How I Realized My Body Was My Ally, Not My Enemy

I don’t really remember thinking about my body at all when I was a whippersnapper, other than somehow developing a firm conviction that having green eyes made me some kind of superior race. I wore exactly the same clothes for my entire final year of primary school (for the record—baggy jeans, sneakers, and a blue-and-pink polar fleece hoodie that was actually for boys), my hair was cut into a bowl-cut (regret, regret!!) and looking back at photos of myself, I look… hilariously bizarre. But that was A-OK because I really didn’t care what I looked like (and, judging by my class photos, no one else cared what they looked like either!).

But that lack of awareness allllll changed when I went to intermediate school when I was 10. My primary school was quite small—all the kids knew each other, and if there were any cool kids there, I was blissfully unaware. At my new school though, I suddenly found myself in completely alien territory; a scary place where people were divided into the upper class (people who could afford to wear labels) and the lowest of the low class (those who couldn’t). My polar-fleece was not going to cut it.

My first mufti day, I rocked up in my favourite-ist outfit of the time—green overalls that my mum had made me, complete with a pattern of super-fly zoo animals all over them. I loved the shit out of those overalls, and I turned up to school feeling pretty damn fabulous. And I got the shiiiit bullied of me. Years later, girls would say, “Oh my god, can you remember when you wore those overalls??!”. And I’d laugh nervously and secretly feel sad, because my mum made them, and because I still thought they were cool. I learnt pretty quickly that I had to blend in—my family could never afford whatever label was in at that minute, but it was easy enough to get by with a plain T-shirt and jeans.

It was also around this time that my teeth started to go… shonky. They’d always been crooked, but now my two front teeth jutted almost horizontally inwards, and the teeth to the side of them went horizontally outwards, so much so that I couldn’t even close my mouth without my teeth sticking out. Basically, I looked like a pre-pubescent Dracula. This was something that didn’t escape the notice of other kids, too—I got called devil teeth, vampire, and sometimes, a rather unimaginative “ugly”. So as well as my lack of cool clothes, I had my teeth to contend with. I spent a lot of my puberty years feeling cripplingly self-conscious, holding my hands over my mouth to cover up my vampire teeth, or crossing them over my chest so that no one could see that my body hadn’t got the memo and didn’t realise it was time to go through puberty now. I’d go home and look at myself in the mirror and just feel complete and utter despair at my horrible, ugly body.

And then one day I got braces, and suddenly my body wasn’t somewhere that I didn’t want to be. My lips still stuck out awkwardly (because there isn’t really room for teeth and braces in anyone’s head) and food was allllways getting stuck in them—but I just looked like every other awkward teenager. It was amazing. And while I wouldn’t wish my shonky teeth on anyone, I think that the whole experience made me much more grateful for just looking amazingly average. When you can close your mouth and not get teased by random kids half your age, having your teeth wired together is no biggie.

But for the last couple of years, I’ve increasingly felt like I’ve been going through a kind of second puberty—you know when you were about 11 and you suddenly got that awful crippling self-consciousness that just made you want to disappear when you entered a room because you didn’t want anyone to see your shameful, shameful body? Yeh, like that.

You see, I got put on these anti-depressants that made me hungry. And I mean huuuungry. I’d go out for dinner and inhale a couple of entrées and a main and dessert, and then when my manfriend was safely tucked up in bed, I’d sneak out into the kitchen and eat a couple of bowls of cereal over the sink. Life became just one meal after the other, with me constantly plotting what I would eat next. And, slowly, my body (which used to be one of those dickhead bodies you read about that can eat anything and still stay svelte) began to betray me. I got… fat.

My thighs chafed, my underarms chafed, my chins began to multiply. I liked the effect of the anti-depressants (they had the glorious side-effect of making me not depressed, always a bonus!), but I didn’t like what they were doing to my body. I became so ashamed of how I looked that I stopped even looking at myself—for all intents and purposes, I was just a floating head in the mirror. When people tagged full-body photos of me on Facebook I would untag them and feel angry that someone would put a photo of me from such an unflattering angle on the interwebs—but the thing was, increasingly, every single angle began to look like an unflattering one (in my eyes, anyway).

And then one day, while I was looking at my floating head in the mirror, I decided to look down. I saw the angry red stretchmarks on my love handles. I saw how my skin had started to break out all over my face. I saw the weird bat wings that my previously thin arms had transformed into. But I made myself keep looking, and then finally saw… myself. There was my good old faithful body, staring right back at me, where it had been all along. For months, I’d felt like I was trapped in a prison of flesh, too powerless to do anything about its slow expansion.  I’d been running horrible inventories of what was wrong with my body, and hating it for betraying me, when really, I’d been the one doing the betraying. I hadn’t been looking after it. My body had been trying to tell me things weren’t right, with pretty obvious signs like constantly having acne, getting puffed from just walking for five minutes, a rapid heartbeat that sounded like a trapped bird, and days of blinding migraines. And I had just gone on in pig-headed denial, ignoring all the signals and criticising my body for not looking how I wanted it to.

So I made a resolution with myself. I was going to lose weight. But before I did it, I was going to love the shit out of my body. I was sick of deciding whether or not I looked good based on what other people thought about me—it’s a recipe for constantly feeling shit about yourself. My body is mine, and at the end of the day, the only person who should decide if it looks good or not is me.

So I started a daily body inventory, when I’d look at my body in the mirror, and gradually I  taught myself to hold back on my inner judgey-judgerson and see what was actually looking back at me in the mirror. I learnt to love that for the first time in my life, I had a legit booty. While I wasn’t comfortable being that weight (mainly because I hated the things that came with it; like chub rub—the rash you get when your thighs slap each other when you walk – it suckedy sucks),  this body, and the extra weight I was carrying was due to me needing to get on top of my depression. And now that I was feeling better, I needed to treat my body with the love and respect it deserved before I could start the long journey to getting back to my original Bex body, and back to the Land of Healthy.

It’s been nearly a year now, and I’m 20 kgs. lighter (that’s about 40 lbs. if you’re an Americano). And it’s been a long and hard journey, but it’s one that my body and I have gone on together. I haven’t always succeeded in my body-love mission (like the time I went shopping for underwear that doesn’t hang off me and ended up having a crying meltdown in the changing room), but it’s been really liberating to see my body as my ally, not my enemy. Now when I look down and I see the finely webbed network of stretchmarks, I feel proud that I have a body that has been lived in. I genuinely like my stretchmarks; they are a map to how my body has changed over the years, and they make me… me.

As my good friend The Internet once told me, your body is the only thing you come into this world with, and it’s all you have when you leave.  I know that my body is going to age, that it’s going to sag, go grey, get cancerous, get arthritic—the works. But that will be a journey that me and my body will go through together. And one day, when we go into the dying of the light together, and I have to say goodbye to my life-long companion, I’d like to think that when I go in for a slow-mo, heartfelt and epic high-five to say thank you for living my life with me, that my body will high-five me back.

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