When I was 11, I stood in the doorway of my grandmother’s tiny living room and burst into tears because my thighs wobbled. My uncle laughed. My grandmother told me to stop being so silly. But somewhere along the line, I had picked up the idea that my body was there to be measured and judged and I ran with it. I got my negative body image down pat before my first period; by the time I hit 16, I was an expert.
I can chain together a string of moments, from puberty to motherhood (and especially beyond), which are defined by a deep loathing for my body. Standing at the tuck shop in school during break time, stuffing my pockets with binge quantities of chocolate; checking my reflection in the toilets to see if my double chin was more or less pronounced that day; barricading myself into the most abandoned corner of the library and inhaling my junk food stash as if it were a competitive sport; the weeks I spent on a ‘liquid diet’ as penance for gaining weight during pregnancy; being told by someone I was dating that I was larger than he liked, but he ‘chose to overlook it’ because of my ‘other merits’; confidently pulling on a pair of size 16 jeans only to find that they can’t squeeze past my thighs and spending days thereafter sobbing with grief over my inability to be someone else.
I survive these moments on the strength of countless imaginary escapes and reveries, flecks of hope that there’ll be a good day just around the corner – when by some invisible miracle, I wake up feeling relatively body positive; I don’t break out in a nervous sweat at the thought of choosing something to wear, I don’t really mind the fleshy tyre that lives on my hips and I’ll think to myself, “You’re really not that bad, you know.” But those days are rare. And all too often, I barely get as far as lunchtime before something sticks a pin in my bubble and I’m suddenly reminded of reality.
There are other days, too, darker days that are dictated entirely by an excruciating hyper-awareness of my body: every cell, every molecule, the square inches of skin that feel like square miles, every thread of clothing that seems to scream in protest at having to be worn by me. It is torture.
The one certainty I have – and I cling to it daily – is that I’m not alone in this, nor will I ever be. Body image issues are a plague suffered by many and we are everywhere, stumbling in and out of the hells we keep in our heads and trapped in bodies we can’t love, surrounded and force-fed with all the perfect things we will never be.
But they aren’t real, and they aren’t perfect, and they aren’t human. We are human. We are brimming with the gorgeousness of flaws and lessons and mistakes – visceral truths and clement wisdoms – even when we are at war with ourselves and in the face of these wars and battles we have comrades; we have the others who fight the same fight and we are never, ever alone.