Feminist Reading Journey: Rupi Kaur ‘Milk and Honey’

Image: The Kawaii Kollective

For anyone who isn’t aware of Rupi Kaur, well for one you should be. And two, let me do a little summary that although won’t properly categorise her awesomeness; will help give you an idea of what I knew about Rupi Kaur before reading ‘Milk and Honey’.

Before reading due to the cover of the book I knew that she was a New York Times bestselling author. I also knew that she had become famous after a photograph she posted on Instagram, depicting a woman lying on a bed having bled through her trousers  on her period, was removed from the social media site. Twice.

She responded with a public post that basically destroyed Instagram and made it clear she would not be censored. You can read the full post here, my favourite lines of which are:

“Their patriarchy is leaking.

Their misogyny is leaking.

We will not be censored.”

Well, I for one could tell she was a poet right away. Like how you can probably tell from my writing that I definitely am not.

It was this controversy surrounding Instagram that was the first time I was made aware of Rupi Kaur, as I had recently been researching the shame that surrounds periods and menstruation. Something, which had particularly grabbed my attention when I started to think about what homeless women must go through when on their period. I was of course not the first person to think about this, and in my research for the article I then wrote about the subject; I came across the charity #TheHomelessPeriod and Binti.

After, writing the article I actually also contacted Binti about volunteering for them, and I have since written several articles around the subject for them. Some of which you can find on my published page.

So as you can tell I went into reading ‘Milk and Honey’ having known Rupi Kaur through her photography and her position as an advocate to end the shame surrounding periods. What I found is a book of poetry so rich and full about all the struggles women go through life. Some I could relate to. Some I could not (due to my heritage in comparison to Rupi Kaur). But what I didn’t know I learnt from. And what I did know gave back that feeling that is hard to describe, but maybe is best described as being like honey to honour Rupi Kaur. As the feeling I am describing is both sweet and familiar, and also soothing just like honey. It is that feeling you have when you have read something that reflects back an experience you have also had and makes you no longer feel alone.

What Rupi Kaur has written I think intends to do just that, which you can see by the different subsections she chose to categorise her poetry by: ‘the hurting’, ‘the loving’, ‘the breaking’, ‘the healing’. Also, her poetry although devastatingly brutal at times is easy to read if you are not used to poetry. Or are new to poetry. As if I am being honest, although there are some poems I love; poetry has never been my go to option. I’ve never been able to have the same sustained connection with poetry, as I have been able to have with novels.

However, as ‘Milk and Honey’ depicts a journey through poems it provides a narrative and so a safe, similar space that us novel readers are used to feeling. Not that of course this is anything new for books of poetry, but when thinking of narrative poems; many people probably remember the long poems written in old English that they used to struggle with. Here is instead something you can sink your teeth into with being an english student.

However, all the while you are reading Rupi Kaur manages to sink her teeth right back into you. Partly, because there is an undeniable sensual edge to a lot of the poems that is open and unafraid (and of course makes me slightly uncomfortable to talk about just because that’s who I am) in its explicitness.

Rupi’s poems reflect how in recent years there has been an increasing movement of women taking back their sexuality and talking about it openly and honestly. Including the highs and the lows, and what sexuality is like for women from their own perspective. Rather, than the male lens that is constantly thrown on sexuality.

Women then are no longer giving into the theory that women have to be in competition with each other over these matters. Instead they want to discuss it. Something, which connects to the poem, which I chose to showcase alongside Caroline from The Kawaii Kollective’s beautiful illustration of Rupi Kaur.

“other women’s bodies

are not our battlegrounds”

-Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur 1Image: The Kawaii Kollective

I’m also happy to share a special bonus image of Rupi Kaur by The Kawaii Kollective, which is for now exclusively on this blog post!

Rupi Kaur 2Image: The Kawaii Kollective

The reason I chose this poem out of all the beautiful poems in the collection is that it is something I have personally over the last few years really tried to drum into my head.

I used to obsessively reading ‘women’s’ magazines. You know the ones that talk about who’s gained weight and who’s lost it. No one was perfect. Everyone who was tiny was revered (and then berated the next week). I didn’t enjoy the content but I couldn’t put it down. I internalised what the right weight was, the right size, always chastising myself for never living up to that ideal.

This continued into the start of my first year of university, and was not helped by the internet (not that I didn’t use the internet before university but I generally started to spend a lot more time on my laptop in general at university) where you could easily google someone’s weight and height. There were even websites dedicated to guessing (which I’m not going to put here because I don’t want to encourage anyone to go to them) celebrities weights and sizes. In the comments I would read I’d see people debate someone’s weight extensively, and argue passionately about whether a particular celebrity was telling the truth.

I hated the way these comments talked about women, and each other. But it was something I couldn’t stop.

I’m not sure how, though I knew why, but at one point I did stop.

I made a conscious decision to not read these magazines or look at the websites anymore. And I found myself a lot happier. No, it did not automatically cure the anxieties I had about my weight. But my weight and body image became something that no longer took up almost every working hour of my day.

The reason I am talking about this is because it is not just celebrities we do this to. I think Facebook as we are all aware is one of the biggest culprits for this. We all look on in glee if someone has gained weight, or slightly annoyed if someone has lost it. When quite frankly it’s none of our business. I’ve managed to stop myself doing this recently, as I’ve become more aware of the damage always talking about someone in terms of weight has done to me and others I know.  Now, I try not to engage with the changes in people I know past surface value. If someone loses weight and is happy about it, good for them, as long as they are healthy and happy, that’s all I care about. If someone gains weight, not that I’d ever make it my business or talk to them about it (I never know why people think it’s their business to comment); it’s none of my business. All I try to look for now is if someone is happy, and if they are not.

Personally, beyond this kind of conversation I will not talk about changes in my weight. This is only because I know I’d obsess over the figures. The weight before. The weight after. The gain or loss. It made the situation worse for me. Obviously, I am not saying no one should not talk about it ever. But I personally don’t have any sage wisdom to share. I don’t know enough about nutrition or exercise. Therefore, I don’t want to say anything. I’m not saying someone cannot be proud of their weight loss or weight gain for that matter. I’m just avoiding the subject because of my own personal experiences.

That’s why this poem was one that resonated with me the most. Though I can also think of an extension to the poem as well. Other women’s bodies are also not our aspiration. Your body is never going to live up to someone else’s. We all have different body shapes, etc. This also applies to men, non binary and trans individuals, or the gender identity you define yourself as (as these are categories in which issues with weight are still not discussed as much as they should be). Personally, this was something that took me way too long to realise, and plagued my teenage years, as my body shape then was different to all my friends.

I think in the end what I take from ‘Milk and Honey’  is that you can always rebuild yourself back up and start anew. You can change the way you think. About yourself. About other women. Don’t let anyone ever make you think you can’t. It’s never too late to change the way you think. We can all heal (as cheesy as that sounds).

Whether you can relate to the struggles that Rupi Kaur covers such as bad relationships, father issues, the way women are sexualised within society, or not, ‘Milk and Honey’ delivers Rupi Kaur’s perspective of being a woman. Read it if you can’t relate and prepare to cry if you can.

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