Battle Creek

Voices of Youth: Body image disorder explored through verse journalism and art

Editor's Note:  This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's Voices of Youth Battle Creek program which is supported by the BINDA Foundation, City of Battle Creek, Battle Creek Community Foundation, and the Michigan Afterschool Partnership. This series features stories created by Calhoun County youth in partnership with professional mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth.

In a world that can seem poisoned by idealized standards of beauty and self-perception, body image, especially among teenagers, can be a topic that causes deep personal struggle. To examine and bring to light some of these body image struggles, this author has chosen a writing form known as Verse Journalism, a form of poetic writing that allows topics to be explored from "the inside out," leaving room for creative license, imagination, and capturing of nuance, according to the Poetry Foundation. The mother and namer of this movement was Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks whose poems about life in Chicago place the "poet as fly on the wall. . .poet as all-seeing eye."

About these poems

The consequences of inaccurate or self-critical body images can be life-altering and even life-threatening, as they were to Fiona Geraghty, a 14-year-old British girl who in 2010 was found hanging in her room after struggling with bulimia and teased for being fat. Fiona's story is shared through a poem called "The Dance."

The second poem is about someone who wishes to remain unnamed. To protect his privacy, he is given the name Steven Robinson. Steven's story is illustrated through the poem called “Dear Happiness,” which highlights how his late brother inspired him to become a better version of himself. 

Both stories have different starting and ending points regarding battling body image. As the reader navigates the emotional landscape laid bare by these verses, they are hopefully guided toward a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding body image.

Author's Note:   Italicized — Main Character Speaking
Bold — Secondary Character Speaking

The Dance

In my mind an eternal void greets me
Every morning and every night.
It tortures me hidden from everyone else’s gaze
Timelessly dancing around my spirit
Grabbing me into a close embrace.

We dance together.
We dance it all away.
Compliments, accomplishments, love
It all means nothing.
My shadow reminds me every day of how unworthy i am.

Slim figure, no volume.
Long nose, not thin enough.
Blonde hair with blue eyes
Shouldn’t I have it all?

While we prance
It whispers in my ear an unfortunate truth
No one will ever care about you.
My tears hiss and burn as they travel down my face.
I cry and cry.

The darkness latches on like leeches.
Draining me…
It hurts.
And i bleed.
You’re not beautiful enough.

We leap and we twirl
All night long until the starlight pirouettes into rings.
I spin.
We spin.
Dancing in my agony.

I drown beneath the covers of my bed.
Hand over mouth —
I garble silently all the words i would never say.
I weep into my shadow’s chest
Clutching my own.

Silver teardrops slowly vaporizing into stars
My shadow expanding into space.
I finally understand.
This is what the universe has in store.
My life means nothing. 

Only darkness prevails,
Taunting even the brightest of stars into their inevitable demise.
Black holes dominate the voids of space
This world has always been in my domain.
Nothing escapes me.

My shadow is my only friend.
The only one who has seen all my tears
And the warped figure in my mirror.
Its void continues to grow.
Deeper and darker. I let it consume me.
My shadow murmurs quietly.
It's a demented type of empathy.
Self-hatred and self-pity.
My shadow hums to me.
A conversation harmonized with disgust.

Why are you like this?
I can’t help it.
Why can’t you be beautiful?
I try my best to be suitable —
I put on makeup and dress —
It just… never seems to impress.

Your body disgusts me.
I try my best to be healthy —
Everyone must judge you.
No… that’s not true.
I..I don’t know what to do.

Only fourteen and you’re already a mess.
My nurse said everyone goes through this —
She should’ve never let you out of that psycho place
I’m not crazy…I just lost myself along the way...
Sure. Not even a psychiatric nurse could stop your pain.

What are you talking about?
Forcing yourself to vomit in the privacy of your house.
Perhaps skipping all your meals

I’m the only one who knows how you feel.

Maybe I am the issue…
The world would be better without you.
So what should I do?
Solve the problem that started with you.
Think about it, It’s what everyone wants.

