Living In

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.

living in

Michelle Blog – donkey

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“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.

Loving my Image

I met the amazing Lynn Ruth after her show at the Edinburgh Fringe earlier this year. She is an absolute gem, and proof that it does not matter what age you are or what you’ve been through, you can still get up and achieve your dreams! She is an inspiration and we are very honoured to share her story with you. 

“There is nothing more rare, nor more beautiful,
Than a woman being unapologetically herself;
Comfortable in her perfect imperfection.”
Steve Maraboli Continue reading

“My relationship with my body is love/hate – mostly hate.”

TW for bulimia.

My relationship with my body is love/hate – mostly hate. I have a 1 year old little girl and she has COMPLETELY changed my body! Before I got pregnant I was pretty curvy but felt fine about myself. I did always want to look like they did in magazines but not enough to actually do something about it!

I was about 30-something weeks pregnant when I started getting stretch marks and I felt horrible. I felt fat, bloated and ugly! Then I gave birth by cesarean and have been left with a scar that makes my belly look weird and saggy. I was sick of feeling fat and ugly so I did something about the weight. I lost 2 and a half stone within 6-8 months. I felt great physically but mentally still ugly.

I follow hundreds of clean eating and body building pages on Instagram and I want to be like them but I am so mentally drained with being a single mum that I have no motivation. I weigh myself everyday and if I put on a few pound I sometimes make myself sick. It’s so stupid. Sometimes I look in the mirror and feel great and think, “well, I look pretty hot for a mum!”, but that’s soon wiped away and I look closely at my stretch marks and lifeless boobs and feel like a deflated balloon.

“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’m used to my body doing what I want it to do, without pain. I take that for granted so much.”

I’m Hannah, one of the creators of Project Naked (that sounds kind of grand, but I can’t think of a better word!) I’m so happy to see how many new followers the blog is getting recently, and hope to hear stories from some of you! Here’s some stuff I’ve been thinking about for the past couple of days.

I’m currently away on a three-month trip across the US and Canada, and I’ve been reflecting the past few days on what my body means to me.

I’m in Vancouver right now, the tenth stop on my travels. The morning I was leaving Seattle to come here, I tripped running for the bus and totally decked myself, two rucksacks and all, and bashed up one of my knees. Thankfully I think the rucksack on my front stopped me hitting my face and breaking my nose, because fuck going to a hospital in America. I limped onto the bus and managed to make it to my train on time, despite having to take a couple of breaks when I felt faint from the shock of the fall and the pain in my swollen knee.

Then I made it to Vancouver and tripped again, only slightly this time but I hit the kerb and took the skin off my other knee. While I sat snivelling at a bus stop, mopping the blood up with baby wipes, a man stopped and gave me a hug, which was nice and exactly what I needed right then.

The past few days hobbling around on my bashed up knees has made me appreciate my normally strong body and realise how I take it for granted.

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I’m used to my body doing what I want it to do, without pain. I take that for granted so much. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve walked extensively at my usual quick pace, and my strong, dumpy wee legs take me wherever I want to go. If I want to walk 15 miles taking a convoluted route from the Upper East Side in Manhattan to Park Slope in Brooklyn, I can and I did. I can sit, crouch, squat and lounge on whatever surface I like when I’m tired.

And now for the last few days I’ve been limping around in mild pain with every step, lowering myself into and out of chairs like I’m 8 months pregnant and having to keep an eye on how I’m sitting so I don’t crack open my scabby knee suddenly or hit it on things.

I’m not complaining. This is a minor and temporary impairment and I feel it getting better every day, although I’m still hobbling up stairs slowly and getting frustrated by how much more slowly I’m walking. But it reminds me how I just assume my body will do things for me. I take it for granted that every day I can get out of bed without pain, walk without pain, sit however I like. I don’t appreciate it at all.

Another thing my injured knees have done is make me less self-conscious about my hairy legs. Even though I haven’t shaved them in over two years, I’m still not crazy about getting them out for the general public. People stare at them and nudge each other – not constantly, but enough that I notice and feel uncomfortable sometimes. And inflamed with feminist rage which just casts a downer on my day because WHY DO THEY CARE? And I’m not being paranoid and just assuming people are noticing. They definitely are. My hair is thick and dark, more obvious than on many guys’ legs, and while I understand that it’s unusual to see on a woman I wish that people wouldn’t stare.

But for the first few days my knee was too raw not to go bare-legged. So I had to get my shorts out and limp around in them. And then when I saw people staring at my legs I just assumed they were staring at my banged-up knees wondering what happened (which is still not polite, folks). I didn’t care if people stared at my legs because it was just more comfortable to have them out.

Trying to feel fully comfortable with my body is something I still have to do. I generally do like my body a lot. I think it looks nice, despite its “imperfections” as far as the media is concerned. I hardly ever obsess over it, and when I find myself thinking bad thoughts about it I push them away, because they are always bullshit. And I’m learning to appreciate its strength and power more.

My body carries me through life and helps me do amazing things. In just the past two months, it’s taken me white water rafting, walked around almost a dozen cities, climbed 500 stairs from a Vancouver beach (with two sore knees), swum in a Vermont lake and in the Pacific Ocean, and eaten more mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups than is really advisable. My body can let me see the whole world.

– Hannah, 26

I’m starting to value myself for something other than my looks, and I’m actually kinda proud

To me, my personality consists of geekiness; which involves a serious penchant for comics, superheroes, films, books and video games. It also consists of my love of language, my inquisitiveness, my thirst for knowledge, my appreciation of art, photography, comedy, and theatre. My love of clothes and style, and my love of people and all their weird, delightful complexities.
And a whole bunch else which I’ll probably remember after I’ve typed this out.

Very little of what I think about when I think about ‘me’ has to do with my physical appearance.
Although, I love to do my hair, my make up, and choose outfits that look good to me.

Something that I noticed recently is that although when I think of ‘me’, most of what I think of relates to my characteristics and interests as apposed to my looks, it’s primarily my appearance that I think of when I think negatively about myself.

And that pisses me off.

Because I’ve been trained to be that way.

And I’m not a fan.

Advertising, television, films; so much tells me as a woman only to care about what I look like, not *who* I really am.

And quite frankly, fuck that.

Most mass media focuses on women in relation to their looks, their clothes,
and their sexuality. If you are not beautiful in the very narrow definition perpetuated by them, then you are not valued. I reject this notion wholeheartedly.

I used to be so shy, and still am. But I’m getting better at being confident. A lot of my shyness came from the fact that I didn’t feel worthy of people’s attention because I wasn’t beautiful enough.

But I’m getting better at ignoring that, and now, even though I still get scared about doing stuff because I’m shy, I just do it anyway. I pretend I’m confident, and not bothered by it. I’m slowly fooling myself into being more confident, and it’s a really good feeling.

I’m starting to value myself for something other than my looks, and I’m actually kinda proud.

In closing, if I can offer you one piece of advise, it would be to stop watching adverts, and buying the like of ‘heat’ magazine.
They are designed to make you hate yourself. And to fool you into thinking beauty can be achieved with the latest foundation or shampoo, when really your beauty comes from within you, and isn’t something that can be bought or sold.

Kate – 25