When I was born, I had a body.
It was white and soft and squishy, and it was filled with all the things I needed to survive. It very cleverly provided all the functions required for me to continue growing and developing outside the comforts of my mother’s womb. When it needed something, it signalled me to let my carers know: Hey Mum!! I’m hungry – feed me! I’m in pain – hug me! I’m dirty – clean me! As I grew I learned to satiate these needs and desires myself.
What my body didn’t know when it was born, was that it wasn’t the “right” shape. It wasn’t the “right” size. It wasn’t the “right” colour. That while it functioned in a beautiful, healthy and practical manner, aesthetically it didn’t conform to the ideal of beauty, espoused by those who raised me and the society in which they lived.
I wasn’t thin enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. My skin was too fair, my hair too red. I was too tall, too round and my breasts too large.
I didn’t know all this when I was born, but I don’t remember not knowing.
In the 1960s thin was in. Twiggy was the new kid on the runway and slim, athletic builds were to be admired and attained. My voluptuous curves never stood a chance.
So it was that I grew in this world where my body shape was wrong. I was different to my friends. I was different to my petite, athletic family. I looked different to everyone I knew – or so I thought. In hindsight, of course loads of young girls had curves, or were tall or fair or buxom – but I don’t remember a single one. I just remember being bigger and uglier and paler and fatter than every single girl I knew. (As it turns out, I wasn’t actually overweight as a teenager – I was just the “wrong” shape in my family.)
I don’t know when I discovered that what I see in the mirror, is not entirely true. But I do know I was “old” by that time. Not old by society standards – but pretty darn old to be realising my reflection was a lie. I think I was probably pushing 40 by the time I figured out I always “look” 85kg in the mirror – regardless of whether I’m 65kg or 105kg – I look 85. I started comparing photos to numbers on the scale, and hey presto – my image was lying.
Now this makes for a rather complicated dilemma. Because my worth and value have been firmly entrenched in physical appearance, and this appearance must be slim and attractive and youthful. But even if I were slim and attractive and youthful (impossible to attain at my age) I still wouldn’t be able to see that I was slim and attractive and youthful. So I am perpetually seeking something that even if I were to achieve it, I would not recognise. Yet I cannot seem to stop myself from pointlessly continuing to seek that which is unachievable and unrecognisable. This distorted image of myself, and the overwhelming shame that has accompanied my body for all the years I can remember, has had a huge impact upon me.
I have gained and lost 30+kg on at least three occasions – which doesn’t do wonders for the tautness of skin I can assure you. I have developed chronic issues with eating disorder behaviours by fruitlessly endeavouring to lose weight – at any cost. I have had gastric lap band surgery, followed by a tummy tuck and a breast reduction. I have starved myself until I was “thin” by society standards.
I still hate my body.
Logically I recognise no amount of thin, will ever be thin enough. Yet logic does not reside where acceptance needs to be.
My breast reduction is the single greatest “success” I have had in moving towards body acceptance. With a few swift swipes of the scalpel, my surgeon reduced me from G to C, and I awoke with a weight lifted from my shoulders – both physically and metaphorically. For years, my husband had not seen my breasts, the shame of such pendulous horrors hanging from my chest could not be appeased by his loving acceptance of me at any size and in any shape. Now, despite my scar riddled aging body, he can stare until the cows come home.
I take no pride in my vanity, or in the fact I took such extreme measures to gain a sense of comfort in this body that I have called home my entire life. I wish I could embrace every inch of myself without favour or fortune. I wish I could value health and vitality and longevity over firm breasts, a taut stomach and thigh gaps.
I have heard much discussion of acceptance the past six months. And so rather than me reading articles about how every body is a beautiful body, and sharing said articles on social media and hypocritically telling the women in my life it is so important for them to embrace themselves because it is the inner beauty that is important – not the outer… Instead of that, I think I shall endeavour to travel along a path of finding acceptance. Acceptance of everything in my life. Acceptance of what is happening – right now. Acceptance of what I can control – and what I cannot. Acceptance of what can be changed – and what cannot. And what should not. Acceptance. I think that is the starting point for recovery. Not standing in the mirror with affirmations I don’t believe. Learning to live in the now. Learning to see what is, to be what is, to live what is. And to keep going until I accept my body. Not until I am thin enough, pretty enough or young enough. Just until I accept it is enough – as is. This body that was born white and soft and squishy and has served me faithfully all my years.