Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

A poem to connect themes of motherhood, beauty standards, silence, oppression, etc


As I was reading Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, I noticed that a lot of the characters (or characters’ friends) had fractured relationships with food that were rather flippantly mentioned. This is particularly evident in “Jellyfish,” as it seems everyone is concerned with Eva’s health, body, and eating habits. The more I thought about this theme running through most of the short stories, the more I was thinking about the phrase “shrinking women,” and realized where I had first heard it used so brilliantly:

In this poem, Lily Myers easily brilliantly approaches a lot of the topics and themes we’ve covered in class (and connected Evans’ work to today): she describes unwittingly picking up on constrained eating habits for her mother, which is something she either “mimics or resents,” without wanting to do either; talks about the growth of men, and how they are allowed, even expected, to occupy space (which made me think of Harpo in The Color Purple), then how these men leave and women are left to deal with the void (something we see in “Wherever You Go, There You Are”, AmericanahSilver manifests differently in each, but is definitely there), and most importantly addresses the fact that these ways of controlling, of containing (calling back to the oppression of controlling images) are learned – they are learned and reinforced, even once we are aware of them. This poem beautifully encompasses the themes we’ve covered throughout the semester, especially as it highlights that men and women come from – and thus are taught – “worlds of difference”. It is achingly relevant, and though it wasn’t something we covered in class, I can’t separate it from what we’ve read. There is one key difference, though: it seems to me that a lot of the characters we’ve read this semester have started out shrinking, if not shrunk, but then we’ve watched them get to break the cycle, and they learn to grow. While the poem catches a lot of the insidious themes, it forgets that resilience is also something that is learned, a type of growth that happens – and we have seen a lot of resilience this semester, too, in direct opposition to the forces that create this ‘shrinkage’.


2 thoughts on “A poem to connect themes of motherhood, beauty standards, silence, oppression, etc

  1. I really like this poem. Our books definitely show characters who are either resisting shrinkage or growth.

  2. wonderful poem. Never thought of connecting shrinkage/growth with power or privilege. Awesome connection!

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