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Taking Up Space: An Interview with Beck Cooper

“You gave me strength to be confident and to love myself and my body. Thank you beck!!”—darksecretsss, Tumblr

By Laura Porter--This is just one of many posts on poet Beck Cooper’s Tumblr page from people around the web who have been inspired by her words.  Beck's poetry is expressive, emotional and most of all passionate. Her performances of “Too Big” and “The Gutting” pull at your heart and her openness and willingness to be vulnerable is inspiring.

I got the opportunity to chat with Beck about her experience writing poetry, coming out as queer and bisexual and finding support and acceptance in the LGBTQ+ community.  Check out the interview below!

When I watched your poem “Too Big” I got goose bumps and it was incredibly powerful. I’m interested in what inspired you to write the poem.

Beck Cooper: That poem was a really big moment for me. It was while I was starting to write poetry for the first time so I didn’t quite know what I was doing.  How this poem came about for me is this moment of real pain and real desperation and really, this is going to sound so cliché, but knowing that I had the answer within myself.  It was like “I need to say this to myself,” and it felt really overwhelming.  The poem was really a way for me to hold myself accountable to the advice I already knew I needed to follow.

It sounds like you found it therapeutic, to write it out.

BC: Yea it was super cathartic.  In the moment it was painful. Writing it and performing it the first time was really hard. I think the catharsis happened afterward when I felt like it was empowering to name it, empowering to say it out loud and to own it in a new way.  But I actually started writing it the same night that I got home and the man I was dating at the time said that to me.  I came home and I was just a wreck.  I started writing it and then I finished it a few months later when I finally left him.

You seem to really open up with your emotions when performing your poetry. What helps you find the courage to be vulnerable on stage?

BC: That’s how I relate and connect with other people who are going through the same things I’m going through.  I’ve benefited so much from other poets’ vulnerability on stage, and them allowing me to share in their journey. It’s so scary, especially when I first started, it was so scary to get on stage and say this shameful thing that I’ve been holding onto as a secret for so long.  I think one thing that helped me to do that was to remember why I wrote the poem and why it’s so important for me to say what I need to say right now.  When I’m walking up on stage and when I’m about to speak, I’m reminding myself “Who is the poem for?” “Why did I write it?” and “Why is it important that I say it?”

I really liked the line in “Too Big,” where you talked about taking up space. I think that’s incredibly important. Do you see taking up space as just physical, or both physical and emotional?

BC: I think of it as emotional space, and also as volume and asserting myself.  Having the ability to say what I want to say and act the way I want to act and be genuinely me—without feeling like I’m too much.  That’s sort of a theme that runs through my life.  Across the board, voices within me are telling me to shrink myself and to take up less space.

At one point in “Too Big,” you tell yourself to be your own best friend. What do you feel when you say those words and what’s helped you to become your own best friend?

BC: I know what I need to do. I know how I feel about the situation and what is right for me. It really means that it’s time to quit the bullshit and treat myself the way I would treat my best friend or my family members.  I’m really good at repainting a situation or defending someone who was victimizing me, and I will do mental gymnastics to not have to face the reality of the pain and the situation.  It’s really sitting down and taking my own advice.

You talk about two voices in that same poem—one that refuses to be defined by shame, and one that attempts to punish your body.  How do you define these two voices and how do you work to separate them?

BC: There is a part of me that really wants to be body positive, that really wants to be a good role model for my younger cousins and nieces that look up to me as a large woman who loves her body.  There’s a part of me who genuinely wants to love my body.  Then there’s another part of me that doesn’t believe that I’m truly capable of loving my body. That duality is constantly present. 

Have you found through your poetry that it helps to externalize that critical internal voice? Does poetry help you combat it in a more verbal way?

BC: It helps me to name it.  Naming that I’m going through this but that my goal is to overcome it has been helpful because I feel motivated to be a better role model and to work toward that.   That accountability has been really important to me. Part of why poetry is so important to me is the community that surrounds it.  It’s also put me in touch with women who are extremely motivational and inspirational that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  There was a tangible difference after writing that poem.  I carry my body in a new way.  I feel more empowered in my body, which is something I never could have anticipated.

In your poem "The Closet" you talk about the struggle of coming out to others and accepting yourself.  When you were coming out as queer, what was your relationship with yourself like at the time and what about feelings about your body?

BC: I feel entirely more empowered in my body in the queer community, which I didn’t expect.  Being able to connect with fat, queer, femme women and really own our bodies—together—has been transformative for me.  But I never saw that coming. I never thought that would be the product of me coming out and being queer.

I remember at the beginning I had thoughts about how I was sort of doomed because there’s this stereotype of a lesbian.  You have butch women and then your femme women are typically portrayed as incredibly feminine, skinny and conventionally beautiful.  I think that’s why media representation [of queer women] is so important.  I didn’t see myself fitting into that community. Once I actually took a step into the queer community, and saw what it really was for me, it was so empowering.

I identify as queer and bisexual, so I still date men too. There is such a difference in the way I feel comfortable in my own body and in my own skin when I am dating a woman versus dating a man.  It shows how gendered my eating disorder is and how my gender plays in so much to my relationship with my body and my sexuality.

What was really important was finding people who looked like me who are learning to love themselves and their bodies and owning their bodies in new ways.  That meant surrounding myself by fat, queer people, by trans people, seeing myself represented in other human beings who I admire and look up to. Just finding parts of me that I didn’t like before, like my stomach or my chubby cheeks—and being able to find that quality attractive in someone else and learn to love myself through loving other people was really powerful. 

What advice would you offer queer young people struggling with their bodies? What did you need to know?

BC: Writing is the venue through which I express myself and process things. If you have any proclivity toward anything creative or anything to express yourself, I say go for it. Go into that space.  Even if you never perform it, just to be able to process it and to put it into words and hold yourself accountable to it I feel like is so important.

Is there anything I didn’t cover that you’d want to talk about?

BC: The other thing that plays a lot into it is being a survivor.  Being raped was kind of a catalyst for all of this. That plays a lot into my feelings about my body and my relationship with my sexuality.  It was sort of the catalyst for my eating disorder, too.   One thing that was important for me was to connect the dots. To see that it is one larger issue, and that it was not my fault.

Thank you Beck for your inspiring words and for using your voice to help others find acceptance within themselves.

About this blogger: Laura Porter is a junior at The George Washington University majoring in political communication with a minor in psychology. After taking three semesters off of school for her own mental health struggles, Laura became passionate about advocating for increased awareness of mental illness among college students, specifically eating disorder awareness.  Laura currently serves as the president of Students Promoting Eating Disorder Awareness and Knowledge at GW (SPEAK GW) as well as a communications intern at Active Minds Inc.  

Photo courtesy of Spit Journal

For more by Laura: 

Never Stop Fighting for Recovery

Check out more incredible interviews: 

An Interview with Jes Baker: Why It's Important to #LoveTheMirror

Haters Gonna Hate: Body Positivity Superstar Nadia Afkhami

Shattered Image: An Interview with Author Brian Cuban

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