I wrote this poem after I woke up one morning, looked at myself in the mirror and seriously questioned whether I should get Botox. And then I seriously questioned my own mental state for even considering it. And then I thought, WTF, why am I wasting so much time and energy worrying about how I look. And then I wondered, well if I am occasionally fixated on these fine lines on my forehead, how many other millions of women (and men) are obsessing about body image? And then I speculated that if we weren’t worrying about our bodies all the time, that surplus energy could power the whole planet.
I probably need to back-track a bit, because this is a relatively new state of (un)consciousness for me. You see, as a teenager and in my twenties (perhaps unlike some) I was always pretty happy with my body. Sure I wished I was a bit taller, but other than that, I never really spent much time thinking about it. Then I had three children. Two came as a pair.
Of course, pregnancy will affect all women differently. But let’s be honest, your body will never the same as it was before you brought life into the world! In reality, the flawless post-baby-red-carpet-ready celebrities you see in magazines and on television are the result of endless airbrushing and multiple pairs of Spanx. Unfortunately, they still make most of us feel inadequate at an already vulnerable time.
I used to be reasonably fit. I am vegetarian, have practised yoga for over a decade and have always been naturally slim. When I had my first child my body stretched and strained but within 6 months of a natural birth I returned to a slightly heavier, slightly hippier, saggier-boobed version of myself. But not that dissimilar.
Having twins, however, was a totally different story. I grew as wide as I was tall. People would literally stop in the street to stare at me, no doubt wondering how I was still standing upright. In one of the last photos I have of myself before giving birth I am wearing a bright blue dress and, I swear, look like a blueberry.
With the twins I had to have a caesarean, and unfortunately the cut turned into an angry rope-like keloid scar. My belly button got pushed so far out that it never found its way back in. I miraculously escaped major stretch marks but my stomach muscles now resemble a pile of spaghetti. My nipples grew to the size of dinner plates and have failed to return to their normal dimensions. My breasts were filled to bursting and sucked dry dozens of times a day, leaving what now look like sad week-old balloons after a kid’s party (although bras can still do miraculous things so don’t lose all hope). Then I stopped breastfeeding but kept eating for three, and I am now heavier than I have ever been before. Mix in total sleep deprivation, my first grey hairs, a totally lapsed exercise regime, and some days I feel unrecognisable.
“But you look great for having had three kids”, most people say. Thanks. And most of the time I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin. But if I’m being totally honest I have found the dramatic and sudden changes to my body unexpectedly difficult to accept. Even more challenging is that while I lament my expanded waistline and deformed belly button, I simultaneously berate myself for being so trivial and for buying into this unrealistic and static model of beauty and femininity. A model that is created by our patriarchal and consumerist society. A model that is designed to keep women feeling disempowered and never enough. A model crafted to sell us billions of dollars’ worth of cosmetics to mask the very insecurity that it has carefully constructed. I get it. But even though I can clearly see the ruse, I am still, at times, overwhelmed by its power.
But recently I had a bit of a revelation. I was meditating and focused on the inner energy in my body (which, by the way never ages), and I came to a clear realisation that I had lost sight of myself as a whole being. Constantly bombarded by images of perky boobs, bootylicious butts and flat stomachs, I viewed my body merely a set of disconnected parts, rather than the integrated and interconnected miracle it is.
You may rarely appreciate it, but your heart beats without you even thinking about it. Your eyes can detect just a few photons of light. There are a 100 billion nerve cells in your brain that put together your thoughts and highly coordinated physical actions. And every atom in your body is billions of years old, produced in the big bang. We are, in fact, stardust.
I also began to recognise that every single thing I love and cherish in life is made possible through my body. It is with my arms that every evening I wrap my freshly bathed, sweet-smelling twins in a towel and cradle them in what we affectionately call a ‘baby bundle’. With my teeth and tastebuds and tongue I can enjoy transcendent sushi with dear friends. With my legs and hips and every part of me I can dance until dawn. With my hands and mind and imagination I can express myself in the written word.
My body is the portal through which I exist, through which I live this human life that I love so much. And grasping that, makes me grateful for my spectacular body. I still wish most days that my stomach was as flat as it used to be before my three children, but I feel more accepting of myself and more accepting of the fact that I am not immune to the billion-dollar power of the beauty industry. I figure the best we can do is be kind to ourselves and each other. And rather than focus on individual body parts, let’s focus on feeling whole.
And the truth is, I am already whole. We all are. Just the way we are.