Body Narrative: Clothing

writer284Do you notice what other people wear? Do you ever feel self-conscious about your own clothes? Although we may dismiss clothing as surface-level compared to the body and personality, clothes are central to ways our bodies are experienced, presented, and understood within culture. Clothes mediate between the naked body and the social world, the self and society. Every day, we experience the bodies of others—and conceive of our own—through the medium of dress.1

We wear clothes not only as protection from the elements of nature, but also as a way to express our individuality or to shield ourselves from other people’s opinions. This column will offer exercises for how to use clothing to inform your writing.

Poet, Pablo Neruda writes with devotion about his clothes and his relationship with them in his poem, Ode to Clothes.


Every morning you wait,

clothes, over a chair,

to fill yourself with

my vanity, my love,

my hope, my body.


risen from sleep,

I relinquish the water,

enter your sleeves,

my legs look for

the hollows of your legs,

and so embraced

by your indefatigable faithfulness

I rise, to tread the grass,

enter poetry,

consider through the windows,

the things,

the men, the women,

the deeds and the fights

go on forming me,

go on making me face things

working my hands,

opening my eyes,

using my mouth,

and so,


I too go forming you,

extending your elbows,

snapping your threads,

and so your life expands

in the image of my life.

In the wind

you billow and snap

as if you were my soul,

at bad times

you cling

to my bones,

vacant, for the night,

darkness, sleep

populate with their phantoms

your wings and mine.

I wonder

if one day

a bullet

from the enemy

will leave you stained with my blood

and then

you will die with me

or one day

not quite

so dramatic

but simple,

you will fall ill,


with me,

grow old

with me, with my body

and joined

we will enter

the earth.

Because of this

each day

I greet you with reverence and then

you embrace me and I forget you,

because we are one

and we will go on

facing the wind, in the night,

the streets or the fight,

a single body,

one day, one day, some day, still.2


The personification of clothes in this poem brings to life items—seemingly simple things–that we often take for granted or consider utilitarian. Through the poetic eye, Neruda sees clothing as a loyal friend. While he puts on his clothes in the morning, he notices how his clothes take on the mold and contour of his body. Neruda writes of admirable qualities, shared experiences, and reverent regard for his clothes.


Jac Jemc wrote about the character, “my wife” in her novel My Only Wife. Notice what is observed and the deeper implications of acceptance in what you wear.3


“She wore trousers, never wore skirts. Her clothing complemented her, it seemed integral to her personality. She filled her clothes the way one fills one’s skin: exactly. It was as difficult to imagine her without skin as it was to imagine her undressed…There was a theatricality to her way of dressing that made heads turn…These pants my wife wore had very wide legs. She liked to wear many layers to bulk up her frame. She liked structure in her clothing…She liked angles and excess fabric in unexpected places. She liked frayed edges and thinned spots…My wife could have a sense of humor, too. She would pull on opera-length satin gloves, a tiara, pearls, sunglasses, all very Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but combined with her wide-legged pants and her gamut of worn-thin tee shirts, she was often eyed as being a bit off. I adored her oddities. My wife was magnificent and content in her whimsy.”


What is your relationship with your clothes? What does the world observe in what you wear? What are the deeper implications for acceptance?

Describe your favorite outfit. How does it make you feel to wear it? Describe an item in your closet that you never wear. Why not? How does it make you feel to wear it? Write about a time you dressed in clothes that made you feel striking despite graceful form or clumsy movements.

Our clothing carries histories, memories, and meaning, and can serve as a jumping-off point for a piece of writing. Write an ode to your belt, a pair of shoes, or a favorite piece of clothing.

Both clothing and writing are external to us and yet deeply connected to us. How do you describe your style? How do you describe your personality? What style of clothing compliments you — expresses your personality? How do your clothes tell the world a bit of your story? How does your writing say something about how you dress? Do you consider what you wear analogous to your writing style? What details will your reader’s pick up on?

