Spoken Word – posted with permission – by Agnes Török
“I came over here to clarify, that this is my body…”
Please check out her website Agnes Torok to check out more of her work and what she does!
Spoken Word – posted with permission – by Agnes Török
“I came over here to clarify, that this is my body…”
Please check out her website Agnes Torok to check out more of her work and what she does!
Trigger warning for rape and attempted rape.
When I was not quite nineteen, in the summer of 2007, I went to visit a friend of mine who was working as an au pair in a small town just outside Barcelona. The town was picturesque and charming and the weather was sweltering. Barcelona was a short train ride away and I remember the city being hot and beautiful and full. I remember wandering in Parc Guell marvelling at the mosaics and the musicians. I remember asking for a lighter from someone in Spanish and being pleased at putting my limited skills with that language to use. But mostly I remember the hot weekend night when we went to meet some people my friend knew in a bar.
Her friends were nice, and they welcomed me. One of them – his name was Rafa – was particularly friendly. I can’t really call his face to mind now. He is a vague impression of sandy hair and pale skin for a Spanish man. I remember that he was in his late twenties, and astonished and impressed to hear that, at eighteen, I lived away from home. I thought that was odd at the time, because it was a common age to leave home in Scotland – and after all, I lived in uni halls paid for by my parents, which is hardly making it on your own! He seemed like a nice guy, but I didn’t fancy him.
We went on to a club. I don’t remember what it was called or where it was, but I remember it was hot inside. There was no smoking ban in Spain at the time, but I wanted to go out for a cigarette to cool down. Rafa came with me. We sat chatting in a doorway outside the club, and I chain-smoked because I get awkward talking to strangers. At some point, he kissed me. And even though I didn’t fancy him, I kissed him back. Because I was eighteen, and I was lonely, and he was interested.
My friend came out of the club some time later with a friend of Rafa’s. She wanted to go home with him, and seeing me with Rafa assumed that we would be going off together. She didn’t ask, and I didn’t say otherwise. We all got the train together, and she got off at a different stop with her boy. I went with Rafa.
I thought we would go back to his flat. I needed to pee, and I wanted a drink of water. I thought we’d go back to his flat, there’d probably be more kissing, and I could stop it when I wanted to. Most of all – I thought we’d go back to his flat.
He said he wanted to move his car. I thought that was weird, since we were going back to his, but assumed it was to do with local parking restrictions. He had been drinking, but I wouldn’t have said he was drunk. I don’t drink alcohol and hadn’t taken any drugs that night, so I was sober.
It was only when he parked the car in an outdoor car park that I realised we weren’t going to a flat at all. At twenty-seven, he lived with his parents. I later learned that was more common in Spain than in Scotland, and that was why he was surprised I moved out at eighteen. We weren’t going home, we were going to have sex here, in the car, in this car park. I wasn’t in a flat, where I could get a glass of water and relax. I was in a car in a foreign city with a man who expected me to have sex with him, and it didn’t feel like there was anything I could do to get out of it. I didn’t know where I was, didn’t have a working phone, and I didn’t know how to say no.
And so I did it. I did what was expected of me in the back seat of that car, and I didn’t try to stop it. I don’t remember participating very much, and I remember just hoping it would be over soon. Afterwards, he tried to talk to me about my life, about who I was as a person. I didn’t want to tell him anything. I didn’t want him to know me.
A while later, he started having sex with me again. This time, he wasn’t wearing a condom. I remember he said, already inside me, “Is it ok if we do it without a condom?” Nervous and young and wanting it all to stop, I said, “Probably not.” He didn’t stop, and he came inside me.
We went to meet my friend and his. They had also had sex in a car, because he also lived with his parents, but she had wanted it and enjoyed it. I just wanted to go home. By this stage it was daylight and the sun was hot again, and I still needed to pee and to have a drink of water. I don’t remember how we got back into town, but eventually it was just me and my friend again. We went to MacDonalds so I could go to the toilet, and we got the train home. I sat on the train in my stocking feet and my purple dress, carrying the corset I’d been wearing under it, and all I wanted was to go home and shower. I remember thinking, “This is what people mean when they say they feel dirty.” I wanted to wash him right off me. My friend was talking about her night with the other guy, so happy and excited, and I just wanted it all not to have happened. I don’t remember what I said to her.
