“My body is the only thing that I truly own…I will strive to make it perfect in every possible way” – that’s something that I jotted down in a note book; I think I was eighteen or nineteen at the time.
While I was lucky enough – and yes, luck did have a lot to do with it, to spend a number of my adolescent years relatively unaffected by body image issues, as I hit my late teens looks became the primary focus of my attention.
Sure there are some unpleasant memories that are etched into my mind, staying there while other flashbacks fade away – like the time when I was eleven and my Grandmother (with no purposeful malice, I would never hold it against her) implied that perhaps holding back on sugary treats would help me develop a more delicate feminine figure, once again, at age eleven. However on the whole I had the perfect outlook on food, fitness and wellbeing, thanks in part to a mother who was an excellent role model – balanced, realistic and driven by goals external to the way she was perceived by others. How lucky.
This wasn’t necessarily a shared experience by my friends – I recall spending time with my mates when I was younger who would be shamed by parents for taking an extra serve of dessert, for getting giddy on a sugar high at a sleepover and who had “healthy eating for teens” books not so subtly added to their bookshelf. While healthy eating is of course important, the heavy focus on it in their lives has had flow on affects which I’ve witnessed firsthand as we’ve all grown up together. Never having been responsible for raising women, I can’t at all judge, however something about this seems wrong.
As I finished high school, the “puppy fat” that I’d carried all through high school that had concerned me only occasionally and very mildly was brought into attention and focus, not by my peers but by their parents. Older women who should have known better. Every time I stopped to chat to my mates mum (it was always the mum) she would comment on my new figure and always ask the same question: how did you do it, how did you lose the weight?
I was baffled – first of all I didn’t even realise that I had weight to lose. Second, I had no answer for them. I hadn’t lost weight at all (that I knew of, I didn’t really weigh myself a whole lot that I recall). I’d grown taller – a lot taller and slimmed out I suppose but for them, that wasn’t good enough. “Surely you’ve cut something out, have you been exercising more?” Maybe? I’d started working in a cafe and moving more, I was spending less time behind a computer than I had while at school, but I’d discovered alcohol with all its accompanying calories, so I guess it all balanced out.
The “things that my body was doing” were completely out side of my control however all of a sudden they were the core focus of every woman I came into contact with. I began to become aware of my body in a way that I really never had before.
During this time I burned my arm as I accidentally poured a pot of boiling hot water over it. The pain was incredibly intense, like nothing I had experienced before and it hurt for days but I remember thinking, as I walked down Rundle Mall to get a train home, tears rolling down my cheeks, nursing my still smouldering arm; “I don’t want to be known as the girl with the burnt arm”.
It took at least three months for it to heal fully and I was conscious of it for every second of that. It probably went unnoticed by others.
For me, the point when my body started to become a talking point for others was when it started to become an issue for me. I’d never looked at other women and compared myself – until then.
I started looking at the women in magazines who were there as the “token larger lady”, at the way their stomach sat and related most to them. It was weird to relate to someone who was there as a “token gesture”.
I am happy to say that now I have what I consider to be a pretty damned healthy relationship with my body, thank you very much. But that doesn’t mean that every day is great. I still compare myself physically to almost every woman that I meet – even if it is mostly subconscious, and I am sure that I am not alone.
I don’t know if it would be any different if I hadn’t been so drilled by my friend’s mums when I was younger or if my body and those of my friends hadn’t been such core topics of conversation for us over the years. It’s not just our size that gets spoken of – I once had a doctor (yes, a trained medical professional) comment that the needle marks on my arm from years of blood donation (I’m up to 56 donations now – humble brag!) may make others think I am a junkie! Um sorry what?! Firstly, why should anyone have a right to make opinions on me based on my body and secondly I don’t think “junkie” would ever be the first thing that springs to mind when anyone looks at me.
With a notoriously healthy appetite, food has become a part of my identity in an incredibly positive way however I do consider what others thing about my eating habits – does a judgement thought cross their mind as they see me shove yet another chunk of cheese in my gob?
I don’t wear a bikini at the beach or pool – why give people another area of me to judge, is what I think. That being said, I recently filmed a very short scene for an ABC iView series where I can be seen in just a bra. I doubt that anyone in the vicinity knew that I refuse to wear that little at the beach but was okay about it potentially being seen by all of Australia (we can only hope!). The thought played on my mind a little bit but it was also accompanied by a newly found attitude of “oh well fuck it” – because recently I was able to catch the film Embrace.
Embrace is without a doubt essential viewing for every woman and girl but we should also show it to the men and boys in our lives. It helped me to pause and re-asses myself. As I watched, I cried and mourned for all the time that I have wasted across the course of my life and in turn the many many more hours, days, weeks and even years lost by my friends who have battled body image demons on a level that I could never even begin to truly understand.
Not a week goes by where I don’t see something in day to day life, online or in the media that concerns me in the way that we discuss bodies – our own and others. I recently witnessed a grandmother casually commenting on her young, growing and developing granddaughters body – how do you tell someone like that to be careful – that it won’t be the shopping trips, movie dates and long lunches that her granddaughter will remember her for but the feeling of being not good enough?
At twenty-six I know now that I own more than my body, I know that I own my mind, my strong determination, my humour, my power to be me and everything that encompasses. Perfect isn’t a word I would ever use to describe any aspect of myself or my life and I can’t see it ever being, because I’d rather use stronger words – ones like “exemplary”, “extraordinary”, “incredible” and, though more practical and far less glamorous, capable is the word I love most. I am capable of achieving everything that I can dream of and so much more and for that, I am thankful.
Please please please do go see Embrace because what I feel, I want you to feel too.