At the moment*, I am more at ease with my body image/shape/size than I’ve ever been. Seriously, ever. I recall standing out with red hair at 3 – and not in a good way, being bullied for my freckles at 5, being mocked as skinny at 7, laughed at as round at 11 … and then all the teenage body-hating that went on well into my 20s, added to by cancer & infertility in my 30s – etc etc.
The scar where my lymph nodes were removed 19 years ago still pulls when I stretch my arm. If I reach very high or laugh very big (love a big laugh) the stomach scar that goes from hip to hip for my DIEP mastectomy/reconstruction pulls and twinges. My 2 x breast cancers scars hurt more or less most days. I have chronic pain of varying degrees most days – knee, hip and shoulders are arthritic – a bit to do with youthful dance and gymnastics injuries, a bit to do with chemo & menopause in my 30s, a bit to do with being almost 56.
Meanwhile, I’m feeling strong and fit and IN my body. A lot of it is yoga, several classes a week and my own practice every day that I don’t have a class. Some of it is running 2-3 times a week (slowly, never more than 5k). Some of it is the love of a good woman (probably lots of it is this). Some of it is not drinking. Some of it is a deep awareness of my own mortality.
A few weeks ago a thing happened. Someone said, in passing, not meaning it nastily I’m sure, just in reference to a tough yoga class we’d both been at and I had been delighted that I was capable of attaining some of the poses despite the broken parts and how hard it was, “when you were showing off in class the other day …”.
Immediately I was 6. Maybe 7. Told off for being too big, too much, too loud, too everything. Too Stella. A lifetime of hating my body and a lifetime of being too Stella. And I tried not to mind, to assure myself they probably didn’t give it a second thought and it was about that person not me and still …
I was hurt because I wasn’t showing off, not at all, I was so in the class, simply doing what I could, moment to moment. I had been revelling in my body working nonetheless, in the possibility that I could be happy in my body. I was revelling in connection – my body and me – bodymind, mindbody, not a dualism imposed from outside, but unity. The ‘showing off’ phrase shattered the connection.
It really wasn’t that person’s fault. They weren’t to know that ‘showing off’ was a deep offence in my childhood home. And I’m grownup enough to both be hurt and realise that what hurt was not the words themselves, but the sense of being misunderstood, because I wasn’t showing off, I was living up.
Living up to my body’s potential. Living up to as strong as I can be. Living up to as alive as I can be. Living up to how I might be in a connected, one-not-three bodymindspirit. I don’t get that connection constantly, but I do get it more than I used to, maybe more now than since I was a very little kid.
If you’ve ever felt the body-disconnect that I have (and how many of us do!), I urge you to live up rather than worry about being thought to be showing off. (Especially women, how often are we told we’re too much?!) There is always going to be someone else’s opinion, someone else’s view that misunderstands who you are and where you are. But if we can aim to live up to ourselves, live right up to the edge of ourselves – that’s definitely something.
Living up with/in/to my body is definitely a joy. 25 of 55. 30 joys to go.
nb – if you’re interested in bodymind stuff and writing, I’m running a new workshop in summer for the Word Factory, looking at body-writing connection. It’s something I think about a lot in my own writing and have taught in improvisation-for-writers workshops, but never so specifically before. More info here.
*struck with tempting fate fear here. ignoring it.