When we got home, I sat under the shower for a long time and I didn’t feel clean.
This is a very common story. Many women have the same story to tell. For a long time I didn’t place any blame on him. I didn’t think that he had raped me, even though it felt so much like he had. I had been stupid, I had gone with him, I had let him. Some people reading this might see it in those terms. A part of me still does. But he was eight years older than me, I was by myself in a city I had never been to before, and he fucked me without a condom without my consent. I never said no – except my “probably not” to his laughably belated question about the condom; a question whose answer didn’t matter to him – but I certainly never said yes. I felt backed into a corner, and while I still don’t believe that he orchestrated that deliberately, I feel like he should have been aware of my discomfort and lack of participation.
I was lucky – this experience never affected the way I felt about sex or relationships. It never made me trust men less, or made sex difficult for me. It is an experience whose negativity is, for me, attached solely to him. I would never like to see that man again, but in a strange way, it made me feel that my body was more my own than it had been before. That I wouldn’t let another man inside it unless I wanted him there.
A while later, I was in Amsterdam with a different friend, staying in a hostel. In our dorm, late one night when people were sleeping, I was smoking a joint with a Norwegian guy who was in the same room. He started massaging my shoulders, and we kissed for a while. These things were nice, and made all the nicer by the high-quality weed. Then he started trying to have sex with me without a condom. I was up for having sex with him, but not unprotected sex. First I asked him to get a condom, then I insisted. I clamped my legs together and wriggled around, and he kept trying to put his dick inside me. I kept saying no, not without a condom.
Eventually, the guy sleeping in the bunk above his spoke up and said, “Hey dude, if she doesn’t want to fuck you then let her go, and you – if you don’t want to fuck him then get up and walk away.” That last bit might sound like victim-blaming, but in that moment it gave me clarity. I had been trying to ask him, thinking he’d be reasonable like all the other men I’d asked to wear condoms during consensual sex, and somehow it had never occurred to me, frozen in that moment of trying to stop him, to just get up and walk away. So I did. I went back to my own bed, and I didn’t feel violated. If anything I felt proud of myself that I hadn’t let this man do what Rafa had done; I felt empowered. And embarrassed that half the dorm had probably heard.
The next day I saw the man from the bunk above downstairs. I approached him, embarrassed, to apologise about the disturbance the night before and he just said there was no need and asked if I was ok. I was still mortified and just mumbled that I was fine and thanked him and ran away. I’m grateful to that man. Not only because him speaking up helped me in that moment, but because he reminds me that the world is also full of good men.
Most of the women I know have stories that resemble these. Many have stories which are much worse. These are mine, and I want to share them because they are part of the story of my body. They are part of the story of so many women’s bodies. These stories are part of a web of violations, big and small. I want to share them because they are a part of what shaped my relationship with my body, but also because I think my own very ordinary experiences – and don’t underestimate how ordinary they are – illustrate how important real consent is. How important it is that all the people involved in a sexual encounter are comfortable. Sex isn’t something that should happen to you, it’s something you should participate in joyfully. We need to remember to be aware of the person – or people – we’re fucking, and their enjoyment. We need to listen and watch and pay attention. In my stories – and in many stories – this is violence imposed on women by men, but everyone of all genders should be aware of the importance of consent.
Someone doesn’t have to say no or push you away to show they’re not enjoying themselves. Someone shouldn’t have to scream and shout or physically defend themselves to make their discomfort clear to you. We are all responsible for checking in with our sexual partners and being sure they’re having a good time. None of us should be Rafa.
– by an anonymous woman, 25
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.
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.
