On the nights I could sleep, my body would awake choking on stomach acid or hot bile, needing to vomit, reminding me of pregnancy. 

Pregnancy: Every night needing to spit, the flow of saliva returning to my mouth as quickly as it exited. Linking my inside self to the outside world visible, transparent & flowing.

During this difference your body had no comparison to mine, mine felt everything felt different. Every effort was carefully manoeuvred into place so as not to cause extra stress or increased chemicals. I mainly lay on my back, sometime having phone calls, sometimes not.

I almost became psychic. In moments I knew everything and the problems of myself, peers and the world hung above, statically cast, ready to examine and critique and comment on. The invisible became graspable  – a map – both electric and frozen


Currently I find myself exploring a sponge of bodily emotion, reaction or something. 

I become my own observer. Due to felt of lack feeling or connectedness to myself I am left to watch over, feeling my way through a weight of experience. When I visualise this matter it is pink and yellow – part clown, part fat cut away from the body.

In my mind’s eye it exists in the place where I currently exercise, an insignificant fraction of what was carried out before yet significant enough to make this observation resonate or wobble.

I draw strings from this sponge in the hope that it was not all wasted experience, but also maybe that I get to know ‘feeling’ or response? Or knowing? 

Like Pinnochio’s dreams of becoming a real boy, I too dream these of strings experience will connect to a real body. 


I hope this letter finds you energised and well.

It is a huge challenge you are undertaking at the moment, I understand how you must be tired and feeling stress, not only in mind but also through your body.

I know the competition you were planning for has been cancelled due to the pandemic and that you are still trying to maintain a ‘competition body’, not knowing if or when you will be able to compete. The world is in chaos and we are in parallel lock-down, you in Spain and me in England but I know your current thoughts are most likely you won’t be able to compete any time soon. If an opportunity arises it won’t be in a natural bodybuilding association.

If it’s any reassurance to you, I understand where you are right now, I can empathise with the precarious position you are occupying. Only for you, it must be tougher than my own experience since you don’t a coach to hand over to or make the decisions (whether right or wrong); you have chosen to be your own judge, master and slave! A self-powered and self-styled manifestation of will and discipline, expressed through your physicality.

Writing in response to your piece “Transmogrification. Between Carving and Bulking. Destroying an Evanescent Body searching for Self-Identity” there were many parallels I wanted to highlight from my own experience I wanted to share with you:
You mention a lack of interest in feeling “feminine”, something that has struck me strongly in myself in many different points of my life. I also lost my periods for many years, even before bodybuilding, so I had an awareness in my life that with effort (controlling what I ate, and the entire spectrum of eating disorders or certain forms of contraceptive) that it was possible to halt my period. I guess that kind of control either made me feel god-like or somehow sick and abnormal, as if I had worked out the secret code to overwrite the body’s ‘natural’ will.

For me, it is only now that as I enter perimenopause my period is reinstated, in fact I have dieted and missed it (or it is late this month)! It’s interesting that as women, this cycle in no way colludes with or assists the rhythms and cycles of bodybuilding, but it connects us to that idea we must attempt to take control over the long-understood value of female reproduction. In fact, for me, the thought that whilst in competition mode that oestrogen may destroy my hard-won work against the body.

Don’t let me project my thoughts on to you though, I am eager to hear yours.

I reflected on how you talked about the discomfort of your growing body and how I understand your feelings and experience, but also, how I feel differently now. Reading this helped me remember how much I disliked the felt exposure of that fragile competition body that superficially looked strong. The exposure I felt was like I could not hide my form, my skeleton and that there was no comfort in my body, that my bones hurt on the bottom of the bath. I enjoyed the adrenaline of competition but the distortions and baring and frightened me. For those reasons, I don’t like the look of my bodily fat but I now appreciate how it feels so much more than before.

I know at the moment you are listening closely to your body, managing what it is asking for and what you can give it. I wish you good sleep and hope you can keep that critical eye in check.

Are you practicing posing and heels? How is it going?

Thank you for letting me share these thoughts with you.

Looking forward to speaking again,



It’s so long since I’ve written, now I try to start the process, I’ve begun to poison myself. 

The feeling is coming from my aromatherapy diffuser. It sits in the background of my Zoom calls and dowses my carnivorous plants in rainwater and eucalyptus daily.

Not only does the humidity look after the plants, the smell of eucalyptus is a signifier – it sets the stage to work. The smell familiar, clinical and inspires a new environment within the known. It cleanses both breaths and thoughts in the pandemic scene.

In my desperation to write, to produce something, I’ve tried too hard. 

I’ve become over generous, wanted the setting to do the work and now I’m choking on eucalyptus. 

The vapour sucking oxygen, is taking my brain and sucking that too.

I cannot think, I also cannot see. 

I feel for a window, I open it.

Clear the air.

Body begin again.


Started in Daniel Oliver’s Neuro-diverse writing group, also in response to conversation with Isa Fontbona Mola. 

Reflecting on past choices, initially looking at gender and ways at which I tried to be a successful woman. I had spent so long surviving/ I didn’t have time to challenge where I was really coming from, what I wanted, how I saw myself, how I would like to be. Everything has been reaction, rather than the reflexive inquiry which I believe is beginning to take place now, in my forties.

At some point I decided to challenge my perception of gender by working physically to take on characteristics of the binary opposite. In reflection I feel this may have been in response to:

  • Growing up surrounded by some extreme toxic masculinity, equally a time where women somehow stood behind men or even appeared to ‘operate’ them.
  • Ingrained family or generational homophobia.
  • Repeatedly experiencing domestic violence over many years and other incidents male perpetrator violence.
  • Perceiving my ‘successful female-ness’ as currency and part of an economy that could keep me ‘safe’.
  • female expressed as victim – culturally this being totally acceptable.

