Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Bittersweet Poetry: Body Image “Ghosts” of the Past

September 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Self Esteem

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.


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 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 … well, an “affectionate” word for someone who is a little chubby, a culturally-acceptable, “cute” 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…
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.

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

Guest post by Melissa



No Responses to “Bittersweet Poetry: Body Image “Ghosts” of the Past”
  1. Candice says:

    I’m pretty sure mine began at age 5 when my mom told me I was too fat to tuck in my shirt for my first day of kindergarten. :-/

  2. greenbunny78 says:

    I hope you can get past your issues and enjoy being pregnant when it happens. I had a hard time. Not hard enough to engage in eating-disordered behaviours- for me, the baby that was 100% dependant on what my body was giving it was great motivation to take care of myself- and I loved the unborn baby, loved feeling the baby move- but I hated the day to day business of being pregnant. Both of my kids were and are totally worth it- and living reminders of how amazing my body really is. Every time I start to get down on myself, I look at them and remember the miricles my body brought forth. And that, for me, is very powerful.

    I wrote a LOT of poetry while in the grips of my eating disorder- when I read them its sometimes hard to imagine that I was ever that unhappy

  3. lissa10279 says:

    Oh Candice that breaks my heart, honestly … 🙁 I wish people realized how harmful their words can be — esp. parents!!

    Thanks, Greenbunny! It won’t be for a while yet, but when the time comes, I hope to embrace it!! Glad you took care of yourself!! They truly are miracles.

  4. schachabybaby says:

    Your concern about how you will handle the changes that pregnancy brings is so valid! I will never forget the time my sister confided in me that her obgyn, a woman, suggested she was gaining too much weight to be able to loose it easily after she gave birth, and she suggested that she cut down on her calorie intake. Her doctor also told her not to tell anyone that she suggested she do this. This was not about concern for her or her babies health, but a very clear message on my sister’s appearance after she gave birth.

    When I think of when my own body issues surfaced, it does not hinge on weight (I was a dancer from an early age), but on the sudden surge of artifice and celebrity that was a part of the MTV culture during its early years. This was the first heavy barrage of media images that began to erode my self-esteem. I could not watch a music video without feeling that my sexual identity somehow was defined by these images. I would mourn my lack of sophistication and truly began to believe that I was not attractive and did not fit in because I didn’t look like the women in the music videos, or the sexy and smart Vee Jays. Media images of women are to me, the major culprit in adolescent women loosing their inner strength and self-esteem.

    • clairemysko says:

      Lissa and schachabybaby: Weight and body image are definitely concerns for a majority of women during and after pregnancy, although many women feel nervous about discussing those worries openly with their OBs and midwives. And sadly, sometimes healthcare providers get it completely wrong–as was obviously the case with your sister, schachabybaby.

      In our book (thanks for mentioning it, Lissa!), we offer some strategies to help mothers-to-be with poor body image and eating disorder histories find caring doctors and put together a good support team for during pregnancy and after childbirth. Right now, I see this as a huge gap in pre and postnatal healthcare.

  5. Melanie says:

    I’m not certain, but I think my body image issues started early in my childhood. I am the youngest of four and was teased relentlessly about everything. My strongest memories are being teased about my big front teeth, big lips, long legs and big feet. However, these comments didn’t become an issue for me until I married into a very “thin” family. Then I started feeling insecure about my size and that my lips were too big. I was 5’7″, 129 lbs, in the Twiggy era, and started feeling fat around my new husband’s sisters. Looking back on photos of me then – I was very pretty and truly had nothing to feel insecure about, but I couldn’t see that then. Now I’m 58 and still feel big around my sisters-in-law. My intellectual side knows better, but my emotional side feels without thinking about this. Frustrating, indeed.


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