Naked with Bemnia
In our latest interview from the Naked Series, we sit down with Bemnia to discuss race, feminism, and what it means to be a spoonie.
JACY: Okay, first off… What the hell is a spoonie?
BEMNIA: Spoonie is a term that was created for chronically ill people to better explain what it’s like.
It started when this girl was talking to her friend and she got out a bunch of spoons and said "Think of these spoons as the units of energy you have for the day and everything you do in life costs a certain amount of spoons.
For example- it might take one spoon to get out of bed, and two spoons to get to work. When you’re living with chronic illness you may wake up with only five spoons because you have a cold or a pain flare, but the cost of energy to do things remains the same."
It’s just a better way for non-disabled people to understand what it’s like for us (energy wise) on a day-to-day basis because it can be really difficult. I really love the term. It’s helpful because a lot of disabled people have invisible illnesses which are harder for people to grasp. They think ‘Oh, well you look fine.’
JACY: I’m guessing we can go ahead and clarify that you, are a spoonie?
BEMNIA: Yes, I identify as a spoonie, and I’m chronically ill. I actually run a Facebook group called BIPOC Chronically Ill Babez. We’re called Chronically Ill Babez ‘cause we’re ill... But we still cute! It’s cool because I think a lot of chronically ill people can have a hard time feeling beautiful.
BEMNIA: It’s cool because I think a lot of chronically ill people can have a hard time feeling beautiful.
JACY: For sure. Can you tell me a little bit about the way that invisible illness affects you?
BEMNIA: For me … I don’t know. It started more with mental health. I struggled with depression/anxiety and when I was 18 years old I was sexually assaulted which I believe helped contribute - or caused me to develop Endometriosis.
It’s a very common condition. About one out of ten women have it and it’s when the cells in the uterus that shed during your period start growing… Wherever they feel like it. They break off, affect your nerves, and go into all these other sections of the body. Essentially my insides are bleeding all over the place (haha.)
JACY: (Haha) It’s not funny but you do have great language for explaining it.
BEMNIA: Well, I’ve had to talk about it a lot and I've had to learn how to explain it to doctors.
JACY: You have to explain to your doctors what Endometriosis is?
BEMNIA: You’d be surprised.
JACY: Do you think being forced to grow into an educator of your health has made you more comfortable in your body?
BEMNIA: It’s made me more comfortable sharing my story. I'm a lot more open than I used to be. But living with chronic illness makes it really hard in terms of working on body acceptance. That’s something I struggle with a lot. Some days I wake up and I’m like - 'OoOoo, my body is awesome.' Other days I’m like 'WHY AREN’T YOU WORKING??'
When that’s happening it can be very difficult to feel sexy or want other people to see your body.
Especially when you need a cane some days... and you’re only twenty-two. You feel like you’re not supposed to have weird hip problems but WOO! ... Here we are.
JACY: Time to start dancing with it (haha.)
BEMNIA: Oh trust me I do. It’s so fun too. There’s a femme I know who’s given me tattoos - I’ve seen them in the club rocking their cane and it makes me so happy.
JACY: That’s amazing. What are some of the other ways that this illness affects your life on a daily basis?
BEMNIA: The fun thing about chronic illness is that it’s completely unpredictable. Some days I’m pretty much normal and I can do whatever I want. I can work, I can walk and I feel fine. Other days I wake up in excruciating pain. Either way it’s always there.
You do meet and connect with beautiful people through it though and it does make me appreciate my good days. You start to appreciate things you didn’t used to think about like walking. I didn’t appreciate that before. I do now.
JACY: Damn. It does seem like through this you’ve learned how to speak up for your health and really have autonomy over your body. I’m curious as to how you gained that strength and how you stand so strong as a woman, as a person of color, and as someone suffering from illnesses that people aren’t always quick to recognize or support. You just seem very grounded and I’d love to know where that stems from.
BEMNIA: Ah, thank you! Well, firstly I think I seem a lot more put together than I actually am. That's (laughs)… It’s nice to hear. I think I'm just learning to be patient with myself and take each day as it comes. Also just stubbornly existing. Because so much of the world does not want me to exist. Or to be in these spaces yet here I am. And here are all these other amazing black femmes and people who I have had the privilege to get to know and build community with and they all just inspire me so much. They inspire me to keep on keeping on.
JACY: I love that. What are some of the things that you want to do in life? I know you said that you’re into makeup, but interestingly enough you went forward with wearing no makeup for this shoot. Why is that?
BEMNIA: I chose to wear no makeup because self love is a bit of a journey for me. I think that doing this is a step towards loving myself and sharing me as I am with the world. I want people to see that women like me exist. Bodies like this exist.
So yes I do love makeup and I want to be a makeup artist in the fashion industry. Fashion and the way we dress, the way we express ourselves... It's just so beautiful and fun to me. You’ve got all these people coming together to create this unified runway or this one image, or this one video. Whatever medium it is you’ve got a living and breathing piece of art.
JACY: Makeup of all art mediums is a bit of a double edged sword. It can be empowering but it can also stem from an embedded idea that we are not enough as we are. I don’t think it has to be harmful, but it is something to think about.
BEMNIA: For sure. Which is part of why I didn’t wear makeup today. I asked myself "Do you actually want to express with makeup today? Or is it just you wanting to cover up things?" And ultimately today I was just thinking about all the various ways in which I wanted to cover up so I didn’t want to do that.
Because I got into makeup in a very unhealthy way. I used to have horrible acne and I mostly used makeup to make myself look like what I thought was acceptable. I love makeup as an art form but I could see how far away I’d gotten from that reason. I wouldn’t even leave my bedroom without makeup.
JACY: What so your parents didn't even see bare skinned?
BEMNIA: Yeah. Like straight up - I wouldn’t leave my bedroom without makeup on. It was super unhealthy. I felt like shit about myself all the time. So eventually I forced myself to stop wearing makeup until I felt like putting it on ‘cause it was fun again and not because I wanted to fix myself. Over the years I've tried to continue that. If I feel my reasons for makeup drifting I just stop.
JACY: I like the way that you check yourself.
BEMNIA: Thanks. That’s why I’m here right now. I’ve felt very negative about my body as of late because my health has never been this bad. So I was like "Okay - go empower yourself. Go be vulnerable."
It makes me uncomfortable, but it’s meant to be uncomfortable. All that pressure and compact pain - that's literally how diamonds are made.