If you want your breath to catch and your heart to stop, turn to Kate Baer, the beloved Instagram poet whose first book, What Kind of Woman, comes out today. She writes about everything from body image to parenthood struggles to marital sex and just gets it. (Here are three of her poems that we adore.) Below, Kate, who lives with her husband and four kids in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, shares her desert island beauty product, “unsexy” office space and favorite poem…
How did you get into writing poetry?
Honestly, I always loved reading poetry but I felt like I couldn’t write it. I thought I had to be a grad student smoking a pipe. But then I kind of just went for it. I started writing and couldn’t stop. I’d never have guessed poetry for me, but it has been the best surprise.
You’ve become an Instagram phenom.
It was very surreal at first. When your following increases, you start to feel like you need to please so that you don’t lose the people who are reading your work. I had to concentrate on getting out of my own way and keep taking risks.
What poetry do you like to read?
Mostly female poets — Margaret Atwood is my favorite author in general. Sharon Olds, Audre Lourde, Olivia Gatwood, Maya Angelou… so many incredible female poets, many of whom were writing controversial things 10, 15, 20 years ago, and I really look up to how bold they were.
Where were you, physically, when you were writing your book?
I was in a place called Panera Bread. [laughs] I wondered if I’d disclose that information because it’s so unsexy and unromantic, but we have a very small house and six people, so I wrote almost the entirety of What Kind of Woman in Panera Bread. We’re all friends now. I’m bringing them all my book. I thanked one of the staff in my acknowledgements — she always stopped by and asked me how my book was going and made sure I got the booth where the plug is for my computer. Panera was free and had wifi and an outlet and that’s all I needed.
How has the response been so far?
Incredible. I’ve had so many people saying, I have no children, I’ve never gotten married but I see myself. The book is split into three sections: womanhood/dating — marriage — motherhood. There’s something for everyone in there. When I wrote it, everything I’ve ever felt just came out. It was such a cathartic experience. I found myself writing about things I hadn’t thought about in such a long time — experiences with men that were terrible — I didn’t even know how much I had been holding onto them. And the motherhood stuff was so visceral, I was still breastfeeding. I had just come out of the worst depression I had ever been in. I had just come out of that fog and suddenly was able to see so clearly.
What’s your favorite poem in the book?
When I was reading them out loud for the audiobook, I was shocked by the ones that made me tear up. I think the one I’m most proud of is ‘Like a Wife.’ It starts out when my friend’s dad told me, just before my wedding, don’t get fat like other wives do. It’s a zippy, fun little poem and I really like that one.
Could we read it?
Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful. I also love your poem Robyn Hood about not focusing on body size.
In my life, I’ve been very thin and now am plus size. And having the experience of both has been so eye opening to how other people see and treat you. How people respond to your body says more about them and their insecurities than it does about you. Realizing that it’s not my business how other people see me and removing myself from those conversations were so freeing to me.
What beauty finds do you swear by?
This summer I discovered Megababe thigh rescue and it’s been life changing. I put it on all summer and it gave me the freedom to wear swimsuits and shorts and not get a burn between my legs. I put it on in the morning, and it lasts all day. I love the founder, Katie Sturino, too. Sometimes I listen to her Instagram videos before I fall asleep. Her voice is very soothing. Is it ASMR? I’ve seen people in her comments do the same thing, so it makes me feel less like a weirdo.
What’s your desert island product?
We use vaseline in our house like the dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding uses Windex. I put it all over my face before bed in the winter and on my lips year round. We have containers stashed all around the house. It’s weird! If one of the kids gets a hurt on their elbow, we put on vaseline! I’m sure it’s half placebo, but we can’t live without it.
How about your hair?
For hair, I’m super lazy, so Beach Babe dry shampoo is key. I also use Suave shampoo and conditioner, which would make Queer Eye scream, but I’ve never found anything better, even the expensive stuff! I only wash my hair a few times a week and it keeps it looking fresh.
Do you have a signature scent?
I keep this in my purse all the time. Sometimes I just take it out and breathe it in, like Jan Levinson breathes in the candles she makes on The Office. It smells like sunscreen and ocean waves. It’s serenity. Randomly: Once Oprah said she never uses perfume, she just uses fragrant soaps, and I think about that every two weeks of my adult life. She must soak in the bath for so long.
I can picture her doing that.
What’s your morning routine?
Whenever someone is asked on a morning talk show, they’re like, I like to get up at 5 a.m. when the house is still quiet and do my morning cardio and drink lemon water. But I get up at the last possible second, right as my husband is leaving for work. I put on whatever pants are on the bathroom floor and move on with my day.
How about makeup?
I don’t wear makeup anymore. Is the pandemic or a strike against the patriarchy? I don’t know! But sometimes I still draw better eyebrows on to feel nice!
What’s your overall beauty vibe?
Sharon Horgan in Catastrophe is who I feel like on the inside. She wears these colorful prints and I just love her vibe. On the outside, I come across like the mom from Everybody Loves Raymond. But that’s okay.
What do you want to teach your kids about beauty?
I hope they understand the difference between trying to be healthy and trying to be thin. One is for ourselves and one is for other people. Living for other people, it’s always a losing battle. Any time your life is performative, you’re missing out on the good things, the juicy things. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, that wasn’t spelled out for us, and I hope it is for them.