Saturday, March 14, 2015

Project Self-love

((Trigger alert!  There will be talk about self-harm at some point in this post.  I don't normally do trigger alerts, however I know that this is a very hard thing for many people struggling with it and I would hate to set back anyone's hard earned progress in self-control.  So if you feel you might be triggered by talk of self-harm, or if it squicks you out or if you just don't want to know that about me...don't read the stuff in ITALICS))

**edited to chance the font so the italics would actually show up

There is a movement, mainly in YouTube, on baring all and bringing attention to the body shaming issues that are running rampant in our society, especially on line.  It was started by NatetheK who inspired a good friend of mine, TheFabledPhoenix.  He then inspired two of my other good friends:  Papa O and GreyerJane (she has a part 2 to her post with pictures).

I think this is a hugely powerful thing.  There is so much dishonesty in the media about what people look like.  I have seen so many articles and reveal-all's showing how all the models are Photoshopped to look the way they do in the media.  The images we are bombarded with day in and day out are these unrealistic 'perfect' fake illusions, and this seeps into our brains and effects the way we think about ourselves and each other.

I think that a lot of the body-shaming comes from people who are insecure in their own selves.  If you feel good about your body, you don't go around telling other people they are disgusting.  You might express your concerns about loved one's health or happiness, but you would do it in a loving and supportive way.  The comments that you see in body-shaming are designed to shift focus away from the speaker and on to anything else that will divert them from their own feelings about themselves.

I am not a picture person, never have been.  It isn't so much a body image thing for me, not really.  I will talk about the things I feel about my body here in a bit.  But I just wanted to touch on the photo thing real quick.  I have never looked at a photo of myself and really felt it was me.  My mental image of self doesn't typically match the wrapping.  Sometimes it's an age thing (my mental age is so not the same as my body-age).  Sometimes it's a gender thing.  I'm fine being seen in person, I just don't like pictures.

So I'm going to paint some word pictures here!  To start with, I live in a 36 year old female body (and I still have to count the years to remember how old I am).  I stand 5 foot 10 inches tall, and the last time I weighed myself I was 230 pounds (I am probably about the same, my clothes mostly still fit the same as they did then).  I am not particularly body shy, though I do keep my private bits private (though I still can't understand why we think wearing a string bikini is just fine, but showing non-see through underwear is bad).

I am overweight.  I know this.  For a long time I didn't want to accept it.  I carry my weight well, and have always gone in around the waist, so I told myself that because I did I couldn't be fat.  But I definitely have extra weight around the hips and butt well as up the waist.  It's just spread out so you don't see it as easily.  I can even tell that I've thickened all around my body because things like watches and rings that I wore in high school don't fit anymore.

I have a son, and I have stretch marks.  I have some shame about them, but not really for what you might think.  I never him (or my husband!) for 'ruining' my body.  Rather, I saw them as a mark of how ill-prepared I was to be a mother.  I didn't do the things I knew I should have done to take care of myself while pregnant.  I didn't put on lotion every day.  I don't know if it would have made a difference, but I do know that I regret not doing it.

I think that my self-image was set fairly young.  I took dance lessons in middle school, and I remember thinking that parts of my body were too big (I want to say thighs or butt, but honestly I don't remember).  And at that time, I was still more or less thin as a board, so I don't know if I was just comparing myself to other stick thin ballerinas or if I was fighting the maturation of my own body.

In high school, I started being aware of sex and boys and all of that, and it definitely effected how I viewed my body.  I was always a tom boy, and I had way more male friends than female.  I didn't do the makeup thing, rarely did the dress thing, and was much more likely to be barefoot than wear heels.  But I liked skimpy clothes.  I liked the feeling of power and the sense of attraction I felt when people looked.  I don't necessarily think it was healthy now, looking back, but it is what it is.  In a lot of ways, it set my mind's thoughts on personal interaction and sexuality, and I sometimes struggle with interpreting interpersonal relationships without that sexual lens (which definitely has gotten me in trouble over the years).  I am still very socially awkward in my own head, and a lot of social interactions leave me frozen inside.

I don't have a problem with casual touch.  I actual am a sort of touchy feely person.  But my mind will race over 'how do I respond appropriately?!?' and I will sort of freeze up and it gets very strange in my head sometimes.  I definitely don't want people to not touch me (okay, there are some people that I don't like touching me...but that is the exception, not the rule), I just muddle through it and take comfort in the fact that all the wierdness is going on in my head and no one else knows about it.

