“Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks.”

My name is Rachel and I blog over at College on Crutches. I have a chronic pain disorder called CRPS, so I’ve been on crutches for over 2 years. I am also an Anorexia survivor, and my relationship with my body has not always been great. I recently wrote a post about my change in perspective in regards to my body while dealing with my pain/crutches.

Mirror, Mirror…

When I look in the mirror, what do I see? Well, first I might casually notice the untimely blemish that has appeared on my face. Or maybe the way my stomach poofs out a bit, evidence of a meal that was just enjoyed. On some days, I see dark brown eyes gazing back at me in the glass. If it’s a bathroom mirror, I look like your average person. Putting my crutches aside, you wouldn’t know anything is wrong. But when I go into my room and see my reflection in my full-length mirror, that’s when it hits me.

“Oh. Yeah. That happened.”

There are some days when it hits harder than others. The days when I stop to look, rather than simply rushing to get ready. I see my compression stocking as fluid leaks through, a reminder that my foot is currently home to multiple ulcers and wounds. I see my calf, thinner than my arm from the muscle that has gone to waste. I see my foot, the size of a football, and wonder if perhaps that’s where the name of the sport came from. I see my lopsided hips, unbalanced from only using one leg. I see my weak muscles, my bent knee, my disfigured limb, and I am once again reminded that I am different.

But then…something changes. There’s a shift in focus as I push the damaged limb aside.

Getting over the reminders of my right leg, I take a glance over to the left one, standing tall. I see the bulging muscle in my calf, making up for the loss in the other leg. I see my thin, bony foot and I am reminded of the weight that it carries each day. I see my thigh, which certainly isn’t “skinny,” but it is built for the task that it is given. Simply looking at my left leg, I look strong. I feel strong. This leg is my saving grace; it is the part of my body that allows me to remain mobile on crutches. It is working double time to make sure I can do what I want.

I then look back up at my arms, ignoring my lower half altogether. I flex my biceps, thinking about the effort that is required of my arms each day. I think about the days when all I wanted was to be able to grasp my hand entirely around my upper arm, desperate to be thinner, searching for control. I ponder how useless they would be if that were the case today. My small, fragile arms would not have held up to the daily beating that they go through on crutches. No, instead, I have strong arms. Muscular arms, something I never wanted but never realized I’d need so badly. I think about my arms, and I am grateful. Who cares if they don’t look perfectly slim in pictures, or if they don’t fit delicately into my hand? They serve an important purpose, one that trumps any desires for the ideal body.

A few years ago, you couldn’t get me to even glance in the mirror without having a complete breakdown. I hated everything about my body, which, in turn, made my life miserable. I used to have an obsession with achieving a certain weight, specific measurement, or tiny clothing size. I thought that if I were smaller, things would be better. But now…well, that just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Now, I care about how well my body functions. I care about being strong, being capable of completing tasks. I care about using the pieces of my body that do work as much as I can.

When I look in the mirror, I do see the bad leg. I mean, it’s kind of hard to miss. I see the struggle that is still happening on the right side of my body, and it is a bit disheartening, I can’t lie. But more importantly, I see what I have overcome. I see the shift in perspective, in priorities. The bitter reminder of what has happened is softened by the strength of my two arms and one working leg. Instead of crying over that puffy stomach, I smile at the fact that I was able to eat without fear. Rather than hurting myself for having a larger thigh than I “should,” I give myself a high-five for allowing myself to have a muscular left leg.So what if I’m not a size zero? If my body works, then it’s a good day.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall. We might just become friends after all.

“My body is strong, it has endured and survived so much, it has forgiven me countless times. I am proud of it. I am proud of me.”

