Today I had a difficult conversation with a resident about my scars, and it has reinforced why I am doing this. Also a note on battles, and how you are not losing yours.
How it’s going!
As some of you know, and some of you don’t, I have pretty extensive scarring on my arms and legs from a history of self-harm. For years, in various situations, I have felt the need to hide my scars. I have been ashamed, or worried of what other people would think of me, or simply […]
I haven’t written about this before because, for various reasons, it causes me a lot of shame.
In the last few years, I have put on a lot of weight. I’m still average for my height, and although I often hate the way I look, I recognise that I’m not especially large. But I have gone from being tiny to being medium, and this is something I am struggling to deal with. I look at old photos and think wow, what happened? and I berate myself for all kinds of things. The truth is, I don’t really know what has caused the weight gain, not definitively.
Then I think, wait a moment. Why is it that getting a bit bigger should make me feel so terrible? For all that we use buzz words like “body positivity”, despite chanting “it’s about being healthy”, despite a movement towards diversifying women in the public eye, I have still been taught to believe that smaller = better. I am still constantly comparing myself to women who better meet what I have grown up seeing as the ideal. “Allowing” a few larger women to be themselves doesn’t change the fact that the image of beauty we are presented with is still slim. They are still seen as exceptions.
I’ve written before about how unacceptable it is to comment on another person’s weight (there are thousands of reasons to gain or lose weight, none of which is necessarily your business) and I will reiterate it. Stop commenting on the way other people look. I used to eat in quite a severely disordered way, and I really don’t need other people to tell me how I’ve changed.
I run a lot. I go to the gym. I eat well. I want to believe that these things are overwhelmingly more important than the numbers on the scales, because they are. But every time I hear a comment, or look at myself and give myself that negative once-over, it sets me back.
We need a new way of looking at ourselves. For the most part, we immediately pick out flaws when we are asked to evaluate our looks- whether because we believe we are flawed, or because we don’t want to seem big-headed. Why does it matter if we seem big-headed? What is wrong with acknowledging what is beautiful about ourselves? The problem is that we are taught to be self-effacing, to see what we perceive as “bad” about our appearance before looking at what is good. Most of the time, the things we perceive as bad aren’t even bad.
There’s a poem I love by nayyirah waheed.
You see your face.
You see a flaw.
How. When you are the only one.
Who has this face.
Well, indeed. Given that I am the only person who looks exactly like me, how can I see a flaw, to what blueprint am I comparing myself to find fault?
Something needs to change, and I don’t know whether we are moving towards or away from change, but it has to happen. We have to stop feeling bad about ourselves for the million reasons dictated to us, we have to stop buying the millions of products directed at us, we have to learn to love ourselves as we are, because that is a radical act.
Recently I was in the unfortunate position of hearing an experienced sexual health worker make a homophobic comment. She said that while “gays can be lovely people”, she wouldn’t want one of her family to be gay and it’s not in her culture. Someone else in the group said that she respects and likes gay people but can’t agree with their “choices.” I know a lot of people have opinions like these but, when the sexual health worker expressed them, it seemed somewhat unprofessional.
I could have said something at this point. I could have told the other people in the room (some of whom were nodding along in agreement with her) that I am a lesbian. This would have changed the dynamic of the conversation and at least encouraged a bit more consideration. But I didn’t. I felt shocked and hurt and uncomfortable, so I didn’t say anything at all.
This kind of thing happens to people all the time. For whatever reason, we are shy to express offence. We don’t want to be the ones to blame for politicising discussions, or making it about ourselves. We don’t want to rock the boat or cause a scene. But if I could rewind, I would. I would speak up for myself and- who knows?- anyone else in that group who felt like I did. I can’t undo, but only hope I will be braver next time.