Up until I was about 12 years old I didn’t think of my body as anything other than functional – legs to kick a ball with, arms to climb trees with, a torso and limbs to swim, run, jump, and dance with. My puerile state protected me; prolonging the harsh glare of society and what it expected from a young girl such as myself.
As I stumbled into puberty my body changed before me, transitioning from something active to a stuttered state of passive acceptance. It made way for ineluctable womanly changes, but all I considered was the superficial element. Who cared if I was now capable of giving life? Did I look good this way? That was all that mattered. After laboriously climbing the mountain that is school, my confidence growing alongside my endeavour to reach the peak, college tripped me up. Falling down that god awful mountain, my confidence ended up in a new location: rock bottom. Unbeknownst to my family I suffered with body image issues once I left the safety net of school.
Demons seemed to settle within me, parasites making an unwelcome arrival to a new home – constantly, assiduously looking for chinks in my armour. Alcohol played a role in this perverted play, acting as the hammer that beats cracks in a shield that was once impenetrable, providing footholds for the demons to exploit, a chance to climb out of the depths of my own personal hell. [pullquote]My puerile state protected me; prolonging the harsh glare of society and what it expected from a young girl such as myself. [/pullquote]
As the drink burns down my throat, the demons cackle, a cacophony that sends shivers down my spine, feeling their most alive. Crawling their way up from the deepest, darkest corners of my self until they reach my mouth, hard at work unscrewing until my tongue is loosened enough for them to escape. At least if I openly acknowledge my own disgust at being this pitiable, pathetic excuse for a girl, people will know that I am undeniably aware of my glaring flaws.
Believe me, there is no ignorance or obliviousness here. I’m flat chested. My thighs touch. I have too many freckles. My lips are too thin. I’m too pale. My hair isn’t the desired shade of blonde. There is no part of me that is right or that I am happy with. Where I should be small, I am a tsunami, not wanted, exploding, too much to control, out of grasp. Where I should be big, I am drizzle in a drought, enough to show potential but not a satisfactory amount.
Friends throw out a lifebuoy, unsure of how else to proceed through these murky waters. In response I tread water, alarm bells blaring simultaneously; they’ve seen weakness, abjure the harsh cruelty of the truth, damage control, imfineimfineimfine. Trying desperately not to go under, or need the damned lifebuoy. I laugh vapidly. It was a joke, just a bad day, don’t mind me. I shake them off, implacable, wishing I had said nothing. Reverse the clocks so that I am not the insecure, ugly girl at the party (I always am) while they’re catching each other’s eyes, contemplating whether to dive in, or is extending a hand enough? I down the poison of choice and push the conversation forward, turning the spotlight towards something a little less ugly, a lot less me, a more sanguine cynosure for the critical audience.[pullquote]How could anyone like a fat version of me? How could I like a fat version of me? Even in my own head, I doubt my ability to like or tolerate myself if my BMI isn’t where I want it to be, or if I don’t fit into a certain size of jeans.[/pullquote]
Inebriation is a sojourn away from these demons, but like waves to a shore, they’ll return time and time again.
If I were any bigger, any heavier than I am, people wouldn’t find me attractive, wouldn’t deem me worthy to be their friend. Especially when I’ve been eating in excess or haven’t had time to work out. How could anyone like a fat version of me? How could I like a fat version of me? Even in my own head, I doubt my ability to like or tolerate myself if my BMI isn’t where I want it to be, or if I don’t fit into a certain size of jeans.
And then? Feminism. A ladder that gave me the space and platform for my confidence to ascend out of rock bottom. Although first impressions are made on appearance, it is not determinative of who you are. You are as much of a woman or a person in a tracksuit and hoody as you are in a dress and heels. The difficulty is extricating the worth from the material items that we pour value into. Put that worth in yourself. For we women are not empty shells, pretty to look at but without substance. We are so much more.
We are more than the physicality of our bodies and how we present them. We are human beings, three dimensional. What we apply to our faces, how we style our hair, what we choose to wear is a mere element of who we are – not the whole package. Our thoughts, opinions, hopes, and dreams are more substantial than what colour our nails are painted or what dress size we fit into.[pullquote] The difficulty is extricating the worth from the material items that we pour value into. Put that worth in yourself[/pullquote]
However, this life saving vaccination came at a late stage in my life and I fear that this constant, invidious self body shaming will be a virus; incurable, but the symptoms only flaring when my immune system is low. Oscillating between what I have been taught – that my appearance is my worth – and what I have learnt – that I am a summation of my ideas, words and behaviours – will be no easy undertaking. But I will happily bear this heavy load rather than be a subscriber to a belief that I am nothing more than a doll to be dressed up and played with.