I went to a store yesterday. I tried on a size 10 skirt. It fitted perfectly. Guess what? It hasn’t changed my life. It hasn’t instilled unshattering confidence in me. So, that’s that theory blown out of the water. Back to the drawing board. I don’t want to drone on about my personal issues with body image – my own and everyone else’s – my teenage to early twenties eating disorders, my use of food as a replacement for experiencing actual life, etc., etc., for I would argue that rather than being among the minority I am, in fact, among the ever increasing majority; one of those who cannot pass a mirror without casting a highly critical, horror-inducing glance at the self, or, in actuality, what we merely perceive to be ourselves. The eye, as we know, plays logic defying tricks. I live in a country where, among young women anyway, a size 6/34 to 8/36 is the norm, a country where frail women are the desired object. And believe me, ‘object’ is the apt word. I am strong, I have muscle of the physical and intellectual kind and I like this. I like it a lot. No amount of social conditioning will beat this out of me. Perhaps I should be honest with myself and admit I am only at liberty to say this now as I am about to leave my adopted home…hopefully to one with a more well-rounded selection of bodies. Take that as a pun if you wish. It came to me some time ago that no matter how much I adore this country I cannot be a part of a culture and society which fetishises the thinner and paler among us. Every day I workout I think “fuck you! How can strength be seen as a weakness?” Patriarchal forces are stronger here than anywhere else I have ever lived, that is how. That is why. It is with a heavy heart but an enormous sigh of relief that I leave. I do realise that my body, this body, and all its attached emotional trauma is coming along for the ride, joining me on my next big adventure to a different continent. I find myself strangely glad however that this is the body I am taking with me. I wouldn’t swap it for anyone else’s. My body has been my shell, my shelter and friend for 39 years. I am only now beginning to see it as such. It has been victim to three overdoses, bulimia, anorexia, compulsive eating, alcohol dependency; laterally friend to a healthy eating program, daily exercise, meditation. What can I say, I don’t do things in small measures. My body is strong, it has endured and survived so much, it has forgiven me countless times. I am proud of it. I am proud of me. So, next time I go to a fitting room I will focus on the overall package, mind included, mind foremost! Regardless of dress size I will look in the mirror and fucking smile! After all, how we react to our bodies is performative. If media advertisements tell us success is being a size 8 and we believe it, then surely every day we can look in the mirror – or not look at all – but instead remind ourselves that the key to happiness (and happiness is success!) is a strong and independent mind, emotional intelligence and community with others. Repeat this every day and surely we can believe it. It sure as hell costs a lot less than a pair of tummy tuckers from M&S.

“I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body”

*Trigger warning for disordered eating*

It was at 17 that I finally realised I had been abusing my body. I was in my Geography class in sixth form, when suddenly I became very dizzy, grew very pale and felt incredibly nauseous. But there was nothing in my stomach for me to actually throw up.

Like any normal teenage girl, I was unhappy with my appearance and had been most of high school. I liked very little about myself. Despite being reasonably skinny, I never had washboard abs – a fact that I hated. At 5”10 I was freakishly tall, towering over most of my classmates, including the boys. I had massive feet, and despised my toes so I could never wear sandals. My skin would break out in spots that I couldn’t cover up with makeup. My boobs were about the size of ping-pong balls. My teeth were constantly in one brace or another. In fact, the only part of myself that I liked was my ginger hair, despite this being the thing I was most tormented about by my peers. I felt weirdly protective of my ginger hair; it was something I was never ashamed of.

However, it wasn’t until sixth form that I really started to criticise myself. One day I stepped onto my scales and the figure hit 9st 3lbs. I was mortified. I had spent most of my high school life floating about the 8st 7lbs mark, and yet somehow I had eaten enough food to put me over 9st. I tried to convince myself that was ok, that for my height 9st 3lbs was actually pretty good. I continued with my day-to-day life. But I started weighing myself more and more. Every week I would recalculate my BMI, to make sure I didn’t fall any nearer to the ‘normal weight’ section of the scale. I fooled myself into thinking I was naturally really skinny, so having a BMI of 18 (technically underweight) was healthy.

For me, it wasn’t a conscious decision to stop eating. I never stopped eating altogether; I had at least one meal a day. But I would often miss out breakfast, convincing myself I didn’t have enough time to eat on a morning, nor to prepare myself lunch. I’d manage, I’d be late for class otherwise. I would grab an apple and that would be my lunch. My evening meal would be enough at the end of the day.

I realise now that I was essentially starving myself, but at the time I didn’t see it as that. I never once thought “I’m fat” or “I need to lose weight”, at least not directly anyway. Yet at the back of my mind I had somehow convinced myself that I should be eating less food; it was definitely a type of anorexia.

