When you look in the mirror, what do you see? A ‘skinny’ girl? A ‘fat’ man? A ‘disabled’ guy? A ‘hairy beast’? Eyebrows ‘too big’? Eyebrows? What eyebrows?!
Maybe I should rephrase my question…when you look in the mirror, who do you choose to see?
Society loves a label but I don’t think we as human beings in our true state do. Society cannot seem to cope with the unknown. Society seems to thrive on certainty. Boxes that need to be filled. Criteria that need to be met. Titles. Labels…all illusions. That’s what I have spent many years of my life as, a label. And I’ve realised that many of these labels have been ones that others have given me. I never chose to label myself. When I came into this world, I was one of the gang. Ready to live the shared human experience. One part of a greater whole.
Then I started to grow up. Around 5 years old the cute puppy fat started to drop off. The knees got knobblier. The face longer and thinner. My ribs more prominent. Waist much thinner. I became, according to those around me for I knew no better; skinny, boney, unhealthy, unfed. In other words, there was something wrong with me. I was now slotted into a category. I had a label. A few labels in fact. I now had a physical and as a result, a character defect. Everywhere I went, people had no qualms telling me just what they thought about my physique: “mother obviously doesn’t feed you enough”, ” you must be anorexic”, “are you ill?”…in other words, there’s just something massively wrong with me.
Fast forward a few years, 11 years old now and thrust into a new environment called secondary school. Here everyone seems to be on a voyage of self discovery as well as a discovery of their peers too and again, I experience that people (especially fledgling teens), have no issues saying what they think about you. And so began three long years of what became yet more pointing out of my ‘flaws’.
A light that had shone so brightly up for my first few years went out in an instant. Now not only did others think something was wrong with me but now I believed that there was something wrong.
I didn’t want to be out in public. I wanted to stay within the four walls of safety that was my family home. My face and body needed to be as covered up as possible. The more clothes the better. The darker the better. All the cuffs and sleeves of my tops and coats were chewed to within an inch of their lives because I had to keep my face as covered as possible. I didn’t really need to speak, I had no voice after all. My desk and school journals became a tally chart countdown to the days I had left until I could leave school. I dreamt of the day when I could walk over the threshold of those school gates and never have to walk back in.
My sisters would tease me about being anti-social and that, according to me, everything was just “alright”. Ladies, that’s because nothing was alright, everything was excruciatingly painful. Everything. I became devoid of all emotion, even though inside there was this intense burning pain. Like acid burning holes through me. That pain had far reaching effects. And so all I could muster, was an “alright” and it was far from true but it was something.
I had a great imagination as a child, you needed to as the youngest, when the big sisters began secondary school, started getting homework and your play mates disappeared. The imagination that provided me with such entertainment became my safe house. It was the only place that I could be even more than me. Something better. Something ‘perfect’. Especially as every night I cried myself to sleep and hoped never to have to wake up and face another day. I felt sick, all the time. My body erupted in hundreds of painful blisters from the neck down from the age of 11 to 14, three years of of very visible and unattractive physical pain. Any coincidence? Now there really was something physically wrong with me. What I was taught to believe by others now became my reality.
Fast forward a few more years, I’m 16. The dream finally came true, I walked through those school (read prison) gates and never had to return. This time life was going to be different. This time I was going to be in charge of creating my environment. This was my time to begin to heal.
As a young girl I wasn’t very quiet, my sisters can vouch for that. But I became very quiet and I was okay to be for a little bit longer to find my feet and eventually, my voice again. With my feet and my voice came more nurturing, stable and happier environments. With these came my tribe, my tribe for life. With these came a few feelings, ones that had been numbed out and came some healing. The voice grew stronger and louder. It was no longer a whimper. It was a young woman who learnt how to truly laugh, play and dance in life again. A woman who had learned to become a lone ranger because it felt like I was the only safe person I knew, was ready to spread her wings and explore life and the outside world again. 18 became my best year. I felt like I was flying again.
