The women in this issue of Minerva Rising examine that shame and reclaim their bodies, image by lovely, stirring image. Alison Townsend’s “Brief Inventory at 60” asks, “How is it this body your 83-year-old stepmother says she envies still shelters you so well, faithful as an old dog, despite never being fully loved by you?” Robin van Eck’s “She’s so Fat” draws us into the anguish a woman feels as her weight becomes a problem in her relationship. Barbara Knott’s “Golden Orb Weaver” takes us from a routine mammogram to the deathbed of a breast-cancer-stricken friend, while Hannah Marshall’s “El Shaddai” transports us to the center of a prayer circle where we can almost hear voices raised to ancient spirits, where the faithful “dance without feet and sing without tongue.”
We hope the stories, essays, poems, and art in “Body Image” will leave you personally claiming Amy Bloom’s words as true: “You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably awed. And you are beautiful."
We are proud to feature the following amazing contributors in this issue of Minerva Rising. Thank you for being a part of the Minerva community.
As the mother of girls—and writing facilitator for countless adolescent girls and incarcerated women—I find body image both a recurring theme and underlying cause for serious confusion in a woman’s life. To balance these more obvious themes, I also chose a poem about my husband’s Parkinson’s, which he is facing with undeniable courage, grace, and (most days) humor. No matter our age, sex, or other defining factors, body image impacts us all.
I write of the world I know from the body I know. My work is grounded in both experience and imagination. In considering experience, I build on what I’ve learned about my world as a woman, especially in gendered roles of mother, daughter, and wife. On the other hand, imagination offers me freedom to imagine other possibilities and other realities. Paradoxes that arise from conflicts between the mind’s wanderings and the body’s experience merge in my unconscious. There, I daydream and scheme.
Laura Budofsky Wisniewski
In this poem, I am interested in the way we experience need and desire through our bodies. Because our needs are metaphysical as well as physical, if we don’t learn that our bodies are numinous, we may become bitterly disappointed by them. Laura Budofsky Wisniewski writes and teaches Yoga in Hinesburg, Vermont. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Calyx, Hunger Mountain, Confrontation and other journals.
Rosemary Daniell’s newly completed third memoir is My Beautiful Tigers: A Maverick Mother’s Journey. She is the author of eight other award-winning books of poetry and prose, including Secrets of the Zona Rosa: How Writing (and Sisterhood) Can Change Women’s Lives, and she is the founder and leader of Zona Rosa Writingand-Living Workshops. As for many women, body image has been important to her throughout here life.
Katherine Durham Oldmixon
Katherine Durham Oldmixon is co-director of the Poetry at Round Top Festival, held each April in central Texas, and professor and chair of English at historic Huston-Tillotson University in east Austin. Her photographs and poems appear in a wide variety of print and online publications. She writes, “As soon as I read the theme of the issue, I thought of these body images: three older women by the sea in Barcelona, Spain, like the three graces and open to the elements. Nowhere do we see more varying body images and varying levels of comfort with the body, with bodies, than on the beach.”
Kathie Giorgio is the author of six award-winning books: three novels, two story collections, and a poetry chapbook. Body image is a favorite topic for Giorgio. “Enlarged Hearts,” her collection, is set in a large women’s clothing boutique in a fictional mall. The main characters of each story, all different, are only known as the Fat Girls. The collection expresses how society sees large women, and the variety of ways the Fat Girls see themselves
Jane Ellen Glasser
Jane Ellen Glasser has been writing poetry for 50 years, a passion that has not dimmed with time. The theme of light and dark threads through her six collections. Her first book, Naming the Darkness, addressed difficult experiences purged by bringing them to light. Jane’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, such as Hudson Review, Southern Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Georgia Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and Poetry Northwest. Her poems have garnered numerous awards. Her chapbook On the Corner of Yesterday, published in 2010, was followed by The Long Life, which won the Poetica Publishing Company Chapbook Contest in 2011 and was released in December 2011. The Red Coat was released by FurtureCycle Press in 2013, and the chapbook, Cracks, appeared from that press in March 2015.
Larissa Monique Hauck
Larissa Monique Hauck expands on the feminine form as a site for identity, ambiguity, and empathy. By controlling each body, she references the social constraints and archetypes of femininity and girlhood, as well as the subjugation of the feminine body. Larissa is an emerging visual artist who graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 2014 where she received her Bachelors in Fine Arts with Distinction in the field of painting.
