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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“I want to leave the house in the morning with nothing on my face but a smile and still feel as confident as if I had spent that 45mins on make-up when I was 15.”

I have been trying to think of how I feel about my naked body and I can come up with nothing new or interesting. I haven’t always had body confidence but this isn’t something I struggle with. But there is one part of my body I still can’t bring myself to strip off completely – my face.

At 12 years old my friend and I were absolutely fascinated with our French teacher. She was gorgeous and had perfected the art of liquid liner with a lash like flick to accentuate her eyes. She said it just took a steady hand, and after years of practice this is something I have become expert at. I am now something of an amateur make-up artist. I know the best ways to apply mascara, tricks with illuminator, and the smokey eye look. All this knowledge I have acquired by wearing make-up every day since I first tried to copy my French teacher with the only exceptions being bed-ridden sick days. But it has only been recently that I have discovered an art it will take another few years to perfect – the art of feeling good bare-faced.

Each morning I had a routine; shower, shave, wash hair, dry hair, straighten hair, get dressed, clean skin, put on foundation, put on powder, put on blush, apply eye-shadow, mascara, pencil eye-liner, liquid eye-liner, apply more mascara. I used to envy those who could get away with minimal make-up and still look flawless (although now I suspect they were actually wearing even more make-up – I didn’t much like wearing glasses). I would try to just put on my eye make-up, trying to convince myself I looked ok without foundation. But then the light would change and I saw the massive dark circles under my eyes and caved in. I once went to a counter at Boots and asked one of the assistants what I could do about those dark circles (at the age of 20). The woman just looked at me and told me there was nothing I could do about them, I had them because the skin under your eyes is thinner than the rest of your face – it is not some flaw of your complexion, it’s how your face is meant to look!

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to question why I thought I couldn’t leave the house without make-up on. What was I so scared of? So I gave it a try. I spent the day trying to fend off comments about how “tired” I was looking. So, of course, I shovelled the stuff back on the next day. The sad fact is your night’s sleep isn’t all that is questioned; women who choose to go bare-faced have their sexuality questioned – she must be a prude or a lesbian. We are led to believe that our ability to form relationships with men will be hindered because they won’t find us attractive. Female MPs feel they can’t be accepted within their profession until they look more “feminine” and a woman’s mental health is even questioned when her appearance starts to slip. It isn’t just a “pressure” that we experience when we get ready in the morning, it is a lack of reasonable alternatives.

Some women claim that make-up can make them feel empowered but where does this empowerment come from? Empowerment from a successful attempt at trying to conform to a narrow and impossible beauty ideal is not empowerment. I want to leave the house in the morning with nothing on my face but a smile and still feel as confident as if I had spent that 45mins on make-up when I was 15. And, slowly but surely, bit by bit, I am. I am starting to believe I am beautiful in the nude.

by fatalfemmenism

“I have concerns that I will be left feeling un-womanly but the far greater chance is that I will just be left with smaller breasts, still wearing a padded bra and (hopefully) much more confidence.”

Like anybody, I have my insecurities. Neurotically speaking, out of the top ten things that I worry about or that annoy me, about 7 or 8 out of ten are related to my body. (The exceptions are failing my degree or family problems). From sweating too much, to the point where I am the only person who I know with clammy fingertips, or having a little too much hair everywhere (emphasis on ev-er-y-where) and worrying about the fact if I were to go get my first professional wax, I’d be laughed out of the room. Include into this my anxiety that I’m not skinny enough and the general angst-y rubbish which clouds my thinking as I head out of my teens and into my twenties. But mainly, I have enough good humour to accept them as just an unfortunate combination and that most people have much worse.