I never realised the extent to which men claim ownership over women’s bodies in everyday life until I worked in a nightclub. The club I work in is young and trendy clientele for the most part – not so much the rowdy rugby and stag do side of things, more students and young people of similar ages – and generally overtly sexual touching isn’t a problem. I’ve probably only been actually “groped” once or twice in the six months I’ve worked there. But I’ve been flashed (once), called a “dyke” for intervening when a customer wouldn’t stop harassing a staff member for her phone number, and lost count of the number of times men have stopped me by grabbing my arm or standing in my way, or “guided” me through basically empty spaces with hands that are just, almost, not quite on my bum.
For me, the “compliments” are often the most uncomfortable part. Don’t get me wrong, I can take a compliment. When a young guy comes up to the cloakroom, pupils big with ecstasy, and says, “You’re beautiful”, or, “You look nice tonight”, or even, sometimes, “I love you”, I don’t mind. It can even be quite lovely. They just wanted to say a nice thing, and they expressed it respectfully, or at least through a joyful haze of drugs that I can understand. But the guy who grabs you by the arm, stopping you from passing him, to tell you that you have “a cracking body”, or “a great arse”, or “really nice tits” – I hate that guy. I don’t know how to answer that guy. Usually I say thank you, the words dripping with anything but their usual meaning. The way I feel about my body isn’t contingent on how a random man in a nightclub feels about it. I don’t feel any more or less beautiful when someone talks to me that way. What I do feel is uncomfortable, dirty, and guilty. I probably shouldn’t be wearing that top, or such tight trousers. On some level I can’t help but feel like I’ve done something to make them think it’s ok, “led them on” by smiling or by just being there in front of them. It doesn’t make me dislike the way my body looks, but it can make me feel ashamed of the reaction it’s elicited.
There are numerous respectful ways to pay someone a compliment. If you want to try and flirt with a bartender while she’s at work, the chances are she’s not interested – trust me. She’s busy, she’s sober, and there’s a good chance she’s trying to figure out how to politely end the conversation because she has shit to do. But complimenting her tits isn’t going to help your case. You’re creeping her out. Tell her you like her outfit, or her hair; strike up a conversation about the band on her t-shirt; ask her if she likes her job, and listen. Basically anything except drawing attention to the fact you’re staring at her body and wondering what she looks like naked. This doesn’t just apply to flirting with bartenders, obviously.
The club I work at is underground (as in physically so, not culturally) and on a busy night it’s fucking boiling. Usually I’m wearing a cropped top or something slashed down the sides, because it’s so warm, and my stomach and ribs will be out. Some men take that as an invitation to touch me there. They’ll touch my bellybutton jewellery, or the tattoo on my side, or sometimes – weirdly – tickle my stomach like you would a baby’s (although thankfully no one has yet blown a raspberry on my tummy). Don’t do that. That isn’t ok. Some men, when they see the look on your face – in that moment when you say nothing because you still can’t quite believe, even after all these years, that a stranger thought it was ok to put their hands on your bare stomach – immediately apologise. I don’t blame those men. They’re just drunk and got carried away and they’re products of a society that taught them it was ok. They know they did something wrong and they’re sorry. Maybe they won’t do it next time, maybe they will, but in that moment they know they shouldn’t have touched you, and they apologise. But a lot of them don’t. A lot of them think you should be flattered.
But I’m not flattered. You’re a knob. Not only am I at work, where my need to be at least moderately polite to you prevents me from telling you to get to fuck as I might on a night out, but in general it is just not ok to touch strangers in anything even approaching an intimate manner. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I would stop someone walking past me to stroke his biceps and tell him he’s sexy. It’s just absurd and incomprehensible to me.
I’m lucky to work somewhere that takes a strong stance on mistreating the bar staff. Our door staff will chuck guys out for groping or intimidating you, no questions asked, and our management will back us up. I’m also lucky that, in general, overtly sexually threatening behaviour is rare in our venue to begin with. But I shouldn’t have to consider myself lucky that I only occasionally get groped at work. I shouldn’t have to field “compliments” from men who’re looking at me with such a leer in their eye that I feel dirty and want to cover myself completely. Men need to stop thinking that they have the right to touch me, or to stare at me like I’m meat. Nobody has that right, and your desire to touch someone or stare at her tits doesn’t override her right not to feel uncomfortable and objectified just for being outside her house and being a woman.
