Yoga, Body Image, and Motherhood vs. Stripping: An Interview with Sheila Hagemen

Shelia Hageman

These three poems (Falling into Sky, Through Me, and Round) are fresh and light, replete with images of early motherhood and layers of family. Can you talk about writing them?

I hadn’t written any poems in years. I knew that after having my third child I was going to have even less time to write. Somewhere in my head I think I began realizing that maybe poems would be a good way to get myself writing again after not having done much writing while pregnant with my third.

I was sitting outside under a tree nursing Thomas in a wicker rocking chair when I just happened to look up and felt overwhelmed by the underside of the tree. All of a sudden I felt an urge to capture the feeling of being connected to my baby and my immediate surroundings. After having felt pretty much only stress after Thomas’s birth, this feeling of joy was something I wanted to capture.

Is Yoga part of your creative process?

I’ve just begun getting back into yoga again after stopping after my second child was born. The more I find time to connect to my body, the more I find myself connecting to my creativity. And it’s very interesting to note that since I recommitted to my yoga practice, I’ve also recommitted to my writing. They feed each other.

Can you talk to us about obtaining your MFA? Was that something you took on before, during, or after children?

I began my MFA when my daughter was one. And I’m grateful I had the opportunity to go to school while she was young. I was feeling isolated as a new mother and with no real creative outlet. Getting my MFA gave me an excuse to devote time to myself and my creativity. My mother was very ill at this same time, so I needed something that was just for me, but I did end up writing a lot about both my daughter and my mother!

How do you balance teaching, writing and motherhood?

I’m still trying to figure the whole balance thing out. I tend to take on a lot of different things at once and then just somehow get them all done. My life seems to be about finding ways to acknowledge myself as a woman and person outside of motherhood. But at the same time I’m still trying to figure out what I want my role as mother to look like, as opposed to what I feel like the world tells me I should be like as a mother.

Your blog bio (www.strippermom.blogspot.com ) reads, “A former stripper, now a mom, examines life as a woman and a mother, explores issues about body image, and reports on the latest fun of raising two small kids while waiting for number three, and oh yes–also the latest news of interest.” (Congratulations on number three…) Are you willing to share with us something about the transition between lifestyles?

Well, right there, you see I’m not keeping up with everything! I haven’t updated my bio to reflect baby number three!

The transitions I’ve experienced going from being a stripper to a mother are long-ranging, extensive, and intensive. The biggest change has really been in just how much more I respect myself as a person. I think I honor myself much better than I did as a young woman.

One of the subjects I write about most in essay form always seems to be about the different roles I’ve played in life and how I think I will always struggle with completely understanding who the “real” me is. Does that make sense?

It’s kind of like I’ve always been the same, but I’m also completely different.

Anything you’ve discovered about body image?

Body image is something I explore a lot in my writing and just for myself in general. I believe a lot of women today are confused and angered by the cultural representations of the ideal female figure. And you can’t escape the images in our society.

Coming from the position of having been one of those “images,” I feel I have a responsibility to do my best to understand my experience as a publically nude woman—why did I feel compelled to live my life in the nude for others? Why did I do things I didn’t want to? And why was there also such a conflicting drive to be seen as a sexual and desired object?

I know raising a daughter, I find I’m constantly coming up against new thoughts and tensions around body image. I imagine your former line of work, your current work with Yoga and writing make for a rich field of experience. Has motherhood changed how you view body image?

Absolutely. I am finally (I think) coming to terms with my body. Of course, just when I think I’m accepting of myself just as I am, some new negative thought pops up. I imagine having a healthy body image will be an issue I will face for my entire life in some form or another.

So far, my daughter has helped me feel better about my body in the sense that she seems to love me regardless of how my body looks. As does my wonderful husband. My family really has helped me to trust that I am valuable as a person, not just as a “woman.”

Any new writing projects you are currently working on?

Too many to list! I’m having fun right now exploring different genres. After finishing my memoir, Stripping Down, and spending more time than I like to admit trying to find a home for it—and I’m still looking—I needed to do something very different.

So, I am working on poems in a loose and unstructured way. I also am working on a writing book for moms who want to write. Not to mention my graphic memoir in progress. Oh, and then don’t forget about my children’s books I’m dabbling in!

I seem to work best when I can move between projects!

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