Body image, self esteem and feeling fat

I don’t worry about the way I look. In total contradiction to that, I also stand in front of the mirror and frown, like every other woman on Earth.

I can go out confidently without makeup and have a great day. I also get into frumpy funks about how nothing fits and I’m little more than a swamp creature frocked up in a cotton dress. It’s messed up, but I’m not alone. This messed up, messy mess of self-esteem spaghetti is what it means to be a woman in modern culture, regardless of body shape.

We know how we’re supposed to be. There are endless programs, blogs and books about accepting ourselves. As many as there are about thinspiration, fitspiration and the latest-beauty-crazespiration. It’s too much and after a while, it all looks like the flip side of the same ‘be better’ coin.

I’d love to be a woman who celebrates her body. What a relief that would be. Imagine simply valuing your body for all it can do instead of fretting about how it looks while it’s doing it. Imagine that pure, childlike freedom released to explore, learn and experience the world. Sometimes, I even get to that state, but eventually and after not too long, the ingrained and spaghettified pressure to live up to the perfect woman has me frowning in the mirror, wishing I could carve off imperfections and throw them in the fire.

It’s nobody’s fault, not mum’s or my partners or friends or even TV’s, but it is my problem. It’s something deep inside, impossibly tangled up and permanently imprinted that probably won’t ever go away.

I’m done with it and done with responding by skipping a meal and disliking myself. I want to figure out how to befriend it and let go.

It came bubbling up for me the other day when I tried on five outfits before work and nothing fit. Oh, I could squeeze in but everything was uncomfortable didn’t look like it was supposed to. I angered. I loathed. I bargained. I pouted. I walked around with my eyes downcast for most of the morning. Then I read this article called ‘a love letter from your fat friend” and all of the other feelings went away.

I was done with waging perpetual war on myself.

And then, one day, you wake up and think the unthinkable. This might just be the body you have. The thought is terrifying. Because you have to let go of the dream of that body that just isn’t yours, and might never be.
And now, my darling, you can grieve. Get sad. Mourn the body you don’t have — not because it’s better, but because you’ve held onto the idea of it for so long. It’s not easy. The world will still come at you. But you won’t come at you. You’ll be too busy building a life you love.

I almost cried.

My comfort has been that I don’t value looks. People have smarts, talents and humour and as people, we are those things. It makes failing at modern beauty about as important as not being able to draw more than stick figures, or that hot chili makes me hiccup and I have no patience for math. I could do better at those things, absolutely, but who cares? No one values me for my chili-eating ability. It doesn’t matter.

So, the brilliant insight I gained in one welled up tear (I was on the tram at the time), is that nothing about me or my life is for show. The way I look, how I do my hair, the sizing of my clothes and whether I wear heels is not even about other people. They don’t know me. They don’t care how I look. It’s all to do with how closely I can match the perfect woman in my head.

I am done with her. The woman I think I should be is an invention. She is a cultivated artwork of strange and tangled ideas about how I expect I’ll feel when I am admirable.

My life is not about that. It’s not even remotely about that. It’s a cultivated and wonderful artwork of nature exploration, creativity, philosophy, love and magic. None of that is for anyone else’s gaze, except where I have the pleasure of sharing.

Therein lies the snare, it’s fun to be on show sometimes. Put on a bright lipstick. Curl your hair. Wear those gorgeous shoes and go be on show. It’s wonderful and it’s fun and it’s a celebration of being alive.

Do it purposefully, then, come back. Don’t stay too long on the stage because you’ll start to think that all the world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players in it and confuse your show and other people’s for reality and success. Who you are and whatever you do and whatever brings you joy is for you. You in yourself are not on show.

So, at lunchtime that day I went to the store and bought clothes that fit, clothes I could move around in and feel good in.

It’s time to let go of the perfect woman in our heads, mourn her and then focus on what makes us happy.

Hike. Write. Dance. Draw. Cook. Travel. Play. Taste. Consider. Explore. Kick arse. Think. Love. Breathe.

How we look while we’re doing it is inconsequential.


Originally published at livingwithmuchness.com on March 12, 2016.

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