'Letter to My Body' exhibit at Iowa public libraries reveals people's thoughts on their physical selves

Letters addressed to the writer's body are displayed at the Iowa City Public Library in an exhibit organized by Monsoon
Letters addressed to the writer’s body are displayed at the Iowa City Public Library in an exhibit organized by Monsoon Asians & Pacific Islanders in Solidarity on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — More than 200 letters — some grateful, others hateful and all deeply personal — hung in the Iowa City Public Library on Monday.

“Dear body,” one read. “You have been broken and bruised, but you always grew back.”

The “Letter to My Body” exhibit will travel to several Iowa public libraries through April to mark National Sexual Assault Awareness month. The notes were mostly written by young people in Iowa City, Coralville and Des Moines.

The exhibit will be on display at the Cedar Rapids Public Library on April 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Notes were collected and curated by Leah Soweid, a victim advocate with Monsoon Iowa, a nonprofit that works with survivors of gender-based violence in the state’s Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

“They’re all powerful and individual voices really come through,” Soweid, 24, said. “Because with so many, you’d expect some of them to sound the same. Most people had really positive reactions at the end (of writing), and said it was a very healing process.”

Soweid said her letter to her own body was about finding her own bodily autonomy after being directed as a child to hug adults to be polite. Others wrote about body positivity, child birth or sexual violence.

“A lot of people have never written a letter to themselves,” Soweid said. “A lot of them wrote about things they had thought about briefly, but never actually focused on and decided to say.”


Authors of the letters described profound anger (“You’re a parasitic, repulsive, lumpy mound”), recovery (“I gained control by taking 10 weeks of boxing. When I saw him on the street, I knew that I owned my body, not him”) and hope.

“I don’t love you now,” closed one letter, most of which are unsigned. “I haven’t loved you before, but I will love you. Thank you, keep going.”

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