Look back on your experience with clothing during your youth. How did you prefer to dress as a kid? Write about a time you had no choice in what you wore. What did it feel like to be forced to dress differently from what felt good and right to you?

Write about what your clothes reveal or conceal physically, emotionally.


Curie quote


Both writing and clothing can be textured and colorful. Describe your writing texture. Compare it to your favorite article of clothing for the textual/textural similarities. Write about your tendency to adorn your words, over accessorize with ancillary words, use sensory imagery? What have you written lately that is woven in rich texture?

We layer and deepen our stories using vivid language, strong emotion, dynamic characters, and plot lines that build one conflict or point on another. Texture is meant to be felt and building texture into a story can help create unique characters that have dimension.

What words that describe fabric correspond to your writing style? Are your words silky, woolly or more like burlap or corduroy?

Think about your raw material. Are your handcrafted words tailored to best suit your style? Is your style eloquent, dark, economical, formal, clean, business-like, crisp, flowery, balanced, comfortable? Or is the body of your work clothed in chaos? Cloaked to conceal your essence, your voice? What would your innermost garments tell the reader about you?

Wearing a different type of clothing can oftentimes be a nice break in our established habits. The same is true for writing. Think about your clothing and writing. How does your body look in differently shaped clothes? Have you ever crossed genres? Been keen on experimenting? Wore/wrote something unfamiliar? Have resisted ‘genre’ in clothing or writing in an effort to be innovative? Describe a time you communicated resistance, a new interpretation or redefinition. What topics have you most explored, inhabited in your writing? Describe your best-layered body of work.

What are you holding onto in excess words? Are you slowly wiping away traces of the past? Are answers hidden in the seams? What holds your writing together?


The person we believe ourselves to be will always act in a manner consistent with our self-image.

–Brian Tracy


Dress yourself in the expectation of new possibilities.


  1. Twigg, J. (2007). “Clothing, age and the body: A critical review.” Ageing & Society, Cambridge University Press. 27: 285-305.
  2. After the poem Neruda, P. (n.d.). “Ode to Clothes.” Retrieved from
  3. After the mention of the novel Jemc, Jac. (2012). My Only Wife. Chapter three. Dzanc Books. pp. 7-9.

Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry TherapyStudies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental HealthWomen on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful WomenStatement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.


Body Narrative: Feet

feet284All writers are the same. We all have lungs and wrists and feet. Sylvia Plath had a belly button. Jane Austen had knees. Having this awareness embodiment makes the writers we admire more human. “Sharon Olds mentioned that after hearing a talk about Emily Dickinson, she suddenly flashed upon a vision of Dickinson’s naked foot. It was the first time it occurred to her that Dickinson had soles, toes, and ankles.”[i] It’s difficult to imagine the mundane facts of our literary heroes, to remember that they, too, are just human—with hands and elbows and fingernails, as well. Feet, specifically, are a profoundly human characteristic—they’re humble, they’re close to the ground. Think of some of your favorite writers. Imagine their toenails, their feet. How does it feel in your body to imagine these beloved writers in such a human light?

Our feet ground us to the earth. They help us balance and stand firm. The Persian poet Kabir invites us to seriously consider the task of thinking about your body and being grounded:


Be strong then, and enter into our own body;

there you have a solid place for your feet.

Think about it carefully!

Don’t go off somewhere else!

Kabir says this: just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,

and stand firm in that which you are.[ii]


Write about a time you stood firm.


The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.

–Leonardo Da Vinci


Consider the art and science of your feet.

The human foot contains 26 small bones in total; each has a specific job to do. The 52 bones in your feet make up about one quarter of all the bones in your body. When walking, the pressure on your feet exceeds your body weight, when running, it that pressure can be three to four times your weight. The American Podiatric Medical Association says the average person walks about four miles every day, about 115,000 miles in a lifetime. Describe how you think your feet support you. Write about where your feet have taken you and where you hope they will take you in the future.

