Body Image

Caroline and the towel

Somehow, between changing schools and avoiding the subject of it with my parents (for a myriad of reasons which I won’t get into now), I never had the opportunity to take a sex ed class.

This was in New York City in the 1980s. I went to public school through sixth grade, in a part of Brooklyn that you might one day see on an episode of “Girls”. Learning about sex was not on the curriculum for us. At least, it wouldn’t be until seventh or eighth grade. Apparently too late for some of the older girls who would go on to start high school a few blocks away with suspiciously round bellies.


Swimsuit Season

Here’s a recording of our July 2015 show. The theme was Swimsuit Season. Readers included Megan Kirby, Eileen Tull, Hope Rehak, and Miden Wood.




Meet Our Readers

Put on your two-piece and come join the ladies below for July’s edition of Miss Spoken, where we talk bikinis, maillots, and everything that goes in them. Wednesday 7/29, Gallery Cabaret, 7pm.

Megan Kirby

Photo on 5-22-15 at 12.31 PM #2Megan Kirby has written for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Bitch, Paste and xoJane. She has also self-published a few zines. One is about The NeverEnding Story.




Eileen Tull

Eileen Tull HeadshotEileen Tull is a storyteller, performance artist, poet, comedian, and one-woman-show person. Her work investigates feminism, body image, addiction (to technology, to substances, and to ourselves), and, above all, seeking joy. She has performed throughout the country, from San Francisco to New York City, in fringe festivals, theaters, and found spaces. In Chicago, her work has been seen with Beast Women, The Moth, Loose Chicks, Is This A Thing?, 20% Theatre, The Enthusiasts, Knife and Fork, The Nerdologues, The Stoop, That’s All She Wrote, and the Chicago Fringe Festival. Eileen co-curates Sappho’s Salon at Women and Children and First bookstore, a monthly performance series for female-identifying artists exploring gender, sexuality, and feminism.

Hope Rehak

hoperehakHope Rehak is a native of Chicago and a proud graduate of its public schools, as well as Oberlin College. Her work has been performed at The Garage at Steppenwolf, The Citizen’s Theatre Company in Glasgow, Scotland, and the student stages of Second City, iO, and Oberlin. In 2012, her comedy won the Newcomer of the Year Award in Copenhagen. She studied poetry under Billy Collins and at the Paris Writers Workshop. Though she has recently lived and worked in Los Angeles, Ohio, and Denmark, she is always happiest when performing in her hometown. Please give Lorne Michaels her number.

Miden Wood

1239483_10201799220693365_6524132634498212733_nMiden Wood is a writer and performer from Virginia-outside-DC. She has contributed to webzine Gapers Block, and has performed with The Home for Wayward Artists, live lit show Two Cookie Minimum and is excited to count herself among The Kates at the Book Cellar on August 29. She and her dog are both, generally speaking, happier than this photo suggests.

[GUEST POST] Swimsuit Season

Swimsuit season.

Or as I like to call it, nipple-slip camel-toe permanent wedgie season.

My large-bottomed sister and I joke that our asses like to eat, because no matter the swimsuit style, after three steps toward the beach all we have left is a Sisqo fold and an overdressed butthole.

I’ve never found a bikini top with triangles that didn’t shift around like Scrabble pieces. The knot at the top pushes so hard into the nape of my neck that it aches for a day afterwards. Because of this, I’ve resorted to buying bra-style suits that manage my boobs like a cartoon grasping at a slippery bar of soap.

Maybe I should go back to the tankini. I was so relieved the first time I found a full-length top to cover what my brother lovingly used to refer to as “the black hole.” (My bellybutton).

At age 11 I found a purple printed swimsuit at Old Navy, a sort of half-tank with a flattering cinch to highlight my brand-new breast buds. I showed my mom and said, “I like it, but I’m just self conscious about my stomach.” She replied, “Why don’t you go lay outside for a little bit so you don’t feel like a beached whale?”