As I write this I am sheepishly munching on chocolates, not even an Eastenders-episode after polishing off a steak. It is now, with my belly full, that I finally feel guilty enough to write this (uncomfortably) personal entry on body-image.
I am currently on a diet – one that allows steak. It is a no-carbs diet (apart from the more-than-occasional bowl of porridge and drunken McDonalds). This makes declining offerings of carb-loaded food slightly awkward. ‘You mean you don’t want crisps?’ my friends will say. I should stress the confused faces of those closest to me when I decline their offers. I am an open lover of food (proudly boasting a record of 7 plates of food at an all-you-can-eat buffet). So it is understandable that they cannot fathom how I, of all people, can be in the midst of a surprisingly successful (by my standards) diet plan. They ask for an explanation. So I lie – or tell the truth. It’s a gamble as to what answer you’ll get. Consistently though, people are shocked to discover that I am unhappy with the way I look.
But to me it is obvious: I mean, take one look at my moon-sized derriere, mammoth thighs and 3-month pregnancy shaped belly and the answer it literally staring you in the face; taking up the entire of your peripheral vision.
The average dress size of women in the UK is 14. I am a size 10 – but this is still a size too big. I find myself non-erotically staring at women’s bums, either in complete worship or disgust. “How is hers so small?” I think to myself. Lucky bitch. If I’m being Jeremy-Kyle-honest, the sight of a woman with a ‘perfect’ figure sends pangs of resentment and mild hatred pulsing through my body, all the way to my eclipse-sized bum.
The sisterhood, then, is largely a myth. As women we do not stand tall by one another, burning our bras – united through retaliation, strength through struggle. We are, sadly, in competition with one another – survival of The Flattest Stomach.
I don’t like to think of how unhappy I am with my appearance, when I do I seem to inflict some Orwellian-style think-torture on myself. I sit in my room for hours at a time, stirring thoughts of self-loathing around my mind whilst my friends get drunk downstairs.
So that’s me. A case for the shrink? Maybe. A unique case for the shrink? Of course not, I bet my entire student loan on that. The poor shrink could recite a diagnosis. Especially when you get your head around the fact that 97% of British women are unhappy with their bodies. That’s pretty high, eh? Shocked? You shouldn’t be. Body-hatred has become a right-of-passage for the majority of Western females. We are a generation of self-haters. Hating ourselves for that slice of cheesecake, for not going to the gym, for not looking like a Victoria’s Secret model…
But here is the irony – we hate ourselves for hating ourselves. Confused? Well so are we.
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.
Thanks to kirstyskears for this post.
My Nan came round this morning. She was reminiscing about last weekend’s family party and suggested that I wear make-up more often as I ‘look quite pretty with make-up’. I sarcastically replied, ‘thanks Nan’ to which she suggested that my mum ‘could do with some lipstick too’. She then went on to tell me that I could be a model if I wore make-up more often. I generally only wear make-up when I am going somewhere nice, like to a party. Whereas, I rarely even brush my hair before leaving the house for everyday adventures. I told my Nan that even if I was pretty enough I am far too shy to model. In which she argued that ‘to make it with my photos I have to get over all of that silly nonsense anyway’. To be fair, I realise that there is truth in this matter, I am going to find selling my work very difficult while I find talking to strangers excruciating. But what intrigued me was that my Nan was hinting that it would be better to get over my shyness to be a model, rather than getting over my shyness to be an artist/photographer. Does anyone know a Model who is a positive female role model? What’s so great about being a model? Why does she think it’s a better idea than my chosen career? Why, oh why does she want me to be a model? Does she think that the stereotypical narcissistic, anorexic models that she has seen in the media are really something for a young woman to aspire to? Does she think that I could make better use out of my ‘looks’ than my brains? I am really not sure where she was going with this! The comment about my mum intrigued me too. Why does my mum NEED to wear some lipstick? Why will this benefit her? Will it get her promoted? Are there health benefits that I didn’t know about? Is she secretly planning on meeting someone new and ‘needs’ to attract them with shiny colourful lips? No, I don’t think that any of these Ideas apply. My Nan’s opinions of her family’s appearance come from the expectations that our current culture enforces. Women must be beautiful at all times. Beauty is all we have. It is our only power. The only way to become rich is to look perfect at all times. Using our brains to gain power and wealth is out of the question, the best thing we can do is stay pretty and passive so that a ‘Prince’ can whisk us away off into the sunset.