Do you like the way your feet are long and narrow, or wide and arched, or fan-like and flat? How would you describe their shapes and curves? They’re smell?


He who has imagination without learning has wings but not feet.

–Joseph Joubert


Grounding with the energy of the earth can help your writing, whether it is with your feet, forehead, or whole body, crutches or wheelchair that touches the earth. Practice grounding your body prior to writing, connecting yourself with the earth for when your writing gets intense. In Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice, author Laraine Herring focuses on the interface between writing and the body and how each informs and supports the other. She addresses how grounding in the body helps quiet and center the mind, allowing your authentic writing to flow from that place. She writes, “Standing in your own body helps open up the throat” so you can speak with your own voice. “It also helps move you out of your thinking center and into a place of feeling and sensation…The foundation of your writing is your practice, your consistent showing up to the page, your awareness of your relationship with your words and language. The stronger that foundation, the more forms of life it can sustain.”[iii]

Get yourself grounded through touching the earth or the roots that dangle beneath your desire to write. Feel your center. Stand up, feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your knees soft and slightly bent. Rock your hips back and forth; then swing side to side. Now move your hips in several big circles, first in one direction and then the other. Return to standing still.


This year I have planted my feet

on this ground


and am practicing

growing out of my legs

like a tree.

Linda Lancione Moyer (Listen, lines 13-17)[iv]


Write about a snowy night’s walk, an early morning walk on the beach, waves lapping at your feet, or walking barefoot in the rain.

Is there a difference in writing barefoot, versus wearing dress shoes, sneakers, or boots?  Write about how it feels to run barefoot in the grass, scuffle your feet or wobble in heels? What is foundational to your writing? What is artistic? What is mechanical? What stinks?


“Planting Initiation Song an Osage Women’s Initiation Song”

I have made a footprint, a sacred one.
I have made a footprint, through it the blades push upward.
I have made a footprint, through it the blades radiate.
I have made a footprint, over it the blades float in the wind.
I have made a footprint, over it I bend the stalk to pluck the ears.
I have made a footprint, over it the blossoms lie gray.
I have made a footprint, smoke arises from my house.
I have made a footprint, there is cheer in my house.
I have made a footprint, I live in the light of day.[v]

-– Jane Hirshfield


What types of footprints have you made in your writing life? What type of footprints do you want to make in the future?

Write about shuffling through a crowded aisle, strangers touching the length of their bodies, ignoring each other. When your dog sits at your feet or dancing into the wee hours of the night.[vi]

Describe what it feels like when someone touches your toes or rubs lotion on your feet.  Write about your first experience of getting your feet wet, getting cold feet, or putting your best foot forward literally or metaphorically.



[i]  Brandeis, G.  (2002). Fruitflesh: Seeds of inspiration for women who write. pp. 45-46.

[ii] From “#14” in the Kabir Book translated by Robert Bly p. 2 Writing from the Body John Lee

[iii] Herring, L. (2007). Writing Begins with the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice. Boston: Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, p. 23.

[iv] “Listen” by Linda Lancione Moyer. Retrieved June 5, 2014 from

[v] Women in Praise of the Sacred:43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women,

p. 198.

[vi]  Brandies, G. (2002). Fruitflesh: Seeds of inspiration for women who write.p. 122.


Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry TherapyStudies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental HealthWomen on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful WomenStatement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.



Body Narrative: Writing the Story of Your Body

am i good enough284

No one will love us until we love ourselves


You can’t touch it, but it affects how you feel. You can’t see it, but it’s there when you look in the mirror. You can’t hear it, but it’s there when you talk or think about yourself. 

Self-image: one’s concept of oneself; our self-perception, whether we see ourselves as positive or negative or how we project ourselves to other people.

Self-worth: value of an individual regardless of opinion of others.

