Bittersweet Poetry: Body Image “Ghosts” of the Past

Check out my latest post at WeAretheRealDeal.com — it’s called “Bittersweet Poetry: Body Image “Ghosts” of the Past.”

It’s a repost but might be new for some readers. You can also read it here after the jump.

I wrote the following two poems long before I ever experienced any disordered eating behaviors or was even aware of my own body image insecurities.

I thought I’d share them today because in many ways, they are dueling poems … indicative of the up-and-down struggle so many women (especially) face when it comes to their bodies and their minds.

How we feel about body image isn’t necessarily a straight and narrow line; it has lots of peaks and valleys and these poems demonstrate that.

In the first, “Mirror, Mirror,” I’m embracing my body and its goodness as I see it in that moment. It 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. I was 18, going on 19, and clearly felt good about my body.

In the second, “La Gordita,” written just a year later, I’m conflicted and a bit jaded, after several months living in looks-obsessed Buenos Aires. Suddenly I’m very self-aware of my own size and shape and where I fit in … or, rather, don’t. My discomfort is rather evident.

MIRROR, MIRROR: JULY 17, 1998

Worn, double-strapped
brown sandals
exposing ten glittering
silver toes
facilitate two solid
calloused feet
bantered
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
baby-knees
with a careless speckling
of creamy freckles
atop each recently-tanned
chunky, yet mostly firm
thigh
Which join
wide, good-for-breeding hips
curved with femininity
at the pelvis
into an hour-glass shape
at the significantly thinner
waist
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 July, 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, right before my 20th birthday.

(Note: “La Gordita” is an affectionate word for someone who is a little chubby, a nice/cute way of saying “fat” if there is one)

LA GORDITA: SEPT. 8, 1999

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…
These women of Buenos Aires
Are drained corpses
Beautiful and sophisticated

And they never let me, La Gordita, 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. (September 8, 1999)
——————–
Today, looking back on both those two poems, and particularly “La Gordita,” I can see that is when I began to develop body image issues, even though they didn’t come to fruition until years later.

In the next year or so, my husband and I will hopefully be starting a family, and I’ve shared on my blog that I’m admittedly nervous about the body image issues I will face as my body undergoes the amazing changes of pregnancy.

But 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.

In the meantime, I look forward to reading fellow WATRD blogger Claire’s forthcoming book Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? Truly, we can learn a lot from one another.

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

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