HAHAHA how ridiculous! Get lost celebrity culture. I couldn’t care less if my hair is not perfect every minute of every single bloody day. I am happy. Not because my Nan thinks I’m ‘pretty’, but because I am alive, and know what it feels like to be alive, and it’s so damn good! Be a model? Pull grumpy faces and be rude all of the time? I’d rather be covered in mud, growing vegetables in my allotment or playing tag with my little sister, thanks all the same. A smile is all I need to have on my face.
I’ve written here before but I wanted to again because I’ve been thinking about my body a lot recently. My body and mind have both been in flux and it’s been confusing and made me think about a lot of things.
About three months ago, my heart was broken by a man I thought loved me. And heartbreak raised all kinds of issues. Suddenly, my body felt so alone. Alone, and still, everywhere, covered by him. I took to sleeping with my arms and legs wrapped around a pillow, to feel something against me except the emptiness left by him. He was gone, and my body ached for him. Not sexually, because my mind had retreated from sex – from the crushing reality that I wouldn’t be having sex with him any more – but emotionally. All the things I loved in my body before him, and all the new things he made me love, were tainted now by the memory of his touch and the pain of its loss. I couldn’t touch my own body, smell my own scent, without remembering how he had loved it. I still so badly wanted my body to belong to him that it didn’t feel like mine any more.
My appetite faded and I lost weight. I’m thinner now than I was before – not underweight but slimmer. People keep telling me I look really good. I feel ambivalent every time someone tells me that, because I was perfectly happy with my body before and in no way thought I was fat. I feel conflicted in myself when I look in the mirror, enjoying my flatter stomach and then asking myself why I’m buying into that ideal, why I like having a flatter stomach when I didn’t think it was fat before. I still have a big arse – I hope I’ll always have a big arse – but it’s smaller than it was before and I don’t want to lose any more weight. What I see in the mirror varies with my mood. Sometimes, when I feel lonely and unlovable, when – even though I don’t want him back now – I wish he was still here, these breasts seem too small, too saggy, these bags under my eyes jump out at me, this new, flatter stomach is still too pudgy. And then sometimes, when I’m jumping around my bedroom to this song and I’m happy and I’m in my body and I’m feeling like I fucking rock – then I look in the mirror and I know I’m fucking beautiful.
My mind has been so up and down, and my body changing. But I think my mind is on the up these days, and my body finally feels like mine again. I can think of sex now without missing him, I can masturbate and enjoy my body and my mind and a sexual world without him in it. I miss him, or I miss closeness, sometimes when I’m sad. But my body is my own. I want sex again, I want to feel my body against another, I want to enjoy discovering someone.
Another issue this has been raising a lot in my mind recently is that, now I’m single again, sometimes I wonder where I’ll find someone else who doesn’t care that I don’t shave my armpits. I know that anyone who cares is someone I don’t want to be with, but the thought can’t help but cross my mind. It was a choice I made for myself but being with someone who liked it made that choice easier – if I’m being totally honest, it might have been what made the choice possible for me in the first place, although I’m not about to go back on it now.
Sometimes when I’m out in a club and I’m dancing, I catch people staring, nudging their friends to point out the mad hairy woman over there. I love having hairy armpits and, while I can’t deny there is an element of making a political point about it, this is the way I like them. It doesn’t hurt as such when I catch people looking. It makes me a little angry, although I do understand why they look. But it also awakens this socially-inculcated fear that most people find my body disgusting. That I might meet a lovely man at a party and be having a lovely conversation, flirting away, and then reach up to get something and turn around to find him running in disgust and horror from my horrifying armpits.
