Sunday, 17 November 2013

Future Me

I've been dealing with a shoulder injury since mid-August. Recently, worker's comp - I was injured at work - decided that I needed more than just physiotherapy, so I was sent to a rehabilitation center. Twice a week, we go swimming, something I've been avoiding doing for a long, long time.

Swimming is fine, in theory. Being in the water, the soothing feeling of weightlessness, of being surrounded and yet isolated, these are all wonderful, amazing things.

If only there weren't bathing suits.

Wouldn't it be great, a fellow rehab patient said to me, if there was a tunnel that took you directly into the pool from the changeroom? Yes, I said, especially if instead of water, the pool was filled with chocolate milk. You could skip that whole worrying what people were thinking of you as you performed your awkward walk of shame from the changing area into the pool.

My body had changed a lot in the three years that passed since the last time I went swimming, so I decided I needed a new bathing suit, or at least a new top, one that fit me now and not the bigger busted me of three years past. I miss that me. I miss that body. I want to find the me of three years ago and hug her and tell her that she's beautiful, that she needs to love herself now because now is the only time that her body will be that way. I want to tell her to buy those dresses, to wear those skirts and those tops and all of the things she thinks she's not pretty enough for.

I imagine the me in three years will feel the same way about me now, and the me in six years will feel that way about three-years-in-the-future me. Being good to myself isn't just for me right now, it's so me-in-the-future can look back at pictures and think, "damn, I was awesome then! How brave I was to wear those things! How confident! How fearless!" rather than remembering all the things I wanted to do and wear but didn't and wishing I had.

I'm trying to be true to myself, to be honest with this thing I'm writing about, so I bought a bikini top. I also bought a tank top that goes over it. I've worn it a handful of times, never without the top over it, though. It sounds like nothing, but it is a lot. My last swim suit was a t-shirt top and long shorts. Being confident enough to show this much skin is new and a bit frightening to me, but each time it gets easier.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Immodesty Experiment

Today I read about Lauren Jayne's Modesty Experiment, in which she covers up and swears off makeup, shedding fashion to let her inner beauty shine through.

This is bullshit.

Cultural appropriation aside - and make no mistake, there is one heck of a lot of that going on here - for North American women who are not of a religion or culture that requires certain types of clothing, not wearing makeup and covering up isn't taking off the costume that society foists upon us as women, it's wearing a different costume to hide from it. Any body confidence you feel when you cover up isn't because you're not conforming to beauty standards by being covered - it's because no one can see the parts of your body that don't measure up. It's like painting a forest scene on the wall of your prison cell and declaring yourself free. I covered up that way for years, although I didn't ever try to pretend I was empowering myself.

I'm fishbelly pale, with dark, dark hair and incredibly sensitive skin. My legs should look marble-smooth and creamy white once I've shaved, but instead I'm peppered with visible black specks just under my too-transparent skin. Maybe to you they're not so obvious, but to me they are a ten-foot-high neon sign that flashes the word "ugly" over and over. I am incredibly clumsy and bruise easily, so my legs are almost always marred with yellow-brown blossoms.

I started hating my legs when I was twelve. I stopped wearing shorts then, and I only wore skirts with opaque tights underneath. If I felt brave enough, I'd wear fishnet stockings, because I felt like they created some kind of optical illusion, that people would notice them and not the ugliness underneath.

In covering up my legs, I didn't learn to love myself as I was. I learned that I could love myself if I made myself different enough, if I made myself able to pass under the radar of beauty standards.

I began to put my love for my body on hold. I'll love my body, I thought, when I figure out how to make my legs prettier. When I lose some more weight. When I get that varicose vein fixed. One day I will be perfectly beautiful, I told myself. That was when I would love my body. Until then, I would cover up everything I could, hiding the imperfections so that I could pretend they didn't exist and feel like I was pretty.

Last week, I had somewhat of a revelation. I'm 34. I'm not going to get more beautiful. Even if I have a lot of cosmetic surgery, even if I fix all of the things I hate about my body, I will still find new things to worry about, new reasons to cover up. I'm already too old by the standards of beauty that our society has decided. I need to figure out how to love my body as it is, not as I think it should be.

This is, then, a sort of anti-modesty experiment, an immodesty experiment. In the same way that the Modesty Experiment had nothing to do with avoiding indecent behaviour, this is not about showing as much skin as possible. It's about learning not to be ashamed of my body, and hopefully, by extension, to eventually learn to love it.