By Lucia Kim & Katrin van Dam
Kat and Lucia are a mentor and mentee pair of short girls living in NYC. They may be little, but they’re loud in a conversation about body image and self-confidence.
I am not a large-breasted woman
Or a small-breasted woman;
I am a no-breasted woman.
I am the young and the breastless
(Except for the young part).
My boobs are six-feet underground
and to them I say, breast in peace.
No reconstruction for me:
I made a clean breast of it.
Now hope will need to find
Somewhere else to spring eternal
As this human breast is
Flat as a prairie in winter.
I cannot keep abreast of the latest trend
Or do the breaststroke;
I have dear friends but no bosom buddies.
And when Thanksgiving rolls around
I’m strictly in it for the dark meat.
Cancer took its 2.2 pounds of flesh;
It didn’t take my sense of humor.
I remain sharp-tongued, generous,
Even without breasts, I’m still a woman, though
Sometimes, I question what it even means to be
Where does my womanhood reside?
Is it between my legs? In the curve of my hips?
The delicate jut of my jaw?
Or does it spring from deeper within,
That hormonal cocktail that renders me
More interested in baking bread
Than conquering uncharted territories
Or challenging a rival to a duel?
Is it in my acceptance of 80 cents on the dollar,
My lack of access to the halls of power?
My acquiescence to the appraising gaze
That tells me whether my body is enough?
If so, you can keep
I prefer to just be a person.
To me, “woman” is a construct
(a set of societal expectations and myths)
To me, “woman” is a constraint
(a limit placed on potential, a glass ceiling)
To me, “woman” is too limiting
(a denial of the multitudes within me).
It took losing my breasts for me to understand
That my outside is not what makes me
Attractive. Powerful. Worthy.
That labels are meaningless next to the me that is
Fierce. Magnetic. Luminous –
That is the only me that matters.
I am not a blonde-haired woman
or a dazzling blue-eyed woman;
I am a brown-haired and brown-eyed woman
I am also aspiring and fearless
(But, of course, that doesn’t matter)
My eyes are dark and small
And to them I say, wake up!
Because “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
My hair’s color is as deep as dark chocolate:
Sweet but bitter
They’re the opposite of silky gold curls
Compared to the rays of sunshine:
Warm and radiant
My eyes aren’t described as icy cold or ocean blue
They’re just brown
My hair doesn’t shimmer in the light
It absorbs more heat
People ask, is it brown or black?
The darkness of my eyes and hair isn’t on T.V
The beauty is in real life.
My eyes are my heritage
And my hair is my culture
Despite what the media tells me, I’m still beautiful
Sometimes, I question what makes a woman attractive
Worthy of screen time?
Is it the slimness of their arms and legs?
The point on their nose?
Or is it the symmetry of their smile?
Counting down hours before a meal,
Massaging my nose bridge,
And practicing my smile in the mirror
Won’t make me more worthy
Like how wrapping an empty present box with sparkling paper
Won’t make a gift more full,
Playing a grand piano without strings
Won’t make music,
Or how riding a luxury car with no gas
Won’t take you places
To be women is to be enticing
(you don’t need sparkly paper to be seen)
To be women is to be mesmerizing
(Bring your own strings and play like no one’s listening)
To be women is to be bright
(Brighter than all the places a car can take you)
To be women is to be beautiful
In your own way
Blonde hair and blue eyes don’t draw the line for beauty
I’ll be the one to confirm.
When Kat and I were thinking of pair project ideas, the only thing we knew for sure was that the project was going to be a poem. We spent a week individually coming up with ideas for our poem’s topic. The following Friday meeting, Kat and I read our list of ideas and found that body image was a topic we were both interested in. Initially, we were going to write one long poem about body image and the impact of society’s beauty standards. As we discussed this theme, we discovered similarities and differences in the way these expectations influence us. We thought the best way to highlight this was by writing two separate poems: one about a 52-year-old and one about a 15-year-old. Kat sent me the first draft of her first stanza, and I was inspired to replicate the word-play and format for my part of the poem. Then she read the second stanza of my poem and used it to craft her stanza. We had so much fun with this poem, and we hope it can be reassuring for people struggling with body image. –Lucia
Lucia Kim is a young author of poetry, memoirs and nonfiction for her family, teachers and mentor. She hopes to grow her reader base while spreading smiles through her writing. Lucia was born and raised in Queens, NY, where she lives with her mom, dad, sister and an abundance of leafy plants. When she's not writing at her kitchen table, Lucia loves to take walks, play the piano and read.
Katrin van Dam has worked in children’s media and licensing for nearly thirty years and is currently a creative executive at a major media company. In 2018, Scholastic published her debut young adult novel, Come November. A few months later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. After experiencing firsthand the societal pressure to have reconstruction and choosing instead to go flat, she felt compelled to provide a resource for women who are facing this difficult decision. Flat and Happy, her first work of nonfiction, came out of that commitment. Katrin is a graduate of Yale University and lives in New York City.