I know that’s ridiculous. But it’s also not completely ridiculous. The beauty norms of our society make me – I think make all of us – feel the need to justify those things which are “abnormal”. And my hairy armpits are, by societal standards, abnormal. They are an abnormal choice that I’ve made, a choice which is bound up with various implications in people’s minds – dirty, hippie, man-hating… – and even though I love them, I still sometimes feel self-conscious. To put it bluntly, I worry I won’t get laid. Not that I’d want to fuck anyone who gave a shit about my armpit hair – but the idea that someone might find me unattractive because of that one factor of my appearance does cross my mind and it does hurt.
I guess this is all a part of coming back into my own body. It’s partly sexual frustration, partly the normal fear of being alone forever that surfaces when we find ourselves single against our will. It’s a big part societal norms that I’ve absorbed even though I consciously reject them. It’s the memory of shaving my armpits for the first time after some girls made fun of me on the bus to PE when I was thirteen. But I’m not on the PE bus now (thank fucking Christ) – I’m twenty-three now, and I love my hairy armpits, and someone else will too.
I’m so glad to be back in touch with my body. It’s no longer a site of too many memories of happiness gone sour; it’s a site of happy memories to come. It’s a place I’m living in again. I look in the mirror and it’s all mine; it’s not missing anything by not being next to his.
– by Hannah
I’m 23. It’s taken me this long to have some semblance of acceptance of my body. For a period of about 18 months I really liked it, because I lost a lot of weight and was the lightest I’d been since I was 13. Still podgy, you understand, but from 13 stone to 10st 7 in a year and a half pretty much by accident felt pretty good. For a variety of reasons (moving back to Glasgow, Stodgeland; illness, new relationship, etc.) it’s crept back up to the high 11st-ish. So I don’t like it as much any more, because I know I used to look “better”.
BUT. Given that I had absolutely despised myself and my body since I was in nursery school, I reckon that’s pretty good going.
So what changed? Basically, I came to the realisation that there were different body shapes. This sounds incredibly stupid, I know. Bear with me.
I’d spent my entire life wanting to wear the same clothes and look the same as tall, willowy teenage models, as seen in Topshop, New Look etc. Indeed when I was a teenager I hated myself because I wasn’t delicate and skinny. If only I could get rid of my belly, if only I could make my arse smaller, if only I didn’t have such a round fat face…you get the idea. Then two things happened: the “ 1950s vintage style” thing- i.e., dresses that suited people with hips. And I got told I had PCOS. So I found a style that I felt good in, and got an explanation for why I looked the way I did.
PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – has two effects which affect me in a concrete sense. Having children will probably be a bit problematic, and it makes me carry weight round my middle, which is also harder to lose. I’d like to think I’ve reconciled myself to the “probs no kidz lol” thing. The only time it’s caused any problem to anyone is when I went for a GP check-up and a demented duty doctor phoned me 2 hours later saying, “Your hormone levels are insane, get to hospital now!“ It was a Friday night; I wasn’t even ill. I told him that, and poured myself more wine.
But the weight thing – hallelujah! I can now accept that I will always have a big stomach, always have a big arse, always have hips. They may fluctuate in size, but they’ll always be there. And when I try to lose weight, I don’t weigh myself any more. I’ve done that for too long, I know that to lose any great amount of weight, personally, I need to cut out carbs and drink only water. I did it when I worked abroad out of necessity, because I was poor. But now, frankly, I have a life to lead. Fuck me if you think I’m gonna subsist on pulses when I have a boyfriend who makes good quality, mostly healthy, food for us.
I do get a bit down about myself still- especially my face. It’s round, and I hate that I always look fatter in photos than I really am, because of my face. But I’m working on that. And yeah, I’d like to lose some weight. So I joined a gym, for the first time ever. And finally, the fear and anxiety engendered by years of bullying in communal changing at school has disappeared. I might not be lighter, but I will tone up. I don’t care how much I weigh. I care how I look.
