Everybody has characteristics about themselves that they feel insecure about (physical and/or emotional) and often find them difficult to talk about or admit to. Writing poetry, whether in your private journal or sharing it with others, creates a safe and reassuring opportunity for self-reflection. Writing poetry is a gateway to producing and understanding your introspective thoughts and the way that you interact with the world. Your self-image can be closely related to the way that people view and interpret your action. Nobody is immune to insecurity and it is exactly its universal relatability that makes self-image a great topic for poetry. These poets have used poetry as a way to unpack both personal and political issues of identity Check out their work and get some ideas for writing your own self-image poems!
- "Waffles" by Zora Howard; "...I slept so long in the chest of a linebacker / that when he didn't ask me back on night / I forgot my breath and birth-right / and remembered all the ugly things / Cole Garrison called my poor, flat-chested body / under the guard of my limp and lackluster lip..." This poem shows the ways that a relationship can affect our esteem and character long with how sometimes love or adoration can cause an individual to forget who they truly are. Howard's slick-talking New York accent coupled with her vivid imagery and charismatic alliteration help to tell the story of a girl who has grown into a woman. The poem starts with Howard announcing that she's cutting her hair short, against her mother's wishes-- the ritual of drastically changing your appearance after a breakup is one that everyone understand. In the above lines she explains that she spent so much time with a man that when he stopped wanting to see her, she forgot herself along with her confidence, and was thrown back into a memory or being a defenseless fourth-grader. The poem speaks about a girl crying in the bathroom with a broken heart, who turns out o be the speaker. She creates enough distance from herself to critique and retrospectively narrate her own actions. She looks back over the way that she has let herself go through the course of the relationship, compromising her character for the sake of someone else. Speaking about herself from outside point of view she talks around the girl "crying like a crackhead in the bathroom stall" asking "is [she] me?" In self-reflection Howard both critiques her choices and celebrates her resilience, and in the end she stands tall to share her story with others who can resonate with her experience.
- "Beach Bodies" by David Fasanva and Gabriel Ramirez; "...I'm weary, from trying to work-out my irrational fears / drown them in a puddle of perspiration / shove the imperfections I should be proud of underwater / my gap-toothed smile / my frizzy hair / my funny-shaped head / the extra weight that kept me grounded / the missing pounds that made me a kite flailing free..." This poem, written and performed by two poets from Urban Word NYC is a great example of the way that humor and honesty can make an audience your best friend in mere minutes. This duet poem about body image has much more to do with what's on the inside rather than the outside. Throughout the poem the speakers chime in about how they need to get the perfect beach body, calling on the spirits of sex symbol paragons like Channing Tatum and LL Cool J. This poem is so effective not only for its honesty but because at no point do these poets take themselves too seriously. Their familiar yet excitable back and forth decorum creates a casual feeling that becomes ambient for the audience. The poem works well on many levels. It effectively disarms the black male figure (the poets imply that the times in which young men of color share their insecurities in such a revealing way are few and far between). Fasanya unpacks his feelings about being a tall, gap-toothed, dark-skinned skinnier guy who doesn't have the muscle nor mass that he desires. He accentuates his arm span with every other movement in the performance, animating his long limbs. Throughout the performance Ramirez moves his hips fluidly like water while his Afro flails about. He reveals his inner-monologue about having "too much weight and not enough will to work out." Both narratives and performances represent different perspectives on the scale of weight and colorism, showing that everyone has something they're insecure of and that self-scrutiny is a universal (and unhealthy!) habit.
- Self Portrait as 90s R&B Video by Danez Smith; "...What she know? / I got all this house to walk through / all these gowns to cry on / all these windows to watch the rain through / there must be a man in this house who loves me too much / to do it well..." This self-reflective poem is nuanced as Smith draws a portrait of himself through this monologue of events that we later learn are all hypothetical. In this 90s R&B video, Smith is the typical damsel, singing about his man who doesn't show him any attention and must be cheating. The poem is dripping with humor and an attitude that only Smith can bring to the stage. He uses several tropes from 90s love music videos and says that he has a "tendency to be sad near windows," something that nearly all romantic ballads exhaust as a sign of depression and heartbreak. The poem continues on with Smith talking about how he gets back at his man: burning his suits, running up his credit card, stepping on his stuff, and he even goes as far as saying that he'll burn the house down like Lisa Left-Eye Lopez from TLC. Amidst all of this humor there is a twinge of seriousness as his friend reveals that this man doesn't exist and by the end of this short performance we learn that this is indeed true. The poem is alone. There is no man. He has burned his own suits. His personality and his lonely imagination are big enough to build a fictional man and creative enough to construct the scene of a music video. This self-portrait he paints, of a melodramatic man fantasizing about the turmoils of a love life that either happened and ended or never existed at all, discloses an insecurity he feels to not even have a man to argue with in the first place and we've all been there-- wanting hopelessly to be the protagonist in our own rom-com (or 90s R&B music video). Looking at a romanticized narrative and being reminded of your own loneliness can be tough, but just like Smith maintains hope by the end of his poem, so should we!
- "Fat Girl" by Megan Falley; "...Fat Girl unbutton her pants at dinner / Fat Girl heard 'nothing tastes as good as being thin feels' / Fat Girl certain spicy, crunchy tuna rolls taste better than 'being thin feels' / Fat Girl threw out her scale..." In this piece Falley cuts straight to the point like a knife. Every sentence in this gloriously aware poem begins with "Fat Girl." Although Falley's body language in her performance suggests that the name is self-referential, it could also be interpreted as the voice of those who've called her that, meaning that she's speaking in first person. This poem is a self-conscious matter of reclamation and its' beating jerks who body shame to the punch line. She turns words that have been weaponized against her into terms of endearment, a source of pride. This reflection of self exudes an enormous amount of confidence and comfort. Falley doesn't slander "the Fat Girl," and she doesn't lecture her. She supports her, validates her, and lets everyone know that you can become anything you want once you realize who you want to be, for yourself. There are so many different ways to approach being happy and Falley has found locally-sourced, homegrown confidence that is absolutely infectious.