It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when I started to notice myself developing abnormally. Perhaps it was in my late teens when I started to obscure my body, preferring one pieces over two amongst friends at the beach. I didn’t know what was happening medically, nor did I know what I could do to fix it. As a deep source of shame, I didn’t allow anyone else a chance to catch it either. I held onto the hope that it would eventually self correct through the tumultuous journey of adolescence.
It never did. As I grew, surrounded by girls flaunting their perfect bodies at an all girls school where girls frequently and comfortably changed in the hallway, I felt more and more disgusted by myself. I preferred baggy shirts and high waisted pants– anything that could hide the truth of my deformity from everyone else, and especially from me. It’s as if I was scared someone else would notice because that would make the truth so much more evident to myself. It would then be real.
I started developing pain in my lower back in my early twenties. Seeing multiple doctors, I was told that there was nothing that could be done. Surgery to correct the misalignment was too invasive and I would be out of commission for six months to a year. The only thing I could do would be to manage it and prevent it from getting worse for the rest of my life. “I guess you’ll just have to skip wearing bikinis, then,” said one doctor with a shrug.
Unproductively, and perhaps subconsciously, I led myself to the Fashion industry in which I was constantly surrounded by models. I felt increasingly flawed. I beat myself up every day not understanding why it was that such a basic thing, an aligned body, that other people took for granted was something that I could never have. It wasn’t that I required a perfect body by any means. I just wanted my body to be normal. This self hatred became an obsession and eventually consumed me.
It wasn’t until one day when I finally asked my boyfriend whether he noticed. Baffled, he replied no. In the past, I had always tried to hide my body covertly or refuse to discuss it, thinking that if it wasn’t addressed then I could continue to deny it. In fact, it used to give me anxiety to undress in front of anyone, knowing that they must be secretly judging me. His answer confused me, as in the mirror, it was all I saw. Through his eyes, I must’ve looked very different. I must have looked normal.
As I learned to be kinder to myself, I started to allow my body to affect me less. The pain, which flares up especially during times of stress, is a reminder that it’s always there, but that doesn’t mean my self rejection has to be, too. It made me wonder, why is it we’re so hard on ourselves about things that other people don’t even notice? In the long run, do these things we preoccupy ourselves with matter? I once worked with a private trainer who let me in on a secret- he said, “don’t be fooled by the perfect bodies on trainers. Trainers are the most insecure about their bodies, because they notice every little part of themselves and why they need to work on it to improve it- parts you’ve never even thought of.” The disease of self-rejection is rampant, I discovered. Even amongst those I was envious of and who represented an ideal.
As children we never judged ourselves. It isn’t until adolescence when something clicks — perhaps social conditioning has finally worked and we learn to judge ourselves based on uniform standards. As we grow, it becomes so engrained that this judgment is a reflex. We’re taught to reject ourselves so that we will always feel the need to improve. Only then do we keep buying into negative messages and feel the need to do and buy things to “improve.”
It took years of work to finally get to a place where, instead of wanting to change myself, I began to accept myself. I then noticed a strange thing happening: I became even more accepting of others too, and began becoming closer to the people around me. I became a more comfortable and compassionate person all around, and people felt good around me. My imperfection created within me an even more startling authenticity and self-awareness. Nothing was “wrong” with me. I was just taught to believe that I lived with an affliction.
Currently, although the pain sometimes is difficult to bear, I know it is our pain that can make us better people. I’ve come to realize that we should love our quirks, the things that make us different, because they mark us as individuals. I’ve had days when I would gladly trade my body for someone else’s body and life, later snapping out of it and realizing if I was presented the choice I really wouldn’t. As a group-think culture capable of great evil, it’s important to appreciate your imperfections, your uniqueness, your personal battles, because what is needed is more individuals. It’s individuals that make changes for the betterment of the world, and their imperfections are an endless source of inspiration and impetus.