Body of Work

Body image issues seem to be a big topic with women my age. Everyone seems to be having issues with it at the moment, and there have been several instances on my FB news feed lately where women I know have talked about problems with their face, body, or image, or have had someone else thrust issues upon them.

My body and I have a tumultuous relationship. I love what it makes me able to do. I am healthy, I am strong, and I have Moo – but on the whole, I am very uncomfortable in my own skin, probably more so now than I ever have been. It is a struggle I have dealt with my entire teen and then adult life. Those who were friends with me at school would recall how body conscious I was – I was constantly berating myself for being too fat, constantly criticising my looks, constantly looking in every reflective surface to ensure my (imaginary)double chin wasn’t showing. After school, when Rhys told me the only unattractive thing about me was, ironically, how unattractive I considered myself to be, and I began faking confidence, so it was fairly hidden.

But I am still just as critical, just as ashamed of the way I look. I fight the feeling I am worth less than others because of my appearance. It has gotten more difficult since having Moo. I had spent a good 25 years coming to terms with how I looked – accepting the imperfections of my teeth, my nose, my ears, my hair. There were lots of trials on the way there. First year of uni- +10kg. Second year- -10kg. Got sick in first year of marriage- +20kg. Misdiagnosed and put on wrong medication- +10 kg .Finally diagnosed as having hormone deficiencies and properly medicated- -24 kg. I gained back a little when I came off my diet, and my medication taking became more erratic when we went to America for a month. I was just working on rectifying this when I fell pregnant (- 3 (morning sickness) + 10, and then -12 after birth). Ironically, this is the only time in my life I was comfortable and secure with myself. In fact, while walking to work one day when I was about 35 weeks pregnant, I had a jacket on obscuring my belly, and one of a group of young men yelled out ‘Fatty!’ at me while I was waddling across the road in front of their car, while his friends laughed. I turned to him, rubbed my protruding (and obviously baby filled) bump and yelled back ‘It’s a baby, dumb ass!’ They stopped laughing immediately, and the guy sunk a little bit in his seat. I went on my merry way, and didn’t think about it again until writing this post. Pregnancy was a good time for my self-esteem.

Having said that, people tell you horrible things will happen to your body when you have a baby. That you will never be the same weight again. Your hands and feet will get bigger forever. Your boobs will hang to your knees. You will be incontinent. You will have stretch marks like a tiger under your clothes. Your skin will be baggy.Your hair will be terrible. You will never look refreshed again. You will never wear nice clothes, shoes or jewellery again. I was even told by someone that having a girl means she will ‘steal all the beauty from my face’- my personal favourite.

Very few of these things are true for me. Most of them (the particularly scary ones) were not.Some were true immediately after the birth, but 9 months on, I can see them fixing themselves of their own accord, or they are rectified completely. But, regardless, for better or worse, it is a very different body now. A different shape. Something new to come to terms with. I was still not so happy with the old one. In the last 3 years, 95% of my outfits are finished with stockings or leggings to hide my legs. 100% of my outfits involve a cardigan or jacket – they have become a shield, a security blanket I am so uncomfortable without, and I feel my imperfect shape is more exposed without them. I felt and feel trapped in my own body, trying everything I can do to mask that I am not the ideal.

Most men do not understand how it feel to be constantly rated on your looks. Our worth is tied up in our appearance in a way that theirs is not. The guy I was speaking of a few paragraphs back, despite being nothing particularly special himself, thought nothing of letting a woman know, in potentially the most humiliating and dehumanising way possible, that how she looked was not up to his particular standard. No man I know has ever had something like that happen to him. Over 50% of the women I know have.

We are constantly bombarded with images of women who are not only genetically blessed, but whose entire job is to maintain their image to a certain standard, and this is now presented as the level to aspire to. I do not begrudge them their beauty, but they are exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. Women who have jobs to do, social lives to maintain, houses and sometimes family to look after, are expected to also strive for this unattainable ideal, and those who fall short (which is the vast majority) are judged as lesser beings. Women who eat only salad, who work out every day, but who can never get under a size 14. Women who eat constantly but still get asked if they are anorexic. All the women in between who just don’t ‘measure up’. The current Olympic games are an excellent example of this. Media commentators felt it appropriate to comment on an Australian swimmers weight and natural softness, and question her fitness, despite the fact the she is an elite athlete, and had qualified to compete in the games. Despite the fact that I doubt a gram of trans fat has passed her lips in the past few months, despite all her training, the way she looked became the main issue.

In an attempt to make everyone feel better about themselves, I have posted a picture of my body above. It is not styled in a way that will hide flaws. There is no flattering angles or light. There are no filters. There is no editing.It is just me. I am plump. I am not the ideal proportions. You can probably tell from my body that I am a new mum. But I am still smart. I am still strong. I am still worthy. And despite what I feel about my looks, there are people who think I am beautiful not despite them, but because of them.

I’m An, the wife of a wonderful, but extremely nerdy gamer, a mother to two, a scientist, an amateur pastry chef, a daughter, a sister and a friend.

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