I had a moment last night, when I was getting ready for bed and I caught sight of myself in the bedroom window, and I didn’t hate my body. The memory is fading now, but it was a strong and comforting feeling at the time. I saw it, I really saw it all, the 40 years of carrying me, the large stomach, but strong arms, the breasts that sag and touch off the skin of my belly – usually irritating me so much that I have to wear a sports bra to sleep – weren’t annoying me, the soft freckled skin on my chest which has started to develop the wrinkles I’ve always associated with my mother, stretch marks and thighs that rub together. All of it! And, more than not hating it, I saw it as beautiful.
And not just “beautiful”, in quotation marks, in that crappy cliched “I’ve carried /created life” bullshit way, either. I just really liked what I saw. I found myself aesthetically pleasing just as I was, and not as I was imagining I could be.
Around this time last year, I first created this blog as a private, password-locked self-shame blog. At the start of each week, I’d take underwear pictures of myself (believe me not sexy!) from four different angles, and post them, with stats detailing my weight, BMI, waist measurements and any extenuating circumstances – like pre-menstrual bloating. My plan was that if I had to look my body in the face (in the belly?) and really admit to how much weight – but not just weight – how much fat and cellulite I was carrying, how old and harsh my face looked, how unappealing that double-chin – I thought if I could make myself see that, the negative response would be so strong as to force me to, I dunno, magically?, lose weight. I guess I thought it would be motivation throughout the day to not eat whatever, not drink whatever, and to run and punish my body through excessive exercise, so that it would step into line, goddamnit.
I did this, not every week, but some of them, across last Summer, with a net result of actual weight gain, and then I stopped. Thank god I stopped. I think it must have been around then that my therapist introduced me to Geneen Roth and somewhere in the process of reading several of her books, I decided I was never going to diet again.
This was a first act of self-love on a really long journey. Stopping drinking was another one, and there have been many more small acts of self-kindness along the way.
But I didn’t automatically come to love my body. In fact, as I’ve written here many times before, I often feel detached from my body, that it is not me, that I don’t recognise the ageing fat shell that carries me so diligently (and with relatively few complaints, all things considered).
But then, last night, I finally felt some appreciation.
I spent a lot of yesterday drawing, and drawing abstract representations of myself at that. In my 20s I used to draw myself as a stick figure, or something scrawny and all joints, often curled in a ball. I guess my skinniness didn’t bring all the happiness that society promises! More recently I draw myself more closely representing my true weight and size, but it’s a difficult thing to capture. I don’t want to end up with a caricature of an overweight person. I’m trying to capture some of my personality too, and I want to indicate strength that I recognise as being there; in how I carry myself as well as in my muscles. I don’t think I would ever draw TodayMe curled up in a ball. Even when I draw myself hurt, there’s strength and determination behind the hurt.
I don’t think I’m likely to get broken again.
I feel a bit like kintsugi pottery; I’m not trying to hide the parts that were broken before, but there’s beauty to be found in the repairs that I’ve made to myself.
I guess no-one is immune to future breaks. There’s always the possibility that life will pick me up and fling me hard against a wall. But I’m not such a fragile piece of bone china, that the daily demands of dishwashing might crack me in two. I don’t feel weak in the places I broke before, the glue and attention has done its job and those might even be the strongest parts of me.