I step out of the shower, surrounded by mirrors. Every day, I revisit the stretch marks from pregnancy. Check. The sagging skin from my weight loss. Check. My miniscule chest. Check. I look away.

I have gone marking the atlas of your body

with crosses of fire…”

I lie bed with a man who looks at me with adoration and desire. I worry about my belly and how it’s not the tight, flat belly he first saw 22 years ago.

Body of a woman, white hills, white thighs,

you look like a world, lying in surrender…”


I glance around the gym and compare my wide hips to the hips of all of the girls around me and convince myself that mine are the largest and least attractive.

Full woman, fleshly apple, hot moon,

thick smell of seaweed, crushed mud and light…” ~Pablo Neruda, various poems


Pablo Neruda has been gently arguing with me over my body shame for a few months now. It began early on a Sunday morning. I had my cup of coffee and a book of poetry, as is my usual ritual. This particular morning, I was hiding under a blanket escaping the brutal cold temperatures that were going on their sixth day. And I was blushing, hotly. My legs felt wobbly and my hips turned to liquid, my cheeks were pink and my chest filled with heat. I realized at that moment that I had a massive crush on a dead poet. In fact, he died just a few months after I was born in the 1970s, an old man with a double chin. And god, I had fallen head over heels in love with him.

Neruda worships me. By me, I mean us – women. He worships us in a way that is carnal and detailed and beautiful and a little rude. His words would make any respectable woman gasp, slap him and then kiss him. Yes, I know I’m talking about a man long dead. Of course I know I couldn’t slap and kiss the man, but I want to slap and kiss the man.

He wrote odes to everything: to apples, to bees, to seagulls, to his suit and to an onion, for god’s sake. They are all filled with beauty and desire and humor. And yet, it is his love poems about the various women in his life for which he is most remembered.

Here’s the thing. He makes me realize the power of my body; teaches me to fall in love and in lust with myself. When I spend time with his words, I walk a little looser. I allow my hips to sway in the way they were built to sway. The imperfections in my belly or my chest would have been the details that made him weak with desire, and so I begin to love them. I feel infinite and infinitely beautiful. I feel at once animal and human.

So much of a modern woman’s life is spent counting and analyzing her flaws. After all, most mass media has a serious investment in keeping us insecure. There is money to be made if we feel terrible about our cellulite, our eye wrinkles and our flabby bellies. There is no end to the cash we can shell out for special diets, creams, and potions that will make us stay younger, firmer or thinner.

I don’t think that Neruda would have approved of this micro-management of our bodies. In fact, I think he would have been quite disgusted with it. He, like most humans, was just pretty darn excited that there was someone naked next to him. He was enraptured by the sensual, earthy fertility and roundness of women.


A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.

I go so far as to think you own the universe…

I want to do with you

What spring does with the cherry trees.”

You can keep your health, beauty and fitness magazines. I’ll read Neruda. He has convinced me I need nothing more than my own innate power to be sexy. My skin. My hips. My lips. And since he isn’t hanging around to worship me or to kiss me, I’ll kiss someone else – with all the passion and self-love he would have worshipped in me had he known me. And he would have desired the round softness of me. Of this I am certain.


**photo is Picasso’s Mother and Child and Study of Hands