The Body as Apology


This is how I loved you: starved or bent over a toilet bowl. I loved you twenty pounds ago. I loved you in the arms of a man as long as he loved you, too. But even then, I sometimes did not. Even then, I bruised you, scratched you, sliced you, spoke darkly into you waiting for you to obey, punishing you when you did not.

This body, the only one I’ve got. How sick we have made each other.

I loved you when I was allowed, when no one was looking. I loved the good parts. I loved the soft and smooth of you. I loved your inner arms, your wildflower freckles, your small hands. I loved you at nine o’clock at night on weeknights when I went to bed hungry. I loved your emptiness. When the growls came, I dug my nails into your skin to silence you.

Where your fat hung, I could not love. Where your skin stretched, I could not love. Where you flaked, I could not love. These things are vile. Glorifying. Do not love them. Cover the roughness of an elbow, the reddened chin, the scarred nose.

I learned to love you sweater-hidden, baggy-jeaned. I loved you neck-up. I loved you ankle-down.


In girlhood, my body and I explored the leaping and bending of ourselves. The cartwheeled joy, the dance recital hula skirts. In the home videos I saw, I asked my mother about the bulging of my stomach.

“We’ll eat better, baby,” my mother said.

I othered myself. I split myself. Me against my body. Me against you. I distrusted you. Why did I not look like the other girls? What have you done to us?


This is what I learned from the boy at school: body deserving of being pushed down the stairs.

This is what I learned listening to the older girls: you will never forget the first time someone calls you ugly while you are hiding inside a bathroom stall.

This is what I learned watching my mother: eat the yogurt, eat the almonds. Say no to bread. Say no to dessert. Call your daughter to confess how much caramel popcorn you ate. Ask to be vilified for the hunger.

This is what I learned watching my mother: on the days your daughter says she is not hungry, congratulate yourself. You’ve won.

This is what I learned watching my mother: on the days your daughter feels betrayed by her body, paper the weight-loss articles across her bathroom mirror. Put her chocolate candy in the garbage disposal. Have her watch. Have her flip the switch. She will surely thank you.


There is a man who runs his fingers mutely down your back. His exploration scares you. What will he find if he touches us? What will he see when we are naked before him?


Body, bend for us. Make us smaller. Make us lighter.


This is what I learned watching my mother: the five-pound-loss has never made her prouder, no matter how we got there. No matter the full plates. No matter the growling stomach. No matter the vomit.

This is what I learned watching my mother: the emptiest girl wins.


For the body unloved: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the blue and late nights, asking you to shrink. I am sorry for asking to see your bones. I loved you inconsiderately, conditionally. I am sorry for the razor-nicks, for the blood behind your knees, for your empty belly – morning and onward. I am sorry for the ugly names, for the threat of scissors. I am sorry for the pills that dried your mouth and kept you awake. I am sorry for the three-day binges of chicken broth and orange juice. I am sorry for the three-day binges of water and guilt. I am sorry.

Forgive me. This is all I have learned. I loved you the way I was taught.


Sarah Dean is a graduate of the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has been published in LUMINA and LUMINA Online and is forthcoming from Paper Darts.