Topic Tuesday: Body Image

“Porch Reflection: The Chickadee and The Starling” (By: Patricia Hammett)

I spend a lot of time on the screened-in porch connected to the back of my house. Carpenter bees eat through the thin wire, so my mother covers the holes with balls of crushed-up tinfoil. Old rugs cover the ground; the cow hide is my favorite one. String lights are draped across the ceiling, and other light fixtures are scattered throughout the space, though the lightbulbs beg to be changed. A bird feeder hangs outside of the screen door, where chickadees nibble happily before the starlings swoop into the scene. The chickadees fly into the trees, frightened by the dark power of the bigger bird.

It’s a beautiful porch, a place where I come to reflect. Sometimes, there, I do not realize I have done much reflecting until I’ve left- noticing moments later I was deep in thought. Other times, I am fully aware of how entrenched I am in a thought, only wanting to escape. I turn on the little TV, read a book, or try to focus all of my attention on the birds. It is interesting how that works. Beauty is always the chickadee. But, at times, the thoughts can be that darn starling.

When I was thirteen, I sat on this porch after getting my first period. Once I hid my pajama pants underneath my bed, I cried alone in the wooden chair. I didn’t want big breasts, wide hips, stomach pains. My two older sisters had gone through puberty many years before, seeming fully adjusted to a cupped-bra life with tampons next to the toilet. I looked up to them. I didn’t want to let go of the “baby sister” complex: cute, innocent, unaware of womanhood and other realities of life. I felt dirty, even though I saw them as the epitome of beauty. The starling was in attack mode, swooping in and taking the reality of my own beauty away.

I struggled with the changes of my body, as people do sometimes. I wore two sports bras under my school shirts for a few months and didn’t tell friends for many more. We were all going through the same changes, but I still felt alone, different. As soon as my body grew out of the prepubescent frame, I was left with fear and dissatisfaction. I was not in control of the changes, nature was.

At the age of twenty-one, I don’t enjoy the changing rooms at Target. I don’t enjoy changing in front of others, either. I still prefer the sports bra or bralette over the padded push-up ones with lace and gems, partly because they’re itchy and hurt the heck out of my shoulders. My hands become clammy every time I change into a bathing suit, and booty shorts are my arch-nemesis. I am still dissatisfied with parts of myself, but I am also aware of the beauty of the body. The strength it holds. I continue to work on body-neutral thinking. It’s a process, but I am slowly pushing the starling away from myself, allowing the chickadee to nourish freely. My legs help to roam the grocery store in search of dry active yeast during quarantine. My mother’s arms helped to plant the cucumbers in our backyard. Bentley’s hands help to sketch intricate drawings, one of which is hung on my bedroom wall. Cele’s fingers help to pair eccentric fabrics for clients. Dad’s pigeon-blue eyes help to find the rare birds hiding in the oak trees.

Today, I watched the starling push the little birds out of its way, yet again. The black wings rattled the feeder, the beak darted into the little box of seeds. I clenched my hands, unsure of whether I was feeling anger or discomfort. I then looked into the trees. Chickadees, red-headed woodpeckers, and cardinals lined the branches. I took a deep breath. Beauty isn’t in one place. It is everywhere, in and throughout every. body.

About the Author

Patricia Hammet is a rising senior at Sewanee: The University of the South. Renewed has been an incredible resource for her support, and she is honored to be a guest blogger. Patricia is a Psychology/Women’s and Gender Studies Major, and has also found immense joy in creative writing. Her writing passion has become strengthened throughout her recovery, and she hopes to continue writing in years to come. Patricia says, “Stay safe, healthy, and remember – you are worthy of happiness.”