“Anorexia is not a choice, but recovery is.” These are the words 20-year-old slam poet Blythe Baird lives by.
The Illinois-native said she developed an eating disorder in high school, after growing up “an obese child” in an environment where weight and food were constant conversations in her life. Baird told HuffPost that her parents tried to help her lose weight by enrolling her in a diet program at a young age, but it only fueled her eating disorder. By high school anorexia had fully taken hold of her life.
“When I was fat, people either made fun of me or didn’t see me. When I got thin, suddenly people saw me as attractive and worth talking to,” Baird said. “It was hard not to see my weight loss as the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Throughout high school, Baird said recovery was a constant battle. She would lose weight, gain it back, lose it again; she was in a constant state of recovering then relapsing. “Recovery has not been at all linear for me,” Baird told HuffPost, adding that there are different components to healing: learning to love your body as it is and then “the actual act of eating.”
So, right around her 17th birthday, Baird began to write poetry, using her writing as an outlet for processing her eating disorder.
“These stories were too heavy to carry around with me, so poetry became a home for them,” she said.
Since then, Baird has become an award-winning slam poet and a published author. Spoken word ― a form of poetry performed aloud for an audience ― is her artistic weapon of choice.
“Recovery is a choice I have to consciously and continuously make every day.”
Baird’s slam poems are intrinsically feminist with many dissecting her long-fought battle with anorexia.
“If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with you go to the hospital,” Baird says in one of her most popular poems “When The Fat Girl Gets Skinny,” which has more than a million views on YouTube. “If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with you are a success story.”
In 2014, Baird was the youngest competitor at the National Poetry Slam. In 2015, she published her debut book, a collection of her poetry, titled Give Me A God I Can Relate To.
Now a college student in Minnesota double majoring in Women’s Studies and Creative Writing, Baird sees spoken word and writing as therapeutic tools that pushed her to recovery.
“Recovery is not linear, nor does it have a past tense,” she said. “Recovery is a choice I have to consciously and continuously make every day.”
As part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, HuffPost sat down with Baird to discuss her battle with anorexia, her love for poetry and how she used her writing to heal.
When did you first discover slam poetry?
I first discovered slam poetry in high school. I had never heard of it before. There was this thing at my school called “Writers Week” where different authors come to speak to students. Sierra DeMulder (who is now like my big sister) was performing. She had a line in one of her poems, “Your body is not a temple. Your body is the house you grew up in ― how dare you try to burn it to the ground?”
It rocked my shit. It made me want to take recovery seriously. I was amazed that a poem could have that much of an impact on me. I wrote my first poem a few years later, when I went to Slam Camp in Minnesota, where Sierra was my counselor. I haven’t stopped writing or performing since. Now, I’m a counselor at the same camp I wrote my first poem at.
“It is a rebellion and act of political warfare to consume in a culture that tells us we are only meant to be consumable.”
How has poetry helped you on your path to healing?
Writing has become integral to my healing process. I write because I have to let these experiences live outside of myself. These stories were too heavy to carry around with me, so poetry became a home for them. My involvement in spoken word has completely shaped the lens through which I view the world. It taught me how to articulate an argument in a way that is clear, concise, effective, and artistic. It also taught me how to pull the meaning and significance out of my personal experiences in order to use them as a method of eliciting social change.
When I get messages like, “I ate breakfast because of your poem,” or “I started going to therapy and getting help because of your poem” or even “Your poetry makes me feel like I’m not alone,” I remember that my writing is doing bigger things than I as a person am capable of. I want to honor that. That is healing and motivating for me, too.
If you could give advice to someone struggling with an eating disorder right now, what would you say?
Recovery is possible and beautiful. One day, after years of starving and gaining and fighting, I stepped on a scale and suddenly the number didn’t say anything about me. That night, I ate dinner with my family and nothing on my plate said anything about me, either. I got ice cream from a truck and I didn’t have to make myself earn it. I could take it just because I wanted it, just because it tastes good. Recovery is freeing and worth striving for. Also, even if you mess up, don’t give up. It’s an ongoing process.
Why do you think it’s so important for everyone ― but young women especially ― to understand that their worth is not determined by a number on the scale?
In a world that does everything in its power to convince women that we need to be smaller, that we should occupy less space, it is a radical act to take. It is a rebellion and act of political warfare to consume in a culture that tells us we are only meant to be consumable. This, too, is fighting the patriarchy.
Head over to Baird’s website to read more about her.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
To read more from Alanna Vagianos follow her on Facebook.