Esteem: someone or something is important, special or valuable.[i]

Self-esteem, according to Nathanial Branden in his book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem (1994) is the confidence in our ability to think and cope with the basic challenges of life. The two components of self-esteem are personal competence and personal worth. In other words, self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence and self-respect. Carl Rogers, humanistic psychologist, believed “every human being, with no exception, for the mere fact to be it, is worthy of unconditional respect of everybody else, he deserves to esteem himself and to be esteemed.”[ii]

What can we do to raise our self-esteem? We can practice living consciously and purposefully; we can practice self-responsibility, self-assertiveness, and increase our personal integrity.


The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself. – Mark Twain


Abraham Maslow included self-esteem in his hierarchy of human needs. He felt that “the ability to feel self-esteem and personal uniqueness sprang from being loved and embraced by families and communities. As individuals, we naturally wish to excel or be exceptional, to be noticed for our unique talents and capabilities. Once one has some measure of self-esteem and confidence, one gains the psychological freedom to be creative and to grow as well as to be more generous to others.”[iii]

In her article “My Mother, Learning to Live,” Amity Gaige says, “Self-esteem comes quietly, like the truth.”[iv]


No one can make you feel inferior without your consent — Eleanor Roosevelt


Self-esteem is deeply connected to the body; when we feel disconnected from our bodies, it can take a toll on our self-esteem. But the act of writing brings us back into our bodies. Through this re-connection we can improve our self-esteem. Write about a time when your body and mind felt integrated. Write about a situation in which you were esteemed. 

Self-acceptance: a refusal to deny or disown any aspect of the self: our thoughts, emotions, memories, physical attributes, sub-personalities, or actions. Self-acceptance is the refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to your own experience. It is the foundation of all growth and change. It is the courage to be for ourselves. The level of our self-esteem cannot be higher than the level of our self-acceptance.[v]

Is self-esteem self-acknowledgement, recognizing and accepting who you really are? Is this the same or different than self-love?


Writing and Self-Esteem

Reading other people’s work will help you learn how to read like a writer and appreciate well-written material. Writing every day will help you practice honing your craft. Gaining confidence comes with the practice of writing. How do you reward yourself for a piece well-written? Write your writing manifesto.

Self-esteem and confidence go hand-in-hand. Confidence in your writing is gained by writing regularly, reading widely, and learning the craft. Write a dialogue with self-doubt or your inner critic. How can you better handle rejection? Describe the feeling of knowing when your work is worthy of submitting to a certain publication. What do you feel in your body when you know others value your work? Write about the ups and downs of writing and overcoming the fear of not being a good writer. Write about rejection or criticism and how they affect your self-confidence, esteem, and ability to believe in yourself as a writer.

Affirmations also rebuild self-confidence. Create an affirmation about believing in yourself. Concentrate on what and how you write well. Write a gratitude list of your writing accomplishments. This doesn’t have to be about publications. This can include anything from having a creative mind and a working computer, to being well-organized and writing for 10 minutes each day.

Writing body narrative is an action you can take to be an active force in your own life. No one can write your story but you.


[i] “The Story on Self-Esteem” Retrieved January 29, 2014 from

[ii] Branden, N. (1994). The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books.

[iii] Malsow. A. (1987). Motivation and Personality. (3rd edition). New York, New York, Harper & Row. pp. 21-22.

[iv] Gaige, A. (n.d.). My Mother, Learning to Live. Retrieved January 29, 2014 from

[v] Branden, N. (1994). The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem. New York: Bantam Books.

Debbie spent 30 years as a registered nurse. She became a certified applied poetry facilitator and journal-writing instructor in 2007. She is currently a student in the Johns Hopkins Science-Medical Writing program. Her publications have appeared in Journal of Poetry TherapyStudies in Writing: Research on Writing Approaches in Mental HealthWomen on Poetry: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing by Successful WomenStatement CLAS Journal, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, and Red Earth Review.