They want you to be gone.
Every harmful word ever said
Ricochets like bullets in my head.
My shadow pulls me closer to its chest
As we dance through the days, months, years…

My answer is made clear.
My shadow holds onto me tight enough to hurt
But not enough to make me stay.
I won’t let it play with me and torture me any longer.
I tie the knot and prepare the chair silently.

I hope they can forgive me-
Do it.
But what about my family — they’ll be hurt —
You’ve done your best.
It’s time to rest.

I slip my head through the loop and kick out the chair.
I’m terrified, I think as my breath blows away
You’ll never escape… my shadow says as it fades
Temptation got the best of me in the worst way.

Dear Happiness

I was picked on a lot by my friends.
Mix together chubby and glasses —
You get me, the comedian.
But they were the ones making the jokes.
They didn't mean too much harm, and i didn't take it to heart.

But parts of me slowly withered away.
My insecurities and flaws greeted me with open arms.
I am so much more than this shell,
Yet I had all these changes I wanted to make,
It all came down to day one or one day.

It hurt losing you, brother.
It was such a normal day.
There was a baby blue silk sky —
And clouds stretched out in thin wavy lines.
The sun glistened and shined.

It was normal, yet everything changed.
Learning you were gone caused my soul to stagger,
I began to slip and fall —
I tumbled and fought with reality as my world came crashing down.
The sun still shined, but there was only absence of light now.

I looked into my mirror.
Is it me or you that I see?
Memories of you started bleeding through
The blurred fabric of space and time.
I no longer see myself in my own reflection.

I was lost in the ripples of imagination and reality.
Remembering you kept you alive to me.
You’re everything, but I began to miss
Feeling alive and the feeling of living.
I lost a brother, but found myself.

My flaws transcended into adventures
Paths broken waiting to become complete.
I went to the gym, finally, to clear my head.
I was bettering myself at first to ease the pain —
But then your whispered message reached me.
Life…is a fleeting gift…
You left me too soon.
Life is something you will also miss.
Maybe, but right now I only miss you.
Growth is like finding light in the moon.

The moon’s light is fake, a reflection of the sun's rays.
That’s right.
So what are you trying to say?
To grow you need to find the truth that is not clear in your mind.

What reminds you of me the most?
Happiness…You’re why I can laugh and be silly.
So what is the most important part of me that you hold?
Your memories —

The most important part is my joy and my glow.
Promise me that you will continue to grow.
I promise…and so the story goes.
Life is too short to live with regrets.
I’m not going to waste the time I do have left.

Because of you, I am strong, better,
Genuine, happy, proud,
Loved, happy, accepting,
Because of you…
Because of me.

An expert's advice: Combatting body dissatisfaction

In her TEDx talk, Dr. Carolyn Becker, a mental health expert on body issues and eating disorders, discusses many strategies for addressing societal pressures around body image, including how to promote self-acceptance. If you or someone you know are experiencing body image issues, Dr. Becker's suggestions for dealing with our culture's over-emphasis on weight and the thin ideal may be very helpful. She introduces the concept of cognitive dissonance intervention, which encourages individuals to speak out against the internalization of thinness as an ideal. She also promotes Fat Talk Free Week which is designed to help people refrain from negative body talk. Dr. Becker's talk can be seen HERE.

Tanna Bliler is a senior high school student who is dual-enrolled at Kellogg Community College. She wishes to pursue her passion in cyber security and also join the Air Force. Tanna enjoys writing, coding, and making music, as well as participating in controversial debates. Tanna learned about Voices of Youth from a mentor at Urban League and wanted to join because of her passion for poetry, writing, and controversial topics.

Navaya Lirones is 17 years old and attends Harper Creek High School as a senior. Her hobbies are drawing, singing, reading, and listening to music when given the chance.

Artist Statement, Navaya Lirones: My creative process was heavily influenced by personification like the flower petals and waves. I approached each piece by attempting to compare ideas to tell a story.

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