Her intention: A tan may make you feel slimmer.

My teen understanding: I’m a beached whale.

At 13 I wore my first bikini, one of many hand-me-down swimsuits from my flat-abbed older sister. The swimsuit was orange, with a hazy painted sunset. The bottoms never quite fit right and would at times slip side-to-side, providing a locker-room visual if I didn’t quickly readjust. It had pilling all over the butt from sticking to the side of the pool, but I loved it.

The first time I put it on, I weighed 74 pounds. Orthopedic surgery to correct my uneven legs kept me out of the eighth grade and on heavy narcotics (an excellent weight loss plan). I remember limping into the bathroom to look at myself before going out into the yard, and sucking in my stomach. I could see every single rib, and quickly let out my breath to hide them again.

By 16, I had put on enough weight to go through puberty a second time. I went on a trip to Israel with a hundred other horny Jewish teenagers, and nearly sharted in astonishment when I heard that boys liked me. Up until that point, boys had primarily treated me as the unavoidable tumor on a group of pretty girls, providing me with creative elementary nicknames such as “pot-belly-socks” and “peg-leg.”

Suddenly, these hot underage Jews wanted to rest their heads on my stomach, and invite me for back stairwell “PCs” (private conversations). My weight was almost healthy, nearing the triple digits, but I was still reeling from the sudden weight gain. The constant attention made me feel safe enough to wear a bikini, whereas my best friend on the trip ate one-third of every shwarma and wore Soffe shorts three sizes too big. We were two peas in a pod.

At 19, twenty pounds and s-e-x brought on a horror of self-awareness I had never experienced before, even in a bikini. Fucking was like reading a graphic novel featuring a fatter, clumsier version of myself. Captions read SMACK, CLAP, and SQUISH, and every issue ended with the heroine crying in the shower.

Looking back, my entire life revolved around looking in the mirror and seeing my body for the first time, every time. My life was like a really shitty dubstep version of “Mirror Mirror On The Wall”. I lost all ability to see myself clearly, and began depending on compliments- my clues to what I really looked like.

I wish I could say it was the strength of girl-power that changed my feelings towards myself, but the truth is that it took falling in love to disrupt my body dysmorphia. My post-college boyfriend honored my body with zeal that bordered on worship, and over time I began to see parts of my body the way he saw them. He didn’t call my legs “long” or my body “thin”, but he treated my ass like the third member of our relationship. I trusted his opinion of my body when I couldn’t form my own.

Now single and in my mid-twenties, the funhouse mirror has mostly straightened out. I have a general understanding of what I look like, but sometimes I still study pictures of my body hungrily, searching for new clues. In those moments, I try to recall the confidence I felt with a man who praised my cellulite, and helped me stop fucking in the dark.

When it comes to swimsuit season – accepting my body and all that – I may not have the confidence to buy a thong bikini, but my hungry ass will always be looking for a snack.

Lena Kazer is a Chicago writer best known for her platform shoes and affinity for swearing. An avid over-sharer, you wouldn’t call her an open book so much as a never ending gag reel. Her composition is 75% whiskey and 25% gummy vitamins.

Check out her personal blog at

I Think Your Diet is Stupid (But I Get It)

I really like to make fun of paleo. Sorry not sorry, it’s bullshit. Unless you have a real allergy or Celiac (as in you have been diagnosed by a doctor), you have no hard and fast, logical reason not to eat bread. Wheat is a solid energy source, processed food isn’t always bad, and a move to an agrarian society is responsible for a lot of human civilization getting where it is today. Humans have survived eating a varied diet for hundreds of years. Most people can eat most foods and they will probably be fine. It’s expensive and impractical, less a health choice and more a way to muddle up a basic and delightful human activity. Here are some articles by people smarter than me explaining why paleo is peak Caucasity foolishness.

