Holding Breath in a Room Full of Air

She held her breath in a room full of air.

She was determined to prove

she could control her body,

because she was afraid to be a slave

to the flesh and bone construct

that was created to contain

the core of her being,

so instead she tried

to prove her power over her person.

She constructed cruel names

as labels she could ascribe to her fears,

as things she could be

so she would know what to get away from.

She became ‘freakish’ and ‘blemished’,

in her anguish she disowned

the clay in her bones,

she turned her back on the body

built from soil in the beds

of her ancestors’ fingernails.

She was trying desperately

to break the boundaries of her being

and bind her blemishes in bandages,

and to live up to

the tangible qualities of beauty.

She broke the body she was built to bear.

And you wonder why

she held her breath in a room full of air;

maybe it was because she couldn’t stand

how her broken heart strings bled black

as they tried to French-braid themselves

into an excuse for being less than beautiful;

maybe it was because the cavern of her chest

wept with the echoes of a bleeding beat

as her friend talked to her

about how pretty she could be

if she just tried a little harder.

As if she wasn’t already

trying little harder every day

to change her frame

to dress up her skeleton

in manufactured models

of what she was supposed to look like –

but under every bit of prettiness

they said she could hide beneath

her body stayed faithful

to the trail of her truth.

Her body wouldn’t change beneath

her own fists curved into wrecking balls

and beating blood-blisters into

the blueprint of her body,

into bones that wouldn’t change shape

to become a receptacle

to her fear of how she should appear.

The faith of her body to itself

became the bane of her bullied beauty.

It goes beyond skin, you see,

she held her breath in a room full of air

to try and prove

she could control the vessel

her spirit was born intobreathe-4

because she had to try

and beat it into submission somehow.

But eventually her lungs stopped listening to her

when they felt her fingertips going numb

in the wake of her desire to be beautiful

becoming stronger than her desire to be alive.

Her blood began to riot,

it disobeyed her tormented desires

because it kept carrying oxygen

to every part of her she wished

she could cut off, and so

she held her breath in a room full of air.

At night, before bed,

before her body would curl in sleep –

like a fist protesting her pain –

she didn’t check the closet

or underneath the bed skirt

for the repulsive faces of monsters,


she checked the mirror!

And she held her breath in a room full of air.


This poem explores self-image and describes the destruction that comes from aspiring to a standard of beauty that shouldn’t apply as such a painful expectation; everyone is already beautiful in a way that no one else will ever be able to achieve. As most girls (and boys) struggle with their body image at some point in their lives, I think that this is an issue of the utmost importance, one that the world hears but doesn’t listen to. Millions speak out about how the impossibility of modern day beauty can quickly become sinister, and yet magazines continue to publish photo-shop fake models on their airbrushed pages; people who are physically attractive are still more likely to be hired for jobs; the music and film industries still select only the most beautiful to showcase in front of the world, as if to say that if people aren’t that perfect, then they aren’t worth taking notice of. Somehow, we never fail to dismiss body image as a social issue.

It is not something that can just be dismissed. Self-esteem issues can’t be wished away or forgotten. There are people who are crying and people who are dying and people who are dead, all because they couldn’t reconcile their beauty with the beauty that they are told they should be. We are being taught to believe that to be beautiful is to be everything, and that to be any less than “perfect curves and symmetrical lines” is to be nothing. This is false, and this is poison to the minds of people everywhere who begin to believe that they aren’t worth anything, when in fact, they are their very own brand of beauty.

The girl in this poem represents all of us who have ever felt inadequate because of how we look, and her urge to hold her breath in a room full of air is symbolic of the self-inflicted torture that we let ourselves succumb to when we say that we aren’t good enough, and when we try in vain to become something that we are not.

So believe that you are beautiful. Don’t try to control your body – embrace your body. Be you, and breathe.


This poem was inspired by a line in R.M. Drake’s poem Next Time.




Ceaglei, Olga-Andreea. “Saatchi Art: Falling Apart Painting by Olga-Andreea Ceaglei.” Saatchi Art. LG Commerce, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2016. <https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Falling-apart/780341/2696626/view>.

