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

Learning to love our bodies

Bodies are funny things. Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with mine – this doesn’t just affect women! I grew up in a family of three girls. My good-looking mother modelled clothes for a local fashion store, and was known to say “you can never be too thin”. She often reminded us that she was only 6stone 10lbs (42.6kg) after having three babies. She ‘watched her weight’ (an interesting term, isn’t it?) throughout her life, and remained petite, though never as thin as she had been as a young mother. She smoked cigarettes (as all the trendy young women did after the Second World War), and died some years ago of a smoking-related cancer.

I was a much loved, ‘plump’ child – a mass of blond curls, chubby cheeks, legs, arms; mum called me her “sugar plum fairy”. Today people would describe me as ‘slim’. I wear size 8 to 10 clothes, but have a predictable tummy, thanks to giving birth to two good-sized, wonderful sons. I don’t like my body very much without any clothes on – lying down helps! – but I am healthy and, on the whole, grateful that I can still climb hills, make love, write books, and enjoy a glass of wine or good food with friends. I let my hair go grey when I was 60 last year – this was a big step after years of dyeing it. It is now cut very short, and I have some funky glasses that suit how I like to think about myself – a bit quirky, but also someone who wants to be taken seriously!

My challenge over the years ahead is going to be learning to love my body as bits start to go wrong, as they inevitably will. I have cataracts in my eyes, and these will get worse and require surgery. It sometimes takes me a while to remember a very ordinary name for something – so far, I can still do academic stuff quite well, thank goodness. I don’t sleep as well as I used to, and I get tired more quickly. I cannot have more than two glasses of wine without getting a hangover the next day. These are all tiny signs of decay – and things can only get worse. I have been to too many funerals already of friends of my age and slightly older. It’s all down-hill from now on, and that’s going to be my biggest challenge… Wish me luck!

Viv Cree

“Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.”

Trigger warning for emotional abuse and disordered eating

I remember clearly when I first became aware of my body and how I felt towards it; I was only 9 years old and I was in a taxi with a friend from school. It was summer so we were wearing those cycling shorts and t-shirts sets everyone used to wear, mine probably had dolphins on, and my friend pointed out that when we sat down my legs got fatter than hers. Of course I know now that when we sit down our legs squish out a little, it’s natural, but at such a young age and never even having looked at my body to criticise it and I was confused as to why she had pointed it out.

Of course, 9 years old is when your body starts to change, you hit puberty and you start to fill out. I was somewhat of an early developer but I was cripplingly shy and I recall being mortified at a party when I was 11 years old and a girl from my class poked me in the chest and shouted “Look at your boobs, look everyone!” and so, of course, everyone did look. My cheeks burnt and I wanted the ground to swallow me up; I was a very private little girl and having this attention drawn to me was horrific.

It’s little incidents like this that affected how I felt about myself; I was embarrassed and wanted to cover up so no-one else would point anything out. I wore baggy jeans and avoided any kind of tight clothes, probably up until I was 16 years of age. I got away with wearing hoodies because I was ‘alternative’ and ‘individual’ so no-one ever questioned it. I didn’t think about it so much at the time and it is only looking back that I am aware of what I was doing. I was ashamed of my body and the less anyone saw it, the less they could judge me.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt this way about my body; my mother fed us a healthy diet, she never talked about her weight or going on a diet and I don’t remember ever even noticing how other people looked. Even growing up as a teenager I didn’t look at celebrities and wish I could be like them. I used to complain a little about my wobbly belly but I never compared myself to anyone else; this was my own demon and not because of how anyone else looked. I can only imagine because I was so shy I was scared to be looked at, I didn’t want any eyes on me and if I had boobs or hips then people would look.

It was only as I grew into my late teens and early twenties that I really began to put pressure on myself to change the way I looked. I have to say I don’t even think it had anything to do with how I looked, it was just the only sense of control I thought I had. From the age of sixteen upwards I have been through a lot bad things, things I wasn’t mature or experienced enough to deal with (what sixteen year old is?) and by concentrating on my looks I could distract myself from everything going on around me.

By concentrating on my looks I wasn’t wearing nice clothes or styling my hair, I was wearing a lot of makeup to cover my face and trying as hard as I could to stay slim. When I was eighteen I got into my first serious relationship. I had a boyfriend for a year before and he wasn’t particularly nice to me, he left me with a lot of self confidence issues. I can’t say my next relationship left me in any better shape, in fact it left me a lot worse. I was with my ex-fiance for five years and during that time my weight fluctuated a lot. I went from 8 stone to over 11.7 stone, which is horrendous for my tiny 5’3” frame. I was so terribly insecure and I used to put myself down a lot. When your partner put themselves down it is your job to build them back up again, to tell them you love them and why; because they are beautiful. It wasn’t like that at all, for me. I remember one Boxing Day night when we were supposed to be going to a party; I was upset because I couldn’t find anything to fit me and I thought I looked like a whale in everything I tried on. I was having a difficult time in University and me and my best friend at the time had just fallen out. I was clearly putting a lot of my issues onto how I felt about my weight and when I couldn’t decide what I looked the least awful in, my partner got angry and told me how disgusting and fat I was, that he didn’t know why he wanted to be with me. He went to the party and left me at home, sobbing in bed. I was so incredibly low and I hated myself so much, I wanted to hide away and never be found.

