“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.

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“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

“This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly.”

Comparing yourself to others is not a right thing to do when it comes to achieving a sense of freedom within the framework of your body. That is what I would do quite often, and it still happens to me sometimes. Like it or not, there will always be someone who is in a better shape and condition, of smoother skin, bigger eyes and sexier moves. Similarly, there will always be someone who is less attractive or of less capabilities than you.

There were a certain stages in my life when I would rediscover my body. One of them was, of course, my first sexual relationship. How important it was to hear that I was sexy, smelled nice and had amazing boobs. 14 years and a few relationships later I already know that the beauty is not as obvious as pleasing facial features and flat belly.
One of the breakthroughs in befriending my body was when I met a theatre group from Norway. After their performance, we had a walk around the old town and one of the actresses started to pet her arms and legs saying: “thank you for being strong and enabling me to perform today”. Then she explained: “I try to do that every day, cause I am grateful for my body being fit and the fact that I can do so many things thanks to it”.
“That is so true!” – I thought. We rarely notice when our body works perfectly fine (unless we use our bodies as a tool for work – as in dance or sport). We tend to realise how important it is when our condition worsens.

Now I see how lucky I am to live in my body. I call it my home and I try to take care of it as If it was my shelter. I want it to be healthy, strong and also, good looking. However, I am not obsessed with how I look and I don’t compare myself to others anymore (as often as before). There are some things I can change about my body to make it more flexible, fresh and healthy, so I do that. But there are many things I can’t change, so it is better to accept it.

It wasn’t always the case, though. Until my mid-twenties, I was very unhappy about my look and overall condition. I looked much better than I do now, though. First of all – I was younger, my skin was softer, boobs firmer and I was more energetic in general. But the only thing I could think of was my scars and how to get rid of them. When I think about it now and how it kept me away from sunny beaches, wearing dresses and being spontaneous, I feel pity for this pretty teenage girl hiding under tonnes of layers, ashamed of her body. I wanted to protect others from looking at my ugly parts and this way, to protect myself from being judged and rejected. It took me ages to realise that what others think is their business, not mine. I shouldn’t be sorry for something I can’t control and, more importantly, doesn’t cause any harm to anyone. This is how I look. Others may not like it, but I doubt they will spend their lives thinking about how unattractive the person they passed on the street was.

Another breakthrough was when I was given a laser treatment for my scars and it didn’t help at all. The doctor insisted I carried on with sessions (and spend more money in his clinic). He also said: “You will be back in a few years for wrinkles treatment.” I was raging. For him my body was something to be constantly improved. Ageing was something to deny and fight against. I decided to see another doctor just to have a second opinion. Luckily, he was the opposite. “Are your scars something that stops you from being in relationships or enjoying your social life?” – he asked. “We can of course try different treatment that would, in my opinion, help. However, why not spend money on something else and just ignore these unimportant details which your scars are?”

Boy did I want to hear that!

This is the body I live in now. It won’t last forever. It is changing constantly. What I can do now is to appreciate it as it is, support it, nourish it, listen to it, and thank it for being still strong and responsive.

What I would like my relationship with my body be like in the nearest future is to love it even when it is ill, stiff and in pain. To understand its limits and accept changes. That is the challenge and it is not easy, but I will give it a try.

– a 32-year-old woman