Ihsane-ch. “Deep Breathing ..” DeviantArt. ©2016 DeviantArt, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2016. <http://ihsane-ch.deviantart.com/art/Deep-breathing-296341667>.

Pierre-Alain D. “Photoshop Art.” Pinterest. Pinterest, n.d. Web. 09 Nov. 2016. <https://www.pinterest.com/carissa0054/photoshop-art/>.

Marcias, Eugina. “We Choose Art: Working Toward Gender Equality | Ladyclever.” Ladyclever. ©2016 Ladyclever, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 09 Nov. 2016. <http://ladyclever.com/culture/we-choose-art-working-toward-gender-equality/>.

“Falling Apart.” Pinterest. Pinterest, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016. <https://www.pinterest.com/wynmagazine/falling-apart/>.

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6 thoughts on “Holding Breath in a Room Full of Air

  1. Dear Ziyana,

    This was absolutely beautiful. Stunning. In so many ways.

    First of all, when I was reading your poem the pain in the words literally pulled at my heartstrings. I felt as though I were going to have a break down when I got to the exclamation point. That being said, your work really did heighten my senses, it was an amazing experience. Terrifying, I should say, but the truth nonetheless. You are an absolutely amazing writer. Your words provoke so many emotions.

    That being said, I understand that you intentionally left out pauses, however I personally thought your message would have been backed up by your style if you did add in some more periods/commas, just so I could actually breath during the poem. Then again, your lack of punctuation does make logical sense; it were as if I were choking while reading it because of a lack of breath. So I guess the improvement kinda turned into another compliment…

    However, I do feel that you had a lot of images floating around, and even though it adds to the frazzled nature of the piece, I feel as though you could have simplified it. Overall great work, as always.


  2. Dear Sania,

    Thank you for your comment! I really appreciate your compliments and your criticisms.
    To respond to some of the things you said, I did intentionally decide not to use stanzas with this poem because I wanted the readers not to be able to breathe (hence the name and the subject matter). However, I would definitely consider using more commas so that the reader doesn’t feel so overwhelmed.
    I will also keep in mind your feedback about the visuals, and will try to keep them simpler and less frequent next time.
    Thank you so much for your feedback!


  3. Zi,

    You already know that I think you are a phenomenal writer–this is no exception.

    Firstly, I just wanted to mention that I really appreciated your use of diction in this piece, as well as your use of cacophony, specifically the lines,

    “. . . bind blemishes in bandages” and “. . .became the bane of her bullied beauty.”

    I know that you use this technique a lot in your writing, and I think it is very effective to enhance the mood and tone of your pieces.

    I’d also like to say that I really loved how honest you were in this poem, and I think that this is a very important topic that you so gracefully addressed.

    I think my favourite line in this piece (apart from the whole thing) was:

    ‘So believe that you are beautiful. Don’t try to control your body – embrace your body. Be you, and breathe.’

    I just think that this line really summed up the overall message of the piece in a really concise and eloquent way.

    In terms of improvement, as Sania mentioned I think that perhaps there were too many images in this blog that distracted from your lovely writing, so maybe moving forward only use one or two?

    You know how much I love this piece and hpow much I love you because you are amazing.


    1. Hope,

      Thanks for the comment! I love you for all the wonderful things you said! 😉
      I will definitely try to work on the frequency with which I use my images.
      Thanks again!


  4. Zi,

    You are absolutely right when you say, “I think that this is an issue of the utmost importance, one that the world hears but doesn’t listen to.” We’ve all seen people in our society–sometimes people we love–struggle with things like depression, eating disorders, self-harm, etc because they have been dissatisfied with the way they look. While this saddens many of us, there are also people who choose to ignore these impacts, specifically the media, who is constantly putting unrealistic pressure on the members of society to attain unrealistic beauty standards. It’s sickening.

    But the fact that you spoke out about body image makes that much of a difference, no matter how small. This is taking us one step closer to getting other people to understand the pain that often accompanies the desire to be beautiful.

    This is an important (and beautifully-written) piece, Ziyana. Thank you.


  5. Dear Jade,

    Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right – it’s sickening to see the unrealistic standards that people everywhere are pressured into pursuing. I’m glad that you were able to connect with this piece.
    Thanks again!


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