The scars remained, in actual fact some of them were open wounds still trying to heal. And I quickly learned that being an adult still doesn’t stop some people from saying what they think!
Years of going to the doctor trying to find out what was ‘wrong’ with me so that I could give myself yet another label to answer the labellers back with resulted in them eventually having to tell me, “You don’t have a body health issue Arti, you have a body image issue.” Ouch…but so true. I am blessed with good health and a body that works well but I was choosing to ignore that. I actually felt like having a condition would make it easier to understand why I was built this way.
At 19 I entered my first proper romantic relationship. He seemed to have no issues with my body type so I tried to feed off of that. Until things started to breakdown and I heard him utter the words “You’re legs look really skinny” when I was at my most vulnerable. Ouch again. I lost myself in that relationship. To this day I haven’t quite figured out why. It wasn’t good. It took coming out of it at 23 for me to realise the damage caused and again, take myself to where I was when I walked out of those school gates and make a conscious decision to redefine and step into my Light again. I did. And I really lit up!
I had never worn something above my knees before, well not since I was a young girl. I was supremely conscious of my huge thigh gap and Bambi like legs. On my 25th birthday I pushed myself to wear that dress above my knees for the first time. I’m sure everyone in the bar was looking and talking about me because obviously there wasn’t anything better to look at and talk about!
Then came the next big relationship. He seemed to love my body type too and so my confidence came through his love. Wrong place to get it though because when mister walks out the door, so does your body confidence with him.
So now if I wear a dress, I wear it for me. So what if it shows my ‘flat chest’, ‘tiny waist’ and ‘small butt’. Again all these labels have been applied according to what society has taught me to believe is normal. But what matters is that I like the way it looks and feels on me, so I’ll wear it.
I packed my bikini and swimsuit in the hope that I might be able to don them out here and have some fun in the pools. But that one victory still seems to evade me! But the best things in life take time. I’ll get there if I really want to. I am a work in progress…just like a masterpiece. Look closely at a masterpiece and you’ll see it has ‘imperfections’. And those ‘imperfections’ truly make it beautiful.
I’ll be patient and I hope you’ll be patient with me too? I still have wounds and some take a bit longer to heal than others. I have a plea to you though dear reader, think before you speak. What you think may be an imperfection is not, it’s just real. Think about how you would feel if the tables were turned. Would it hurt? Quite possibly so. So please remember that we all hurt too.
According to the socially acceptable ‘norms’ I may be skinny but I’m not small, far from. I have carried heavy pains and burden, so I know I am strong. Yes you think I am light and I am but not light in the way you choose to see it. I am the Light that chooses to shine through me.
My plea to the ‘skinny’, ‘fat’, ‘disabled’, ‘hairy’, ‘pale’, ‘dark’ and many other beautiful varieties out there, look in the mirror and see past all of those labels please. Remember that at one stage in your life not only did you think you were perfect but you knew it too and guess what? You still are and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, let them know you are. And if you can’t think of a single person that thinks you are perfect (including you) then let me tell that I most definitely do!
Let’s enjoy this mortal clothing whilst we have it and bask in the Light that shines through each and every one of us! Life is so much more fun that way.
Here’s to You, Me and EveryBODY. Love. Light. Miracles.
Addendum: On the 31st March 2016, the day after celebrating my beautiful 32nd birthday, I dared to bare! I tentatively put on my swim suit and headed out to the pool of my hotel and the beach and successfully managed to be out in public and the world didn’t end! Hurrah! I didn’t feel overly comfortable or pleased at first but then the water and the sun and the holiday vibes took over and I was happy, thanks too to the encouragement and support of my sisters. Double bonus, I discovered that I could still remember how to swim a bit too! Mission accomplished and an almighty hurdle I have been avoiding for decades finally overcome! 2016, the year of courage continues…Love. Light. Miracles.