My wake-up call moment was the low-point I hit in the middle of class. I had to leave the room, get some fresh air and I forced down a sandwich. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that simple ham sandwich did for me that day. From then on I swore that I’d never go down that road again, and from then on I had grown to love my body more and more.

Now, in my third year at university, I can finally proclaim: I am entirely happy with my body. Sure, I still have down days. But I now eat properly, exercise every now and again (more to keep myself fit than for appearance) and sometimes I even leave the house without makeup on, without having done my hair, but with all my confidence intact. I’m a happy 10st 3lb (with a healthy BMI of 20.5!) and I’ve never felt better.

I was lucky. I never suffered severely and caught my eating disorder before it turned into anything serious. I got myself through it. My appearance hasn’t really changed too much since I was 17, but my attitude towards myself certainly has. I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now, finally, and that has made me into a much more confident individual today.

“My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor.”

*Trigger warning for rape/sexual assault/self-harm/anorexia*

I’ve always been slightly proud of my body.

I’m gay, I have a very liberal attitude to sex and sexuality (I actually work in an erotic boutique!) and, while I’ve never thought my body was ideal, I know that I’m slim and I have nice boobs and a nice be-hind. I’m confident and comfortable in my own skin. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the only one I’ve got so I might as well love it.

I was sexually assaulted and then raped. My initial reaction was to not think about it. To bury it in the recesses of my mind and, essentially, run away, made sense.
I became anorexic and started self-harming. This was because these people, who had taken advantage of me, had so much control over me; even now, when I’ve not seen them for years, they control so much of my life.

I used to be bisexual – now I couldn’t consider having an intimate relationship with a man.

Sometimes, I’d be in a perfectly good mood, when BOOM, I’d start to cry, or to have a panic attack.

Starving or harming myself were forms of control: people who have hurt me controlled my sexuality, my emotions, whether I felt strong enough to out of bed in the morning. I had control over my weight and my physical pain.

I had all these scars over me, and I was dangerously thin. I hated my body. I looked in the mirror and loathed what I saw: a scrawny, scratched and scarred girl. Not the strong confident woman I knew and wanted to be.

Through counselling, support from friends, and learning to accept what happened to me, I got better. It took time and there were so many times I just wanted to give up, but I got better.

Through counselling, I learned not to put what happened behind me or to forget about it, but to confront it, accept it, and move on with it. I now see it as something which shaped me into the strong, confident, compassionate, caring person I am.
And that includes my body. I still use bio-oil to reduce the scars, and I’m no longer underweight, but I love my scars. My body tells a story; not a story of a victim but one about a survivor. Someone who was close to death, who cut herself and who punished her body and nearly gave up on everything and everyone, but didn’t.

My scars say: “remember that time, and be thankful for this time”. They say “you’re a strong, confident woman; you’re not that girl any more”. But most of all, they say “well done”.

“The most important thing that came from recovery was a newfound, unshakable, almost instinctive respect for my body. It never fails to amaze me just how strong my body can be, and how fine-tuned it is to my needs.”

*Trigger warning for self-harm/anorexia/bulimia*

This is a cliché, but it is difficult to know where to start when writing about my body. From existence? We talk about ‘bodies’ as if they are somehow separate others, yet what am I if not purely my body? Perhaps that scares me more than if my body and mind were separable. Growing up my body was me, always – I ran, or grew, or was damaged in a playground fall – yet at the beginning of the inevitable slide into puberty bodies become something else; untrustworthy objects that swell and act defiantly out of our control, things to be scrutinised and unwillingly accepted with time.