I feel that way about most other diets, too. From veganism to Atkins to Ornish, I’ve yet to hear of one that sounds reasonable and sustainable. I don’t see the point in doing something you can’t keep up for, well, the rest of your life, and doesn’t leave room for beer and french fries. Heavily restricting what goes into your face is exhausting, and unless you have a medical reason I don’t get it.

The only concept that makes sense to me is lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of lean protein, easy on carbs and dairy and sugar. This seems reasonable and flexible. This makes sense. This isn’t easy. I want to eat pizza and funnel cake until I pass out in a sugar-cheese coma. Mmmm.

And I lied, I do get it. I really get it. You want to lose weight. You want to be healthy, aka live forever. You want to be attractive and therefore good and okay. I get it because I feel that way sometimes too – except for maybe the live forever part, we are all living on borrowed time and we’re all going to die which is terrible but very inevitable.

But I get it. It is near-impossible to be a woman and not feel intense pressure to control and portion and measure and try and do the right food and exercise thing, because if you are right about food that makes you a better, more worthy person. If I choose carrots instead of chips, I am morally superior. If I use coconut oil instead of butter, my skin will look magazine-pretty. If I run five miles instead of watching Game of Thrones, my waist will be smaller and men will like me and therefore I’m capable of being loved. If I choose a salad over a cheeseburger every single time without fail, my colon will shine with the glory of a thousand suns, it will be intestinal Khaleesi but instead of dragons I’l have the fiery power of slightly lower blood pressure. If I feed myself some bullshit unscientific theory about eating like cavemen, I will be healthier, skinnier, radiating goodness and light.

I can’t let go of paleo. I love pasta and hate pseudoscience.

Where I’m going with this, aside from House Targaryen-butt metaphors, is I think paleo’s ridiculous but it makes sense. From childhood you’re bombarded with images and words from the media, loved ones, and strangers that pretty is good and very important. And pretty means white, thin, young, symmetrical. If you’re fed that psychological food and drink for years and years, reaching for a fad diet that promises live well, live longer, gluten is the root of all evils and p.s. your acne will go away…it makes sense.

It is hard to accept that there is no catch-all solution. In a state of desperation, people (myself included) like to glom onto something that promises to stop the psychological hemorrhaging, an idea that gives you something to work towards. It’s harder to think that maybe there may not be an end goal to work towards, that you are okay the way you are right now, that eating better and exercising is a series of small and incremental changes that take place over time and are an ongoing thing. That being thin and conventionally hot, or even healthy, will not solve all your problems.

I’m a 20-something female-identified cis white lady with an okay face and average body. I am playing Appearance Donkey Kong on the lowest difficulty setting. And what this means is a lot, from small to the horrific: Clothing is a pain in the ass but not a waking nightmare. My size is right there on the rack. And when I’m out there looking for clothing that will probably fit me fine if not flatteringly, I’m not going to get followed in the store, or otherwise suspected of criminal acts. Society may not find me beautiful, but it will probably find me acceptable. I feel shitty about the way I look sometimes, recoiling from the mirror when a waistband is too tight. This is from Level One. As much as I mock having a case of the wheat-crazies, the urge to change yourself feels so familiar it hurts.

Paleo is a fad diet. Like most fad diets, it will pass. But denying yourself a tasty, affordable, and potentially nutritious food group to fit into an idea of what is okay is strange at best, ugly at worst. You are demonizing something neutral, packing fear and self-loathing into an innocuous little grain. Wheat is one thing. Grains don’t feel pain. But it is not a stretch to apply this misplaced disgust to something with more consequences, like another human.

Also, pancakes are delicious.


King Spa

Last Sunday, I caught a glimpse of my half-naked body in a mirror and grimaced, a flash of disgust at the extra weight around my middle. I couldn’t even think spare tire because that made it sound practical, when in reality it was weighing me down in every sense of the word. Way to deal with your problems by pounding cheeseburgers, I thought, that’s working out well for you. Keep up that beer and couch therapy.

