans, we'd like to think the embroidery is reminiscent of a dragon's skin. Not to mention, Harlow looks out-of-this-world beautiful in it.

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Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

That denim kimono!!

Marion Cotillard shut down the Cannes red carpet on Wednesday at a screening for Matthias Et Maxime. Instead of an extravagant gown that's expected of the event, Cotillard wore a matching black crop top and shorts. Despite wearing an outfit I typically don to a hot yoga class, she looks incredible. She completed the look with an oversized denim kimono, a statement necklace, and heeled booties.

Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

At first, I was drawn in by the crop top and hotpants duo, but, after looking closer at the kimono, it's clear that it's the real scene-stealer. The floor-length Balmain piece was decorated with artful rips and dragon motifs. I would like to live in it.

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Let's all bow down to the Khaleesi of Cannes.

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Photo by Frazer Harrison / Getty Images.

"It doesn't make you weak to ask for help"

Singer Billie Eilish is continuing to open up about mental health, this time in a new PSA video in partnership with the Ad Council and Seize the Awkward.

In the video, Eilish insists that "it doesn't make you weak to ask for help." She doubles down on the importance of asking for help, and stresses the importance of friends and family being there when their close ones reach out and checking in on them as well. "You should be able to ask anyone for help, everyone has to help someone if they need it." According to Eilish, there have been times when someone reached out to her at the exact moment she needed it, and it helped.

It was particularly refreshing to see Eilish acknowledge that there are things she still doesn't know and has to learn about her mental health. At the very beginning of the video, the interviewer asks her to reflect on her mental health journey, and all Eilish can do is let out chortle. "I think when people hear, 'Remember to take care of your mental health,' they think that everyone else is, and that is not at all accurate," she admitted. "You know, for me I'm trying to learn still to make sure that I stay okay."

Check out the PSA below.

Billie Eilish On Mental Health & Friendship | Ad Council www.youtube.com

Photograph via @kimkardashian.

"#NotOnMyMoodBoard"

Kim Kardashian has definitely been accused of borrowing a design now and then. But when Instagram influencer and Kardashian look-alike Kamilla Osman claimed the entrepreneur copied her birthday look for a Met Gala after-party, Kardashian was not going to let it fly—and shared plenty of photo evidence to shut down the claim.

Fashion industry watchdog Diet Prada first noticed Osman's claims on Instagram and shared side-by-side images of Kardashian's Cher-inspired outfit designed by Mugler and Osman's dress. "Never get confused with who 'inspires' who. They won't give you credit but they will copy," Osman wrote on her IG story. "I designed this dress for my birthday last year. Nobody had a dress like this was an original design."

Kardashian responded by posting the true inspiration behind her look: images of Cher, in similarly sparkly, plunging-neckline dresses and wigs, and of model Yasmeen Ghauri walking a Mugler show in the '90s. In fact, the only similarity between Osman's and Kardashian's looks is the bodycon mini-dress style, which the two are not the first to wear. Among the images, Kardashian included a blank slide with the hashtag "NotOnMyMoodBoard," making it clear that this was in response to Osman's claims.

Screenshot via @KimKardashian Instagram Stories

Screenshot via @KimKardashian Instagram Stories

Though I am with Kim on this one, Kardashian does have a history of co-opting other people's work. From being sued over her Kimoji app, to claims she copied makeup palettes and perfume bottle designs, to being accused of copying Naomi Campbell's entire style, it's far from the first (and probably, far from the last) time Kardashian's name will be mentioned like this.

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