Since around about 2nd year, I increasingly saw my body as something I should use in some way to express myself – whether by trying to distort it to somehow show the ‘real me’ or (this came first) by using it as something which I could use for emotional release. I got into the habit on binge-eating after school to deal with stress and general teenage angst (and then grew increasingly horrified at the weight gain, which felt completely unconnected to my actions); later, when that didn’t help, I got a release from pocket scissors in the webbing of skin between my middle and ring fingers. I wore gloves to hide any marks, but eventually stopped after a mortifying moment when holding hands with a friend.
Every year, I made a secret New Year’s resolution to lose weight, and gain control over my body, and eventually, in 2009 I gained ‘control’ in the form of an eating disorder that effectively lasted for two years, and which still lingers in some ways. The mind-set of these things is incredible – the only way I can describe it is to compare it to an addiction where control, starvation and listening to the commands that eventually occur unprompted in your head are the drugs. The first six months are now a sort of blur of rules and numbers, and a thrill in feeling my body shrink that increasingly gave way to exhaustion, and the unwilling realisation that I, in fact, was no longer the one who had any control at all. Recovery was longer and slower than I ever expected it to be, and in many ways lasted longer than the disorder itself. But the process taught me so much. Calorie-counting is insane! A calorie is the measure of the energy required to heat 1 litre of water by 1 degree C. Thin doesn’t mean healthy, fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. If you listen, physically, bodies tell you what they (you) need. Scales are inaccurate and weight fluctuates by kilos. Most importantly, advertising is mad: for years I failed to see that women are beautiful when they are healthy and confident, not when they starve and pout. I still have difficulty doing this sometimes, but at least I can now see it’s a lie.

The most important thing that came from recovery was a newfound, unshakable, almost instinctive respect for my body. It never fails to amaze me just how strong my body can be, and how fine-tuned it is to my needs. When I starved, my metabolism slowed right down; my periods stopped to save energy; the hair or my arms and face grew longer and faster to keep me warmer; I craved food until I binged. Despite my best efforts it held on to every ounce it could, and kept going. That alone, and the disparity between how I felt and how I feel, have made me eternally grateful for my body – regardless of the occasional hatred of my body’s appearance or new weight – new hips, new boobs, the sour disappointment of ill-fitting clothes – I can’t help but love some small, deeper part of it simply for being alive and strong.

“Woman’s body has been territorialised and yet we are held accountable for the violence carried out on our bodies.”

*Trigger warning for sexual assault/rape/anorexia/bulimia/alcohol abuse*

I was a thin child, undistinguishable from the other lads: a tomboy. The only girl out of a group of 13 who lived in each other’s pockets. We did everything together. I was accepted. Until that is, in the words of Jarvis Cocker: I became “the first girl at school to get breasts”, to menstruate. At the age of ten my life changed completely. Three of these boys stripped me naked in our local park: they grabbed my genitalia and breasts; they pointed at me; they laughed at me. In short, they colonised my body. Their gaze followed me throughout high school. They owned my body in the most negative sense: I became anorexic; I became a compulsive eater; I became bulimic. When I left school I also left the country. Still, I could not escape their mockery.

In my twenties I was raped after passing out at a party. I woke up to find a relative stranger stabbing my body with his penis. I told my mother. She blamed me: “this would not have happened if you had not been so drunk. Had you been leading him on?”, she asked. I did not speak to my Mother for a year. I was disgusted with her. I learned to deal with my obsession with food by turning to alcohol instead. Alcohol provided obliteration and a (very) short term confidence boost. It was a means by which I could have sex with partners who refused to believe I could not have sex with them due to triggering affects such encounters had on my mind. Obviously being raped should not be traumatic enough to dull the desire for a sensitive lover such as you! Such is the mind of man under patriarchy.

After getting lucky with a great therapist and much hard work and facing up to reality on my part I am now learning to befriend my body. I no longer abuse alcohol. This has been the greatest step in being able to realise my self-worth. I do not need to obliterate my feelings any more because they are largely positive. I desire lucidity because I want to remember all my experiences to the full. Occasionally, I still find myself obsessing over food but, fuck it! Who doesn’t! If I want to eat Nutella from the jar I will and I won’t feel guilty about it. I do, however, make sure that I exercise and have plenty of fruit and veg in my diet. Not because I want to become a rake but because I want to be healthy (both mentally and physically) and live for a very long time.

I have forgiven my mum, I have forgiven those boys, I have forgiven my rapist. I know why the world is a mess. Capitalism and patriarchy endorse the commodification of women. Woman’s body has been territorialised and yet we are held accountable for the violence carried out on our bodies. I know this and my empowerment comes from taking steps with other amazing. analytical-minded people to change this. When I do think on these people it is with pity and the knowledge that I am strong, that nothing can defeat me. I would not have this without the community of women I hold so dear. As I cry writing this it is with pride and happiness.

– by rouge