I shook it off and kept stripping down, pulling off socks, bra, underwear. I was among friends. And a lot of naked strangers. I was at King Spa.

King Spa is located just northwest of the city, but it feels like you’re in another country – and actually, that’s not true either. It feels like a sanctuary in that it’s removed and peaceful, but it’s more like a Chicago United Nations, black and white and brown people chilling out in a series of pools and saunas.

No one wears clothing in the gender-segregated pool area. I can feel you squirm, but hear me out.

Mrs. Potato Head

I got my hair cut a few weeks ago. It went fine. It went great, actually. I went to Rev. Billy’s Chop Shop and Billy did exactly what I asked him to, which was to keep the length (my hair’s super long right now) and get rid of the split ends and general bullshit that comes when you don’t get a haircut for over a year. He cut a few layers in the back but kept it looking blunt and we talked about how my head, my hair, or my head and my hair I don’t remember, is a sculpture and it took all of 15 minutes (seriously that’s how long the cut took he is FAST) for me to feel like a human lady again.

My hair was getting kind of gross but I hardly noticed. I was just sort of used to having a massive nest of fine black hair interspersed with white strands (NATURE’S HIGHLIGHTS AMIRITE LADIES) and, I shit you not, occasional bits of lint.

Note to self: clean your damn house, Jasmine.

Body Rockin’

I’m going to be away from my baby for thirty hours to celebrate with my very good friend at her bachelorette party.

I. Am. Excited.

(And yeah, a little sad to be away from my family, but that’s not what this post is about.)

The maid of honor has requested that we wear black so the bride to be can don white. I am all for this plan.

However, I don’t have much of a wardrobe. I’ve been broke for a long while and then there was the pregnancy. Most days I still wear maternity yoga pants and leggings and I finally broke down and bought one pair of jeans for the rare moments I leave the house and want to look somewhat normal.

I gained forty-five pounds during my pregnancy and even though I found out later that it was mostly due to water weight attributed to pre-eclampsia, I was completely freaked out every time I stepped on the scale at my check-ups. You know how doctors scales are.

Maternity clothes were tight, I could barely stuff my feet into shoes a size larger than I normally wear and my stretch marks looked like alien cave drawings etched into most of my midsection.

Before I went into the hospital, I was not super cool with being naked. Even in sexy situations, it’s taken me awhile to come around on lounging in the buff. I’ve had months where I weighed less and felt better about myself, so it was easier then.

But once I was bed ridden, in a hospital gown with nothing but my underwear on underneath, things started to change.

I started to not give a fuck.

Then came the anethesiologist, a man in his fifties or sixties, who upon entering my room to give me an epidural, started to run down all of the risks and asking me if I understood what he was saying as I writhed in pain with every contraction. “YES” I would yell without hearing his words.

The most important part of his little speech was that during the procedure, I would have to stay absolutely still otherwise he could mess up the needle and accidentally stick me in the spine.


So there I was, essentially naked, being held up by my partner, as this guy went about his business.

It’s basically over once the fifth random person has stuck their hand up your vagina to feel your cervix.

Finally, once the baby was born, I attempted to breastfeed. Someone was always coming in while he was on my boob and I made no overture to cover myself up. In fact, lying half naked with your near naked baby is a bonding experience like no other.

You leave the hospital still big enough to fit into the clothes you wore on your way in. I was bloated and suffering from major edema from the waist down. It took a couple of weeks for my former self to slowly start emerging underneath all of the chaos.

It helped to see the number on the scale drop dramatically, even though I was well over any weight I’d ever seen in my entire life.

It helped more to see my feet looking like they could fit in my shoes, for the maternity jeans to feel loose, for my partner to say I was looking great.

And I was fine going to buy jeans that were four sizes bigger than normal. It felt good even.

Yeah, so my boobs are huge and my stomach is pooch-y. So my arms are flabby and my thighs and calves have lost muscle.

Maybe they’ll bounce back. Maybe.

