This weekend I did two things that I haven’t done since I was a child.
1 – went to a fancy dress party without alcohol
2 – went out in public wearing a leotard
I love fancy dress parties. I LOVE them. I love to dress up, do different makeup, hair, be someone else for a few hours. Halloween is hands down my favourite celebration day of the year and has been since my first attempts to trick or treat aged 8 dressed as a bat in a costume made out of my gym kit, a couple of bin bags and a cat mask. Back then Halloween wasn’t really A Thing in England so most of the neighbours were rather bemused, but I insisted on having a Halloween party every year nonetheless.
In the past I’ve dressed up as, amongst other things, a Weeping Angel, Stormer from Jem and the Holograms, Dazzler, The Cheshire Cat, A Thesaurus, I will dress like a pirate at the drop of a fucking tricorn hat. I have an entire suitcase so big that I can actually get into it and zip it shut with me still inside full to bursting with fancy dress costumes, accessories, wigs and make up. You get the picture. I like to play dress up. I usually pick a character where I can make the costume as flattering to my figure as possible, because for as long as I’ve been self aware, I’ve had issues with my body. Costumes would be carefully constructed so no one would see my round belly, my wobbly arms, my thunderous thighs, and my monstrously disproportionate hips. All of these parts of me must be hidden at all costs, lest people shrink from me in horror and faint at the sight of my vast wobblyness. Where I couldn’t make the costume flattering enough, I just made sure I was so drunk I didn’t care what the hell I looked like. Of course, that often had the knock on effect that I couldn’t really remember the party.
The thing is, my body parts, while perhaps a bit wobbly, they are *not* disgusting or monstrous. Really, at a UK size 12-16 (depending on area you’re measuring) they aren’t even that big. They are the component parts of my body which comprise *me*. Why do I pick apart myself in this cruel way, in a manner I would never consider doing to anyone else? I look at everyone else around me and see their beauty – see their composite whole, their person, and their completeness. I don’t look at my friends and separate out their body parts into “perfect” and “wrong”. This is of course a rhetorical question – the answer lies all around us in the every day messages telling women that the most important thing about us is our appearance. Everything else is secondary.
I learned the hard way that, seriously, that’s complete bullshit. And even knowing that it is bullshit, it’s really REALLY hard to get out of your own head when all you can see is that your body is a collection of parts which are ‘Too XXX’. Too small. Too big. Too thin. Too wobbly. Too uneven. Too frizzy.
Too COMPARED TO WHAT? Too compared to a teeny tiny totally unrepresentative sample of women in the media who are held up as having the ‘right’ shape. And what is the ‘right’ shape? Because this shit isn’t inbuilt you know. We don’t have a hardwired image in all of our brains of the ‘perfect shape’. The ‘right’ shape is entirely socially constructed and perceptions of ‘beauty’ differ massively across cultures.
One project trying to undo some of this ‘too’ damage is Jes M Baker and Liora K‘s awe inspiring ‘Expose‘. I first saw this a couple of weeks ago and have revisited the site many times to gaze at the wonderful bodies. The experience of seeing bodies that *look like yours* presented in such a sensitive and beautiful way is potentially transformative. I’ve since been thinking a great deal about my body and how I can accept it and bring it back into being part of ‘me’ again instead of a lump of muscle and skin and fat that I walk around within, which is somehow a separate entity with which I am in constant battle.
So. When I was invited to a party with the theme of “Rubbish Wrestling Gimmicks” and my friend suggested “crazy cat ladies” and I googled “80s female wrestlers” and realised that they basically wore leotards and tights instead of going OH GOD NO I CAN’T BECAUSE MY BODY IS TOO XXX AND THE DRINKS AND EVERYTHING IS TOO XXX, I decided to go and buy a damn leotard and some leopard print leggings and wear those mofos with a pair of damn cat ears and I WILL FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT because this is MY DAMN BODY and as much as we may fall out over things like headaches and muscle pains and joint issues it is MINE and it is the only one I will ever have and LET’S JUST DO THIS THING. (I suspect I might have said some of this out loud in the shop’s changing room judging by the odd look I got from the lady working there when I left the cubicle.)
I went to the party, in my leotard and leopard print leggings and ears, me and my big thighs and my round tummy and my curvy old hips. I stuck to the soda water (ok, I fess up, I also had a can of Monster Rehab. Don’t judge me – I have to have *something*. And it has TEA in it.) and I had a brilliant time. I felt like Bettie Page. Somehow something ticked over in my brain to turn what I’d aways seen as chub and flub to soft and delicious curves. I felt sexy and beautiful and surprisingly at ease. I won’t say I felt entirely comfortable *all*night, but considering that I put on a swimming costume for the first time a month ago, I’d say feeling attractive in a leotard while totally sober is a massive step.
It helps that I’ve kept up the swimming twice weekly, that I’ve kept up the cycling to work even though the weather is getting crapper, and that I’ve kept up (mostly) with the massive sugar cull. All of that has combined to helping me to feel that much happier with what I see in the mirror and feeling more comfortable in my own skin. So it wasn’t all down to the Expose project – but it was a final step for me in realising that my body isn’t abnormal. If you think about it, all bodies are ‘abnormal’. Because what *is* normal when we’re all so different? I won’t ever be a size 10 – I am just not built that way. And thanks to the last few weeks I now know that I am comfortable with that. I don’t need to bully myself and berate myself for not fitting into an unrealistic mold. I just need to carry on learning to love my body, and remember that it’s not just my body – it’s me.
As Liora K puts so beautifully:
…their bodies deserved to be seen, that what they perceive as faults are simply THEM, and are neither right nor wrong. That showing their bodies won’t innately cause them harm. That their breasts won’t cause damage to those around them, or their bellies or thighs either. That their nudity, while making them vulnerable, does not make them at fault. And that lastly, their bodies are their vehicles through life, and to treat them with kindness.
I kind of want to get “your body is your vehicle through life, treat it with kindness” tattooed somewhere on me, as a constant reminder to keep hold of my new-found body positivity, because feeling good about myself as I am feels a million times better than feeling bad because of something I’m not.