Health Stories

Mapping Body Image

In this visceral podcast about body image, social critique, and self-acceptance, Courtney Fuller takes the listener on a journey across her body’s map to the center where she experienced love, loss, illness, birth, and identity re-birth. Courtney details the personal impact that years of social media had on the negative construction of her own self-image. After giving birth and describing the change to her body, Courtney states, “…there’s the great part of having these new little ones in your life and there’s the other part of losing a part of your self and changing your identity…”.  After a class prompt when students were asked, “Is there any part of your body that you really identify with?”, Courtney was moved to create a poem and image (see insert) she entitled, The Center of the Map. The statement Courtney asks us to consider, “Really think about your body’s story…rather than trying to copy and paste yourself…Each body tells its own story”. Suggestions include being aware of what you say to others (e.g., not complementing someone who has lost weight) including comments on social media, and practicing mindfulness.


The Center of the Map 


Smooth, pale skin marked heavily by freckles and moles,

my mother calls them “beauty marks.”

Well, I must be beautiful because

you can play connect the dots for miles

across the landscape of my body. 

A particular one, right next to my belly button,

sits as a plot point on the map of my life.

It stands out in bold font, like the capital city—

the dot that marks the spot where my journey begins.


As a child, belly baby soft, ballet pink,

belly cradled in warmth,

my insides supple and open,

my body pushing the boundaries as all children do. 

 I heed my mother’s advice to “pull in my belly.”

I practice making the shapes of hills and valleys,

concave and convex shapes in the mirror,

shapes controlling how my insides tuck neatly into my ribcage

or burst out into space. 


As others feed me compliments on my sleek torso,

I fill it with diet pills—supplementing 

an emptiness that extends to points beyond my middle.

 but I am lean, embracing this journey to thin, 

and I hold it all in tight.

I even add another landmark

that punctures the terrain of my abdomen,

a silver rounded piercing,

a beacon that shimmers May through August,

signaling days of half-shirts and a lemon yellow string bikini.

The landscape of my body glows with a luster—hot and exposed

and like a cheap roadside attraction, it draws him in. 

My eyes watching his eyes travel from north to south along the route of my torso.

My eyes waiting for his eyes to return north.

His eyes bound only southward, past my middle.


Suddenly, my topography changes—

I feel the stretching of boundaries as

my hands float over the vast expanse of this once familiar region.

My fingertips pressing in to feel a shift in direction.

The flat and solid transforms into the curves of hills so foreign to me,

of swollen breasts and thighs

of an ever-bloated, ever-rounded center. 

This space, which was once only mine, I now share.

We grow; we expand together

and I simply give up holding and flexing. 

I let go.



Belly soft and sagging like a deflated balloon,

transforming into the perfect landing place to cradle her.

This flat-tire, pillow-like suppleness becomes only a momentary side trip

as I cover that old, familiar territory that was once sucked in,

once tightly held together.

The roadmap of my torso shrinks back,

but the landscape is forever changed.

I carry these stretch marks both east and west of the middle,

like ripples in barren sand,

but my marriage,

my marriage I leave behind.



Hands full, baggage heavy, but

faintly, in the distance plays a familiar song from my childhood

each strum of his guitar vibrates across the country—

 carrying me over miles of scars,

over decades of this wilderness of flesh and bone,

over recognizable points on my map

that I once thought were beyond reach

And this man, this song, touches me across borders and bridges—

an intersection of voice and memories

he navigates his way back to me.


We still see each other as children

covered now in a vast network of scars and wrinkles.

He embraces my flawed torso

and whispers that he’s loved me since I was a child,

asks if I will have his children

But en route to create our own

our passage is blocked by cancer.


Here lies a tear in the map of our world

A melted, ridge of a scar

inhabits the space between

stretch marks east and west of the middle.


We cannot repair or rewrite this map

or move highways so that our bodies

can intersect sooner.

All that is left

 is to simply embrace the peaks and valleys

of this place and each other.

The baggage is heavy

but we carry on without looking back.



Brought to you by Nicole Defenbaugh of Health Stories