Since beginning My Sock It Tour Of London fundraising for Beat, I’ve been thinking even more about the messages of the body positivity movement. My fundraising campaign is not only a logistical and meteorological challenge – running it alongside work and needing to be outdoors a lot in what seems to be a cold month; it’s also a psychological challenge, and one that it’s about time I fully took on!
To be able to take 125 pictures over the coming weeks, I have to be ready to take my snaps at any moment, no matter how I’m feeling about my body. I spent a decade projecting an inner low self-worth and sense of failure onto my body, first hating it, then later completely disconnecting from it so that I didn’t believe it actually existed. I was only a jumbled up, distressed mind somehow able to move through space; I didn’t know how. I didn’t have a body.
This is an aspect of anorexia, and probably also other eating disorders, that is little discussed. For some of us, it’s no longer about feeling fat or thin; we actually lose our bodies because it’s too scary to confront them. For me, the worse my anorexia became, the more I disconnected I became from my body. To connect and confront it would have meant to confront all my physical symptoms, to admit how ill I was, and to have to work out how to fix it. So I lost my body instead.
When I finally got treatment, I was so disconnected that I was shocked to be told just how ill I had become. I was forced to confront my body, and that was terrifying. My treatment didn’t seem to provide many coping mechanisms for this, but I did manage to partially re-connect.
How did this happen? For me, it happened through establishing a routine of better self-care. It was initially enforced by my treatment in that I had to stop and eat meals and not only meals – snacks too, which had become an alien concept. I suddenly needed to sleep for the first time in years. My body seemed to realise I was going to be kind and it simply gave in and let me rest.
And gradually by caring for my body, it started to exist again. I was still scared of it, but at least it was there. I remember one night sitting on my bed, having just eaten dinner, and allowing myself to watch my favourite romantic drama on TV, when my body came back. I looked down at my own arms, my own legs, and touched them. They were real. They were weak and tired, but they were there and I wasn’t going to let them go again.
Losing the Fear
I’m still scared of my body, and I still have days where it doesn’t exist. But I’m fighting to be able to see it, and even more so to be able to appreciate it – to appreciate myself as a whole person – body, mind and soul.
Taking 125 photos and seeing so many images of myself is reinforcing my body’s existence. I’m starting to feel proud that I’ve re-built enough strength to move around my city and fulfil my challenge. It’s encouraging me to build more strength as the ambitions for fundraising, contributing to this world, and living a full busy life that I had when I was so young are returning to me.
Becoming Body Positive
Another way that I’m rediscovering my body is through engaging with the body positivity movement. It’s real progress that many of us have moved on from thinking that we all have to be the same – looking like the women we see in magazines, the celebrities who follow certain restrictive diets and have personal chefs make their meals, or the even more narrowly specified (in both senses of the term) catwalk models. The more of us who shout out that we have moved on, the better. I hope and I believe that eventually even the major mainstream fashion houses will have to change to keep any customers. I just hope it’s sooner.
However, there is one thing I read and see a lot in the body positive movement that bothers me, and that’s the word ‘perfect.’ I’ve seen a lot of articles and social media posts recently proudly asserting ‘I’m not perfect, but I’m happy/strong/proud etc.’ Great that we’re feeling good, but are we really? Why are we still using the ‘perfect’ word? Who decided what’s ‘perfect’ in the first place?
Ditch the ‘Perfect’
When we say we’re not ‘perfect’, we’re still giving credence to the idea that there is a ‘perfect’ body type. Maybe nowadays at least it changes a little from season to season. Maybe I might have a season when my shape is ‘in’, or at least part of my shape – so I could have acceptable legs one season, maybe an acceptable height the next. If I get really lucky, I could have a few months where I am completely ‘perfect’…fingers crossed!
I’m not ‘perfect.’ I don’t have the ‘perfect’ body…cos there ain’t no such thing! I have small breasts, thin lips, large teeth, and wide hips. I’m not ‘perfect.’ The woman standing next to me has large breasts, narrow hips, short legs. The woman standing next to her has full lips, curly hair, large feet. Either we’re all ‘perfect’, or maybe none of us is…
I prefer the none, as ‘perfect’ is an exclusive term. We are all beautiful because we are all different. We are all individuals, and our minds, bodies and souls come together in unique and fascinating ways. And different people in this world will gaze at us and think ‘she’s beautiful’ because our particular type of uniqueness will speak to them.
I’m not ‘perfect.’ I don’t give anyone the power to tell me that my shape is in or out of fashion. I’m Hannah, and I have a body again, and I’m learning to love it. I won’t let anything or anyone take it away from me again.
Hannah’s Sock It Tour Of London is now on! – Please visit my JustGiving page to find out more, and donate if you can: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/hannah-bird7