I also started to hit my first dark times in high school.  It's strange, I had a happy childhood.  My parents were strict at times, but definitely loving, and home life was good.  We were well off, and while I was probably borderline spoiled, I did have limits and rules I had to follow.  I was expected to be a good girl.  And it always felt horribly wrong to me.

I felt like I didn't belong in that life, like it was too good for me.  And I knew I had it good, and my brain knew there was nothing wrong with me, that I was a good person, so that made it sort of worse, because then I felt like I was being ungrateful for the life I had.  Perhaps it was just my form of teen angst.  I also have always been empathetic, and as a tom boy, I hated when things hit me so hard.  I hated crying, I hated feeling weak and 'girly'.  I would rather be angry than hurt.

When I was little, I always hated having scabs.  I would pick at them, even if it hurt, until the hard bits were gone.  I often made it worse, blood was common, and to this day, if I am not actively doing something, I may find my hands running over my arms or face, feeling for anything that isn't just smooth skin.

I remember when the first time I thought about hurting myself physically.  Two of the boys I knew were playing around, mock-fighting with some plastic knives from the cafeteria.  One of them slashed at the other, and we were all kind of shocked that he actually cut him enough to draw blood.  I don't know why my brain made the jump, but I know that was where I started.

Cutting with a plastic knife isn't easy and it isn't quick.  It is more of a sawing than a cutting.  And at first it wasn't deep, it was more like scratching at your arm with your nails, over and over.  It became a reminder to me, that I was strong, that I could do something like this, feel the pain, and function.  It was a security blanket, a bandage for the emotional stuff that I was struggling to deal with.  Physical pain was easy for me.  If I could make it hurt on the outside, I could ignore the inside.

At some point I graduated from plastic to metal.  We had serrated kitchen knives, and though they were sharper, it is still hard to cut with a serrated knife.  I liked that.  It was work, it was ritual, it was repetition.  It was slow and it took willpower.  And it lasted.  I would wear the marks for days before they would heal.  I cut the side of my wrist (not the part with the veins!  I swear I wasn't suicidal, just after the pain/endorphins).  I wore a bandana or other thick bracelet to cover it.  

I branched out after that though.  I got dumb.  I was trying to find places that I liked that were less obvious.  I have done the hip bones (where pants rub), and only once across the palm of my hands.  That one scared me.  You actually have to cut deep to bleed there, and I remember reading a book where a girl was accidentally cut across those tendons and almost lost the use of her hand.  I never cut there again.

After I got married, I tried to hide my cutting better, because of course my husband would see more of my body than even my parents.  I would just scratch at my arms with the tip of a blade, barely enough to leave a mark, but it would make it red and I would create patterns all up my arm.  Sometimes they were visible the next day, but often they would be gone completely by morning.

I also discovered razor blades.  This was a different thing entirely.  There was no build up, the pain was instant and it was precise.  I drew lines on my fingers, and designs other places.  I transformed some of what I was doing into deliberate spiritual practice:  creating sigils like a spiral on my shoulder.  And still it was something that I rarely talked about, because there is so much stigma on it.

I don't think that cutting is something that I will ever grow out of.  It is a part of me.  And I don't feel like it is something that I need to set aside.  I am very careful, and have been for many years.  I may have my roots in depression and anger, but it is no longer about that for me.  I don't cut as often, but I haven't set it aside entirely.  And I don't hide my scars.

Those aren't the only scars I have either.  I actually like my scars.  I have on on my arm from ballet class, when I got clipped by a high kick from another dancer.  She had a safety pin on her shoe, and it had come open and made a gash on my arm.  I have one on my elbow from where I tripped over my umbrella walking up some stairs.  I have some on my hand from where I got bit by a puppy while breaking up a fight when I worked at a pet store.  My scars tell stories of my life.  Some are dumb, some are interesting, but they are all me.

My body is not all that I am, but I am my body.  It is who I am, it is who I show the world, and I am not ashamed by it.  I know what power it holds, and I know what it is capable of.  I know it's strengths and I know what it is weak to.  Recently I've been exposed to the idea of treating one's body as an animal (or child..the subconscious mind, it responds to sensations but not so much words).   So I have been talking to my body, which is an interesting process.  I also love the mental trick of always thinking of your body as a temple:  how do you dress your temple, what do you put into it?

I could talk about body related stuff for hours and hours, but I think I'm going to wrap this up here.  All I can say is that I am happy with my body and if anyone else isn't, they can keep their opinion to themselves. 


  1. Thats a powerful idea, talking to your body. I've talked to myself for years, but not with the goal of actually communicating with my body.

  2. I find that it forces me to stop and think about what my body wants and makes me listen for an answer.