The beauty of art is its ability to transcend time, space and circumstance to unite people. “Shrinking Women”, a spoken word poem by 19 year old Lily Myers is no exception. While it is written by a young American woman, this powerful piece hits on one undeniable truth that we see every day – that women are born and raised to accommodate. We diminish ourselves, dim our own light, in order not to intimidate. In order not to outshine, turn off, or threaten. In a lot of cases we, quite literally, make ourselves smaller. But then what?
If you do get the relationship you want, you have condemned yourself to a lifetime of this – to waking up every day and making the conscious decision to be small. And, as Lily can attest, teach your daughters to do the same. And if you get the relationship you want, and then lose it? You are left emaciated, hollow and dimmed.
Watch this beautiful piece of poetry and read on for a transcription.
Across from me at the kitchen table my mother smiles
Over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass
She says she doesn’t deprive herself
But I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate
I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I suggest it
I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so
Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return, it’s proportional
As she shrinks, the space around her seems increasingly vast
She wanes while my father waxes
His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry, a new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager but my dad reports now she’s “crazy about fruit”
It was the same with his parents
As my grandmother became frail and angular
Her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund stomach
And I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking
Making space for the entrance of men into their lives
Not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave
I have been taught accommodation
My brother never thinks before he speaks
I have been taught to filter
“How can anyone have a relationship to food?”, he asked, laughing
As I eat the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs
I want to say “We come from difference, Jonas.
You have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in.
You learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence.
You used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much.
I learned to absorb.
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters.”
And I never meant to replicate her
But spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits
That’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades
We all learned it from each other,
The way each generation taught the next how to knit,
Weaving silence in between the threads, which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house.
Skin itching, picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped
Like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again.
Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark
A fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled
Deciding how many lights is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy
Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate her, and I don’t want to do either anymore
But the burden of this house has followed me across the country
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry”
I don’t know the capstone requirements for the Sociology major because I spent the whole meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza
A circular obsession I never wanted, but inheritance is accidental
Still staring at me with wine-soaked lips from across the kitchen table
WE SAID THIS: Refuse to shrink. Claim your space.