I’m still a virgin. Partly through choice and partly through utter fear. Since being at university, I’ve had two relationships. Both of which were short-lived and riddled with doubt about the best way to act or what new sexual experience I’m about to have, and, partly, a lack of confidence in my body. The reason is as follows:

I have to make a decision in the coming months about my body and it will be with me for the rest of my life, as the ‘problem’ has been since I started puberty. As much as I can cope with bleaching my top lip and occasionally using stronger deodorant (even on my fingertips) and home waxes – until I become eventually brave enough to finally take a visit – the size and asymmetry of my breasts is number one on my angst list. (Sometimes replaced by the shade of my slight lady-lip moustache that I’m currently rocking and whether it’s noticeable to people who aren’t as aware of it as myself).

Since the age of 13, I have been seeing a specialist about the asymmetry of my breasts in their development. The memory of medical photographs at the age of 14, one of which carefully captures a bead of nervous sweat running from my armpit down and around the curve of my non-existent breasts, still stings. Although my breasts have developed seven years on from this, my breasts themselves haven’t grown much. As a size 12 to 14, I wear a 36A-B bra, where one of the cups is amply filled and the other is more of an AA-cup and disguised by my choice of slightly padded bra.

I’ve chosen to wait until my early 20s to ensure that my breasts are properly developed and that one is not just a ‘slow grower’. Unfortunately, it seems not to be the case. And in three months’ time I have potentially my final discussion with the NHS consultant plastic surgeon. I am not normally at a loss for words to say, but when it comes to this decision I am. My breasts are small but well-formed; I have very good nipples; however, as my breasts are so small the half a size cup difference is quite noticeable. If my breasts were to be slightly larger then the difference would not bother me so much and the thought of wearing a thin non-padded bra and occasionally allowing a cheeky hint of nipple to rise underneath my top is something that I would like to do – though it wouldn’t be a regular occurrence but is something that I would currently never dream of doing. It would leave me too vulnerable.

The options available to me are the following: an implant in the smaller breast, two implants to ensure that the shaping of both breasts is similar as my body ages over time, a breast reduction on the slightly larger breast (either in the traditional form or potentially by using a liposuction technique) or to not have surgery at all. I do not want miniscule breasts but more than that, I do not want something alien inside my body. I feel as though I want the next sentence to begin with “Unfortunately, both of my breasts will be smaller as I have a reduction on the slightly larger one…” but the honest truth is that, after feeling so uncomfortable, I’m not too sure whether it will be unfortunate. I have concerns that I will be left feeling un-womanly but the far greater chance is that I will just be left with smaller breasts, still wearing a padded bra and (hopefully) much more confidence. And always the potential to finally let my permanent nip-on be welcomed to the world via a non-padded bra.

The chances are that as I’ve been in the NHS system for so long and have considered my decision for so long that there would be follow-up care and any ‘damaging’ psychological effects could potentially be solved by another breast operation; an enlargement. Though I really think it won’t be necessary. Strangely, writing this has shown me that the confidence I lack can be solved by a bit of effort to keep in shape, do my hair and a wee bit of make-up. The fear of taking my bra off and having sex (I considered writing “intimate relations” then, apologies) is not from my breasts alone, but they remain a contributory factor. I was not brought up in a prudish family and was taught to respect myself and my body. The idea is that so long as I am comfortable with my decisions and how I act (and I don’t cause harm to others), then it’s fine. Partly, the longer I wait, the more that I want it to be with someone that I trust and feel comfortable with. It isn’t a decision which is rooted in romantic ideals of being in love but it still means something to me. Frankly, the ‘issue’ with my breasts has been something that I hide behind and occasionally excuse laziness or gluttony by. The “well, it won’t change things anyway” attitude which really has not helped me so far. With a summer ahead of me (and after just emailing my consultant as I am finishing this piece), it’s made me realise that the time is now. I’ll still wait a year until I’ve finished university until I have the operation by which time I will be 22. But the decision has been finally made and the plans can finally be set in motion. Just the fact that I have made my decision makes me more confident and really, that’s all that matters when anyone has to very personally think about their insecurities and their bodies.

by an anonymous woman in her early twenties