Here in the Mirror: Finding Beauty Beyond Body Image

So, unexpectedly tonight I had an article pour out of me. You never know when the muse is going to show up, so I tend to go with it! I hope you enjoy it.

Here in the Mirror: Finding Beauty Beyond Body Image

Tonight, I looked at my body. I have not done this in a long time, not intently anyway. As I was undressing to shower, I caught my reflection in in the bathroom mirror and for some reason it stopped me. For some reason, I felt there was something I needed to see.

As I stood there staring at my naked reflection it occurred to me that I did not have the instinct to turn away in fear, as I had for many years. I was able to look solemnly and appreciate this image, this form that encompassed my physical being.

This is what I saw.

At first, I had old memories appear. I could see every place that I was ever touched in cruelty, every place on my body that I was violated by someone I should have been able to trust. I used to feel those touches repeat themselves over and over in my body, like a record endlessly skipping.

Then I saw the way I coped with this. I blamed my body for accepting those violations without putting up more of a fight. I blamed those places for attracting the violations, as if I had a choice, as if it was really my fault. So I punished my flesh. I split my skin open with razor blades and knives and scissors countless times- arms, legs, breasts, stomach- I cut everywhere I could. I saw the scars all over my body from those punishments and did not feel shame, only compassion. I remembered flashes of other mirrors, other bodily inspections, only then I was counting my bones. I punished by flesh was by trying to get rid of it altogether. I starved and puked and ran until I weighed practically nothing and was nearly dead; and yet I was proud. I felt safe in that body- excuse me, that skeleton. I felt strong and invincible which was ironic because I could hardly walk. I see now a body so far from that time. Healthy, capable, brave in its softness. I accept the shape that I am because it means that I am no longer in danger of dying. I accept it because I have enough respect for myself to not care what other people think, and to put what is best for my health and recovery before anything else.

When I turned I saw the eleven inch scar that curves down my back from my left shoulder blade to beneath my arm. I see four oval shaped scars each the size of a nickel; two beneath my left arm and two lower down on my side. These scars remind me how resilient the body is. After all, at twenty-three years old I had my chest cracked open and part of my lung removed; my heart stopped in surgery, I was in a coma for two days, I had four huge tubes coming out of my chest, an unidentified raging infection, and I still managed to fully recover. I am proud of these scars, because they make me remember how strong I really am, to have been able to survive that.

When I turned back around, I took one last look and realized that all of those things my body held were like a little history of my life. My body was a tablet that my story had been written on; each mark and scar and tattoo has a story, and those stories make up my life so far. And what I see in that, finally, is beauty. My body is beautiful. Mostly, because I am beautiful, and because I have survived and recovered and accepted and developed compassion for my experiences. This is the way I believe we can find beauty in ourselves: by removing the blame and fear and guilt and shame and rage that has been wrongly pinned on the body, and finding compassion for exactly where we are.

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

5 responses to “Here in the Mirror: Finding Beauty Beyond Body Image

  • Leslie Robin Kassal

    Sarah, this is very very beautiful, very inspirational.
    To have compassion for your Self, your Body, your Spirit and Soul is so Life-Giving!
    You have come to a point in your life (through hard work, I am sure) where Your Self is not the enemy. I am so proud of you!
    There are many people who walk this life absolutely wounded. We need your Voice, as it is inspirational, and instructive. I send you loving thank for your courage. Let us all be a blessing to one another, as we fight this Good Fight. We are not alone…….

    • writingforrecovery

      Wow, thank you so much for your kind words. I am honored! Truly, I have received so much love, compassion, support, care, and guidance from the people in my life that I want to repay it in some way. I want to show that I have taken it in and am using it not just for myself but for others’ benefit as well. I want to spread the joy and freedom I have found! And if anyone is able to take away some small part of it through my writing then I am grateful. It is only by God’s grace and dedication to the process that I am here now. I hope that people are able to resonate with that, as well as the painful parts of the process. Knowing that there really IS an end to the pain, you absolutely CAN recover completely even from severe trauma, and you are never, ever alone, is something to hold onto in the tough times. I want to show people that it can happen because I have DONE it! Again, thank you for your kind words. I wish you peace and blessings on your journey! ~Sarah

  • Jess

    Sarah,

    This is beautifully written! I like how you compare your cutting to a map of your life. That’s very powerful. I just wrote an entry on my self-harming experiences if you’d like to check it out.

    Take care,
    Jess

  • Anita Price

    I would love to share this post in my blog: http://healinghamlet.com/ which promotes healing through the arts (visual, music and writing). Please let
    me know if you are okay with this and thank you for everything you do!

    Anita Price

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