It was about six months later when I started to work full time in my job that I started to lose weight. It was natural at first because I was doing a lot more physical work; I was no longer sitting in lectures drinking hot chocolate and eating a Galaxy Caramel but I was lugging heavy boxes around and everyday I was rushed off my feet. Once I had lost half a stone I decided that I really wanted to go for it, I was sick of feeling disgusting and crying when I saw a photograph of myself, I wanted to fix it while I was still young and could enjoy being slim. Over the next year I gradually lost weight, from sticking to a high protein diet, lost 3 stone and for a while I was happy with the results.

This changed, however, when my relationship turned sour (or more sour than it already was!) My partner had been caught sneaking around with another girl behind my back a fair few times, I know I should have left right away but I was living with him now and it wasn’t so easy to just drop everything and start a new life. Eventually, though, I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t spend my life with someone I couldn’t trust, someone who repeatedly hurt me and looking back was emotionally abusive.

The next few years weren’t particularly good, either. I thought I was having a good year last year until that went wrong too. I had another breakdown in a relationship, I was stressed at work and I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed; I had hit rock bottom. I sat at home for a god few months crying on the couch, thinking about how much I despised myself. How it was my fault that everything had gone wrong and I didn’t deserved to be loved, that I was unlovable anyway. In my last relationship I was incredibly insecure, probably down to the fact that my previous one was so abusive. It was another unhealthy relationship and I never felt my needs were being met but being so emotionally insecure and vulnerable I clung on for as long as I could, which I regret massively. I always felt like I was the unattractive one in the relationship, that I was ‘punching about my weight’ and that soon he would realise it, he would see that he could do better. I had stomach problems for a long time and I couldn’t eat without getting crippling indigestion, this was down to stress. Work became increasingly difficult and the stress and depression got worse, which caused me to drop a lot of weight. When I was signed off work I was so terribly hard on myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put the weight back on because I was ugly enough as it was; I couldn’t be ugly and fat. I genuinely couldn’t eat due to a combination of heart break, anxiety, stress and my terrible depression. I got so ill that all I could do was lie down, even eating became difficult and I couldn’t hold any food down if I even managed to swallow it. I should have been worried but I wasn’t, you know what I thought? I thought ‘maybe I can lose a bit more weight’ which I know now is a horrific idea. I was skin and bones as it was, I just didn’t care. I didn’t feel like my body was good enough; my ex was an avid gym go-er for his work and I simply didn’t have the time, money or energy to get a gym membership. I can’t say it was his fault but I did always think he wanted me to be a bit more active, a bit more like him. He wanted me to get involved in sports and activities when I didn’t want to and I thought this reflected on me and made me look lazy. I felt like he wanted me to be something I’m not, he wanted me to be athletic and as into working out as much as him. There was never a moment in that relationship when I didn’t feel inadequate.

I can’t tell you how I managed to change how I think about myself; I think one day it just clicked. I decided that I didn’t want to hate myself anymore; I wanted to accept my body as it is and show off everything about it that I love.

I got into a new relationship and my boyfriend is more than wonderful. He is so supportive; he tells me how much he loves me and how much he loves my body. Slowly but surely he’s built my confidence back up to the point where I can look at myself and think ‘Yes, my bum is great!’ In the past I have never been comfortable being naked around a boyfriend, I’ve always felt unattractive. Now, however, I’m happy to strut around my bedroom naked, all my jiggly bits on show and wobbling as I go. I have a confidence that I have never in my life had and I love my boyfriend so much for giving that to me. He doesn’t judge me, he loves me. His words when I said I hate my boobs, I just can’t bear them and I don’t think I ever will be able to, he said “I’ll love them for you, then.” I instantly melted, no-one has ever said anything like that to me and the best thing about it was I could tell he meant it. With him I feel like a goddess and that isn’t an exaggeration. I know how attracted to me he is, he tells me regularly and nothing will boost your confidence than knowing the person you are most attracted to feels the same about you.

I try to blog frequently about positive body image and about my journey to loving myself. I would hate to think that one day I will have children and I would pass my body issues onto them so I am determined to figure mine out. I still have the odd morning where I’ll look in the mirror and think “Your belly is poking out far too much.” But it is just a fleeting thought, I follow it up with “But look at those legs… look at your bum.” Because I deserve to love myself, as everyone deserves to love themselves.

