I am the product of a long line of body loathers. I grew up in a family where my body type was the subject of derision, and nicknamed "The Hellsten Curse". My indoctrination began as a small child when I listened to my mother lament the long list of physical faults she saw in herself. After which she would always apologise with the same words, "Sorry love, but you look like me". A simple sentence that over time shaped the way I viewed myself.
Such thinking was not isolated to my mother. All my female relatives ascribed to this way of thinking. It was, and is, a bond that holds us tightly. A review of photos of female kin past and present, has always been a time to mourn our genetic lot in life and highlight any unappealing physical traits we were bound to re-produce. Family gatherings a chance to join together and rue our physical imperfections. Never did I hear a single bodily affirmation. Compliments were dispensed of with precision shots, that clearly re-established the negative norm to it's rightful place. Always there is a competition to see who can denigrate one's self the most. We are truly independent women. We put ourselves down, we don't require anyone else to chime in.
Over my 37 years I have learnt the lessons of my female kin well. I look in the mirror and see only faults. I look in the mirror and see all the ways I will never be perfect. Not that I necessarily know what perfection looks like, I simple know it is something I will never achieve. I know I will never be good enough and in that moment I realise I am truly one of the clan. There is something comforting in that moment, and something equally disturbing. It is only in more recent years I have come to identify and question the status quo.
Why do we tear ourselves down with such ferocity? Why is this the thing we have chosen to bond over? Is this really the lesson we wish to teach not only our daughters, but also our sons? We have created a mythical beauty than none can achieve. That in a sense doesn't need quantifiable attributes as long as it remains the menacing shadow that looms in the distance controlling our lives. We doom ourselves to failure. We doom ourselves to a life of self-loathing. To the unassailable knowledge that we will never be good enough. That physical beauty and spiritual beauty are inexorably linked. In the moment that realization hits, we achieve unity through our united worthlessness.
A quick review of my body reminds me that I will never reach that mythical perfection. There are stretchmarks from my pregnancies. There are scars from surgeries and the simple scrapes of childhood. My misshapen feet are a constant reminder of a life-long love of high heels. My skin bears the marks of youthful summers spent in the harsh Australian sun. My hair is streaked with incandescent silver strands. In more recent years my body has shown the ravages of chronic illness. My skin has changed both in colour and texture. My body shape has altered through the combined effects of age, illness and medication effects. As 40 approaches, gravity is making it's presence felt more strongly as my rear end heads south (and east and west) and my boobs sag in their inevitable quest to find my waist. And I realise now that a choice must be made to accept and embrace these changes, to cut the ties that have bound physical worthiness to that of spiritual worthiness. Or, to continue on the same path and doom my spirit to a slow and lingering death as I continue to long for something that will never exist.
Such positive thinking about myself is alien to my make up. To be comfortable in my own skin does not sit well. It feels as if I am betraying my heritage. As if I am abandoning my familial traditions. And yet I know I must. So much time has been wasted. Generations lost to the plague of self-loathing. We have all been too fat, too thin, too tall, too short,..., too something, for far too long.
So I've made a choice to change. I'm going to ignore that little voice. I'm not going to play the game. I'm going to make a deliberate effort to grant myself the kindness and acceptance that I naturally give to others. I'm going to re-write my internal dialogue. Every line, every mark, to be accepted as a sign post to my life. The good, the bad and the ugly all rolled up in one 30-something package. And every day I'm going to tell myself that that's okay. And every day I will believe it a little more.
Michelle Roger writes for Living With Bob (Dysautonomia)
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