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