It has been a long seventeen years since I was that nine year old in the back of the taxi being introduced to body image and questioning why my thighs were bigger than my friends. I have had so many low points when I have wanted to stay inside so no one could see me but not anymore. Now I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, I can see a future where I fully embrace myself and I champion my flaws. My big hips? My soft, rounded belly? They’re womanly and I am a grown woman, it’s how I’m supposed to look. I gained back around half a stone and shockingly, I feel better than ever. My boobs have gotten bigger and my bum has filled out. My face doesn’t look gaunt anymore, I always hated that, and I don’t bump my hip bones into things constantly. Would you believe that it’s actually painful to lie down when you’re so skinny? My bones used to poke into the mattress, not something I enjoyed.

I’ve been to both ends of the spectrum, overweight and underweight and I didn’t enjoy either one of them. I’m not supposed to be large, nor am I meant to be skinny. I am meant to be me, as I am now. I am a healthy weight, I fit into my clothes and best of all I’m happy; I smile constantly because this feeling of loving myself? It’s great and it’s not something I plan on giving up any time soon!

Author of the blog Back To Me check it out!

“I wear what the devil I like, and I don’t care if it’s ‘flattering’.”

“I wear the clothes, they don’t wear me”. My newest & most intimate mantra, and I’ll tell you why.

Like many of you reading this, I’ve had numerous battles with the body confidence demons, since childhood. As a kid I was constantly exposed to females striving to be thin. And I was a pretty fat kid. I’m now a pretty fat adult, but we’ll get to that later.

For my 6th birthday party, I wanted to wear a bridesmaid dress that I’d worn, as a bridesmaid, the previous year. Of course, I’d grown since then, but on the day of my party, when that zipper had to be forced up, I felt horrible about myself. I had an awful time at my party, told my friends that I hated them, and cried the whole time.

That experience was something that stuck with me my entire life. So, fast forward to now, and aside from desperately wanting to give my six-year-old self a hug, and to tell her she is pretty, and maybe buy her a new dress….what’s changed?

Well, social media means we get to interact with a whole bunch of people, at the speed of light. The information super highway gives us access to so many good and positive things, and that’s where the Body Positive revolution steps in.

I’ve taken on board a new way of thinking. Through body confidence networking, fashion bloggers and talking to like-minded people, I have obliterated any body shaming I might once have done, and my confidence has never been healthier.

I am no longer thinking like a fat girl who should obey Fat Girl Fashion Rules. I wear what the devil I like, and I don’t care if it’s “flattering”. To me, flattery implies that we are slowly edging towards some BS ideal of what it’s acceptable to look like, and that doesn’t sit right with me at all.

So since getting my head around that, I don’t care what others may or may not think of me. I don’t waste time second guessing other people’s first impressions of me. I am a shameless selfie whore, I’m body positive, I don’t body-shame other people, and I don’t stress about size labels anymore. I’m happy wearing short things, tight fitting things, sheer things, revealing things. Hence, I wear the clothes, they sure as hell don’t wear me.

Hayley, size 18 & completely not bothered.

@dirtyhayley

“My lovely, ridiculous body.”

I could tell you all about the day I realized I was fat. I went home, locked myself in the toilet, wept. I could tell you that I kept that up for about three days a week, for about seven years. I could tell you all about the blowjobs I didn’t want to give, to boys who were happy to let me suck them off but wouldn’t touch me in return.

I had never had anyone touch me sexually until I was nineteen. I had, however, given, oh, probably thirty blowjobs?

The boy who said the thought of me naked made him felt sick. The many, many times my mum dragged me to the gym. The way that, to this day, I eat sugary food in private and cry afterwards.

But then, when I was 21, I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus. A rare autoimmune disease that attacks the vulval skin, until it lacerates and comes off. It can stop normal intercourse, can make the clitoris scar over and disappear, and it has no cure.

I may well take steroids for it for the rest of my life.

But!! It has changed me. It has helped me. It has made me love my body, love what it can do, love its well parts, the way they work.

Lichen Sclerosus is an illness that responds to stress, to psychological duress. And so – I think, I caused it, by hating this lovely, lovely body.

Steroids make me fatter. They make my face swell up. I don’t like that.

I do like the fact that when this illness is under control, I am blessed with a functioning cunt again.

I do like:
*learning mindfulness
*properly negotiating sex using words – finding partners for whom my condition is not a difficulty.
*lovely long masturbation sessions
*walking with my strong legs.
*dancing with this lovely, faulty, imperfect, friendly body.

Loving your body is a hard thing. It exists as the physical token of all that you are, and that is hard – we all want to be the best, shiniest token, when in fact most people are looking at our personality.

So, there are days when I am in so much pain I can’t walk. Or days when steroids give me bad Cushings syndrome. Crying days, lonely-till-I-die days, why am I still not thin enough days.