Whilst all these things are happening its hard to contextualise who and what you are. 

I came to place where I learnt to modify myself and body being part of that. Here not only could I draw a protective ring but remove myself from the usual pressure of the male gaze – or swap it for one I was less accustomed to. Interestingly, the gaze I swapped it for is one where my body was judged in comparison to male muscular bodies. I became physically self-assured, however not completely confident as this was new and somewhat unstable territory for me. 

This brought up a deeper questioning of my personal positioning of gender and where/what was my inquiry via bodybuilding. I had never been ‘girlie’, and some respect totally withdrew and could not associate with some aspects of culturally portrayed feminine. ‘Basic’ traits felt completely alien to me, e.g. playing with dolls. Take away the binary, there is no issue. There’s no pure expectation of women or scale of woman to adhere to. (To be revisited)

Other lenses that might be just as relevant for me around bodybuilding are that of control, substance use+abuse/medical perspective+intervention that may roll into each other. 

Self-historical issues like:

  • Teenage to early 20s mixed substance addiction (doc heroin), which developed a perspective of control over feelings/states of mind. Also suited my dissociative/dehumanisation disorder.
  • Consequentially lead to development of unusual relationship with medicine and deep fascination with the body and anatomy, but also (self) control over body.
  • Previously as a young teenager I suffered from eating disorders, Bulimia then Anorexia and was able to display discipline and control over food.

Here, bodybuilding was able to feed different facets of my lived but also comfortable and familiar experience. I find that I have an excessively poor memory, which I link to dissociative disorder – however over and over again, I’m drawn to pieces of a puzzle which I can eventually link together over time. I leave breadcrumbs to discover and trace back to something I already knew.


I was there at my grandma’s house, and she could see me, she was in a good mood. She was imp-like and dancing round happily, happier than usual. She always treated me as an equal, as an adult or like her and for some reason she never seemed old. We ran around the garden, no – she told me to go and dig up the boxes from the garden. There were 2 wooden boxes, one was hers and the other was mine. 

I had almost entirely forgotten until that prompt. I have a vague recollection of mine; at the time I didn’t want it. Even though, things might be different now. It was buried in a box coffin, as was my grandmas.

We took the boxes into the living room to open them up. You could hear the fire was roaring and threw out an orange cast on our backs. 

Every so often we need to get them out, look at them, feel how cold they are, see their dollishness and change their clothes. We sat in front of the fire facing the windows onto the garden – the deep blue night grain shifted to a more familiar daylight grey fog fuzz, and that is all I remember.

In my work I go through various stages of being seen and not. The spectrum of this is impossibly profound. I’m never quite sure which Francesca Steele I am going to be perceived as. There’s the one only whispered about, Or the other, that “you can’t believe it’s her”. 

At points within these different stages of visibility, I ride an unexpected wave and whilst shopping or walking or asking a question in a lecture become totally invisible. I don’t know how I do it, but it happens I completely disappear. Even my voice becomes paralysed and can only squeak, but then thinks “maybe I shouldn’t be here either” and disappears more.

The only problem is if I become apparent, I’m so full of frustration or confusion, assertion and expression, I don’t know what to do. It’s too much and not controlled, it says odd things and turns the spotlight on itself. It talks nonstop nervously, goes to far, says too much, asks too many questions, says things that other people only think, then stops – And wishes it could sweetly scale down to a full stop and stay there at the end.


Increased physical strength is one of many consequences of bodybuilding, but the recipe itself works to break-down, build-up and create shape in muscle. A further intertwined consequence, found deepest within the muscle, is that bodybuilding provides an opportunity; the chance to refocus or ‘prompt’ to look inside. 

To roll my eyes inwards and pursue my personal mental landscape – my own maze, with only myself as witness. The outside might be sweating, pushing, contracting tissue. On the inside I calmly pick up and move obstacles effortlessly through dark muted and harmonious tones, repeated until I easily gain failure.

I stay long enough to momentarily forget, when re-delivered the comparison is stark. The swift and sweaty return stuns. 

Evolving questions: Practice involves trauma, when visible, it becomes excruciating. Is this a kind authentication? Could these shifts be easier? I’m drawn to things that make me feel vulnerable, that pull and push, shock or scare -or is that the remnant or afterglow I leave for myself? The process happens with all of the work; bodybuilding, performance, one-to-one and writing. 


Daniel Oliver’s Neurodiversity Writing Retreat to the prompt word of neurotypical.

Today I am feeling full of nerves, like my body is fizzing, like the stress is bubbling over – I can’t pinpoint the reason or where it is coming from in my body – the virus news or the fact I have pages and pages of marking to do & that my articulations are too long and hard work to make sense of. 

My head, my nasal passage, my navel, my back passage all inflamed and not thinking straight – I’d like to be less nervous or less gibberish – but waiting for the effervescing to leave or wear itself out. Whatever, my body has an agenda.

Which strand of non-typical does the iterations come from, I’m told I romanticise difficult issues and talk viscerally or visually – in art is that not a skill? Writing works best for me when it flows – today is barred from that ease. Constantly looking for something to put right or waiting to be put right, not quite in control, drunk without the alcohol, feeling fallout I can’t quite touch. High on unrooted nerves. 

Making the work because I felt I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to say or form sentences – or even engage an audible voice. Relying on facial expression or a poker face, to get into where the crowd was and then still not quite fitting. Literally having the opposite thought to the rest of the class and self-marginalising. 

Not being able to tell the difference between a word, a thought, a body or a being. All amplified as colour or an electric nerve pain, or both clouded and sharp.  Still trying to shift the right bit into focus, the bit I want you to see. Could it be something about learning to hide yourself and then becoming scared of your reflection.