I’ve been sick the last couple of weeks, as per yesterday’s post explaining my prolonged absence. Nothing serious, in the grand scheme of things, just a nasty virus. But knowing that it was just a temporary thing, and wasn’t serious didn’t make me feel any less sick or wretched.
It’s a humbling experience, sickness. It makes you realise that your body is not a machine. That it has limitations and requirements. That it needs taking care of. That, although we are miraculous and amazing and strong, our bodies also have a fragility which is part and parcel of being human. Our skin can bruise, our bones can break, our bodies can get sick and tired.
Sickness, however fleeting, however slight on the scale of real suffering, casts things in a different light. I know being ill this last fortnight made me realise how precious health is. How we take it for granted until it falters or fails.
When I was eating-disordered, I would get dizzy all the time, have horrible headaches, frequent colds. My nails would break, my hair came out in clumps and my lips were permanently blue. I almost always felt unwell, but in my head, this was different to being genuinely sick, and I didn’t class myself as ill. I pushed it aside, reasoning that my body was simply responding to the care it was getting. Not feeling good was a side effect of being thin. Not the most desirable side effect, but if it meant that my bones showed and I felt suitably calm and in control, then I would accept it as a necessary evil.
Looking back on this from a healthy vantage point makes me so, so sad.
I’d like to say that my idea of the perfect body has changed. That I think the perfect body is a healthy body, regardless of how it looks. And I do believe this to an extent. And certainly when it comes to other people.
But then it comes to my own body. And in truth, I still grapple with the way I look. I’m too tall, my nose is too long, my hips are too wide, I have breasts like a teenaged boy. I’m not pretty. I don’t have perfect skin, perfect hair, perfect teeth.
Intellectually, I know that most women, eating-disordered or not, are dissatisfied with their bodies. I’ve had conversations with my friends that sound like we’re at a pick-and-mix – If I could choose, I’’d have J-Lo’s face, Jennifer Aniston’s arms and Gisele’s body. At the same time, we ignore our own attributes. People have told me that they would love to have my long legs, which I hate because it’s almost impossible to find skirts and trousers long enough. My sister has glorious, glossy red hair that people would stop her in the street to comment on, but she strips it with bleach, colours it blonde.
Even supermodels talk about their insecurities, their real or imagined flaws. If someone who makes a living being photographed for her supposed perfection is insecure about her appearance, what hope do the rest of us have?
Well, we can start by realising that we are NOT our bodies.
Why do you love your friends? Because they have pretty eyes, a wasp-like waist, legs that go on for days? No. You love them because they get you. Because they are funny, intelligent, kind. Because they make you laugh. Because they are there when you cry. Nothing at all to do with how beautifully shaped their eyebrows are, or how toned their tummies might be.
And I know that realising this isn’t the same thing as owning it. I understand the truth of I am more than my body at the same time as I secretly long to look like the models in Vogue or the
Hollywood actresses with teeth like pearls and flawless
skin. I think the important thing is not letting it define you, or prevent you
from doing things. Not getting so caught up in your appearance that you get
sick, or compromise your happiness. Because everyone
has something beautiful about them. And everyone