But if they don’t, I have a new attitude about my body. It has less to do with skinny or fat and more about just existing in this skin. A human grew inside of me and it turns out this flesh and bones is more than something I need to worry people may criticize.

Yes, I want to be healthy. No, I’m not a fan of my double chin. Yes, getting in a bathing suit or seeing an unflattering photo of me may make me cringe. No, I’m not always cool with the image in the mirror. Yes, I’m considering running again (as soon as I can be reassured that a sports bra will keep my boobs from falling off.)

But I’ve seen what else this body can do and I’m less concerned with how it’s “supposed to” look.

If for some reason I start feeling bad about my body or the number on the scale, I’ll kindly remind myself that I had a baby less than three months ago. And I’ll keep on using that excuse until my kid turns one.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to finding an outfit for this bachelorette party. I don’t care what size I’m in. I have a reason to dress up, put make up on, and have an adult beverage in public.

Besides, this night isn’t about me anyway.


i’m the one that i want

I was brushing my teeth last night before crawling into bed. I’d already taken off my makeup, washed my face, and put on my pajamas.

My face was sallow in the light, and the zit on my chin was taking longer to go away than I wanted it to. I leaned forward, tilted my chin down to spit toothpaste into the sink, then stood up and examined my face again. I tugged at my bottom lip with an index finger, checked my teeth and gums, frowned. And then it dawned on me.

Meet Our Readers

Pits. Pubes. Upper lips and legs. This month’s theme is Body Hair. We’ve got a talented crop of women on deck Wednesday to talk about it. I can’t think of a better prelude to your Thanksgiving.

Maya Marshall

missspoken_mayamarshallMaya Marshall is a Cave Canem Fellow. She co-facilitates the Vox Ferus After Dark workshop series. She was a 2013 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award finalist. She has led workshops for people ages 8-80 in the Midwest, Southwest, and South America. Her poems have appeared in BlackberryThe LegendaryPoetic Hustles in the Era of Hope and Change, and other publications.

Jessica DiMaio

missspoken_jessicadimaioJessica DiMaio is a graduate of Columbia College’s Fiction Writing program, who then became an esthetician because fiction writing doesn’t pay the bills. Turns out sculpting the perfect brow is as gratifying as crafting the perfect sentence. She wrote her essay while working at a ritzy downtown spa, but she much prefers the clients she has at the Benefit boutique she works for now. You can read more about her adventures in esthetics at



Alyssa Sorresso

Alyssa Sorresso is a creative non-fiction writer and performer living in Chicago. She has performed internationally and at home, including as an ensemble member for 2nd Story and at The Moth slams. Alyssa’s writing was recently published in Creative Non-Fiction Magazine and on OhioEdit. She maintains a blog at, and you can follow her on Twitter @tactless_grace. Please come say hi, because otherwise she’ll probably sit by herself and be somewhat awkward about it.

Lisa White

missspoken_lisawhiteLisa is a born and raised Midwestern girl who’s had numerous adventures and escapades writing. After moving here to attend college she fell in love with Chicago and despite a brief stint in New York returned to the city that feels like home. She cut her teeth writing about music and food around town for various outlets, including Heave, Gapers Block, IE and ChicagoStyle Wedding. She kinda went corporate for a while but like most writers never strayed far away from the clacking of laptop keys. She now is the Associate Editor at Chicagoist where she spends her days writing and editing work about all aspects of Chicago life.

missspoken_liliarissmanLilia Rissman

Lilia Rissman has enjoyed writing for a long time – one of her proudest moments was winning a trophy in fourth grade for her play about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad.  Most of the writing that Lilia does today involves phrases like “morphosyntax” and “agent-oriented teleological modal base.” She is very happy for the opportunity tonight to pursue a more physical topic. Talk to her later if you would like to know what a modal base is.


Samantha Irby

missspoken_samanthairbySamantha Irby recently published a collection of essays called “Meaty.” You can find her blog at