So to sum up: 5’ 3”. Big arse, big hips, big stomach, round face, small breasts. But I have a great waist, I’m not a blob like I always thought. I love my long, thin fingers. My shoulders are nice. Small breasts are useful – I can run for buses! Yay! And I’m fit – I had always thought, “Oh I’m podgy, I must be hideously unhealthy”. This is BOLLOCKS. I’ve been walking uphill for about 45 minutes most days since 1998, when I moved into a house on top of a fuckton of hills then didn’t bother learning to drive. I might not be fast, but I have stamina and I’m strong. So I needn’t have worried about being shit at the gym, the crosstrainer and rowing machine hold no fear. I might not be skinny and delicate. I might be clumsy and flabby. I’m overweight, but I’m not ugly. I wish more people realised that being skinny isn’t the only option. There are so many issues bound up in the “must be size eight to have self worth and be attractive to men” thing. If I started I’d never get off my feminist soapbox. Since I left school, I’ve never had any problems finding boyfriends when I’ve chosen to look for them, nor any complaints from them about the size of my arse/chest/face/stomach/occasional PCOS beard/insert other cause of neurosis here. I still have bad days body-wise, but realising that I am, for the most part, normal, and doing my best in a society governed by warped ideas of female fitness and beauty always helps.
I have a really confused relationship with my body. In some ways, I love it. It works very well, does everything it needs to and that in itself is something to be thankful for. Other days I look at myself and wonder if surgery really could make me look better.
For most my teenage/young adult life, I’ve been around size 16. My parents would bring up my weight with every conversation, it felt like, and at school, I couldn’t even bring myself to stand on a set of scales for a science experiment. I felt so confused when I was younger. I was brought up with my parents telling me that intelligence and creativity were so much more important than make-up and clothes, and I still feel that way, but when you get to a certain age, your physicality becomes an issued whether you want it to or not. I couldn’t understand why my achievements in school or my hobbies wasn’t enough for my parents to be proud of me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my parents, and they have supported me so much over the years through thick and thin; and I can see their logic even if I don’t think they’re right. The way they saw it was my unhappiness was down to me feeling “ugly” and not dating guys like every other girl that age, and being skinny would fix that. In my head though, it was always “I am what I am, why should I change for someone that can’t appreciate who I am now? And on top of that, is a man actually the answer to all my woes?” And to this day, I still feel like that. I’m not sure I’d want to date anyone who was held looks in such high regards. Not saying they have to be completely nonchalant, but I’ve always put intelligence before looks, and I’d hope to be with someone that felt the same.
So these days. I’m still the same size. The way I see it, my weight sits mostly in the right places, so I’m curvy as hell. I’ve got a reasonably pretty face and in it’s own way, I own my weight. I’ve made it suit me. I’ve started going to the gym recently, but not really to lose weight, but because studying art does leaving you sitting down for hours on end and I just want to move more. I’m going to say something strange: I’m terrified of losing weight. I’m scared that everything will just head south, or my body won’t firm up and I’ll be this bag of skin. Saying that, if I do, it’s just another change in my body, not the first and won’t be the last, I’m sure.
I really hate the attitude we have towards nudity in this country. When I was 18, i went skinny dipping with a German friend in a lake, which totally changed my views on nudity. I loved it. I loved being liberated from this idea that your body is a sexual organ, instead, your body is a living, moving natural being. Since then, I’ve had a lot less qualms about being naked in front of people, and travelling in Scandinavia has reinforced it for me. The sad thing is, I don’t know if I’ve got the same confidence here. Even last night, I was at a screening of The Room. I love the heckling, but there was one scene where the crowd were shouting “Jabba the Hutt!” because when the main actress leaned over, she had a few rolls, despite being a very normal sized woman. We’re so alien to the nude figure here, unless in some perfect representation of the Western ideal, that people think they have the right to judge when they’re challenged with something regular. I’m not sure if there’s a way that body issues will never exist in the way they do, but I’d be a lot happier if it was something for us, as women, to discover ourselves our feelings and we could remove patriarchy from the whole equation.