I was brought up in a culture and a house where looking in the mirror, liking your self was not okay. It was vanity. It was too close to sinning. Any child’s desire is to be loved, accepted and so I learnt to blend into the background. At the same time my family would remark on my weight seven or eight, and the concept of fat came from their words. So I didn’t live in my body, I looked at my body through their words, their eyes. I was called a highland cow, I was jeered. It wasn’t all bleak, summers free in Ireland, I forgot about the adult world and was building straw bail houses in fields, talking to contemplative cows and feral cats with kittens in the shed.
I hit puberty early with ignorance and shame. Covered up. Hid. Rolled down my shoulders, hunched my breasts. My grandmother poked me between the shoulder blades. Slouching makes you fat. Used toilet roll to block the blood from leaking. It wedged like a brick in my pants. The male gaze in our family wasn’t safe. Sexual awakening was accompanied with sexual assault. All of this meant loving my body wasn’t even a formed thought for me, let alone a feeling or simply just being in the world.
Living in my body meant living with shame, guilt and fear. Lumpen heavy dragged down. A source of shame to my family. Not pretty, sylph-like and adored but shy and bookish. I felt a quiet defiance though. Then they called me a bull. It’s your star sign they said. More names. I said nothing. My mind was the way out.
I was happy being an outsider – not with the popular crowd who tottered up town on a Friday night to feel grown up dating older men. I was one of the lads, still hiding my body, and I learnt boy language. Safer than trying to be a girl. I was the one they practised on till they moved onto the real thing. I didn’t mind. My body wasn’t there. I wasn’t really there, I observed. I couldn’t feel anything – but then I had stopped living in years ago. Clitoris? Orgasms? Masturbation? No idea. Our sex education in a catholic school was a creaky video of a woman giving birth. We watched it in the school library amidst posters of grey looming tombstones engraved with AIDS KILLS, and embarrassed passers by. More shame.
Curious at 17, I went to the public library and hired the proper sex education video to watch in one of their study booths – I couldn’t take it home. Mid throws of ‘the sex scene’ with mild murmurs from the woman I actually felt tingles, there was a knock at the door my poor studious neighbour -turn it down I’m trying to work. Oh the burning redness on my face.
I left home for polytechnic and never moved back. I had relationships. Had sex. Felt little. The first time I did a friend showed me where my clitoris was and an orgasm (courtesy of his ex-girlfriend—thank you Alison!). The joy. I struggled to share it with the boys I had relationships with all the same. I was still ashamed of my body.
Twenty years on, interspersed with 10 years of two relationships littered with sexual, physical and emotional abuse and I left my body for much longer, I am here. Living in. I have learnt that loving my self is the only place to start with love. How can I ask any one to love me or expect to be able to love them fully if I don’t love me? If I don’t love my heavy loose breasts, my scars, my crinkles, my smile, my belly that gives me my laugh and furrowed brow? Our culture teaches us an arrogance, some cringe factor about these sentences even, let alone the actuality of it. Poetry, writing, music and art have kept me alive, been my backbone.
This image was taken by my lover who I feel emotionally safe with, who I can fuck with abandon, happiness and can cry with. In the fells outside naked with the sun on my topographic stretch marks and white skin, I am free like those summers in Ireland as a child. My nerve cells and I have reconnected. I am a woman with my feet firmly planted, my shoulders level with a quiet defiance that got me through, my stride is one I love and I can dream a future of my own making. My eyes are bright and open, my heart is whole, beating, I can love with my head up and most of all I feel alive.
Michelle Blog – donkey