Interview with Blythe Baird: Mental Health and Poetry Slams

Blythe Baird is the voice of a generation, she may not currently be a household name, but she definitely knows a thing or two about what it’s like to grow up as a millennial, or more to the point, as a female millennial with a history of eating disorders. Blythe’s ability to create spoken word poetry which is so true and relevant to a large proportion of younger generations, whilst helping create a voice for those who have till now been sidelined by society as ‘others’ or ‘abnormal’, is truly refreshing. Therefore we were very excited when Blythe – otherwise know as the Girl Code 101 author – agreed to interview with us. I talked to Blythe about her experiences with mental health conditions, how she coped with them, as well as her views on modern day feminism, and what her plans for the future are.

During the summer, Blythe worked as a junior Counsellor at a poetry slam camp this year. Photo by Blythe Baird
During the summer, Blythe worked as a junior Counsellor at a poetry slam camp in Indiana this year. Photo by Blythe Baird

Cat van Maanen: What have you been up to at the moment, have you got anything exciting coming up?

Blythe Baird: Yeah, for sure! I just got back from Columbus for this amazing regional poetry slam called Rustbelt, where my team made finals stage. I also just spent a week in Indiana as a junior councillor at Slam Camp, which is where I wrote my first poem back when I was 16. This August, I’m flying to Georgia over my 20th birthday to compete at the National Poetry Slam for the 3rd time. I’m also working on writing my second full-length book.

CVM:  Did you write a lot of poetry before becoming anorexic? What did you write about?

BB: No, I didn’t start writing at all until the summer going into my senior year of high school. The first poem I wrote was about childhood obesity. It was in response to the “Stop Sugarcoating Childhood Obesity” campaign out of Georgia, which put up posters that said things like “being fat takes all the fun out of being a kid” and “it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Other than my eating disorder, when I first started I wrote a lot about my mother and the environment I grew up in. Now, I tend to write more about womanhood, rape culture, sexuality, and college.

CVM: When did you realise you were anorexic, and did you seek treatment?

BB: Sort of. I ended up in the ICU of a hospital for a week after a suicide attempt when I was 15. As soon as I was physically stable, I spent the following three months in a treatment centre. While I was there, I went through 3 months of intensive outpatient rehabilitation for self-harm, my eating disorder, and other issues. It wasn’t very effective for me. Other than that, I’ve had very little professional help. I had truly fallen in love with being sick and didn’t want anyone to take it away from me – poetry was ultimately what made me want to recover, not treatment.

CVM: Can you tell me a little about your experiences with the disease, and what was a particularly memorable moment or experience that you have had?

BB: I remember searching the internet to find out the calories in things like lipstick, my prescription medication, toothpaste, and cigarettes. Even then, I didn’t really think I was sick. I remember scrolling through pro-anorexia websites for hours, looking for tips. Losing weight was my highest priority, sitting right at the top of my to-do list. I felt like my life was on hold until I could be thin. Once, a man at a gas station was like, “you look really sick,” and I thanked him.

CVM: Your poem Girl Code 101 achieved so much success and I know I can speak for many, many girls when I say that it really touched my heart and was a thoroughly relatable piece. I personally found that your poem ‘When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny’ (which is featured in your book Give Me a God I Can Relate To was something I personally related to, as I have also suffered with Anorexia. Did you write the poem in recovery or was it something you wrote during the struggle? I read/ listened to two versions (the other was broken up in the form of the book you have released) so I’m assuming it was a while in the making.

BB: Thank you! Originally, “when the fat girl gets skinny” was an entirely different poem called “She Doesn’t Need to See the Menu” that I wrote while I was still anorexic. I kept only one stanza from the original poem in the final version, which I completed post-recovery. It was definitely a long time in the making. It took me a while to figure out exactly what I was trying to say.

CVM: I particularly liked the line in your poem ‘When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny’: “If you develop an eating disorder when you are already thin to begin with, you go to hospital. If you develop an eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story” I think this is such a powerful statement in itself and is something so many people can relate to. As a disorder, Anorexia has been something that has been stereotyped and labelled as something that ‘skinny people have’ and left a lot of sufferers feeling that they are not ‘sick enough’ to get help as they are too fat: what would you say on this comment? what advice would you offer?

BB: I think that pervasive ideology is a negative and untrue stigma. Eating disorders are a mental illness that can occur in people of all sizes and backgrounds. I know a lot of people say, “I don’t have it that bad, I restrict and purge but I’m not sick enough to seek help,” but it’s like if only one room in a house is burning, you still call the 911 even if the entire house isn’t on fire. Any disordered behaviours regardless of the extent warrant getting help.

CVM: Do you find that writing and acting are a means to express something? Do they act as a way to help you in ways that other processes and actions cannot help?

BB: I don’t really do much acting anymore, but journaling is definitely a form of expression for me. It helps me make sense of the situation and figure out my own feelings. Writing poetry is a little different. When I write poems, I usually start out with a concrete idea and a thesis statement and then lay it out like a map. It does help me express myself on an individual level, but it’s more of a way for me to articulate an experience that can be used to elicit social change. I keep the audience in mind when I’m writing, which is both a blessing and a curse.

CVM: What was the turning point in your struggle with the disease?

BB: I don’t really think there is a turning point. Recovery isn’t linear. Some days, I’m still struggling. The difference is now I don’t look at relapsing as an omen that I will always be disordered, but instead a challenge to overcome to get back on track.

'Give Me a God I Can Relate To' by Blythe Baird, is available on Amazon.
‘Give Me a God I Can Relate To’ by Blythe Baird, is available on Amazon.

Find anything wrong with this article? Please email tips@conkermagazine.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *