Bittersweet Poetry: Body Image Ghosts from My Past
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I wrote the following two poems before I ever experienced any disordered eating behaviors, before I really ever saw myself as “fat.”

I thought I’d share them today as I stood staring at my body in the mirror this morning without disgust, without disdain. With … dare I say … appreciation for all it has done for me and/or given me?

The first poem was written in 1998 while sitting in the entrance booth of a state park by my parents’ house in New Jersey where I worked that summer.


Worn, double-strapped
brown sandals
exposing ten glittering
silver toes
facilitate two solid
calloused feet
from years of dance
Thin ankles
the right, dangling
a silver bracelet
support thick, muscled calves
defined by endless laps
on the track
Connected to chubby
with a careless speckling
of creamy freckles
atop each recently-tanned
chunky, yet mostly firm
Which join
wide, good-for-breeding hips
curved with femininity
at the pelvis
into an hour-glass shape
at the significantly thinner
Even though the upper abs
might bear resemblance to cold steel
the tummy, with its little
Pillsbury Doughboy
kangaroo pouch
doesn’t say much
for all those late-night crunches
And lacking much
for the large frame
small, round breasts
peek out from the sports bra,
tucked neatly under
a polo shirt
The white-collared neck
Greeted, yet almost sheltered by
long, thick curly tendrils
of auburn,
falling gently around
the broad, hard shoulders
A dimpled mouth
spreads slowly into a smile
[or is it a smirk?]
as deep blue eyes
that see far too much
into everything and everyone
stare long and hard
into the full-length mirror

The reflection,
staring back
with utmost intensity
and a hint of contempt

is mine.

I took this photo of a random man in La Boca, Bs. As., in 1999.
I took this photo of a random man in the colorful neighborhood of La Boca, Buenos Aires, in 1999
I wrote the second poem in 1999 at a cafe in Buenos Aires. (Note: “La Gordita” is an affectionate name for someone who is a little chubby, a nice way of saying “fat” if there is one)


The window in here plays distortionist
I sip a submarino and nibble a medialuna
While thousands of them
Pass me by, maybe they glance in or
Are just too engrossed in portena chatter
They stand no taller than I,
But dark ripples cascade their shoulders
And auburn waves caress mine.
Stilted legs barely support them
Upon which they all prance,
Robed in black and gray
They do not notice me,
And why should they?
Soy una extranjera en su pais
Their arms, shoved stiffly in pockets
Or flailing in the air excitedly
Measure thinner than my wrist
Tight leather pants suck in their tiny tummies
Sweaters that wouldn’t fit my baby cousin
Span their small breasts

Their legs do not swish together with each step.

And in this cafe
They sip tea with Sweet-n-Low
Or agua sin gas,
A lit cigarette dangling between
Paper thin fingers
Now their dark eyes peruse me
And, dissatisfied, they look away
Then men,
They send appreciative smiles, nods, whistles
But the women…
The women of Buenos Aires
Are anorexic, drained corpses
Beautiful and sophisticated

And they never let me forget it.

**Side note: The former was written at a very critical moment during my four month stay in Argentina and so it should not in any way reflect the entire Argentine culture; it was a one-moment observation that was poignant enough to write about.
Today, looking back on both those poems, I can see that is when perhaps I began to develop body image issues, even though they didn’t come to frutition until years later.

In the next couple of years, we will hopefully be starting a family and I am admittedly nervous about the body image issues I will face as my body undergoes the amazing changes of pregnancy.

It is my hope that, with the knowledge I’ve learned, the confidence I’ve gained and the faith I possess, that I’ll be able to embrace it with gusto.

How about you? Can you pinpoint when your body image issues really began?

9 thoughts on “Bittersweet Poetry: Body Image Ghosts from My Past

  1. I wish I could find some of my poems! Most of them were about love and boyfriends though, so I’m sure they are pretty corny!

    I honestly can’t remember a time where I stood in front of a mirror and liked what I saw whole heartedly. As a child I either wished I was fatter like my best friend or thinner like my cousin. I would fantasize about eating lots of food to be chubby like my best friend. I think I was 7 at the time. Then as I got older I didn’t adjust to puberty well. I was embarrassed to wear a bathing suit and embarrassed if someone saw I was wearing a bra. I can remember my father swatting my mom playfully on the butt or thighs and calling her bubble butt or thunder thighs. We thought it was funny back then, but now if my son does it to me playfully I yell at him to knock it off!

    It wasn’t until I got to college that I really started to study other people and their bodies and how they compared to mine. I didn’t do much about it other than obsess about the way I looked in clothes or naked. I started to feel disgusted with myself and found it hard to be happy.

    After college I broke up with my 3 yr boyfriend and hopped right into another relationship with a control freak. He was obsessed with having the perfect body and insisted I follow in his footsteps. It was then that I started working out constantly, starving or binging/purging and abusing laxatives. This continued thru most of our 2 year “on again off again” relationship. Once I was free from him and his abusive ways, I went hog wild into the bar and party scene! I drank alcohol for fun and spent most of the next year partying with friends. During this time I met my husband. I had put back on all of the weight I lost during my previous relationship, but I was still within a healthy weight range. He loved me no matter what I looked like (he was overweight himself.)

    We’ve been married 9 years now and 2 kids later. I continue to drink too much sometimes and when I’m not drinking I’m either eating too much or on a “diet”. I started to not mind that chubby girl in the mirror and now I see that I keep that layer on me as a layer of protection from unwanted stares and keeping myself depressed.

    I set myself a goal this morning to get out of bed at 6am and go for a walk will I listen to an audio book about learning to live life to its fullest. It’s the best day I’ve had in a long time.

    I hope that one day I can look in the mirror and like what I see, but I don’t know what it will take to get me there.

    I’ve already made a promise to keep my drinking to social occasions and no more than 2 drinks. My other promise is to continue getting up early to walk or exercise as my quiet and thinking time. I also promise to be a better wife and work on my relationship with my husband.

    Whew! I didn’t know I’d write a book!! LOL

  2. I don’t know if you read Roni’s blog, but she’s an amazing example of someone who learned to love her body with pregnancy and develop a healthy relationship with food post-pregnancy (with WW) for the sake of her son. It’s a great site!

  3. These are beautifully written poems. I think it’s great that you can go back to around when you started to have body image issues. If you can figure out what was going on at that time, who you were friends with and what your life was back then, it may prove to be so helpful in overcoming those issues.

    But the first poem also has a lot of body-appreciation in it. You recognize the small parts of you that may not be picture-perfect, but don’t use any negative language when describing them.

  4. Hi Bonnie–sometimes it is good to let it all out! It sounds like you’re making progress and positive body image isn’t something we come to overnight. I just think it is something that will take time. Best of luck with your goal!! I love morning workouts.

    V, that sounds great–I’ll check out her site!

    Thank you so much, Kristen. I wish I knew… but back then I really wasn’t obsessed with my body. I mean, I knew I didn’t look like everyone else, but I wasn’t obsessed with it the way I am now. The first poem DOES have some body love, and I’m glad you picked up on that 🙂

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