But mainly? There are thank heavens for my body days. My lovely, ridiculous body, capable of giving – and now I am older, receiving – so much pleasure.

Anonymous woman -age unknown

“The Perfect Woman.”

I know that, as a girl, I am judged every day for how I look and what I’m wearing. I am compared to my mother, my friends, models in magazines and people’s own ideas of how I should look. I am compared to this “Perfect Woman”, who is the patriarchal ideal of what a woman is meant to be.

The Perfect Woman is something everyone feels differently about. The media’s best efforts to brainwash us into worshipping a white, slim, able-bodied image of perfection have been mostly successful but we still have slightly different opinions about who and what is beautiful.
These ideas of perfection are so often very different, if not opposite, to how we really look and feel about ourselves, yet we feel obliged to try and make ourselves more like the Perfect Woman. This is a problem because in our patriarchal society, a women’s appearance and beauty are some of her most valued traits. Whether we want it to be or not it is ingrained in our society, in our minds and the people around us.

My picture of the perfect woman is different from the way I look. Not opposite but far enough away that I know I will never look that way. I will always be subpar, inadequate, not quite good enough. But I know I am not alone. I have never met and I do not think there exists a single person on this earth that is even nearly happy with the way they look. In fact, in my experience, the people who are perceived as most beautiful have the most negative views about themselves. The most beautiful girl I know doesn’t even think she is pretty, let alone beautiful.

The perfect woman is a shadow in the front of our minds. A niggling voice saying we will never measure up. Telling us we aren’t beautiful, we aren’t desirable, we aren’t wanted.

BUT

I don’t like that voice and I don’t think you do either. Why should we measure and compare ourselves to this ideal, this figment of imagination when we are real. We all have flaws and we are all different so why try and change that? Why not celebrate our differences? I ask you to see your differences and embrace them. Embrace yourselves and embrace the differences of others around you because perfection is not real.

Guest post by @lilinaz_evans whose blog can be found here.

“The thing I find very hard within the Intersex/DSD community is that there is no acceptance of their own bodies … The reason for that is pressure from medicine, society and people.”

One thing I have noticed as an Intersex/DSD person and a nudist, is that when you accept your body for what it is, you come to terms with all the flaws and imperfections that come with being born with an Intersex/DSD condition and being a nudist. I have learned that no amount of surgery in the world would ever make me happy for who I am and what I am. Which is why as an Intersex/DSD person and a nudist, I am happy with the body I am born with. I’m comfortable in my own skin and even not ashamed of all the flaws and imperfections that I am born with.

The thing I find very hard within the Intersex/DSD community is that there is no acceptance of their own bodies. Intersex/DSD people are not accepting themselves for who they are. They’re not comfortable in their own skin and their own genitals. The reason for that is pressure from medicine, society and people. It’s pressure from the medical community to hide and deny Intersex and DSD people their bodies and existence. There’s pressure from society into pigeon holing Intersex and DSD people into the biological Male and Female gender. Even the Trans community has even put pressure and tried to push Intersex and DSD people into gender/genital surgery. Which is why Intersex people have such a hard time in accepting their Intersex bodies. There is no one out there to tell Intersex/DSD people that it’s okay to be born with an Intersex/DSD body and to be happy with what you have.

Which is why for me for me, as an Intersex/DSD person and a nudist, I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I’m happy with what I have including all the flaws such as micropenis, ambiguous genitals, and small breast growth. I’m comfortable with the fact I look years younger than my age. Why I am comfortable in my own skin, is that nudism’s philosophy is all about body acceptance. It’s learning to accept your body for what it is and learning to deal with what you have. Nudism has shown that no body is perfect and it’s okay to have flaws and imperfections. Even being born with an Intersex/DSD body is perfectly okay and natural. Nudism is a way to say, I am happy with my body as it is. I’m comfortable with who I am and all the flaws and imperfections that I am born with.

It’s why, if Intersex/DSD people give nudism a chance, they can see that there is nothing wrong with their bodies and everyone is born with imperfections and flaws. Nudism even shows that you don’t need surgery to be happy with who you are. You just have to be comfortable with your own skin and learn to deal with what you’re naturally born with. For me, I’m not ashamed of my Intersex/DSD body. I’m comfortable with my Intersex/DSD body and no surgery in the world would make me happy – nudism has made me happy with my body and accepting of my intersex/DSD body for what it is.

It’s why I advocate that Intersex/DSD people learn about body acceptance and learn to accept their Intersex body for what it is. You don’t need those artificial acceptance, that medicine, society and people pressure Intersex/DSD people. They just need to learn to accept themselves and accept their body that they’re born with. Even learn to be comfortable with the skin they’re born with. Which is why I am one of the few Intersex/DSD people who are also a nudist and have been a nudist for a long time.

reposted with permission from Nicky’s World