Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Navel-gazing is a term I didn’t know existed until I read the first chapter of Melissa Febos’s Body Work for my English class here at Michigan State. If someone is accused of navel-gazing, it’s not meant to be a compliment. Navel-gazing is another way of saying someone has an ego and likes to write about themselves “too much.” For example, the novel that I wrote about my depression in high school could be considered navel-gazing because I’m going out of my way to share my personal experiences with the world. 

Navel-gazing is a word I don’t agree with, and Febos disagrees with it too. It’s brave to write memoirs based on true experiences, especially if they are traumatic. It’s been shown that writing down trauma helps with healing. I know I like to journal to get my thoughts down when I have a bad day. 

To agree with navel-gazing is to agree that sexual assault victims shouldn’t take a stand. Unfortunately in today’s world, there are a lot of cases where victims simply don’t say anything out of fear. 

What’s interesting is Febos goes on to say that navel-gazing originates from sexism. It’s okay for men to write what they want, yet women are looked at negatively when they write about sexual assault or miscarriage or divorce. We need to make it clear that it’s the opposite of selfish to write accounts of these things. As Febos says, by keeping your traumas to yourself, you’re resisting justice. It goes beyond just books. People need to know that people want to hear their personal stories. 

In academia, essays are frowned upon, and I didn’t even know that until I read about it. But apparently essays are “too personal” and no one wants to hear someone’s specific experience. That’s why a lot of times essays may just talk about an issue in a generic way; the writer may feel like they’re being narcissistic by going into more detail if they relate to the topic. 

I so disagree.

I’m someone who loves writing about my personal life, and it’s where I get all my ideas and where I get my therapy for free. I think it’s powerful when someone reads it because then they share their story and they feel less alone, and people see themselves as survivors rather than victims; they see themselves in a stronger light than they do when they hold it inside like it’s something to be ashamed of (which it isn’t). There’s a power to self-disclosure. 

Another interesting point Febos said was just noting the sexism in literature. She talked about how there’s a chicklit genre but no bro-lit. It’s so true. Men can write what they want without getting a label, but women can’t. A lot of stuff I write falls under chicklit, and I don’t like that label because it assumes I only write for females when I don’t. I write a lot of feminism and self-discovery romances, and I think men can take away just as much from them as women can. 

Genres are gendered. It seems many men go for fantasy and horror and many women go for more realistic fiction stories. I don’t think this is true. I wish there were more stories like Harry Potter with larger audiences, written for everyone. 

Another question worth asking is if Harry Potter was a female protagonist instead of male, how would that alter its success? What if it was told in Hermione’s perspective? Just a thought . . . 

I’m going to keep writing about my own life and keep memoirs alive. I hope everyone else does the same. No matter who you are, it’s so worth it to put your story out there. There will always be people who want to listen. 

Sydney Savage is a graduate of Michigan State University with a BA in psychology and a BA English (with a creative writing concentration). Part of her novel called "I Love You More Than Me" is published at Red Cedar Review, and an excerpt of her other novel, “Just Let Me Go” is published at Outrageous Fortune magazine. She will be getting her Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan and volunteering for CAPS. She plans to work with adolescents and eating disorder populations. Along with this, she'll be continuing her passion for novel writing and pursuing her dream of publication. She hopes to bring more mental health and body image themes into the book publishing market. She is a current member of Michigan Romance Writers. You can read some of her works on her personal blog and website: https://sydsavage13.wixsite.com/sydwriter13 Her twitter is @realsydsavage13 and her writing insta is @sydwriter13