This week, I am sitting down with a coffee to do something a bit different and a bit more personal than usual: I’m talking about body positivity for Mental Health Awareness Week. Anyone who knows me will know Mental Health is an important issue for me, having had my own difficulties (I’ve written about that before – here and here).. This year, the focus is body positivity.
This week I’m drinking an old Steampunk favourite, the Tweega. A Tanzanian coffee with tasting notes of tinned peaches and mixed peel.
I used to be a person who never thought much about my body. It was just who I was and that was that. In my teens I was disgustingly skinny, and ridiculously unhealthy with it. I ate appallingly, fruit and vegetables were mythical treats or a teaspoon of something on the side of an evening meal. I only exercised if I had to (school) or bits of walking during my day. My poor body must have hated me, but it kept me going. I was never ill and I stayed the same shape. Somewhere along the line I started to gain some curves, I ate healthier and did the occasional exercise. Most of the time, as long as I could still fasten my jeans, I didn’t give my body much thought. It just was. The first time I remember not liking my body was in the build up to my wedding, when I was obsessed with how my arms looked and went on a fad diet. But I ate chinese takeout for three days straight before the wedding and spent the first day of my honeymoon eating the top tier of my wedding cake, so it obviously wasn’t that big a deal.
Then I got pregnant. I think everyone who has a baby has a point in their pregnancy where they feel weird. You can love the fact that you’re growing a human and be freaked out by how much that changes you at the same time. People everywhere told me I was HUGE. Thank you random strangers for your input! I didn’t always love the changes, but hey, I was having a baby and pregnant people change shape. And on I went.
My real issues with my body came after the baby. I didn’t care what shape or size I was. I cared that my body had failed. My baby was eventually evicted the old-fashioned way with a pair of forceps that went higher than a metal instrument ever should, via a 67 hour labour and a failed emergency section. I was a mess (and not even a hot one). I felt like I had failed at bringing him safely into the world. My body had failed at the thing all women are supposed to be capable of. I couldn’t breastfeed him because making milk was a thing my body decided against. Again, I felt like my body had failed me.
Eventually, I recovered. My child was growing up happy and healthy, and I made a sort of peace with not having been able to breastfeed. But I had a huge scar across my abdomen from the section. I still do have that scar (it’s not going anywhere). It runs from one hip to the other, with an upwards turn at one end. It dips into my abdomen with a little ledge either side where the surrounding skin dips inwards. My muscles there are weak and I can’t feel anything for a good cm or so either side of the scar. It was red and angry then, it hurt, and I saw it every day, every time I dressed, every shower. Every time I saw it, I hated it, it was a reminder that I had failed at something that should have been easy. Well-meaning people told me to see it as a positive reminder of how my child came safely into the world, of the power of making it through an emergency delivery. For me, it has never been, and can never be, that. It will always be a reminder that I failed at the emergency procedure no-one fails. It’s a scar that reminded me every day of something that was done to me, and that didn’t succeed.
At some point I decided to try to turn it into a positive, and I had my first tattoo. It sits over half of my scar. A feather, three birds and the words “be brave”. Yes, it’s partly influenced by Divergent, partly by Buffy, partly by the many pictures I saw of feathers and flying birds. It’s also a symbol of freedom, of making peace, and claiming back a part of my body I hated. It doesn’t fully cover the scar, so that I can still see it and perhaps be reminded that if I can survive that labour and what came after it, I can survive just about anything. I had no other tattoo then. I reasoned that if I hated the tattoo then at least I would look at that part of my body and hate it for something I had actively done to myself. I love my tattoo.
Do I love my body now? Not really. I’m probably the heaviest I’ve been in my life. Jeans shopping reduces me to a furious ball of rage. I have other scars from a cholecystectomy that dot my abdomen (but I don’t hate them). I have a very complicated relationship now with eating and how my body feels, but this is health related and I know it will pass. I get cross with my body because it feels like I am always ill. Am I trying to love it and be more body positive? Yes. I am learning to love it, to take care of it, to eat things that it needs to be well, to see exercise as a way of caring for myself and appreciating the things my body can do. I may always have issues with how he got here, but I look at my wee boy now and think I MADE HIM; I grew him myself, and I am still growing him, and how wonderful it is to be able to do that.