take one woman with low self esteem, but quite good hair
add one moronic illness
stir in some medication which causes hair to fall out
mix it all up and this is what you get...

Monday, August 08, 2005

Body image 

Low self-image has always been a feature in the Anxious world. It began in my teenage years, when the seemingly never ending widening of hip and thigh coupled with a distinct lack of complementary “bustular” expansion left me with arguably the least attractive of female body shapes to contend with – the so-called “great British pear”. Let’s face it, the expression “it’s all gone pear-shaped” is rarely used to convey a positive outcome.

An unusual combination of dark brown hair and almost black eyes with deathly white, almost translucent and sometimes freckled skin, plus the healthy dose of dark and abundant body hair (too much detail, perhaps...) didn’t exactly help.

The last thing you need as a self-conscious teenager is to stand out from the crowd, but at 5ft10 and built like a brick shit-house, I felt not only like a sore thumb but one with a huge blue plaster on it. My self-consciousness was usually translated by the outsider into aloofness and self-confidence except by those who actually bothered to get to know the shy, fatherless little girl beneath the hulkish exterior. These people were few, but loyal.

I often wonder if that “fatherless” bit matters. How would I have turned out if my father had lived? I know I wouldn’t have grown up in Walthamstow, but in leafier Twickenham – the move was planned before my father’s illness took hold. Anxious, the West Londoner – or would that be Middlesex-er? – what would she have been like? Maybe she would have attended a grammar school rather than a comprehensive – would she have got better results? Would she have been imbued with confidence, ambition, elaborate plans for her future?

I began shrouding myself in shapeless clothes, a trend which would continue, with a couple of brief interruptions, until my thirties. No top was too long, no trousers too baggy. Nothing could cling, nothing could reveal the shape underneath. I would dread summer because I would stubbornly refuse to wear thinner, lighter fabrics and, as a consequence, would slowly boil within. Skirts, unless they virtually touched the floor and were completely opaque, were forbidden. Shoes, jewellery and bags were always chunky, never delicate, never feminine. I lost sight of the woman within – the only evidence was the long hair and heavy make up. Mirrors were enemies, to be spurned, avoided, turned away from. Ditto shop windows. Only the face could be viewed in the mirror, but even then, not at too close quarters...

Slowly, around the age of thirty, the change started to come. I’m not sure what started it. Maybe seeing one too many family snapshots which made me want to cry. Gradually, I began to change the way I dressed; clothes which fitted rather than shrouded, shoes which allowed my feet to come out of hiding. Then there was the running. Suddenly, clothes starting becoming too big. Tentatively, I began to reach for sizes which I hadn’t worn since my teenage years, finding to my astonishment that they fitted. I was able to look my new self not only in the eye but from top to toe, appraising myself objectively and with a smidgeon of ... no, surely not... yes, pride. It was *this* Anxious, the rather confident and (dare I say) sexy young woman, who was able to approach Him two years ago (almost to the day...) and say “Hey, here I am, do you want some?”

I can feel that woman starting to slip away a bit just lately. There’s the hint of disgust as she catches sight of her naked flesh, the jealous looks at the petite girls in their pretty summer outfits with their slim, tanned limbs on display. Where’s the acceptance that there are some things you can’t change about yourself, no matter how many miles you run or bars of chocolate you shun? Where’s the appreciation of all the qualities on offer, not just the external ones? That the body is the means of conveying the “self” within and is not “the whole story”.

I sometimes catch sight of her in the mirror but she keeps turning away. I wish she could stick around. I actually quite liked her...

I mustn't let her get away again...

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