I believe that any physical discipline, when practiced regularly, will bring you to appreciate the remarkable things your body is able to do for you, and that prior bodily experiences will reverberate throughout that practice. In a culture where female bodies are so often treated as objects, we bring agency to ourselves through the development of strength and skill.
Laura Kiselevach’s work has been published in Roadside Fiction, Short, Fast and Deadly, Wilde Magazine, Quickest Flipest, The Casserole, Muzzle Magazine, among others, and exhibited at galleries in New York City, Florida and Los Angeles.
So much of self-perception is filtered through body image, and body image has been such a vehicle for distortion in our consumer-driven culture that our bodies suffer constantly, and with them, our hearts and minds and sexual experiences.
No matter the age, perceptions about our body image haunt us. Classmates, parents, teachers, girlfriends, boyfriends— how they see us may be different from how we see ourselves. My solution when I neared the age of thirteen was “fat camp.” It was only a temporary fix for a grocery store owner’s daughter. I hold an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teach creative writing in New Jersey.
Each of our bodies tells a story— scars of old injuries and surgeries, wrinkles of laughter and tears. What a gift if we can learn to embrace ourselves, to look in the mirror at our naked, glorious bodies and listen to our stories without shame. My poetry captures the strength and bitterness that often accompany motherhood, the loveliness of the female body, and the struggle of women to accept and celebrate our bodies.
Women often focus on controlling their bodies as a way of making life feel less chaotic. The narrator in “Sort of Normal” struggles to recover from years of bulimia. Through a pivotal moment in the supermarket, and weekly group therapy, she begins to move towards a place of acceptance, knowing that one more binge or one more diet is not going to fix everything. She begins to turn her focus inward rather than outward.
Marilyn Morgan is a retired English teacher. She lives and writes in Central New York State. Her prose has been published in Edge, Motif, Five Quarterly, and Dear Nana. Marilyn’s poetry has appeared in Atlas Poetica, Bright Starts, Ribbons, A Hundred Gourds, and others. “A Lesson in Poetry” is a nonfiction flash piece that is drawn directly from her teaching experience. The “happening” relates to the smugness of youth and the stereotyping of “old age.”
Mary Beth O’Connor
“Annie Oakley versus Eleven O’Clock Mass” is a personal essay/story about growing up in the ’50s, wanting to be a cowgirl, and not liking to have to get into a dress for any reason, especially church. Fortunately, there was one television series that featured a woman cowboy, Annie Oakley (as opposed to all of the male westerns at the time), who became a hero and an icon for me.
Julie Stielstra has been writing stories since she got a typewriter when she was six. Only in middle age has she produced anything other people have wanted to read. She lives in the Chicago area, but is happy in rural Kansas, and hopes to be happy permanently soon. She has two tattoos. “The Tattoo” explores an aging woman’s attempt to cling to something irreplaceable, betrayed by bodily fragility.
While the beauty industry runs a close second, nothing beats a chronic, debilitating, potentially fatal illness for wreaking havoc on a positive body image. However, unlike the former, the latter provides an opportunity for transcendence, for choosing to live life on one’s own terms on a plane where eyelash extensions and Botox injections and protein-only diets assume an appropriate aspect of triviality. And then, if you get better, you already know how to age.
The body is our beginning and our end. It is our bone-house, our soul-castle. Everything we know comes to us through it. As women (and especially as older women) the body is criticized, denigrated, put down. I initially wrote this essay in desperation, in an effort to come to terms with my own aging body and, ultimately, mortality. As I wrote, another lyric voice spoke, offering its wisdom, saying, “Celebrate the beauty of being alive.”
Robin van Eck
Robin van Eck lives in Calgary, Alberta. Her work has appeared online and in print in various Canadian and U.S. journals and anthologies. She’s particularly fond of the short story form and ambiguous endings, allowing the reader to decide “what happens next?”. A friend once said, “Luck isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it’s gross and smells bad.” And so too is life. There are no perfect endings, and life gets terribly messy.
Liz Wright has spent her whole adult life learning to love the way she loves, and the way her body gravitates toward other bodies. While previously believing she may have been a cyborg in a previous life, now she’s fairly sure she’s a group of lizards stacked up in a trench coat pretending to be a person. (They’re doing their best, though.) Liz is a writer and bookseller from Houston, Texas, and will be pursuing her MA and MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons College in the fall.
Alexandra Yates is a recent graduate of Drew University’s MFA in Poetry program. She grew up performing with her family’s touring children’s theatre company, and her writing explores the issues surrounding women’s bodies in the performing arts, mythology, and fairy tales. The character of Snow White is of particular interest to her, as it is one she has played many times.